What one thing has God asked you to do today?

If you don’t know the answer to that question then perhaps, like me, you are a little too goal-orientated and focused on achieving rather than slowing down long enough to hear from God.

lady surrounded by technology

Often our priorities are not God’s, our ‘good ideas’ not ones that He’s dropped into our minds. I was really convicted by a daily devotional I read today, in which the author described herself as someone who is too busy to be interrupted. Too set on being productive and ‘useful’, she isn’t able to deal with the stress and emotions of her own life, let alone those of others.

I gulped. And then admitted to myself that she could have been describing me. So often people comment that I must be extremely busy helping others. As a pastor’s wife I do get my fair share of burdened people wanting a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and someone willing to pray with them. And I consider that a privilege.

The problem is, I have my own ideas about what I should focus my time on, which means that the hours my kids are at school are taken up with work. Of course, the majority of us have to work in order to live, so I don’t feel that that’s a problem. What is, though, is that niggling feeling I sometimes get. The feeling that tries to tell me I don’t need to work quite so much…

To read the rest of this article please click here.

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Learning to be thankful – at all times

The new term is well under way and already I feel like I’ve been struggling to catch up. I had the most wonderful Christmas, but since then both my husband and I have been dogged with illness. New Year came and went with no let up, then the kids went back to school and life continued to seem like a blur.

Friends asked if I’d made new year’s resolutions, but I replied that I was frustrated that I hadn’t had any time or space to reflect on the previous year and pray through my goals and vision for this year (something I like to do every January). I hadn’t even got my office in order or put up a new calendar.

beach walking shot

A few days after the kids went back to school it suddenly dawned on me how down I felt. It wasn’t that anything awful had happened – and, as I’ve said, we had a lovely Christmas. But the constant pain and problems in my body, combined with a lack of sleep, were taking their toll on my emotions.

I knew I was responding negatively to people – my husband, kids, others around me – and was desperate to do something about it. But I also knew that I needed time with those who would do me good rather than just pressing through and trying in my own strength. And that meant spending time with God – and booking a lunch date with a friend who both encourages and challenges me.

Over lunch we talked and cried, and I left feeling lighter. The following morning I couldn’t get the phrase ‘For yet I will praise Him’ out of my mind as I drove back from dropping the kids off at school. I had been saying to God that I was frustrated with myself; there was so much I wanted to get done, but I still felt like I just wanted a date with my duvet.

I came home and looked up the phrase, finding it in three psalms. Here’s one from Psalm 42:5:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

Something inside me leapt. I realised that, like the psalmist, I needed to speak to my soul and remind myself to put my hope and trust in God.

To read the rest of this post, please click here.

Are you willing to let God disrupt your life?

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We are now in Advent, traditionally a time of looking forward and preparing for the coming of Christ through acts of remembrance and repentance as we get ourselves ready spiritually.

The word advent is the anglicised version of the Latin word adventus, which means ‘coming’, ‘arrival’, ‘approach’. During this time we remember the longing ancient people had for a saviour, a messiah, but also how we should be alert for His second coming.

Today, however, I’ve been pondering the consequences of one particular visit or ‘approach’ that started off the events of that first Christmas. That of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, which I’ve been looking at in Luke 1:26-38.

I was struck afresh today what a bizarre and potentially terrifying experience it must have been for a young girl to suddenly be face to face with an angel. That itself was mind-blowing enough. And yet what about his message? To be told that you, a young, unmarried virgin, would be the mother of the Son of God?!

We obviously don’t get a blow-by-blow account of the story in the Gospels, but I wonder what your response would have been if you had been given such a life-changing message?

We are told that at the start of the conversation ‘Mary was greatly troubled at his words’ (Luke 1:29). Don’t you just love the Bible’s skill at understatement? Troubled? I think I would have either frozen stiff, screamed for help or run away. And that was before he’d even told her God’s plans…

Mary was obviously someone who sought God and made following Him a priority; that must have helped her recognise that this angelic being was indeed sent from God. I admire her courage for sticking it out, for staying long enough to hear his full message.

Pondering the passage in Luke, I do believe that God’s peace must have descended on Mary when she accepted that she was listening to His messenger. How else could she stand there and listen without having a serious freak out?

But what strikes me the most is her simple trust and obedience. Just listen to what she says when Gabriel has finished his speech: ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ (v38)

Part of me wants to shout at her: ‘Come on Mary he’s just totally disrupted your wedding plans – actually, he may well have cost you your wedding. Who is going to believe that you will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit? That just sounds crazy. Do you really think Joseph will believe you?’

And yet that side of me is silenced by the piercing effect her response has. Mary was being asked to trust an angelic being who had brought her a message that would turn her life upside down but, not only that, would change the world if the boy indeed turned out to be the Messiah they were all hoping for. What a privilege … but what an enormous upheaval that necessitated her laying down her rights to all her dreams and plans.

What this passage has made me consider, is what I would do if Jesus or an angel came to me and asked me to disrupt my plans. Not my whole life – just my week’s plans.

To read the rest of this reflection, please click here.

Taking time out

Yet again there’s been a good few weeks between my posts. Before Christmas I was frantically trying to finish work off so that I could take a complete break, and since the kids went back to school I’ve been busy again catching up with work. But I look back to the Christmas period with really fond memories. It was a time of relaxation in which I purposefully stayed away from my computer. The way that was kickstarted is funny really – a friend’s daughter slept in a travel cot in my office just before Christmas and she asked whether the cot could stay up until the New Year’s Eve party we were hosting. So the cot became a welcome barrier between me and my computer, forcing me not to turn it on! I’ve always made sure I don’t have emails coming through to my phone, as when I’m away from my desk I’m with my kids so I don’t want the lure of work emails distracting me from them. The result: I was free of social media for the entire Christmas holiday period!

I think I’d worked so hard last year that I was quite burned out, and having time away from everything – emails, Facebook, twitter, blogs – was really welcome. It also made me realise anew the wisdom behind God’s ordering and the taking of a day of rest each week. We were explaining to the kids at the weekend that mummy and daddy aren’t quite like other mummies and daddies they know from school – our weekends aren’t just full of fun and relaxation as part of our jobs are to lead the church – me with worship and my husband as an elder and preacher. So Sundays can be quite stressful. While my husband should have a day off in the week that often doesn’t materialise, and it is hard to keep it family focused anyway as the kids are at school Monday to Friday. So we find we end up with less time to ourselves. That’s the nature of things – but that doesn’t mean it’s always right.

Since coming back to work, and being in meetings where we’ve focused on our goals for the year and how we’d like to develop, I was really struck by how one woman prayed for me. She said, ‘God you’ve heard all the ways Claire wants to develop her worship ministry, but she has just said how her highlights of last year were when she had time with her family away from it all. Help her to remember to take those rest times, and to realise that you only expect her to do what she has time to do. Stop her from worrying about those things she can’t do.’ That prayer made its way into my journal, as I realised my tendency is to forget rest in the busy-ness of life. I love being busy, and I find it difficult to relax until everything on my ‘to do’ list is ticked off but what I’m holding on to in these first few weeks of January is that it is so important to take time out.

So my exaltation to you is also to take some time off regularly – and don’t worry about whether stepping back to rest will mean you are no longer ‘in the loop’. This is something that I can get anxious about – particularly regarding social media networking for work purposes. I think if I take any time off it will be detrimental to the career I’m building. I’m now reminding myself that my spiritual health is the most important priority and time off is vital. God has told me many times that I can’t help others and give out to the best of my ability if I’m burned out myself – I guess I need to start listening! I’ll let you know in a few months whether I’ve managed to take regular time off – bearing in mind that it’s only a few weeks before my husband becomes lead elder/pastor of our church so I know that will have a huge impact on our lives! 🙂

Celebrating silence

My house is sooooooo quiet. I have found it really difficult to re-adjust to having mornings to myself after half term. The house was full to bursting with fun, friends and food all week. So much so that I did feel a little guilty about how little work I’d done – but I was really grateful that we had so many great moments as a family. But after my daughter went off to school, and I was getting my son ready to go to pre-school, yesterday I had one thought in my head: ‘I can’t wait for some silence’. It wasn’t that I hadn’t enjoyed our time together – just that I was missing the balance. And I think so many of us in our crazily busy lives miss that all the time – and get so locked into our routines that we actually don’t notice. To be honest, when I had the silence and the space yesterday morning I couldn’t settle down to anything. I was fidgety and couldn’t concentrate. I think part of me had forgotten how to just sit still and be, and how to allow myself to slow down and engage with God in the quietness. There is always so much to get done, and so many things to tick off of a list, but I think God often looks down on me and wonders when I’m going to get it. When I’m going to understand that He doesn’t need me to be rushing about ‘doing’ things for Him – whether through my work or service to my family or church. That what He longs most of all is to spend some quality time with His daughter. So this week I’m celebrating the silence – and trying to re-engage with the discipline of sitting still in that silence and learning from the master….

Taking the time to be grateful

This week is half term for us. It should be a manic time, with me juggling my workload with two exuberant children who want to get out and do things. But yesterday my kids were picked up to have a little ‘holiday’ with my parents. They were so excited – and secretly I was very relieved as I have a huge pile of work to get through. I know there are probably loads of you out there that would do anything to have a bit of time to yourselves, and that is how I feel quite often too. However, this morning I’m totally on my own – my husband was out for a breakfast meeting before I got up so, for the first time in years, I’ve got ready and had breakfast on my own. And, to be honest, it’s been quite hard. I have a pull on my heart, as it feels like there is something missing. I’ve been singing worship songs at the top of my voice to stop feeling lonely. Now I know this will pass as soon as I get my head down and get on with work, but I just felt that I needed to stop and let myself really experience how I’m currently feeling rather than rushing on. God seemed to be nudging me while I was preparing breakfast. We are embarking on the HTB Worship Central course tonight with our worship team, so I am speaking all about how central worship is. I’ve been looking at how worship is what we were made for – but when I started feeling the pangs of missing my children this morning God spoke to my heart in a way I wasn’t expecting. He simply whispered a reminder that that is how I should feel whenever I don’t get a chance to speak to Him. It really challenged me as I thought of how busy I normally am each morning – how I rush from one thing to another and often don’t even notice that I’ve not started the day connecting with Him. I hope I can remember this pang for a long time, and what it stands for.

It is true that often it isn’t until we don’t have something, or someone, that we realise how much it/they mean(s) to us. Having had a few weeks of my children being ill and still trying to keep on top of my deadlines, I was really looking forward to a few days of being able to get on with work without interrruption. I am still exceedingly grateful for the time my parents have graciously given me this week, but being apart from my children is making me realise how much I miss them, and how grateful I am to God for them. I am desperate to hold them, to tell them I love them, to play their silly games that often drive me insane – and they’ve only been gone one night! But it wasn’t until they went away that I felt the full force of how I feel about them – and I am quite overwhelmed. I think God longs for us to slow down and take stock regularly – to actually be calm enough to take in our surroundings and learn to live with a heart of gratitude, being thankful for what He’s given us – but mostly for His presence with us day by day.

A friend of mine started the year challenging the group of mums we meet up with to keep a thankfulness diary – to write down at least 5 things we are thankful for every day. I started off very diligently, and found that doing it at my desk just before I started working really lifted my spirit and helped me to view my day differently. It gave me positive eyes as I looked for the good in things, rather than getting bogged down straight away. I wonder – how do you make the time to be grateful?

Are you ‘abiding’?

Last week’s sermon included the passage that was my favourite when I was growing up – John 15, the vine and the branches. One phrase kept cropping up on Sunday – ‘Abide in me’. I haven’t been able to shake it so far this week, and I think it may be because it is a lesson I need to relearn. So what does it mean to abide? I looked up some online dictionary definitions and I really like some of the words Brainy Quote uses to describe ‘abide’:

‘To wait; to pause; to delay. To stay; to continue in a place; to have one’s abode; to dwell; to sojourn; to remain stable or fixed in some state or condition; to continue; to remain; to wait for; to be prepared for; to await; to watch for; to endure; to sustain; to submit to.’

Wow. There’s a lot to digest in there. And I think the overriding sense is of taking your time, making space and waiting to hear from God. To linger with Him rather than ticking off time spent with Him as another job done successfully before rushing onto the next one. To truly abide in Him, which is how the Scriptures say we bear fruit as Christians, we need to open ourselves up to Him constantly – wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Now, as a mum of two small kids I have certainly learned the art of talking to God while doing a hundred and one other things. And I think that’s what He likes – He wants to interact with us in all our ‘daily doings’. But I also think it is important to draw aside and come before Him quietly each day. Our lives are so full of ‘noise’ and ‘stuff’ that we can be totally distracted even when we are supposedly communing with God! And He very rarely shouts at us – His is that still, small voice. How are we supposed to hear it when it is being crowded out by everything else? When did you last hear it? I have been really challenged by the fact that I am now writing and editing for Christian publications, so am spending more time in the Word and studying than I have done since the kids were born, and yet the craziness of my schedule means I don’t feel like I have connected with God intimately for a little while. I think the words ‘Abide in me’ are a gentle nudge to me that He’s missing me. How about you? Is He missing you too?