No dry spells or struggles? Don’t believe you.

Anyone look around their church and think they’re the only one doing it tough in their faith walk? Watched a charismatic preacher ‘in the groove’ and haven’t left inspired but flat because, dear God, it feels like tumbleweed in my soul at the moment?images-3.jpg

The hymns start and everyone around is doing the clap, the sway, the hands in the air downloading the holy spirit like it’s on super-speed broadband and me….me? Well, God, my faith has got so much lactic acid pressing down right now I can barely lift a finger to turn a bible page.

The SAP calls it time in the desert. A testing drought. When you’re going through a dry spell, turning up to church is more than necessary, it’s essential. Trouble is, unless you are really clear about the space you are in, it can be more isolating than uplifting. It’s like a depressive being told to cheer up and get over it.

I’m naturally a fairly optimistic person. I have been hugely blessed with a fast faith metabolism. I sort of dive in, try some freestyle, get bored with the synchronised stuff, throw myself at a few big waves, and then attempt to float in the shallows with God at the end of it all. Recently, a new Christian friend prayed for me quite beautifully, during which she thanked God for my amazing faith. Was she nuts? My faith isn’t amazing. It’s quirky, a little off-kilter, and beset and bedevilled just like anyone else’s.

Take the other day. I was done. Slanging at God that I was ready to get my Sundays back. I was muttering around the house like I was pursuing my own, personal Spanish Inquisition.

At such times, his ‘n’ her prayer is a massive blessing. Big T and I are new to praying together as a couple. We stall like learners at the lights most often, with good intentions sliding away in the busyness of life. Yet when we are praying together, life reflects a better order. Putting God and time for prayer first delivers a better order? Well, duh.

So with me slanging and stumbling around the desert, barely able to vocalise to my husband my own arid confusion, it was a great blessing to have Big T pray for us as a family and for me as his wife.  I couldn’t gather the mental wherewithal to even stutter the Lord’s Prayer. So Big T especially prayed to God for me to receive clarity. As he closed, I added a feeble ‘Amen’ and fell asleep. Bah humbug.

Once again, God has to be glorified and thanked because, let’s be frank, if someone treated me the way I’d ranted at God last week? I’d likely have punched them. Or, at the very least, turned my back, deleted them from my phone, and dismissed them as a whiny so and so who was being incredibly ungrateful.

Yet He doesn’t. Nor does Jesus. Nor the Holy Spirit that resides within and prods me with prevenient grace whenever I spit the dummy.

The following day, God delivered me a series of beautiful, bespoke gifts. The totally humbling part was I hadn’t even said, “I’m sorry.”

I would have done – eventually. Yet He still sweetly answered Big T’s prayers for clarity on my behalf and reminded me – again – just how patient He is, how much love He is willing to pour out, how much He glories in me – all of us – being back in the fold. There was I behaving like a tough, gnarly bit of mutton and He’s ensuring I remember the lamb.

I can’t ever get over those times when I’m sooo frustrated and stomping off ready to be all secular and independent…. and God slings an arm around me and says, “Hang on, look what I’ve got here for you.”

So I walked up the main street of a busy Sydney suburb in grateful tears getting odd looks. Thank you, God. I’m so sorry I was slanging and petulantly stomping yesterday saying I couldn’t be bothered to pray or read the bible. I’ll return to trusting whatever You are up to and slug down the grace like an irishman on Guinness… Just wow.

The SAP, of course, in his supportive pastoral way had a good laugh at my antics. “Did that whole, ‘I freaked out a day too early’ thing, didn’t you?” he chortled. Smart alec.

Yet something even funnier and humbling happened, that shows how ridiculously we can behave in our relationship with God. As soon as the SAP suggested I’d freaked out a day too early, my immediate response was this:

Blame God. He wired me for a million miles an hour. What does He expect? Oops. Sorry God, I will try harder to slow my processing speed at such future junctures.

Which then left me giggling at my imagination of Jesus shaking his head at me saying, “No, Phil, no, no. You don’t get to tell God to keep up.”

Yet the beautiful thing is, God gets me. He knows I know, deep down, that I can never keep up. And that my mostly optimistic, cheeky, quirky and somewhat off-kilter faith is my way of trying to keep Him entertained. Most days I begin with praying, “So, God, what can I do today to make you smile?”

Sometimes it is slapstick. Other times I may even take a step closer to emulating a Jesus moment.

Either way, at speed or faltering, forward is forward. Whether it is through a lush field strewn with wildflowers or across dry desert, God tells me He’s there, He’s got me, and to just keep aiming forward.

Prayer. It’s allowed. Aloud.

Prayer was always something I was happy doing on my own. My isolated quiet time with G&J. Or the ‘led’ prayer in church, where I’d listen in, add my own prayers into any allocated ‘fill in the blanks yourself’ pauses, and add my “Amen” along with the congregation. images-2.jpg

Then, just over a year ago, I joined an existing growth group in the church. A mix of different-aged Christians, most of whom I’d term UHT (at this Christian thing a long, longer life than I) who meet weekly to do a more intensive unpacking of the Bible. If I wanted to grow my relationship with G&J, this was a natural progression.

I had sat myself next to an older women in church one Sunday, who’d helped hugely in my getting to grips with the histrocity of Jesus (being a history teacher herself), when the pastor on stage mentioned extra bible study. I whispered I thought I may need some of that, but with other commitments only one evening worked, and TA DA, she said: “That’s when my group meets, would you like to come along?”

Perhaps I was naive. Maybe G&J were ROTFL in heaven, hooting. God knows me well enough to know that my first step in learning is literal (read, research) then experiential (ponder, write about it, apply it, then return to ponder and write as I grow). God TOTALLY knew my literal understanding of a Bible Study group was just that. And that I also  assumed that ‘growth group’ was some sexy, marketing-derived name to make it sound more appealing out in the congregation target market than bible study.

Of course, growth group is a perfect descriptor. Yes, I unpacked more about God’s word as I attended each week. But you do more than study the bible in a growth group. You connect. You share. You pray. Out loud.

Out loud. In front of people. They are all fantastically lovely people but let me write it again: out loud. In a sort of free form manner based on notes you have taken as people share prayer points. My inner introvert was sweating.

Now, my UHT Christian readers may wonder what the big deal is. But when you are a newbie, the out loud thing is fairly confronting. In a small group, I was uncomfortably aware that it was really noticeable if I didn’t join in. Then my brain starting ticking with daft questions: what if two of you start up at the same time? Is there some prayer etiquette when that happens, do you give way to the left or something? Plus if we miss prayer points off the list, does the last person do some massive wrap-up just to make sure everyone is covered?

I love praying, I do. It’s an intimate opportunity to open up your heart, hopes, worries, sorrows. What I had to learn was the power of group prayer. That as Matthew 18:20 tells me, where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them and there is something beautiful in that, no matter how it tested my introverted heart.

So I grew. Rather than letting my naturally introverted, ‘don’t let anything come out my mouth before it’s fully formed in my brain,’ inclination takeover, I had to lean in. It gave me more insights into how the holy spirit whispers into my heart. It doesn’t matter that it is stumbling and ineloquent (a challenge for this writer who likes to craft and polish). I simply have to breath out, listen and hear the words that I’m gifted with.

As Jesus reminded me the other day: “I never said to make the light. Just to be the light.”

Sounds like God on the radio

Not only was the weekend Valentine’s Day, it was also world radio day on February 13th. I used to work in both BBC and ABC radio donkey’s years ago and, after producing a three-episode series on divorce over three generations, some lovely souls at Radio National gave me an award. So whilst I love to write, I’m fairly aural – probably why God shoves songs and lyrics at me in the early hours to get my attention. 12107060_537762879709626_4083684520642864060_n

Which He did fairly strongly in June last year regarding a job application, meaning today I write this as operations manager of the Australian arm of Far East Broadcasting Company, a global not-for-profit that uses radio and internet to broadcast the gospel into impossibly hard to reach places.

Not simply broadcasting tracts of scripture. Christ’s love may be captured in the Bible, but it was also seen through his acts, so FEBC’s radio programs cover education, social issues, literacy,  and health. Practical love and help broadcast in the listener’s own language, produced by volunteers who come from the communities they are broadcasting to. This is no ‘fly in, fly out’ mission. It is vine and trellis, tent-spreading mission with longevity, insight and understanding.

In Northern India, rife with sex trafficking, fathers hear FEBC’s radio programs and are educated to understand that their daughter being sold ‘to a better life away from poverty’ is actually a life of brothels and hopelessness. As a direct result of FEBC’s radio programs about legal rights and the importance of each individual, no matter their gender, there has been a drop in young girls trafficked and the number of female foetuses aborted.

As Ebola ravaged Sierra Leone, FEBC’s first response disaster radio programs offered practical health advice on dealing with the virus but also shared Christ’s hope. That there was love in amongst the horror. Last October, in response to Typhoon Koppu, the Philippines First Response Radio, in partnership with FEBC Philippines, used the suitcase radio station (pictured) in partnership with OCHA, The Office of Civil Defence (OCD) and other NGOs to get vital health and infrastructure messages broadcast.

You see, like God, radio gets in. On a loop. It may be the background noise to everyday life, but the message is there. From mobilising Russian Christians to adopt over 50,000 social orphans out of terrible situations in orphanages, to offering the means to educate new pastors via Bible Correspondence courses for effective church planting in Mongolia, I have been slack-jawed by the breadth, depth and width of the work that FEBC does. Which can all start from a tiny, A$30 wind-up or solar radio.

Could I EVER have imagined myself working there? Well, given the first Christian job I applied for knocked me back for having no faith and set me on a path to Christianity, I’ve learnt to be cautious with what God imagines! There’s a danger in praying ‘over to You.’

He has heard me mutter, “what were You thinking?” plenty of times in my short time at FEBC. I bring a default of commercial leadership to this Christian not-for-profit because, dear Lord, I’ve only being doing this G&J biz for not quite two years. The wiring is sometimes off. There can be a tension in that – there have been plenty of meetings when I’m on my knees ahead of time. Only recently I was battling with what I term ‘commercial rigour’ and the SAP gently suggested I used ‘good stewardship’. Ah, yes. Same intent, yet more positive and Christian.

The BC (before Christ) me wants to sprint at speed, get stuff done, and struggles with impatience. Re-wiring to ‘lead like Jesus’ does not happen overnight, no matter how much of the Holy Spirit God is gracious in bestowing.  “Because that would be too easy,” He whispers. Some tests are needed to prove mettle. Thank God for grace.

I’ve also learnt that working in a Christian mission is harder than secular. Harder to get stuff done. Not simply due to lack of funds or skills, as often can be cited in NFPs. It may read as ‘woo-woo’ but when you work in a mission that spreads God’s word across the globe, I’m certain the horned mother-trucker throws extra obstacles. I have learnt I cannot race and get stuff done at all unless I pray for God’s help, blessing, guidance and, yes, protection too, first.

It has proved both my biggest challenge and greatest blessing (discounting coming to G&J in my 40s!). If you want to know more about a cost-effective mission that you or your church could be involved in,  please take some time to learn about FEBC Australia’s work, especially if you didn’t know they turned 50 last year. This month’s story in Eternity is a great place to start. Download is below. Happy World Radio day!
http://issuu.com/biblesocietyau/docs/e66_p1_p20_final/4

 

 

Climbing into the lap of God

It was my son who taught me about prayer.  Almost 11, all angles and crane-like in his growth, he is still a hugger. In an echo of the time when he used to clamber onto my lap as a toddler, his hugs consist of a karate-inspired body pin and, after an appropriate amount of wrestling and removing elbows from soft body tissue, we settle into a curl of limbs and he will tell me about his day. He is a rambler and, like most boys, he fidgets to an internal beat I cannot hear. His eyes dart, his limbs twitch and his fingers tap or stroke against my own.imgres

But he is there. In my arms, turning up with the news of his day. I don’t especially care that he rambles, or fidgets, or his tales become long-winded and weave off point. I get to wrap my arms around this boy and just be. Count the freckles on his face, stare into deep blue eyes, scrub my fingers over his mop of hessian hair and just be. Listening and loving.

It makes me wonder about God and my prayers. The name “Abba” is one of the most significant names of God in the Bible. The word Abba is an Aramaic word that most closely translates as “Daddy.” It signifies the close, intimate relationship of a father to his child, as well as the childlike trust that a young child puts in his “daddy.” We forget that sort of childlike trust as get older.  But a strong memory of my own Father brings the Abba context home to me as an adult.

I was in my mid-twenties and, late at night, Dad and I sat discussing the world over scottish whisky. Due to the circumstances of my parents’ messy divorce, he and I had taken more than ten years to work out our relationship. He once said, due to the fractures, he would never presume to give me the Fatherly advice he would offer my half-siblings. That night, scars and guilt softened by the taste of peat and tarred string, he mentioned what he missed, what he really missed, was the time as a young child I would clamber on his knee and talk to him. So, with tears in my eyes, and a whisky tumbler in my hand, I walked across the room and curled into his lap.

Remembering God as Abba helps me curl into His lap. Remembering Him as Abba means my prayers may be free-form, may hop across many subjects like my son, but that’s OK. Because I’m there, shrugging off adult-things, and enjoying the time.

Doing a Bon Jovi: Livin’ On A Prayer…

The truly miraculous bit about a faith walk with Jesus and God is how personal it gets. This incredibly specific, custom-made, loving relationship. My lesson, as I attempted to explain during my testimony last November, is keeping all my second guessing, flawed, ego self out of the way to actually trust the process.

This year I committed to vulnerability. To opening up ‘me’ to Him. Handing ‘me’ over and saying, “Ok, then, Your will.” Was it easy? Oh no. I’d had an overwhelm of ‘thought creates‘ new age thinking prior to recovering from my Christian hangover. Our society pushes self. The difference between God’s will and my own, before Christianity, is stamped with action and impatience. Door not opening? Well, let me just kick it in.

Waiting on the will of heaven is an art. Of gently nudging on doors and, if they do not open fully, remaining still – rather than running around the side of the building and climbing through the window. It’s like living on a prayer. Doing a Bon Jovi. God either says “Yes” or “Not Yet.”  images

What Jesus has delivered is a relationship that allows me to wait at the door. To cease striving because he has already done the work. Supported by Jesus’ grace it’s easier for me to wait on the will of heaven without feeling frustration at the lack of momentum. I am not defined by my achievements. I am His achievement. His. No matter all that second-guessing, flawed, cage fighting, impatient self. His.

ColdPlay has a lyric about being in the gap between the trapezes that sums up where I am with G&J right now. As I trust, stay planted and grow in Jesus sacrifice, pray and give thanks, the next trapeze handle appears steady under my palms. I often don’t know which direction that trapeze may be swinging from or to, but God is gracious with any wobbly moments. The insistent shoving in my head up levels to a knowing ‘zap’ that signals strongly He is at work. “Draw closer. Trust. I’ve got this,” He tells me.

There is an absolute delight in that. The closer I draw, the better it gets.

As for doubters who would ascribe it to my over-active imagination, I have to say: my imagination isn’t that good. Take this recent unfurling, as I repeated my regular question/prayer to God:

“Why did you hunt me down at forty something years old? I have a range of communication skills. I love leading a team. I know I can build up a business and serve clients. But, really, is that all? I can keep blogging and try to keep writing about all that is lost in translation when it comes to You, but it seems a little limited,” I prayed.

(This is where I am very glad God knows me so intimately and understands His wiring me to think bigger and at a million miles an hour, because did I just tell Him this is a little limited?!?)

I continued: “Blogging is great (5000 readers and counting so far this year, thank you) but wouldn’t it be great to reach further? Like when I worked in radio. Although that’s been over 20 years so I’m probably a bit out of the career space of radio. Plus, you know, the kids are still at school. So if You do have any plans for me, I’d love to stay close to home. But your will not mine. Over to you. But, please, can you make it really clear? You know I need flashing neon signs. Sorry about that. Thank you. Amen.”

The very next morning a job advert landed in my inbox. A global Christian charity was advertising for a leader, to manage a team, work with the CEO and raise the organisation’s profile. Reach further? It radio broadcasts to over 3 billion listeners across the globe. Oh, and local?  Its head office is less than 9km from my home. Hang on, didn’t I just pray about all of this? Really?

I downloaded the job description, read it and, inelegant as is sounds, almost vomited with the adrenalin surge. God zapped into my head: ‘If you apply, Phil, you will get it.”

I wish I could say I smiled and calmly accepted God’s will. Whilst I didn’t descend into the cage fight limbic fight or flight that accompanied my decision-making over getting Lipton’d (yay, growth!) the absolute certainty that God was pressing on me was just as astounding. Help!

I quickly sent the smart-alec pastor (SAP) the job description, accompanied by the sentence, “Please read this. Freakin’ out. Don’t ask me what I prayed over yesterday.”

The reply: “Looks like someone wrote a job description for you, Phil. Of course I have to ask, what was it you prayed for?!”

Remember I also asked God to be really clear. The ‘up in lights’ neon joke I regularly request? As the SAP’s line about it being a job description written for me appeared in the instant messaging window….every light bulb in my office flashed, popped and flared. I kid you not. It was like something out of Poltergeist. I had to step outside and check the electrical safety board. Nothing had tripped.

Seriously, my imagination is not that good. God was more than at work. He was inviting me on a new journey. To trust the air between trapezes. To live on a prayer.

Climb every mountain. Drill for oil. Happy birthday, Mom. Thank-you.

Today my Mom would have celebrated her 69th birthday. It is a beautiful milestone that this coming Mother’s Day I will be sitting in a cinema watching sing-along Sound Of Music, as it was the first movie she ever took me to. mumpphilchair2

She sat the whole time with her hand placed on the seat of the folding cinema chair, as I wasn’t then heavy enough to keep it open with my own body weight. I have an imprinted memory: looking down at her hand on the slightly-itchy upholstery. Long, slim, piano-playing fingers. I see them again, now, as I glance down at my keyboard.

We all have a story. My Mom’s, I found out after she died three years ago, wasn’t all it appeared.

Until I was in my 40s, I knew my Mom to be a spirited, single-parent who hadn’t made the best relationship choices, but battled on, even when debilitating illness struck. The single-mindedness she displayed didn’t truly surprise me, even though her stubbornness often caused me frustration.

I wasn’t surprised because of what I knew about her: in the 1960s, after oil was discovered in the vicious North Sea off England and Scotland, she was the Geology-degree holding woman who, in horrendous conditions, would fly out to the oil rigs. Women, in those days, did not sleep overnight on oil rigs. Just in case the bromide in the men’s rations didn’t hold, or some such malarky. b98c898486b5c8942eedc68928392015

Born in 1971, this was the backdrop I grew up to. In whipping wind and sea spray, I imagined her standing on oil-rig platforms, legs planted. Doing what no other woman was doing. Little wonder I believed that I could achieve anything I turned my hand to. Not through any sort of prideful need to measure my own worth. But simply because that was my normal. Women drilled for oil, flew across a boiling sea in helicopters, strode confidently around drilling platforms and held PhDs in Geology.

Until she died. Quickly, painlessly, with dignity. And in the weeks that followed, as I sifted through papers, I came to understand it had all been a fabrication. No Geology PhD. No oil rigs. She had been a secretary within the Geology department at a local University. And had been told, no, women did not do that sort of study. And they certainly didn’t fly on helicopters to oil rigs.

Was I angry? Disappointed? I thought about those feelings for about a nanosecond. Then I laughed and laughed. My Mom had looked around at her world, at the story she was being told, and then looked down at me as a baby and quietly thought, “No. That’s not your story. I want you to have a better one. Without limits.”

This Sunday, if she is alive, hug your Mother. If she is no longer with you, send up a prayer of thanks. I will be sitting in a darkened cinema, singing along to The Sound of Music. When ‘Climb Every Mountain’ comes on, I will cry. Just a little. For the woman who gifted me the crampons, rope and vision to tackle cliffs, pikes and precipices.

Happy birthday, Mom, wish you were here.

What would you do if you were truly fearless?

imagesI’ve never been much of a goal setter. I am incredibly thankful for the personal or business achievements in my life to date, but it kind of all happened ‘by accident.’ I was too young to know better (hello, 25 years old, and my first client was a multinational offering a monthly budget that I had earnt as a journalist in six). I somehow then accrued the business skills to sail through the subsequent years, build up a good sized PR agency, generate profits and employ people.

Then, after my spiritual Christian explosion last year (the whole hound of heaven, G,J and the Holy Ghostwriter, getting dunked experience), everything came into sharp focus.

This is not about me. Yet I have a part to play. It’s a decidedly liberating feeling to humbly acknowledge God and Jesus have the reigns, while honouring the words: Ask and you shall receive. 

What would you do if you were fearless?

No-one is fearless. Our fears are vines that twist around our legs as we attempt to step forward. They are the whispering voices in our heads that undermine our hopes and dreams. Yet think for a moment. Do you fear the ‘thing’ you are scared over? Or is it actually the feeling of fear that has power? Example: I never set goals in my first business for over a decade because, well, what if I didn’t achieve them? What would that failure say about me? I did OK without them, after all.

Setting goals isn’t scary. It was my fear around having those goals on show for all to see and not reaching them that paralysed me. Cleverly helped by my excuse that I did OK without them anyway (ahem, my dear Psych Nemesis would probably call that denial).

Yet, it is a waste of God-gifted talents not to set big, hairy audacious goals and dare greatly to achieve them. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10.

So I am currently referring to G,J & HS as the divine business management team (DBMT) because without my faith in them I’d not be dreaming so big, and daring as greatly as I am this year and beyond.

I have goals. Big ones. They are daunting and – because God has a sense of humour wiring my brain for warp speed – on a rigorous five-year schedule. I have a business coach to keep me accountable. It is out for all to see. I am the business chick stripped bare.

Yet, stripped down, I feel unencumbered. Able to fly. Paradoxically, given I have more on my ‘to do’ list than ever before in 15+ years of business ownership. I have a lightness that comes from faith that my true CEO has it under control: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us – Ephesians 3:20.

I’m certainly not fearless. Far from it. In fact, before I paid the deposit on my business coaching I was almost paralysed with the uncertainty. So I called a quick board meeting (prayed). “You think you’re in fear,” Jesus said. “Try being me in the Garden of Gethsemane that night.”

Nothing like a dose of perspective. It shoved down the jitters sufficiently for me to step out of my comfort zone and look at the next vista.  Which is the true comfort of faith. With it, I can dare greatly. As the song goesI am brave when I am on your shoulders. You raise me up to more than I can be.