My #Next5

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I’m part of a pretty awesome online community, that is constantly challenging me to dream bigger and to chase those dreams down. (You can read more about what this group means to me here).

This week, another member of the community came up with a great challenge, and is encouraging us to spread the word.

Before I go into too much detail about what #Next5 means, let me fill you in on what I was doing right before I heard anything about #Next5. 

I had just sent off an essay and a written interview as the second stage of an application process for a Masters course. In Theology. This is something that I have really wanted to do for a long time but something always got in the way. Even as I was writing the essay, my mind kept asking me: “Are you sure you’re clever enough to do this? Do you even understand what you’re writing? Better to give up right now…”

I feel like, when I let other people tell me I can’t achieve my dreams (or I assume they will tell me I can’t achieve my dreams, so I smother the dreaming and try to be sensible) they are just agreeing with what I’ve been telling myself all along. I’m my biggest enemy. But no more.

Kevin Buchanan, of livingoutmyjourney.com, has challenged us this week to dream big, and imagine what we want our lives to be like in 5 years time. Now, with the way things have gone in the last few years of my life, I’ve given up on making any long term plans, but I was really encouraged by his video and blog post (available at the bottom of the page) and the subsequent photos my friends posted on Facebook, to come up with a few things I would like to have achieved by this time in 2019.

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Actually, I took this photo on Tuesday, and I think I want to dream a bit bigger now. But anywho. The point is, I know with a bit of hard work and hustle, I can achieve these things (apart from the man of my dreams one, maybe…?). It won’t be easy. It may not happen. But I’m going to do everything in my power to make these things happen.

So my challenge to you, dear reader, is the same as Kevin’s: what do you want to have achieved over the next 5 years? Write it down, take a photo, share it with the hashtag #Next5 and then stick it up somewhere to inspire you. Mine would be above my desk, if I had one…

For Kevin’s original post, go here.

And you can watch the video below…

 

Confidence in despair

Psalm 6

This Psalm finds David at a low point. He is ailing, weary, depressed. We’re given no context for his situation, though it seems he is expecting wrath and discipline, so we can assume he is feeling the need to repent from some sinful action. Exaggeration is common in the psalms to really emphasis the emotion, so it is possible that the physical symptoms David describes are just an example of that, or it could also be that he is feeling sick with guilt, that his sin has caused a physical reaction.

He is calling out for grace and mercy. He appeals to God’s goodness by using the covenant name, LORD, Yahweh. He calls on God’s steadfast love. He is in the depths of despair, and yet is confident of God’s answer. In an effort to rid himself of the enemies who are tormenting him, he sends them away, declaring: “The LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.” Even though his situation may not have changed yet, David knows that he has been heard, and he knows that God is just and will respond to his cry.

Sin has consequences in our lives, but repentance restores our relationship with God, because He is merciful and will always forgive us when we ask. He always answers when we call to him. We can come to Him with confidence, even when times are tough, and know that we will be heard. We can trust in His steadfast love and trust Him for justice.

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the cotton reel

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Fragile

I tangle so easily

get caught up in things that don’t matter.

I stretch

tug

and snap.

I spin round and round and get tied up in knots.

When I try to be useful

I get myself in a mess of broken dreams and tangled threads.

I need to be broken

unknotted

unravelled

stripped back down to just being me

and let You reweave

the threads of my life

twining the cords of me and You

together

for You make me stronger than I could ever be on my own

and You rethread me

and work me into Your great tapestry

and though my part of the picture may be small

it is significant

my colours shine the beauty

of Your design

and though I may never see the whole pattern

I will play my part with joy

Knowing Your hand guides my movements

weaving my life with others

to create a beautiful picture

displaying Your glory for all to see.

The way of righteousness

Psalm 5

This is one of the many Psalms which includes the instruction: “For the choirmaster” (or director of music in other translations). It is thought that these Psalms were meant to be included in the collection of works for use in Israel’s worship services, making it an act of corporate worship. For some reason it often surprises me to see this annotation, as I get used to thinking of the Psalms as personal prayers and songs, and individual crying out to God in different situations. While that is definitely true of many of the Psalms, it is striking how many are labelled as congregational, reminding us that our faith is not an individual affair, but one requiring fellowship for growth, in the good times and the bad.

Psalm 5 is titled “Lead me in Your righteousness” in my Bible, and this is David’s prayer throughout the Psalm. He addresses his application first of all to the LORD, using God’s covenant name, which emphasises His goodness, but in the next verse David calls on “my King and my God” to highlight God’s authority over him and His greatness. David has an attitude of humility – he is making the right sacrifices and waiting for God to act. He wants to be right with God. He knows what displeases God – boasting, evil, deceit, bloodthirstiness – and he knows that God’s unfailing and abundant love has made it possible for us to be right with Him. He also recognises that the right response to God’s holiness is fear and respect.

The next verse (8) intrigued me: “Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness/because of my enemies/make your way straight before me” – why because of his enemies? Was it because they were trying to lead him astray, or he was worried about his anger towards them leading him to sin? Or was it so that they would have no ammunition against him, as he would be living God’s way? Or could it be because he wanted to show them a better way to live? As I thought about this, I realised that though these are different interpretations of the same phrase, they actually don’t contradict each other – any or all of these thoughts could be accurate. David may very well have mixed emotions and motives when thinking about those who stood against him! What is clear, though, from verse 10, is that David is handing the situation over to God, and letting Him deal with them, instead of trying to seek his own vengeance. This is a pattern we see time and again in the Psalms – let God be God and let go of our own agenda.

The Psalm ends with a promise of the blessings for those who seek refuge in God, and seek after righteousness – they will be made righteous and they will be protected and favoured, and their response will be to praise.

So, what’s the takeaway from this today? First, to take requests to God freely, appealing to His goodness but with a right respect for His authority. Second, remember that God is holy and hates sin – be repentant, be humble, and seek after righteousness. Third, trust Him for justice when others seek to hurt you, but also by your actions show them the way of grace and righteousness. Finally, remember God’s unfailing love and seek refuge in Him.

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Hide and Seek

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If I seek You


I will always find You


For You are always


There to be found


You do not hide Yourself


From those who truly look


Your power and glory are on display


For anyone who truly wants to see

When I hunger for You


You are my daily bread


When I thirst for You


You pour out living water

You do not hide Yourself


When I seek You


With all my heart


You are there to be found

As for me, I try to hide


My pride and my shame


My fear and my guilt


Make me run away


Seek darkness to cover me


For how can You love


One such as me?


I do not think


You want to find me


When I do not want to be found

But You always want to find me


Your love seeks me out


There is nowhere

You won’t think to look


No hiding place to keep me secret


You find me and

You free me


Your love redeems and restores


And I know I need hide no more

When I try to run away


Your love draws me back


Turns me round


Makes me seek You in turn

When I seek You


I will always find You

When You seek me


You will always find me

the art of giving up

Psalm 4

This has been one of my favourite Psalms for a long time, partly because it was recited in a song on a favourite album when I was a teenager, so I knew it word for word at one point.

I love the assurance with which David speaks of God. He knows God will answer, he doesn’t doubt that in the slightest. Even when people are trying to bad mouth him, or doubt his God, he knows, is certain that God hears him. He knows that God is the source of his righteousness (v1), his joy (v7) and his security (v8). He also knows that God will bring justice, that those spreading lies about him will be shown to be deceitful and that he is set apart by God as righteous.

There is also some very wise advice in verses four and five. “Be angry, and do not sin” (or, “In your anger, do not sin” as the NIV puts it). A few weeks ago a good friend of mine was in a situation where he got so angry he was about ready to punch someone who was really winding him up. I have never seen him so angry. And he walked away. He let someone else make the peace and he went off by himself to calm down. He did not let his anger control him. He wasn’t wrong to get angry, but he would have been wrong to act out of his anger. In Ephesians 4v26, Paul quotes this verse and takes it a little bit further: he instructs us not to go to bed angry, to always try to make peace within ourselves before the sun goes down. This action of letting go of what has wound us up is another way of letting God be God, and trusting Him to make things right.

We don’t have to make sacrifices in the way they did in the Old Testament, but there are sacrifices we need to make to help us be right with God (v5). Letting go of things that anger or upset us and choosing to forgive is one way. Last week someone upset me and I really wanted to get them back by doing the same thing to them that they had done to me, so they would know how it had felt. Instead I chose to do something nice for them, and they came and thanked me and I was so glad I had chosen helping instead of hurting, as that only leads to a cycle of pain and revenge.

In choosing to follow God, we have to give up a lot, Jesus asks His disciples repeatedly to leave their homes and security and to follow Him, assuring them that they will face many trials and persecution along the way. There have been many times in my life where all I could do was cling onto the slivers of faith and just trust and hope that God would pull me through, and He always does. David finishes off the Psalm with the assurance that God will give him rest and security. We may not have it easy when we follow God, but we know that He is with us through everything and is working for our good, and it is so worth it.

When I think about sacrifice, I am reminded of that amazing quote from Jim Elliot, a man who put is faith into action and was killed trying to share the gospel with the Aucas in Ecuador in the 1950s. He said: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

 

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Start

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Approximately one year ago I followed a link to a blog I read occasionally. The author was Jon Acuff. The blog post was looking for adventurers, all you had to do was fill in a quick form. I closed the window and tried to forget about it but it kept tugging at the back of my mind.

I was a few months into a new job and I was supposed to be happy. I was where God wanted me to be (I still believe that, by the way). But there was still this longing for something more. So I went back to the post and filled out the form, not realising how significant that small action would turn out to be. I soon found myself a part of something called ‘The Start Experiment’ (more recently reinvented as the ’30 days of Hustle’) an amazing online community with daily emails and encouragement to push you towards achieving your goals and seeing your dreams become reality.

One year on, my life is so different. I have left that job and am currently unemployed and living back with my parents, with very little in the way of concrete plans. But I have my dreams and the last year has taught me that they are worth fighting for. I am taking chances I never would have dreamed of a year ago. I have best friends who live the other side of the world whom I’ve never met but who feel like my sisters. I have bought a domain name and am starting to take myself seriously as a writer. This is the power of community.

My goal in that original Start Experiment was to see myself as a writer. As part of that experience I wrote the following poem, and posted it on a Facebook group of more than 3000 people. and they liked it.

Start

Sometime,

In a time before,

I was afraid

so I hid.

I thought I had

nothing to share

nothing to give

I thought I was

Nothing.

And I was afraid

that people would see

the nothing in me.

But now I know

what was really scaring me

was the simple idea

that I might be

Something.

That I might have

something to give

something to share

and it might be

Amazing.

But I’m afraid to be

the person I could be

if I let myself be me.

I am made

for better things

than I’ve settled for…

So I’m choosing

to let go

of the things I’m holding onto

that hold me back

And I’m choosing

not to be afraid

of where my dreams may lead me

and the person I could become

if I let myself believe

that the One who created me

Didn’t make a mistake

But saw me

and knew me

Even before I was made

And He filled me

Brim-full of potential

to be creative

for I am made in the image of Creator God

And He filled me

with a deep-set longing

to find Him – for in finding Him I find myself

This I now know

I need not fear

who I have been

or who I could be

Because I am loved

and there is no place for fear in love.