Letting go of worry

nature-sky-sunset-man“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Yesterday we looked at the negative affects of worry. I’m now going to share some things I have found have helped me during those times when I know I’m allowing worry to overtake me. If you have a tendency to worry, I hope they are useful for you too.

  1. Be honest with yourself – and God

Look at what it is that you are worrying about and decide: is this a legitimate concern or an irrational worry? Then take it to God and ask for His help. If you feel you are really struggling with a particular worry then it can be helpful to share it with a close friend who can pray with you and keep you accountable on the subject too.

  1. Spend time each day focusing on God

Remind yourself of who He is and what He is capable of. With a different perspective, our problems and worries can seem to literally shrink before our eyes.

  1. Remind yourself of God’s promises

Look at the particular thing that is causing worry and ask yourself: what can I do and what should I simply leave up to God?

If you are struggling with a particular area then it could be beneficial to do a study on God’s promises specifically about that. So, for example, if you worry about finances look at what the Bible says about God providing for us.

  1. Learn to ‘pray continually’

If we get into the habit of talking to God throughout our day – bringing Him the big and little things – then it is much harder for worries to overtake us and blow us off course away from him. Here’s another great quote from Corrie Ten Boom: “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” In her book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Weaver describes how she consciously learned to turn every little worry into a prayer.

If you know your thoughts are mainly made up of worries, try turning those thoughts into prayers.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

  1. Learn to be thankful

This is where a journal can be so helpful. If we record all the ways that God is faithful and how He has worked in our lives, we have a constant supply of practical reminders of how He does look after us and how He “will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

There are a few of us in our book group who have spent time either writing in a thankfulness journal every day or tweeting three good things about our day each evening. Each one of us commented on how it has made us more aware of those little details that made our day special, but which are so easy to overlook without such a discipline (as our minds have a tendency to focus on the difficulties). If you know you find it hard to be thankful or recollect positives, why don’t you try writing down three things you are thankful to God for each evening?

  1. Actively ‘take captive every thought’ (2 Corinthians 10:5)

We can so easily let thoughts come and go in our minds, feeling that we have no control over them, but the Bible is very clear that we have a part to play in ensuring that what we think about is beneficial and edifying to us:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Have you ever stopped and reflected on what your mind has lingered on in the previous 10 minutes? It can be really revealing – and challenging!

  1. Change what you meditate on

We can think that reading and meditating on the Bible is far too difficult a practise to do daily, but we are often very well versed in meditating on our problems and worries! We simply need to re-educate our minds to focus on those things that will help us rather than hinder us.

Why not try replacing a specific worry with a scripture that speaks directly to it? Each time the worry pops into your head, speak the scripture to it.

Worry is one of those things that we know the Bible tells us not to do, but we can so often struggle to be free of. Putting some of the above simple ideas into action can help us form new habits. Because worry is a habit in itself – and a toxic one at that. Learning to recognise when a worry rears its ugly head, and being equipped with some simple ways of replacing or dealing with it, can be so helpful.

This is taken from an article that first appeared on Christian Today.

Slowing down during Advent

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I love Christmas. I love the preparations, the waiting, the build up of excitement, the putting up of decorations, the time spent devising menus. I love being involved in the music for carol services, watching our children’s excitement as they prepare for the nativity play. But, if I’m honest, I also struggle with the stress.

I see the start of Advent, and know that it’s a time of reflection – and I long to have the time and space to really enjoy it. However, I’m sad to say, the busyness of life so often crowds in as I rush to finish deadlines before the kids break up from school.

At this point in our calendar I’m focused most on getting our son’s birthday party celebrations organised, with the ever-growing list of jobs to do for Christmas weighing on my mind.

Even among all the activity, though, I can sense a longing in my soul. I am desperate to connect, to find the deeper meaning in this season. And I am desperate for our family’s experience of Advent to go beyond chocolate and calendars.

I am drawn to rediscover the meaning of waiting this Advent. Drawn to the character of Mary, and what this time meant for her. When we first meet her in the gospels she seems like a vulnerable young woman; betrothed to a respectable man in her neighbourhood. But one visit from an angel changes everything.

Mary’s response to that angel, after a few somewhat understandable questions, is simply ‘I am the Lord’s servant… May your words to me be fulfilled.’ (Luke 1:38) Incredible. I could never be that calm.

After visiting Elizabeth, Mary creates what is often referred to as the Magnificat, her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55). Through it she reveals she understands the way that God has blessed her for a special purpose. Mary recognises that God is a champion for the poor and oppressed too, and that God is fulfilling His promises to Abraham (and Israel) through what is to take place.

Whenever I look at those verses I am always taken aback. Granted, Mary has had a visitation from an angel, who has taken the time to explain things to her. Elizabeth has also recognised that the baby inside of Mary is the Lord so Mary has someone she can talk freely with. But still…

While Mary herself recognises she is highly favoured, she’s also in a time of waiting that is filled with so many unknowns. Will Joseph stand by her? If he does, will their society cast them out? And then, once the census was decreed, how will she cope with the long journey to Bethlehem and where will she give birth? (I’m sure that the idea of a stable never once entered her head!) What would her son be like? How would He make Himself known as the Messiah?

So many questions, yet the biblical account doesn’t reveal much about Mary’s state of mind. There seems to be a peace amongst the anticipation while the reality must have been messy, and deeply painful, at times. What surrounds this part of the Christmas story for me is stillness and patience; the atmosphere thick with pregnant hope.

While I pause for a moment to reflect and write this, I pray that I too can find that stillness and patience. That I too can look forward to the coming celebrations with hope, not allowing the stress and busyness that can so easily accompany this season to rob me of the precious gift behind it all.

This blog was originally published on Christian Today.

Why scrubbing loos is a good idea

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What is it about the human condition that makes us look around the people we come into contact with day to day and compare ourselves to them? It is something we have to work really hard not to do, which means the comparison culture inevitably infiltrates our church communities too.

I’m sure we’ve all had those moments: times when we’ve see others in a role that we wish we had and felt slightly jealous. Perhaps we even feel entitled to that role – or think in our minds that we could do a much better job than the person currently doing it.

 Or perhaps we end up in the mindset that thinks we have to contribute to the service each week – by bringing another word or reading another portion of scripture out. Why do we do that? A desperate need within us to connect with God, or a deep-seated desire to look more holy than those around us?

I think we need to ask ourselves those difficult questions regularly about our motivations for serving within our church communities. None of us is immune to selfish ambition and desires, but it is much easier to nip them in the bud early rather than letting ourselves get carried away with them.

Indeed, in Philippians 2 we are told: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (v3-4).

Jesus had some really harsh words to say about those people who put on a show of holiness in church: “Everything they do is for men to see” (Matthew 23:5) and “Woe to you … you hypocrites!”, which he repeats in verses 13, 15, 23, 25, 27 and 29. With that amount of repetition I think we can see Jesus really wanted to get his message across!

Speaking about the teachers of the law, it was the difference between their public show of purity and piety and their everyday lives that angered Jesus the most. Indeed, He instructed His disciples and the crowds “you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (v3).

Ouch.

Harsh words or the simple, honest truth?

To read the rest of this post, please click here – where the reason for the title will become clear 😉

The ‘gift’ of chickenpox: slowing down

So last week chickenpox came to our house. The timing in some ways was terrible – it meant my mum couldn’t come to stay. But as the days wore on I saw how God held us and worked through the situation.

I had wanted my son to get chickenpox before he gets much older (he’s now 6). So when an outbreak happened in his class I was secretly fairly pleased. But when it actually happened I immediately started stressing – at the last minute my parents couldn’t come to be with the kids while we went to a leadership weekend (could we even go if he was really suffering with it?).

I then started stressing about how I was going to juggle my work with my son at home. My daughter is great at amusing herself – when ill she simply takes herself off to bed and reads and naps. But he is different. He doesn’t seem able to play for long on his own and wants constant attention.

After the first day of him appearing by my side constantly I was beginning to get irritated and even more stressed. So I made a conscious decision to bring it all before God and ask Him to help order our days and allow me to be there for my son and comfort him, but also get the work done that I needed to without too much difficulty. I also prayed that we would have precious moments together that we could look back on with fondness afterwards.

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What then followed were a few days of him either napping or playing for a little while so I could start some work, and then we’d snuggle up on the sofa and watch a film together. I always took a pile of reading or other work with me, but it usually stayed in a pile and I didn’t look at it at all.

One of the days this untouched work started to weigh on my mind but then I felt God really clearly tell me to stop worrying about it. The vital work was getting done – yes I didn’t feel like I had much head space but He gently reminded me that my body isn’t working at 100% at the moment and that the rest was good for me too so I should simply embrace it rather than not allowing myself to unwind and enjoy it because I thought I ‘ought to’ be doing something.

It made me think about how often we don’t allow ourselves to rest because we are in ‘do’ mode and rest seems lesser somehow – not worth as much as getting through our ‘to do’ list.

So, through my son’s illness, God was yet again gently reminding me that I need to slow down and allow myself to rest. The things I have to get done are no less important, but the way I view them and the hierarchy I so often put on the things in my life needs to change to allow me space just to ‘be’ more regularly.

 

Worshipping the King this Christmas

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Christmas is almost upon us. Have you wrapped all the presents, bought the turkey, and started to make up beds for family and friends that will be staying with you?

This time of year is really busy isn’t it? There are a few Christmas services still to attend/run too. And what about those films your kids are desperate to see, and the now seemingly obligatory visits to Santa available at every shopping and garden centre…

 I asked you in my last column what you would do if God wanted to interrupt your plans this Christmas. Whether He has or not, how have you made room for Him in these last couple of weeks?

I know Christmas can be a really pressurised time of year, as there is simply so much to organise and the coming together of people who don’t see each other regularly can be stressful.

But amongst all the heightened commercialisation of the season, how have you been worshipping the King?

Black Friday showed us how much our culture worships material goods – people were fighting over things they really don’t need just to get a ‘bargain’.

So, as we approach Christmas itself, I think it’s really important to slow down, just for a minute or two, and ask, ‘Am I worshipping the King in my Christmas plans?’.

To read the rest of this article please click here.

Advent remembering

It is my absolute pleasure to welcome writerly friend Lucy Mills for this brilliant guest blog about embracing a new kind of remembering this Advent:

advent candles by Stushie

Advent Candles image by Stushie.

 

I often forget about Advent until I’m in it. More accurately, I don’t realise how fast the time has gone and suddenly it’s mid December and – oh. I feel irritated; as if I’ve missed out on something. Is it worth it, now? Or have I missed the Advent bus?

This year I did at least notice when December began, which has helped. I had already made a note, in fact, that I needed to prepare myself for Advent. I know that sounds odd, as Advent is itself a preparation.

Yet I forget to make time and space for that preparing to take place.

I forget a lot of things.

These past 12 months or so have been quite significant for me. We’ve moved to a new area and a new church (my husband is a Baptist minister). I’ve made new friends as well as trying to nurture the old. The editing role I already had has now shifted to one with more responsibility and oversight. And – I appear to have created a book. And it appears to have been published.

How odd! How extraordinary! I’m a first-timer, poking it to check if it is real. I’m also a little shy of it now. After years of pouring myself into it, I feel a bit self-conscious. Reading it makes me squirm a little, like watching myself on screen.

I’m tempted to leave it on the shelf, to draw a line under it.

But that would make a mockery of what it is about. Because the book is a confession: of my own forgetfulness. My tendency towards distraction, every day and any day. And it’s also a reflection on the importance of remembering God in our daily lives – what this means.

I can’t draw a line under it; it’s part of my continuing journey and it’s as relevant to me now as it was when I started it.

Because my condition is chronic. I neglect my faith. I don’t open my bible. Then I feel guilty about how long it’s been since I opened it. So I don’t think about it, and the pages remain unread. I pray occasionally rather than continually. I reach a point where I feel empty, and I am blind enough to wonder why.

I’ve forgotten who I am. I’ve forgotten who I am because I’ve ceased remembering who God is. As a Christian, my identity is in Christ. Yet instead of focusing on him, my eyes drift. When I squint towards my faith, I do so through a fog of my own distractedness. I don’t allow times for rest and reflection – I fill them up with mediocre diversions. I’m a little scared to face myself and admit my forgetfulness. So I embrace the forgetfulness even more.

It takes discipline to pull myself back, and often it’s the tug of the Holy Spirit – not my own strength. God, in all patience, woos me into returning. I come understanding: whom have I but you? To whom else would I go?

The seasons of the Church are, in many ways, tools for remembering. Advent, focusing on the coming Christ, can be a great antidote for forgetfulness, if we dare to take more than a cursory sip of it. The incarnate Christ came as a fragile baby into a dark world; the resurrected Christ is still present with us now by the power of the Spirit. And the glorified Christ will come again.

Today, in spite of my busyness, in spite of the distractions, I choose to take a breath. I allow myself to remember. A mere moment, perhaps, but it births more moments as I form a habit of pausing.

This Advent, take a moment to pause. Breathe. Allow yourself to take a handful of stillness. It will help you get perspective on the rest of it – the hurly-burly, the ever-changing, the tugging cords of life.

Reflect on the light that came into the darkness, the light that cannot be put out. And ask for that light to shine on all your distractedness and disrepair.

You haven’t missed the bus. It’s not too late to start a new kind of remembering. Every morning is another chance to draw close to our God of mercy and grace. Seek the One who knows every part of you – the shallow and the deep – and who loves you.

I need to hear this, to reflect on it this Advent season.

Do you?

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Lucy Mills has written a wonderfully challenging book on how our hearts can be so forgetful. Here are the details – I will be reviewing it some time but, for now, I thoroughly recommend it. A good choice for a Christmas present 🙂

Forgetful Heart: Remembering God in a Distracted World is published by Darton, Longman and Todd (2014). You can read more about it on her website.

Are you God’s friend?

“God has lots of children in the church today; I’m honestly not sure He has many friends.”

So said Mike Pilavachi at last weekend’s Worship Central conference. I haven’t been able to get the quote out of my head ever since.

Mike was talking about how we can be more intimate with God. He commented that God wants His church to grow up – not to stop being His children, but to be His friends too.

Exploring the concept of friendship, Mike said that while he’s heard of “the five love languages” God has a sixth: obedience.

I have been pondering this subject for a while myself. As God’s people, what is it that sets us apart, which shows we belong to Him? Surely obedience to Him is a key indicator of that?

God never stands over us beating us into submission, and yet Jesus said that if we love Him we will obey His commands (John 14:15). The ultimate expression of love is doing things that we know will please the other person – and that basically boils down to obedience.

We can see that at work in the relationship Jesus describes in John 15, where He says that He loves because His Father has loved Him, and that He remains in God’s love by keeping His commands. He urges us to do the same, in order to enjoy that relationship of love and joy for ourselves too:

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (vv10–11)

John expresses the same sentiment in 1 John 5:3: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome…”

So why do we find the whole idea of obedience difficult? Well, as Mike pointed out, as a society we don’t like to be told what to do; our culture is a very individualistic one in which I am in control of my destiny.

To read the rest of this article please click here.

Feeling restless

St Augustine wrote, “[God] you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

“Our hearts are restless”: that’s a great description of life today.

So often I feel restless. I’m rushing around making sure the kids get homework done, get to their after-school clubs, are fed and looked after.

I rush around with church activities, chatting issues through with my husband as he seeks to lead the church well, organising rehearsals and leading worship, trying to spot new people and welcome them as well as look after those who’ve been in the church for years.

I rush around with my work, meeting deadlines and thinking up new ideas for writing projects. Yes there is a bit of space for pondering within that, but too often it is pressurised, rather than restful.

I rush from one evening meeting to another – church meetings, governors’ meetings, music practices, even rushing to exercise classes.

I feel restless a lot of the time. I know the better way is to start by positioning myself at Jesus’ feet, learning from His wisdom rather than trying to do things in my own strength. But I find that so hard to do.

I wrote about finding the rhythm that works for me and my family recently; I’m still working on that if I’m honest!

I arrived at church a couple of Sundays ago totally at the end of myself, but with my keyboard ready to play. I could barely speak, let alone sing, so one of the guys helpfully suggested we prayed together before doing anything else. And what one of them prayed for me really stuck with me – here’s a summary of it:

‘Lord, Claire works so hard for you. Help her to learn to rest.

I’m one of those people who find it difficult to sit down and relax until all the jobs in the house are done. I simply can’t leave dirty dishes on the side or floors unvacuumed. That may be why our vacuum cleaner suddenly stopped working when I was midway through vacuuming one of the downstairs rooms that weekend. I still had the upstairs to do! But I simply couldn’t, which meant that, after church that Sunday, we were able to settle down and have a family film time.

I was forced to rest.

Does God ever make you stop, through circumstances or even illness? If only we’d rest more regularly without Him having to step in and force us.

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

Never lose the wonder…

… That was whispered to me, ever so quietly, this morning.

My husband had taken the kids to school and I was determined to curb my natural desire to get on and tackle chores and work emails before work. Determined to have a bit of ‘you and me’ time with God.

It wasn’t long, after the overflow of song in my heart had subsided (I would call myself a musician – of sorts – so there is usually some song or other bubbling up), that God spoke that little phrase.

There wasn’t anything else. Just a flow of peace, of affirmation. And those words, again and again.

“Never lose the wonder.”

I was reminded of how He had been trying to get through to me in recent weeks. It was while I was editing a fantastic new book by Carrie Lloyd, in which I read about that quiet voice speaking to her in her ‘secret place’. I have always enjoyed little moments throughout my day in which I’ve heard God communicate with me like that, but I suddenly realised that it had been a while since that had happened. I was really taken aback – how had I not noticed?

Do you ever get to that point?

You are so busy doing things for God, that somehow you miss Him completely?

Well, maybe not completely – you can point others to Him, feel His presence in corporate worship and bring words and scriptures for people, but actually your own close relationship with Him has somehow gotten disconnected.

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

A typical writing day – for me

I can’t pretend to have had this idea first, as the great Wendy Jones posted hers earlier today on her site, but I thought I would share an entry of a writing competition – that I didn’t win. It was earlier in the year, when my son wasn’t in full-time school, so it gives more of an insight into that juggling act. Since October there has still been a massive juggling act – it’s just taken a slightly different form!

Anyway, both Wendy and I submitted entries for the Association of Christian Writers’ (ACW) writing competition A Day in the Life of a Writer. Here’s what I sent in, which I think sums up the pressure and panic I can sometimes experience as a writer:

I wake up early, with that pit in my stomach that always happens on writing days. I chew over what I need to get done before the kids get up, and then it is a mad rush to get them off to school. On my return the panic sets in; I always have the overriding sense that I can’t do it – I simply can’t put the words down. The empty page on the screen seems to taunt me until I pray and then force myself to get going. Then I allow the words just to flow; I wait until later to go back and read them. The editing process is a lot easier as I am an editor by trade. Although of course it is harder to change your own work than someone else’s…

Time is a huge constraint. My youngest is at nursery so my most productive hours HAVE to be the few I have free each morning. Sometimes that’s an enormous pressure; at other times it simply forces me to get over my feelings of inadequacy and get on. But not today…today has been particularly hard, and the morning wasted. Because earlier in the week I was approached by a new magazine. I had been recommended to them and they wanted me to write some articles by the end of the week. I had sent the requested examples of work and then waited…and waited. Then today the ‘ping’ of my email informed me a new message was in. And there, staring me in the face, was a rejection. It was beautifully put, full of praise for my writing, but I was, nevertheless, on reflection, ‘not quite right for their publication’. Oh how that stung! More so because I had been approached by them. To me that meant my writing must be even more unlovely for it to change their minds about me!

On days like today the writers’ forums, such as the ACW Facebook page, are invaluable. I posted how I was feeling and the enormous response I got – full of sympathy, empathy but also great wisdom – helped me to determine within myself to get up and get back to work. After all there was only one hour left before I had to do the next school run – and I do have a book to write! Thinking of all the positives, of how I have books, articles, bible study guides all lined up to write for the rest of the year, makes me so grateful and yet…that sting is still there. Okay it has lessened, but now it is a quiet, slow-burning background pang that is still tingeing my day with sadness. I am full of resolve; to make the writing I am doing the best it can be and to rejoice in everything I do have. And yet that uncertainty, that lack of belief in myself, is hovering, waiting to pounce if I give it the chance…