God isn’t put off by our negative emotions

looking wistful out window

Recently I’ve been spending time reading psychology books, mainly about infant attachment and parenting styles, as research for my own book. I have been really struck about a particular aspect: how a secure self learns not to be threatened by negative feelings.

I’ve read how sensitive parenting allows a child to feel those negative emotions and also teaches him/her how to deal with them through both support (unconditional love and empathy) and challenge. The child is also reassured that the source of their security and love is not threatened by such negative emotions either.

I’ve looked at how behavioural patterns learned in childhood get transformed into our adult lives. They affect the way we respond to, and interpret, the actions and words of those around us.

I was challenged by one particular book that linked the way a child approaches negative feelings to the way we respond to God when we are experiencing negative emotions.

We are His children and yet has the parenting style we’ve experienced by our earthly parents affected the way we anticipate His responses? I’m sure it must do.

For example, if you are feeling angry, bitter or sad do you feel God will condemn you, pointing out all the reasons why you are feeling like that – and revealing that it is your fault?

To read the rest of this post please click here.

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.

The weight – and joy – of leadership

Have you ever wanted to just hide away and not go to church? That’s how I felt on Saturday evening. The thought of getting up early in the morning and speaking to dozens of people, of worshipping God even (yes, it was a low moment) and of feeling the responsibility of needing to be stood next to my husband in the front row all weighed heavily on me.

I just needed a break.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this – and I know it is right to take time out at times.

But one of the burdens of leadership is living by example. And just hiding under my duvet when I don’t feel 100 per cent is not setting a good example. So I shot up a quick prayer asking that God would refresh me and I was immediately reminded of the Sunday before.

On that day, I was suffering from such severe back pain that I hadn’t slept all night. I was playing the main instrument in the worship team and we had a visiting speaker from Nigeria, who we were hosting a lunch for after the service. On that particular Sunday the whole of me was screaming “It isn’t fair! Why should I have to carry on? Why can’t someone else do it?”

To read the rest of this post, 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! 🙂

Let it rain!

Those of us who live in the UK have experienced a deluge of rain this week. It seems bizarre that in our country we have suddenly taken by surprise by the rain but, after such a long time without significant rainfall, it has been a bit of a shock. I’ve found it particularly difficult because my son’s bedroom has a flat roof, which makes the rain seem really noisy and he gets scared and doesn’t sleep well at night. So this week I’ve been getting more and more tired.

This all culminated in me feeling rather miserable yesterday – it seemed that every time I had to go out the rain intensified. Where my son attends pre-school is literally at the end of our road, simply a minute’s walk away, but on our way back the heavens literally opened and we were saturated. Thursday is the afternoon that we are in and out constantly – to playgroup, school pick up, his sister’s ballet lessons etc so I gave up and thought there was no point in changing us after each soaking as we were just going to get drenched again.

Then, as I stomped around in a bad mood, I felt a small tug in my spirit. I knew what it was about as I’d felt it in the biggest downfall I’d been caught in – but now I paid attention. And my heart leapt in agreement with what it was hearing – and I realised I didn’t need the rain to stop – I wanted to shout ‘Let it rain more! Let my soul be saturated!’ It was a sudden realisation that, like our land desperately needs the rain, my spirit needs more of His Spirit. I’m tired, not sleeping well, busy catching up on work after the holiday, preparing to lead worship this Sunday and now also preparing to speak alongside my husband when he preaches. I can’t do any of this in my own strength – God I need a soaking! I need to remain wet day in day out!

I am so grateful for days like yesterday – yes it was hard work but when God breaks in and reminds me (in a highly practical demonstration!) of my need for Him it makes me realise how over-busy and un-reliant on Him I can be. The challenge is not to lose that sense of dependency and to tackle the tasks with Him alongside me, guiding me by His Spirit.

Socially networking, but how is your connection with God?

As usual, I have had many ideas for blogs running through my head but little time to write them. And my time today has been cut down even more – for lovely reasons though. It was the last day of my children’s holiday before school starts back. We had a friend drop by in the morning and then this afternoon we took a spur of the minute decision and went to the cinema. It’s been a really precious time – but that’s not the point of this blog!

What I want to think about today is whether our technogically based lives these days leave any space to properly connect with God. With phones that gives us instant access to the internet it means that not only can people reach us at any time, anywhere, we can also be constantly connected to twitter, facebook and other networking sites. And, be honest, how hard it is to ignore those status updates that show a new posting has come through?!

I obviously don’t know what your own personal devotional times with God look like, but I’ve been thinking about mine ever since someone I’ve been mentoring emailed to ask how much time she should be spending with God one on one, and how much time do I spend. At first I was rather disgruntled by the questions – after all it isn’t about quantity but about quality right? And each individual needs to work out how they best connect to God and when. But then I was ashamed. Ashamed and not wanting to answer her question. Because recently I’ve got busier and busier with work and I had to acknowledge the fact that making time for God has got harder. It has been significantly harder since having kids but the last quarter of this year I can look back and see I didn’t do much quiet dwelling in God’s presence. There was always a bit of work to do, the kids to sort, someone who needed my help at church – oh and a few hundred tweets to wade through. And I would say I’m worse off now.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the things we can achieve via the internet, and the connections we can make with other individuals (and for me the work contacts I’ve made) are fantastic. But keeping up with the very small amount of social networking I do has made it even harder for me to connect to God – because it is just one more thing that gets in the way – that I find vies for my attention and often wins over quality time with my maker.

I watched the last episode of Living with the Amish over the holiday period and, again, was challenged on the same point. One family had left the most strict Amish community and was going it alone. This meant they had embraced some technological advances – including the internet. The eldest daughter of the family was interviewed and she said that her brothers now have facebook and twitter. She said she didn’t know what they were (and didn’t want to know) but she was sad for her brothers, because they now wasted so much time that they could be reading God’s word – and she then patted her Bible as if it was her most precious possession. That really resonated with me. Not because I want to give up on the internet, but I do want to make sure my priorities are straight as I start this new year – with all the joys and challenges it will most certainly bring. How about you? Are you connecting with God as well as you are with others on the internet?

A pioneering woman, pt 6

Here is the next part of my interview with Wendy Virgo.

I know you had a challenging period in your life with a son who was rebelling against your beliefs. How did you hold fast during that time?

This is often a matter of heartache to godly parents, and we experienced a very painful period of about five years when one of our sons who had been a bright Christian as a young boy wandered far from God in his teens. He got among other young men who influenced him badly and began to drink to excess and take drugs. It was as if a pane of glass came between us: he could see us, but not hear what we were saying! Communication was very difficult. He made bad choices and became distant, unresponsive and miserable.

What held us fast in those days were the promises of God. We had prophetic promises and Bible verses that we regularly declared in prayer. We had times of fasting, we prayed in tongues, we prayed in English, we refused to believe that the enemy would win! And one day, he had an encounter with the Lord that changed everything…

I had been engaging in an intense time of prayer and fasting for a few days. One morning he stumbled out of his room and said, “God has been speaking to me all night!” He went off to work, only to phone me in tears during the morning to say that, suddenly an old song, “Thank you for the cross” had come to mind. As he hummed it quietly, suddenly the presence of God fell upon him and he was completely overwhelmed by His love. God brought him back to Himself and restored him and healed him. He went on to university where he got a good degree in history, and subsequently became a pastor.

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?

Truly ‘together on a mission’

This is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and reflect on what I learned at the Newfrontiers Together on a Mission conference last week (the reason for that will, in part, be the subject of another blog soon!) It truly was a privilege to be at the bulk of what was the last international conference of its kind. Right from the start there was a sense of expectancy, and God had specific things to say to us as a movement that came through time and time again, through various different speakers.

I always feel so blessed at these events because it reminds me of the wider Newfrontiers family we are part of. I am always struck by the humility of the leaders and speakers, particularly Terry. Indeed that was the main reason we were first attracted to Newfrontiers. And it is great to see how other guys have come through into maturity and authority and are now heading up works within the various continents, but there is still a sense of family across the board. I loved the mixture of both honouring our roots, and founders, but also pressing forward to take new ground.

I was both caught up with and slightly apprehensive of the way that we seemed to hit the ground running. Words came thick and fast about being courageous and having courage as a leader. The natural worrier in me started to wonder what is coming Lord?! But it is so true that as a movement the ‘boys have become men’ and I also felt that challenge me personally. Yes we have stepped up into leadership roles, and my husband has proved he is capable of pastoring the church. I am mentoring and meeting with various younger women… AND YET. Life is going at such a pace am I taking the time to feed myself spiritually? Am I looking after myself and allowing God to speak to me clearly and have that vital input in my life enough? He graciously seems to speak through me when I am ministering to people, but I wonder how much more effective I could be if I carved out a bit more just me and him time…

We were travelling up and down to Brighton each day so usually left at the end of the afternoon session – it meant we could see the kids before bedtime and not get overtired ourselves. But when we heard PJ was to speak on the wed eve we decided to say. And what a great decision that was! I have said in a previous entry that the whole issue of healing is one I can struggle with because of the way my mum suffers, but he gave one of the clearest messages I’ve ever heard on suffering, sickness and healing. Where does sickness come from and where does healing come from were two of the questions he pondered during his own battle in the last year. And God gave him great revelation. Hearing the simplicity with which he explained the relationship between the atonement and healing was refreshing. His talk gave me fresh vision and hope and went some way to lift off the frustration I can often feel when people look at my mum and make a judgement call as to why she hasn’t been healed yet. Definitely a recommendation I have already made to my mum to listen to!

There is so much more I could talk about here but I think there will be plenty more future posts as I manage to grab odd moments to dwell upon my notes.

With pure abandonment…

I was at my sister’s 40th this weekend. She certainly knows how to throw a great party – the food was amazing, there were drinks aplenty, all sorts of games upstairs in the attic for the kids and even a live band in the sitting room! The latter had planned to be outside, but the changeable weather made that difficult. So there they were, 7 brilliant musicians in my sister’s front room. They weren’t crammed in, as she has a large house. But having a full band in your sitting room is slightly out of the ordinary. To begin with, it felt a little odd – the sofas had been pushed back against the walls and so people were tentatively popping their heads round to look at the band, then a few sat on the sofas and watched. Not the most responsive audience for the poor band! But then the frontman encouraged some dancing, and in whirled my sister with total abandonment, grooving away in front of us all, not caring whether we joined in or not. Now I’m not a natural party goer or dancer, so I was slightly embarrassed. It was my sister after all! Some people joined in – including my parents (heightened embarrassment!) – while others, including me, watched from the side. Occasionally I would allow myself a little bop with one of my kids – but I told myself that that was okay because I was doing it for them! Suddenly it hit me – I was using them as a prop to enable myself to join in without feeling awkward. How many of us have something like that – a comforter as it were – to enable us to engage in Sunday worship without stepping out beyond what we know? Do we stay within the bounds of what we normally do or do we allow ourselves to be caught up in heaven’s party? I really felt God check me in my spirit and told me to watch my sister – to look at her pure abandonment. He said that that is how He wants us to be when we come before Him. Totally wrapped up in what we are doing before Him, and not caring if others are joining in – or even if others are watching us with disdain. David danced before the Lord and his wife was mortified. Oh Lord save me from such cynicism and teach my heart to be reckless before you…