Friday, 31 October 2014

Finishing Well

Finish Line

Final post of 31 days!  I can't believe I've actually managed to blog every day for a whole month!  It wasn't as hard as I thought either. 

Anyway, today's God Encounter is a recent one that took place last month.  It was a sermon I heard that really spoke to me, challenged me and kicked me up the butt (but in a good way!)

It was a talk on "finishing well".  The speaker was someone who was about to retire after over 30 years of ministry and who, in my opinion, finished very well.  She was talking about people from the Bible- examples of people who finished well or badly and what made the difference.

The part that really stood out to me was that it is the choices that we make today that will determine how things will turn out- we are not spectators watching our own lives; we have a part to play.

Nothing that was said was actually new to me, but it was somehow used by God to speak to me exactly what I needed to hear.

I've always worried about falling away from faith in God.  I've seen it happen to others who seemed much better Christians than me and so I've never taken it for granted, which is probably a good thing.  It bothered me a lot though and it was something I didn't really feel I had control over.

So there was a general fear.  There was also the specific fear at that time that it was happening- that I was falling away.  I had faced a really difficult situation with a friend over the summer and it had taken its toll on me emotionally and spiritually.  Because of circumstances I hadn't had the chance to process it properly and I was struggling to face up to it.  I just wasn't in a good place, and wasn't spending the time with God that I knew I should.  I felt I was battling on in my own strength but I didn't know how long I could keep going.  I didn't want it to be like that but I didn't know how to change things.

These verses were read from Deuteronomy 30:19-20:
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!  You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life."

It made me realise that I had control.  I couldn't control the circumstances over the summer but I could choose my response at this moment.  I could choose God and I could choose life- and that was the choice I had to make.  I realised it wasn't just magically going to get easier but it was the little choices that mattered and over time made a difference.

So I committed to reading the Bible every day again, and at first it was really hard and I had to make myself do it.  Occasionally I didn't, but mostly I did whether I felt like it or not.  A month and a half down the line I've finally reached the stage where I'm enjoying it again and seeing the benefit.  I'm praying more and listening to and playing worship songs and I feel like I'm connecting with God again.

I desperately want to finish well and I realise that means making good choices today in the little things, but it also gives me security to know that I have the choice and, unless it is what I choose, I will not fall away.

This is day 31 of a series "31 Days of God Encounters".

Thursday, 30 October 2014

A Vision of Glory

I love how God lets us encounter him in just the right way at just the right time and he provides all that we need.

Last year I had a powerful God Encounter that came right out of the blue.  I was in church and we were worshipping at the end of the service.  We were singing the song, "Our Father".

I was sitting, praying when suddenly I had a vision in a way that I have never had before.  It was as if I could see all at once all the problems and difficulties I was having at the time (which were a lot) and then the picture widened to see all the other bad and difficult things in life.

Then suddenly I looked up and I could see Jesus above all those things.  He was so big and they were so small by comparison and he was bright and shining and beautiful.  He had a radiance that shone out and it just gave me the sense that even in everything that was happening he was sovereign.

As I looked I saw that he had a crown on his head- he was King- but it wasn't the typical kind of royal crown a king would wear.  It was a crown of thorns but made of gold, and it was beautiful- the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  It spoke of suffering being transformed into glory and it was amazing.

A couple of things struck me afterwards: firstly all of the things in the vision were truths I knew- that Jesus is sovereign, he reigns over everything, his suffering was transformed into glory, he can transform our suffering into glory- but seeing it in a vision like that made it real in some way.  It moved it from my head to my heart.

The second thing that struck me afterwards was how much I needed to really know those things at that time.  I thought I was facing difficult situations at the time of the vision- over the next few months life just got harder and harder.  There was no one big catastrophic event but a huge number of small to medium events one after the other.  I reached the point where I just expected difficulties and it took me a while to adjust when it all finally stopped.

I believe God gave me that vision at that time knowing that things were going to get harder and that this was something that would help me hold on to him and come out the other side.

This is day 30 of a series "31 Days of God Encounters".

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Step of Faith

Footprint In Sand

The God Encounter I'm thinking about today is one I found quite strange and slightly disturbing but the results of it showed me that God was at work!

It happened in an evening service at church a few years ago.  We were worshipping at the beginning of the service and it was going really well.  It was one of those occasions where I could really feel God's presence and I felt really engaged in worshipping him.

Then I started getting this weird feeling in my stomach.  It wasn't a pain as such but I kept feeling like doubling up as if I was in pain.  It actually felt like something was moving inside me and I started to worry that something was wrong with me.  It persisted throughout the service and gradually it came to me that it might be a spiritual thing, rather than a physical thing, so I prayed and asked God to show me.

The things that came to me were the idea of pregnancy and the feeling of fear.  I still didn't know what to make of it but I felt it wasn't really for me- it was like God was saying something to me for someone else.  The other thing that came to me was the phrase "your name is written on the palm of God's hand".  Eventually I went to tell the pastor that I thought I had a word from God for someone though I didn't really understand what it was.  He thought it was probably referring to a spiritual pregnancy rather than a physical one, like God was birthing something in someone.  Anyway he put it out there and left people to respond.  I went home feeling a bit weird about the whole thing, wondering if I was going totally crazy, however the feeling in my stomach had stopped as soon as I'd passed it on so I felt I'd done what I was supposed to do.

A few days later I got a call from a lady at church who I knew a little bit.  She had been having issues with her stomach and was waiting to get tests at the doctors to find out what was wrong and was feeling pretty scared.  When she heard the word in the service she realised the feeling she had was the same as she had in the late stages of pregnancy and she began to suspect that her condition was spiritual rather than physical.  She was taking up leadership of a new ministry at that time and had a lot of fear associated with that as well.  She got people to pray with her and she was absolutely convinced from that moment that she was fine- that there was nothing physically wrong with her stomach and that God was with her, helping her in the ministry.

She was right- the tests all came back clear, and her new ministry got going and was, and continues to be, very effective.  What seemed like such a random and bizarre experience was actually really significant in helping encourage this lady that God was with her and taking away her fear.

I learned that if you're going to be used by God you have to be willing to look foolish.  When I shared what was going on in that service I had no idea what God was doing and I felt ridiculous, but God used it and I learned that sometimes he wants to use us to do his work but needs us to take a step of faith.

This is day 29 of a series "31 Days of God Encounters".

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Until the rain comes...

Dandelion In The Rain

The period after the encounter where God freed me and led me into a new and spacious place was one of joy, excitement and exploration but also one of huge challenge.  Now that the things holding me back had been dealt with I was really challenged to step out in new ways, taking on tasks I had never considered and doing things that I both found scary and felt completely inadequate for.

I rose to the challenge though on several occasions and in the process learned a lot about trusting God.

One particular challenge was leading a camp for young people- I was terrified by the responsibility and the anxiety of not knowing what issues I might be called to deal with.  I felt totally inadequate for the task but also sure that God was asking me to do it and so I had to take the challenge and do it, depending on his strength not my own.

Preparations went well but a day or two before the camp I began to panic.  I just didn't think I could do it.  When I looked at the task that lay ahead it was overwhelming and I knew I didn't have the strength to do it.

Then God spoke to me and reminded me of the story of Elijah and the widow.  The widow only has a tiny bit of cooking oil and a tiny bit of flour to feed her and her son, but Elijah asks her to cook him some bread and promises that God will provide and that there will always be flour and oil in the jars until the day it rains again.  (They were in the middle of a drought.)

She trusts him and cooks him some bread and God's promise comes true.  No matter how much she uses there is always flour and oil left.

God really spoke to me through that story, showing me how it related to my situation.  The widow never had an abundance of food, she never had enough to get her through the week, she always only had enough for the next meal.  She had to use it, trusting God that he would provide again and again.  In the same way, I didn't have, or need, the strength to complete the whole task at that moment.  I needed to trust God that he would provide for me each moment, giving me all that I needed at that time.

And he did.  It went well, my trust in God was strengthened and my confidence grew massively.  The funny thing was just as I got home and parked the car after the camp was over, it began to rain- the heaviest rain I have ever seen in my life.  It would have taken 30 seconds to get from the car to the house, but it was so heavy I would have been drenched, so I sat in the car and waited.  And God reminded me of the Elijah story once again- God promised to provide all that was needed until the day it rained again.  It was as if he was reminding me that it was his provision that had got me through, not my own ability, and I sat in the car for 10 minutes, waiting for the rain to die down and praising God for all that he had done.

This is day 28 of a series "31 Days of God Encounters".

Monday, 27 October 2014

Let it shine

Fireworks 8

After the God Encounter I wrote about a couple of days ago, I went into a period where I felt so close to God, that I was stepping out and doing new things, taking on challenges, enjoying the new and spacious place he had led me into.

A month or so after that I went to a couple of evenings at my church about prophecy and learning to hear God's voice.  We had some time to be quiet and listen to God and a few things came to me- one was a picture of fireworks, lighting up the night sky, one was a Bible verse- Matthew 5:15: No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.- and one was a sense that God wanted me to be bolder in speaking out and being myself, that he was giving me insights that other people did not have and that they would be lost if I didn't speak out.

The theme of what he was saying was pretty clear but I didn't know how to put it into action.  I was going on a weekend away with the band I play in though and I felt I should really pray for that.  As I did, I felt I had to pray for one person in particular- I'll call her Sally.  Sally was fairly new to the band and we had chatted but I didn't know her very well.  I was also challenged that on the band weekend away I should pray and read the Bible in front of my roommate- not to make a show of it but just to do what I normally do without hiding it.

When we arrived at the hotel, we had all been assigned rooms and I found out I was sharing with Sally!  The first morning I did the prayer and Bible reading and she didn't comment on it.  We got on well and got to know each other better.  I discovered she was gay, and also that she had a chronic fatigue illness which also left her in a lot of pain.  The first day she had to take quite a lot of painkillers to make it through the rehearsal.

That night as I lay in bed I was praying for her when I suddenly felt challenged by God that I shouldn't be hiding the fact that I was praying for her.  I should tell her and ask if I could pray with her.  It was one of those moments when God speaks very clearly and you wish he hadn't because you don't want to disobey but you really don't want to do what he's asking you to do.  I didn't resist it for long- I was absolutely terrified but I was even more terrified to deliberately disobey God when he had spoken so clearly.

The next morning before rehearsal I explained a little bit and asked if I could pray for her, and she was naturally pretty taken aback, but she agreed.  I did and it was awkward, but I think she did feel touched that I was showing I cared.  She managed rehearsals that day with no painkillers!  Her illness was ongoing but it seemed like the prayer did make some difference.

We never really discussed the subject again but we remained friends for the next year or so until she left the band.  I discovered that she had a very, very negative view of Christians as she perceived them as anti-gay, so I feel that the most important part of our friendship was just that I could be a friend and maybe challenge that view a little bit.

I learned a lot about hearing and obeying God anyway and I'm sure this is not the end of his work in Sally's life.

This is day 27 of a series "31 Days of God Encounters".

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Somebody has to be me

Standing Out From The Crowd

It's funny how the most unexpected and random comment can turn into a God Encounter- this is what happened to me this morning.

I was playing with the worship band at church, and at the end of the service, a man came up to myself and 2 of the others and thanked us and said he had enjoyed the music.  None of us knew him so we asked his name and then introduced ourselves to him.  When each of the others introduced themselves, his comments were pretty normal "Nice to meet you." etc, but when I said "I'm Carly," he responded, "Well I suppose someone has to be."

It was a bizarre comment but it has stuck with me.  I guess I felt slightly offended by it, that he was saying I had a rough deal being me.  (I do realise it was just an off-the-cuff comment and he probably didn't mean anything at all by it, but it has made me think.)

Sometimes I do feel I've got a rough deal.  I look at other people and it just seems like their lives are easier.  Right now it seems like everyone in the world is getting engaged, getting married or having a baby and the fact that I'm not can make me feel there's something wrong with me.  Especially when I look at other people at church it seems like they just have it easier than I do. 

I know that undoubtedly some of the experiences I've had make life more difficult for me than it might be for other people in certain aspects of life.  I usually try not to entertain self-pity at all though, for several reasons:

Firstly, I don't really know all that's going on in other people's lives.  They may have issues and difficulties that I know nothing of and I can't judge.  I know that sometimes people look at me and think I'm sorted, and I know that really I'm not.

Secondly, there are a lot of people who have it a lot worse than me.  I have loads to be thankful for and that's a much more helpful focus than looking at others and being jealous of the things I don't have or feel I have missed out on. 

Thirdly, God has worked so much good out of the difficult things in my life that I can't see them as entirely bad.  I'm not sure I would change them even if I could.  It is knowing him in hard times that has always strengthened my faith much more than when things are easy.

Finally, there's no point- I am me.  Whether I like the role I've been given or not, this is my part to play, and I must play it to the best of my ability.  I can't be someone else- I can only be me- and this brings certain limitations.  There are aspects of my character that will not change- I will never be the life and soul of the party, I will never be gifted at sport, I will never be able to win intellectual arguments- and there are many things about my past and my situation that I can't change. 

However there's still a lot I can do if I am going to play this part the best I can.  There are good choices I can make to move me closer to God and to others.  I can choose to love and to show mercy even when I don't have those things returned.  I can make the most of the gifts I have been given.  I can use them to serve God and help others.  A talk which challenged me recently was about this very subject and the key quote that spoke to me was, "You are not a spectator watching your own life, wondering how it will turn out."- ie- we have choice.  We can't necessarily choose the hand we've been dealt but we can choose how to play the game.

To look at the man's statement in a more positive way, somebody has to be me, because that's what God has decided.  I am here because he wanted to make me, and he decided to make me as I am because he has plans and purposes for me to fulfil that only I can do.  Somebody has to be Carly because that is God's plan.  I need to learn to believe that- I believe it in my head but not always in my heart as too often I see other people who seem so much better than me at everything.

The truth is I am what he chose to make, as are you.  Each of us has a part to play that only we can do, and I think God challenged me today to focus on that- not comparing myself to others, trying to live up to their standards or feeling disappointed with how I am, but accepting myself as his treasured creation and being the best version of me that I possibly can be, seeking him, fulfilling the potential he has placed in me and playing the part he has given me to the best of my ability.

This is day 26 of a series "31 Days of God Encounters".

Saturday, 25 October 2014

A Spacious Place

Foothills Of Rocky Mountains
This is an edited repost from last year, describing one of the most powerful and transforming God Encounters of my life.
I wrote a few days ago about speaking out for the first time about some memories of childhood and that was definitely a big turning point for me.  As I said, it was just the start of a long, hard journey but being able to speak about it and know that I wasn't alone as I worked things through was a great help. 

However, a few months later, I moved away to the other end of the country , far away from all the people I had told, and, while I was in a much better state than I had been, it became a guilty secret once again.  As I met new people it was obviously not a topic of conversation that was going to come up and I felt I had to push it all inside once more.  To those looking on I was doing well in every aspect of my life, but I couldn't shake the nagging thought that no-one would accept me if they knew. Fundamentally I was struggling to accept or trust myself.

Then I started having dreams- they varied but the theme was always the same- trying to get through a tight narrow place into a wide and spacious place. I went to a Christian conference and also got involved with some sessions at church about prophecy and listening to God, and people would constantly give me words and pictures about getting into the open space, having to get through a narrow space into a spacious place, pictures of freedom and stepping out into something new.

To cut a long story short, I felt that God was telling me I had to speak out once again- this time not so much looking for help, but as a statement that this is my experience, I am not ashamed of it and I want to allow God to use it. I was struggling with this, as I guess part of me was still ashamed, but I finally reached the point where I realised that by holding back and resisting what God was telling me to do, I was missing out on entering into all the good things that he had for me.  I decided to ask two of the church prayer ministry team to pray with me. Once again speaking out was extremely hard, but I did it.

We prayed around the subject. I felt a bit frustrated at first as I felt nothing was changing, that I was making myself do something really difficult and that it had all been for nothing. I was trying to obey God and I wasn't sure what I was expecting but I was expecting something to happen.

We must have prayed and talked for about an hour and a half. Then it all happened very suddenly.

Something inside me shifted. It was like suddenly I was there- in the spacious place. It's hard to describe it but it felt like God broke something inside me and suddenly everything changed and I felt free! The best way I can describe it is it was like the start of "The Sound of Music" when Maria is out spinning around in the hills. I felt joy, peace, exuberance and freedom like I've never felt before.

I still don't exactly understand what happened but something changed that day. I finally felt like the past didn't have to hold me back any longer. I could trust myself, I could like myself, I could feel like I had something to offer to the world, and I was not afraid. I was no longer afraid or ashamed to speak of the past, because it is the past and it no longer defines who I am.

The change was dramatic and lasting. People noticed my new confidence, I was able to step into new responsibilies and do things that I never would have felt capable of before, I went from being someone who was painfully shy to someone who is still quiet at times, but talkative at others and perfectly happy to speak up when I have something to say. A few weeks later I got the chance to go and share my testimony of God being with me in difficult times with 3 classes of high school students and I told them my story! I had finally spoken publicly, and it was hard but it brought so much freedom.
He led me to a spacious place! He rescued me because he delights in me! Psalm 18:19.
This is day 25 of a series "31 Days of God Encounters".