The Reflective Season

Post-Christmas, with every day that passes in the lead up to New Years Eve, increasing joy and excitement bubble up in my heart. There is something about the opportunity to reflect on the year gone by and the anticipation of a fresh start in the new year which just isn’t the same as intentional times of reflection throughout the year. Bloggers worldwide reflect on their top books of the year gone, write their hopes and prayers for the new year, and provide wisdom and practical advice on how to approach new Bible reading plans or being more engaged in important spiritual disciplines as people start to think about new year resolutions.

Our wedding anniversary is also in late December, and each year as we celebrate by going out for dinner, we take with us a set of questions which we ask each other and reflect on, and spend our evening sharing and discussing our answers. For me, this really kickstarts this end of year season of reflection, and I find the time set aside for intentional reflection and answering specific questions valuable. It is also a great asset in listening to what God is calling me to in the coming year, as well as seeing how God has been at work when I look back on how my answers change year by year.

So considering this, I thought I would compile some questions to reflect on as the year comes to an end, which are more general than my ‘heart questions’. If like me, you have a box of unused notebooks and journals (all of which are very pretty but I currently have no need for), think about using one to record your reflections each year so that over time you can see how God has been working in and through you.

1. Where have you seen God most at work throughout this past year?
2. What has been a highlight of this past year, and why?
3. What has been your biggest struggle of the past year?
4. What area or characteristic do you feel like you have most grown in?
5. Where have you been convicted of, or seen a need for future growth?
6. How have been going in practicing spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, fellowship, worship, fasting)? and are you doing these to grow in godliness? (1 Timothy 4:7)
7. Who has been encouraging and upbuilding you in your walk with God this year?
8. Who has God placed on your heart to be investing in and sharing the gospel with?


Travelling the World for the Glory of God (Part 2)

Here we continue our discussion of five ways we can glorify God when on holidays. You can find the first post, including the first three points here.
To recap, We have looked at how be intentional in glorifying God on holidays through:
1. Time spent enjoying God’s creation
2. Time spent reflecting, and
3. Time spent resting.

We coninue with:

4. Time spent in communion with the Lord

Whether your dream escape is a week on the beach with nothing to do, an adrenaline-packed outdoor adventure, or exploring big cities finding the best coffee and museums – holidays have down time. This could involve the hours spent on planes or buses (or waiting at the airport…), sitting down after setting up camp after a day spent hiking, or those endless afternoons by the pool. The nature of holidays is that they are different from your day-to-day life, in which family, work or study consume large portions of your time; on holidays, your time is yours to commit to whatever you choose. For this reason, one of the things I get most excited about when going on holiday is the time I have to spend with God. I can read the Bible, pray and have the time to read books that aid my walk with God that I wouldn’t have as much time to when at home.

Now of course this isn’t always  easy. We once went on a cruise where we had heaps of luggage allowance, and spent our days on the ship sitting in the lounge with unlimited free drinks, Bible and commentaries in hand. There were few logistical barriers for us spending time with God in that circumstance. But that is quite different to a 12 weeks backpacking holiday where you want to carry as limited luggage as possible, and every flight is overnight at the end of a long day, and the last thing you feel like doing it reading.

For our upcoming trip, on our budget flights out of Australia, luggage was expensive, so we have only 15kg each. And many of our flights are long and overnight, and we experience 6 different time zone changes throughout our trip, so we will be tired a lot. Therefore, we have had to be creative in the way we prepare for our opportunities to read and grow and spend time with God when we are away.
What we have found useful so far is:

1. Set aside intentional rest periods – No plans, just time to spend reading and discussing, so we don’t feel the pressure to fit this around our full itinerary. You could even plan in an hour at a nice cafe or the local park to spend reading and praying at.
2. Invest in some Christian audiobooks – This is my new favourite thing! We signed up to audible, and have bought some great books to listen to, and which will be perfect for tired plane trips when your brain isn’t up to reading, or for car/bus/train trips together.
3. Photograph your paper devotional or get a devotional app – Books are heavy, if you have a daily devotional you are using, reading one page a day on your phone isn’t too bad. Otherwise you can use an app (such as this one).
4. Take a book you read alongside the Bible and use a Bible app – I am still trying to find a way to fit my Bible in my luggage, but unfortunately my Bible is quite heavy. But I know that I struggle to read my Bible app like I do my real Bible; it’s convenience can become an excuse in not reading it because ‘I could read it whenever I want’. My favourite books are these God’s Word for You  books – they guide your reading with great exegesis, explanation and application. One of these alongside your Bible app is a great way to go (and is lighter than a Bible)! And as a bonus, you can also get some of these on audible.
5. Take your Bible anyway – If you are struggling to read your Bible, maybe taking it with you is the motivation you need. Knowing you have taken up that space and weight might make you more motivated to make sure you use it – with the prayer that you do so joyfully and can delight in God’s word.

5. Time Spent Serving

Now this point seems to stick out like a sore thumb. “I thought I was going on holiday to have a break from working” I hear you proclaim. Well the truth is, when on holiday, we don’t have a break from being a Christian. We are not called to stop loving others as part of our resting. And so when we are on holidays, we are still called to serve others and to serve God, just as we are in our day-to-day lives – and this can actually be such a joyful part of travelling.
Of course when on holiday, you may need to be more creative than normal in the ways you serve. You are not at your usual home church, often not surrounded by people you know, and it is hard to have people over for dinner or babysit or cook meals for people. But you if you are travelling with others or visiting friends whilst you travel, it is a great opportunity to love and serve these people, whether by planning parts of the itinerary, cooking for people or shouting drinks or dinner; there are still many ways you can be intentional in serving others.

You will also most likely come into contact with people you don’t know in your travels, and have the opportunity to serve them in one way or another as well. We have recently been thinking about the culture of tipping in the USA, and coming from a country that pays their staff properly, we think the concept is completely ridiculous (and rather frustrating). But we have been challenged that maybe this is an opportunity to faithfully serve others, to be joyful in the opportunity to be generous to people we don’t know, for the sake of God’s glory.
More often than not, being unable to see a way to serve those around us is not because there is no way to serve them, but because we aren’t looking.

I hope and pray that these few ideas might be of encouragement or challenge to you, for whenever your next holiday may be.

Travelling the World for the Glory of God (Part 1)

This week, my husband and I have started packing for our eagerly awaited holiday to the USA. I have been finalising our itinerary, buying last minute supplies, and attempting to work out what on earth to pack. As each day has passed, excitement has built with the realisation that this holiday is almost upon us. This anticipation has been far more enthusiastically expressed by myself than my husband (who says he is ‘looking forward to it’ but won’t really be excited until we are going), so in an attempt to share my joy, I frequently ask the question ‘what are the top 5 things you are looking forward to in the trip?’. In asking this, and hearing my husband’s responses, it has made me conscious of the reasons why I am so excited for this time away, and has consequently caused me to reflect on some ways we should be intentional in seeking to use our time on holidays to serve and glorify God.

Over two posts, we will look at five ways we can be intentional in glorifying God as we travel or go on holiday:
1. Time spent enjoying God’s creation
2. Time spent reflecting
3. Time spent resting
4. Time spent in communion with the Lord
5. Time spent serving

1. Time spent enjoying God’s creation

One of my very favourite reasons to choose to travel overseas when I can is the opportunity to see different parts of God’s creation. He has  designed such incredible beauty and diversity, from large natural wonders, to the plants and wildlife, to flavours of food. And God wants us to enjoy his creation, to appreciate it knowing that he has created it for us to delight in, see his character in, and praise him for.

What’s more, when we are travelling we too have the opportunity to use God’s gift of creativity ourselves. In trying to take the perfect instagram shot, we can do so to display God’s character, rather than for achieving maximum number of likes. Or in taking a travel diary, we can try to capture some of the beauty we see around us, remembering that all this reflects the beauty of the Creator. When travelling, be intentional to thank God for his gifts, be in awe of the God who created the awe-inspiring features of the world and find joy in God’s creation.

2. Time spent reflecting

One of my frequent responses to what I have most been looking forward to about our holiday has been along the lines of ‘I am just looking forward to getting away’. Now there is nothing wrong with my home life; I love my church, have some great friends, and enjoy having the opportunity to love and serve those around me. But there is something about leaving everything at home behind – no appointments or events, no tasks to achieve, no distractions – that clears your mind. It is a mental (and in some cases emotional) rest, which provides the space to reflect on the previous weeks and months, and to begin to plan for life when you get back home.

Three key areas I think are useful to reflect on are:
– Where God has been at work in your life
– How you have been going in your Christian walk
– What or where is God calling you to
(being conscious of the Holy Spirit’s prompting and convicting)

Reflecting on these things can require some intentional time put aside, or prompts or notes to remind yourself, but are well worth utilising the opportunity to do so – and aid the feeling of returning home feeling refreshed and ready to enter into the next season.

3. Time Spent Resting

God has made it quite clear that we need rest. He sets the example for us in Genesis, resting after creating the world, (Gen 2:2-3) commands the Israelites to take one day a week for rest as a sabbath (Exodus 20:8-10) and then Jesus emphasises that our rest is found in him (Matt 11:28-29). And what’s more, we spend a third of our lives asleep in order to function when we are awake – our bodies need rest. And what a good opportunity to do so when on holidays! Of course all of the previous points  we have discussed so far contribute to that rest we find in Jesus when we are on holiday, but we can also find additional physical and mental rest in the holiday itself.

Naturally, people will plan holidays that they find restful. Whilst we tried going on a cruise, and loved aspects of it, it cemented in us that we are ‘doers’ when on holidays. We love to sight-see and explore cities; more than a day or two sitting by the beach and we will get bored, hence our upcoming trip is full of activities and sights to see so that we find the most rest in it. And rest might look different for different people; whilst I love to cook, for my husband, resting is not having to cook or clean, so when away, we will prioritize eating out at some nice restaurants so that he doesn’t need to cook or wash up.

Whilst all this may sound selfish, it is important for us to take time to rest due to it being a part of the way God has designed us. And we should celebrate, we should thank and praise God that we can find that rest in such an enjoyable way. In addition, by resting, we prepare ourselves to be able to serve others when we return home. We can rest selflessly, by viewing it a means to enable us to continue the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).

Patience in the Yeast – A Lesson on Kingdom Growth

I love to bake – cookies, cakes, slices, bread, you name it, I’ll attempt to make it. I am always up for trying something new; in fact, you will rarely find that I make the same treat twice. About a year ago I tried my hand at making sourdough bread. I made my own natural yeast starter, fed it and looked after it, and eventually once it had grown, attempted to make bread. My very first loaf was a complete failure. It was dense, barely rose and did not look like sourdough in the slightest. My attempts improved very minimally over the following weeks, but I certainly never achieved anything close to the perfect sourdough loaves that you find at the farmers market or artesian bakeries with that  classic open crumb. And as much as I desperately wanted to create beautiful ‘social-media worthy’ bread, and was aware of the many intricacies in the art of creating sourdough, the problem was not with my starter, my kneading technique or my oven – it was with my patience. I simply didn’t have the patience to mix, let my dough rise for some 20 hours, only to knead it once more, and let it rise for another 12 hours before baking it. I wanted my bread to be made quickly, to eat it that day (so much so I actually tried adding instant yeast to the mix …) So needless to say I quickly resorted to returning to normal instant-yeast bread recipes that involved much less waiting-time.

Unfortunately, my lack of patience is not limited to bread making. Recently, I have noticed moments where I have lacked motivation for gospel work due to a seeming lack of visible kingdom growth from my efforts. It is not infrequently that I find myself seeking to see the fruit of my ministry work; an outward change in the people I invest in and pray for, a growth in numbers attending our church services, or even just people I know maturing in certain aspects of their character. And of course there is nothing wrong with desiring to see the results of God’s work in people’s lives – but if we allow the lack of visible growth to be a source of discouragement for us, we can actually be placing misaligned or unrealistic expectations on how God works – even if we feel like we are being patient!

In Luke 13 Jesus teaches us some profound truths about the Kingdom of God. In v10-17, Jesus heals a woman who had been bent over by a disabling spirit for 18 years. He also rebukes the ruler of the synagogue for his lack of compassion, and desire to fulfill the letter of the law (Jesus had healed and therefore “worked” on the sabbath), rather than the glory of God displayed in the power of releasing and healing this woman. We read that ‘all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him” (v17). This display of power, that could deliver this woman from the power of satan, raises the question,’if Jesus is establishing the Kingdom of God, what will it look like?’ (v18).
Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to two things, a mustard seed which grows into a tree (v19) and a leaven, the yeast in the dough that makes it slowly rise. Both these things, a seed and yeast may seem small or insignificant, but with time, they grow to have extensive impact.

I have often considered myself patient in thinking that it could be months or maybe even a year or two to see change in myself or other people. God has been teaching me recently that the Holy Spirit prompts and works in His perfect timing – which is not my timing. I have learnt that I must be patient in the knowledge that what I may already know to be true, or may be convicted by, is not necessarily the same for anyone else. However, the timeframe of a mustard seed growing into a tree, or the yeast in the bread is so much greater than my supposed patience. This image of slow growth that Jesus provides is teaching us that our patience in the growth of God’s Kingdom is not in the realms of weeks or months, or maybe even years – it’s lifetimes. The fruit of ‘your’ ministry may not be for you to see, but may be for the generation after you. Just as I needed to be patient for the yeast to work to create a sourdough loaf, we need to be patient in God’s work in others. And this is not the exception. It is not that most people will change quickly, and the Kingdom will grow rapidly but we need patience for the odd occasion when things are a bit slower – No! Jesus is teaching us what the Kingdom of God is like; this is the norm for us.  Patience, a firm trust in God’s perfect timing, and belief that he is faithfully producing fruit even if we cannot see it yet, are prerequisites for continued service in ministry work.

A God Who is Bigger than Cancer

3 years ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It’s not one of the well-known cancers you would have heard of before; in fact, I had never heard of it prior to starting my medical degree. My dad had never heard of it either, until the doctor told him ‘I think you might have Myeloma’ – which meant absolutely nothing to him, until he came home and reported the doctor’s suspicions to me. I remember it so clearly, the way he said recalled the name so unconcerned, without any concept of the implications of the diagnosis placed before him, and I stared at him, shocked, confused, and uttered, “Dad, myeloma is a cancer”.

And there started our journey as a family, of blood tests, bone marrow biopsies, scans, chemotherapy regimens, and two stem cell transplants.

Continue reading

Heart Questions: A Privileged Role in the Kingdom

You are not needed by God. I am not needed by God. God is all powerful and all sovereign, He is perfect in his character and has always been, long before the creation of the Earth. Yet here we are, living out our lives to share the gospel  and make disciples, spending each day aiming to glorify God in all we do, pursuing knowing Jesus and make Jesus known. We do this despite not being needed. Why?

Continue reading