Monday, July 29, 2013

Climbing Up Off the Canvas of Life

Each one helps the other,
saying to one another, “Take courage!”
— ISAIAH 41:6 (NRSV)
When I’m feeling flat and discouraged it’s wonderful how often God delivers a pick-me-up to the tune of words like this from a New York pastor Facebook friend: “Your posts always speak to my heart... to a past or current situation and to dreams and desires of future.”
The gift of encouragement may not be everybody’s calling, but we are all honoured to encourage one another; it’s how we love each other.
The reason we need to be encouraged is obvious. We all have flat spots in our faith journeys, tumults to deal with, testing times, as well as times of despairing. Our world has shrivelled up, we have lost perspective, and normally small issues get the better of us. In such a state we are no good for ourselves, let alone to others. For me, personally, I know this is a time to retreat; to escape the hurly-burly of life, if at all possible, even for an hour or two.
Times like this we need to take courage.
The point is everybody gets discouraged. No matter who we are, we all have points of potential discouragement. The key, then, is to find that thing or things that will help restore us in the courage to go on, for encouragement really is simply the fuel to go on.
Being encouraged is one of those things that happens always unexpectedly. And we are encouraged most of all when we need it, because, quite frankly, when we are feeling hopeful we don’t really need encouragement and, therefore, what would be encouraging is really a confirmation to keep going; we hear it not as encouragement – for the need to be encouraged – but as an affirmation, nonetheless necessary.
Climbing up off the canvas – having been dealt a flurry of blows – as we reel in shock for what has hit us – is the thing we need to do in staying in the match that is the context of our lives. Sometimes, though we are groggy, we see ourselves standing and standing is enough to match up with our opponent: this brutish life.
Once we are there – standing again, having been encouraged – we do the best we can with a new paradigm.
Encouragement is what we get when we take courage, and it’s what we give when we inspire others to take courage. Taking courage buoys faith and generates hope. Taking courage is the key to hope in an otherwise horrendous life. Ultimately, our strength for taking courage comes from God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Easiest Way to Avoid Regret

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.”
— Proverbs 21:5 (NRSV)
There is a time for the things we put off,
A time to suddenly make haste,
Now’s the time to do it,
So regret is not to be faced.
Two forms of haste: 1) impatience because of laxity, and 2) addressing an issue with due haste. The proverb talks about the former; the poem, about the latter. Haste is paradoxical in this way.
Diligence has boldness and blessing about it. Yet, procrastination is the antecedent to regret. We have many opportunities to do what needs doing now. What choice is it to be then? Now is the time to do it.
Sometimes we have more than enough on our plates at any one time, and indecision is facilitated by being confounded. There are a plethora of excuses. The point is we will always find time to do the things that are important to us. But here is the catch: rarely do we get all our true priorities in their correct order. And that is the role of self-discipline.
The person who is self-disciplined will surely attract an abundance of wealth, and not necessarily by a material appellation. Their prosperity has come about because they have chosen to invest in their own proactive destiny.
Avoiding Most Regret Is Easier Than We Readily Think
Apart from the regret that comes through a lack of prudence – which is the other half of the Proverbial toolbox for self-mastery – we can note the impressive role of diligence to ward against regret.
If we have chosen to do everything we can and should do in life – and limited to a focus of God’s ordained will for our lives – we will get these things done.
Surely there will be things we would like to do that don’t get done, but everything that we need to do should be done with willingness and great resolve. If we discharge our tasks in such a way, we will, of a fashion, be giving glory to God. We will have also accepted the many and discrete calls that God has placed on our lives to be done.
The easiest way to avoid regret is to do what can be done now in the management of our lives regarding the consequences that are already coming our way. Self-discipline and patience warrant blessing, yet laxity and haste are sure ways to a cruel end.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

By Trust, God Is Your Peace

The Word of the Lord concerning security and delivery, procuring peace:
“Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.”
— PSALM 91:14-16 (NRSV)
By trust we are won to the tremendous hope of salvation; God would deliver anyone from their calamity. All we need to do is do the simplest thing – that also seems to be the hardest: we surrender upon our human strength to redeem the strength of God in our weakness. Weakness is, hence, the invitation – the Presence of God ushered into our consciousness.
By trust, God is our peace. He has promised the same. As he has been faithful in delivering us in many ways we have not previously understood, even from within our disobedience. Yet, the faithful he saves ever more so – by many and various manifestations of spiritual rescue.
If we truly love God, we have saved ourselves for him, and this Lord of glory has gracious things stored and stowed for us. As we step by faith and not by sight we envision the glorious state of being rescued according to God’s will; the nuance of which is designed and decreed by the Lord himself.
Being rescued is not defined by human means, but by the means of the Almighty. So what might appear as a rescue to us will not translate into a rescue by God, and vice versa. We must yet learn to think like God thinks, and act so that we are not so surprised by life.
The best means by which we are rescued is by the provision of protection, for all those who love God – who will know his name; Father, Son, and Spirit.
When we call upon the Lord in our distress we will be answered, and we will know it when the answer comes. Even the perception of an absence of an answer is an answer. Much of the time God’s Word has already given us the template for how we are to live; God has spoken. The Lord has answered, in an eternal sense.
God is with us, as he says, in the affliction we find ourselves in, and, at every stage of our lives this applies.
The Lord has promised a guard of honour that would hedge us in within the bounds of our reconciliation.
By our trust, we know God and this Lord gifts us into peace. The more we take into account the truths of life – in his Word, by being humble, by loving reality – the more we drink of his purified streams of peace for all of our lives.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Gospel of Struggling Well

There Are Times when we may get the distinct impression that struggling isn’t the way for the person of God; that we are somehow blessed so abundantly that struggling isn’t appropriate for us any longer. Somehow we lose our grip on the fact that the gospels, the prophets, Job, the psalmists, and the apostle Paul often spoke in terms of suffering. It doesn’t sit comfortably with us, to struggle. And perhaps that is because we do not connect struggling with how to struggle.
It is a secret of life that we must struggle well if we are to understand God and life – more fully. For, all will struggle to some degree, and what point is it to get resentful. No, struggling is about an opportunity; we are only one step away from struggling well, that struggling in a ‘well’ sort of way requires much ‘work’ of surrender.
The gospel way is not about bearing our struggling in a worldly sense; it’s very much about bearing our struggling in a sense completely foreign to the world.
In this sense we are called to struggle gladly. So that makes little sense to us because of the pain, but there is gladness in knowing that God is with us notwithstanding our pain – that our comfort isn’t really the point. To struggle well is not to glory in the struggling – because nobody would love to struggle – but it is to endure our struggling patiently, without resentment, with as much grace as we can receive from God.
Struggling is the doorway to the intimate knowledge of God. We must walk through that door and bravely into our pain in order to struggle well — and there is no point to not struggling well. God draws us to Himself through our calamities. When we have been drawn, and we enter into the heart of the struggling-sensitive Godhead, there the LORD shows us His revelation and we are gifted with cherished Divine Presence.
Even — especially even — in our struggling God shows His love for us, by the gift of something we could not have otherwise. This is something eternal, something deep; something incomprehensible for those who haven’t yet struggled well.
Struggling is an opportunity to know God better – by struggling well. Because we are only one step away from struggling well when we are faced with a struggle, struggling is an opportunity. Struggling well requires much ‘work’ of surrender, and it’s the way we overcome our struggles as Jesus overcame the world.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Consume Me In You, LORD

There Are Times My Gracious God, when all of me abounds in confusion, and the experience of being overwhelmed takes me, as a rudderless raft, on the floodwaters of a torrent bound for nowhere.
When all that is within me screams and shouts and cries to be understood, when I am contorted and confounded and driven in my hopelessness – in that shadowy valley – I have nothing else but you. But you are enough!
When I am at my most desperate, and in the intenseness of my vulnerability, I have learned to invite your Presence into my being, and place you there as a sacrament of my allegiance; a most vital Presence to deliver me in that moment of Sheol.
In the moments, consume me O Lord, and take my soul afresh into you.
Allow me to infill of your Holiness, that my vessel may brim to overflowing again. Give me the grace for my moment, and just enough to get through, so I can glorify your holy name. Allow me entrance into your divine nature, to drink of your waters, and to immerse myself in your rivers of mercy and grace.
O Lord, who or what am I without you? I can do nothing. But with you within me I feel I have everything I need, so consume me in you, O Lord.
At my weakest you remind me of your strength. When I feel afraid you are my courage. When I feel alone, you are my companion. When life feels strange, you are my familiarity. When I feel pain and I cannot bear it anymore, you are the comfort who comes alongside me. You are the wind beneath my wings when I have no experience of your Spirit. You are behind me and ahead of me, and all about. I cannot hide from you, and I do not wish to in any event. When I feel rejected you are the love I need and you come into my life every single time. When I am betrayed you counsel me, because you know the pain of betrayal better than anyone. You give me peace!
Remind me, O Lord, this moment as I travail; be my breath and my hope and my inspiration. Give me passage into you. Allow me that dire necessity and utter privilege. Please forgive me my insistence, but I must have you. Give me such passage, I pray.
In the knowledge of Jesus, and all he did, and all your Spirit continues to do, I pray. AMEN.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Loving What You Do – a Secret of Life

“Whoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”
— Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890)
“It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.”
— Mae Jemison
What is life when all’s said and done,
Is it a test, a performance, a thing to be won?
Determine what it’s to be, decide, and be wise,
And then by God’s power, we’re given grace to rise.
At our most frustrated times, when we are angry with our world, with goals blocked at every turn, at the negation of God’s call on our lives, yet somehow the test is to sustain the present frustrated turn – for the trying moment – we are blessed to do the latter.
When we are frustrated we are more likely to ask searching questions of ourselves regarding the meaning of life. We wonder what we could be missing. Why are others happy? Why does happiness seem so elusive just now?
Is there anything worse than living in a disempowered state? That’s frustration.
Somehow we feel even more frustrated to know – at some level – that the world is our oyster. How can such an enticing truth be right before our eyes, yet so far away from our reach?
Do What You Love Or Do What You Can Love
To really gain the abundant life – the Jesus life – where we serve rather than be served – surely we have to find something we love to do.
We are more than we do, but what we do is meaningful for who we are. If we cannot do what we love to do, surely an appropriate and acceptable alternative is to do that which we can love. It’s nearly as good. It’s the viable way.
But coming back to our true selves – the person we have determined ourselves to be – is truly the meaning of life. Having discerned who we are, from what we have become (and who we are becoming), we must also discern who we are in God, and who God has shaped us to be.
The shape God has made us is intrinsic to every human being. They can neither negate it, nor despise it; it’s them! Honouring this shape is the way of the solemnity of integrity.
It’s the best way to do ourselves a favour – simply abide to who we know God is calling us to be.
What is life? It’s a thing to be given away by a you-shaped love.
We need love and we need a love – something for which to spend our entire lives for. Love is the basis for every happiness; we must love our lives and every contribution we can make.
Understand that what is done in love is done well. Everything works well for the person in love with their lives for what glory they may freely give to the Lord their God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Enduring Testimony of Woundedness

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
— ROSE KENNEDY (1890–1995)
There is the sanctity in the experience of pain and that truth bears itself enduringly through the passage of our lives. If we would be capable of love – and, when we are the best of ourselves, we are capable of little else – we would also be capable of much grief when love goes wrong. To love is to risk, simply because to love is to lose.
We become wounded when the entities we love get damaged.
When the people we love, and the things we love, and we ourselves, get damaged, or don’t realise their expected potential, we are aggrieved. And once we are aggrieved and the memory is recorded in our minds how are we to see things differently other than to accept them – that, they did once occur?
There is a rightness about the fact that we cannot completely remove the mark of loss. We somehow know that time seems to help with our adjustment, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say that with time we give our minds sufficient opportunity to accept what happened and our new reality, and to cover the pain so it’s bearable.
If we were to take a fresh excavation into the pain we might find that the pain we experience has been transformed into something of a memorial – kind of a reflective fondness exists in that pain. We somehow miss that part of ourselves that is perhaps gone. We therefore cannot help but reminisce, and such things evoke the spirit of wonder. But let us not fool ourselves. There is pain there, alright.
Such a journey into the losses of the past, and the experience of a safe grief, give us confidence that God is intrinsically part of the healing process.
We have been made better for our experiences of pain. We endured the pain the best we could and God made for us a sweet legacy that we could not have imagined earlier.

Loss has a precious sanctity about it that decrees we loved what we lost and it can never, ever be made unimportant. The keenest of wounds are the treasures of reminiscence – they can never be erased.
Wounds have about them the media of grief, and through grief we grow, and through growth we mature. We become better people for the losses we grieve in authenticity.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Brokenness – the Qualifier of Salvation

In a field of understanding — “salvation” — which ought have no qualifiers — because it is God’s gift to humankind, through the sacrifice of his only Son — there is one qualifier for true salvation.
Many have tried without it. I have. I tried for 13 years in my own strength; I never ‘got’ it. Not until my life had become smashed to smithereens on the jagged rocks of marital rejection did I come to comprehend, that, for me, I couldn’t experience the salvation of God until I was heartrendingly broken.
What promised to be the worst thing I could have possibly imagined turned out to be the best thing. Not that I can say that without feeling for my children and their loss. That is the only downside. Still, they have recovered the best I could have hoped.
But I did not know true life until nearly 10 years ago now. Up until then I was still a shadow of a person; a shadow of the real me. The real ‘me’ desired to be authentic, but my shadow blocked the passage of the courage I needed just to be myself, to be vulnerable, and to be able to fully trust God, especially in the midst of my relationships.
The Tenuous Subject of Salvation
In speaking of qualifiers for salvation I am aware I tread on tremulous territory. Who am I, or anybody else for that matter, to judge who is saved and who isn’t? Only a person themselves, and God, could know.
But I see so much now about salvation — the actual experience as it manifests in everyday life — as I come to understand that salvation is not just a stake in the ground. It’s a never-ending race, one day at a time.
Having been broken, and I mean really broken, to the point where there was nothing left as I kneeled before the cross, knowing that was the only way forward — the only way out — I was saved; through the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to take my sin upon himself, forever stifling its veneer power.
To know the end has come, and a new life is our only hope; that, for me, is salvation.
When everything else pales into insignificance, and no one can reconcile our understanding but God himself, we stand qualified, well positioned no less, to receive the grace that was always destined for us.
From my vantage point I cannot see how we could see what we need to receive, let alone receive it, if we haven’t had a season, which led to a climaxing moment, where all there was, was God.
Brokenness is the qualifier of salvation. The more broken we are, the more hope we have of experiencing this salvation from God alone. Salvation is for the weak, not the strong, but, through it, the weak are made stronger than the strong. They, in their continued brokenness, have God’s unfathomable power and nothing can touch it.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Space and Time for Quiet Creativity

“The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.
— BLAISE PASCAL (1623–1662)
Having wondered for months what the cause of my distracted and oftentimes overwhelmed mindset was, I somehow knew that the old nemesis of busyness had crept in, but I hadn’t noticed the role I was playing in not making enough room for my creative outlet.
My creative outlet is writing, but when I’m rushed it isn’t enjoyable and it isn’t my best work. It becomes rather a chore. Funny to think that something that is voluntary can become a chore – but it’s also core to my call of God.
Central to the distracted and overwhelmed mindset is a person’s relegation of their own time and space to be themselves without priorities clashing all over the place and confusing the mind and paining the heart.
Blaise Pascal had it right. When we have room enough to retreat into ourselves as part of our daily routine, we benefit from giving expression to our creative outlet and happiness is then in the frame.
Staying Quietly In Our Rooms
Despite the exceptions, where we make hermits of ourselves, God clearly designed us to have sufficient space in every day – and certainly every week, via Sabbath – where we have enough control to truly experience peace; without tormenting thoughts of tight schedules, the clash of priorities, and juggling many other people’s needs encroaching.
Indeed we need this time we can stay quietly in our rooms, where we can find ourselves again, in order that we are the best for everybody else; so we can serve them in the fullness of love, without mental or emotional or spiritual constraint. Some people get up at 4AM just to get their quiet time.
Yet no matter how good it is for us to stay quietly in our rooms, it takes an enormous amount of discipline to approach this wisdom and apply it.
Staying quietly within our rooms could be as simple as sitting somewhere quiet, reading one thing (perhaps a Bible passage), without distraction, even with our hands clasped so we cannot do anything other than do one thing.
Without noise or distraction, and only one thing entering our minds, and being that way for a short period – 20 to 60 minutes – and there is such a soul calm about us.
The biggest single gift we can give ourselves, if we are overwhelmed in busyness, is to find time and space daily for a meaningful creative outlet, and thus stay quietly in the room of our soul for that time.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Journey From Death to Life

“Real life requires death. Death involves the experience of suffering. Suffering is required for growth.”
Life is an upside-down reality. What appears to give us life sends us to either a rapid or a slow spiritual death. But what is death to the flesh is life to the spirit. The journey from death to life is the relinquishment of those tantalising features of the world that hold us back from the full experience of life.
When we can give up what we cannot keep in order to gain what we cannot lose we win an eternal prize – now and to come. But much faith is required. We must believe that suffering for truth – by sacrifice – is worth it. But if we don’t believe we don’t get anywhere spiritually. No investment means no return.
This means we need to be prepared to lose in order to win. We need to be prepared to go against the grain of sense so we can ensure there is room for God’s grace to permeate our situations.
When we are able to give away our needs, and live the death of Jesus so others can have life, we are surprised as to what comes back to us in the way of blessing. We have taken on the journey through death to ourselves in order to redeem life – the long way around, but the only true and sustainable way.
If we can endure pain, and grapple with the reality of our situations, God will reward us here in this life. But importantly, that is not our aim or objective.
We want to be done with notions of blessing, so we can be focused only on matters of trusting and obeying God by ordering the realities of truth into our psyches – to such a ‘heart’ level that we can do them. We let matters of blessing come of their own accord, without us influencing them one way or the other.
Death Is a Precursor to Life
There is no life in this existence called life until there is death. We must die to ourselves in order to redeem this life that God has, that replaces the veneer of life we have come to accept as life – a life trapped in the mortal body.
Accepting that there is no life without having procured the matter of death, we can see that everything we want to achieve is dependent on surrender. We need to get back to the start before we can start again.
This applies to the many things we cannot do without the fullest of surrenders.
Change depends on the necessary surrender of those things that have held us back; the things associated with death regarding the new place we want to get to. This is the journey from death to life – that is, from death of the old self to life in the new self. New life is possible only when the old life is dealt with.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Embarking On the Sweetest Loneliness

Sweetest loneliness with the Lonely Shepherd,
Comes the time... now,
Together, alone, we walk gently by the stream.
Jesus, my Saviour, for Whom I do so esteem,
You bring my soul to completion this moment,
Even as if it were the surest dream.
Sadness within the purest loneliness invites us to enter the Presence of God... and there can be no better experience... paradox of paradoxes... ironies sweeping past ironies... the worst brings the best into view.
How do we get our heads around this fact, that there is a lonely place that really is never better? We have to experience it to believe that, surely.
Embarking on the sweetest loneliness is willingly entering in on the heart of God – to receive the invitation that exists and persists eternally – to come home within the communion moment.
Journeying with the Lonely Shepherd
We may not be used to thinking in terms of God as a lonely shepherd, but in such a case as seeking our souls he can be seen to be just that – forever lonely in seeking us out, to commune with us.
This is not about a lonely emotion within the heart of God, but it does resonate with the sense of desire God has that we would come home.
God has journeyed with us since before our birth and he journeys with us after our death. But we do not always journey with God; like the proverbial footprints in the sand, God walks most of the journey alone, carrying us – when we would be doing our own thing.
Journeying with the Lonely Shepherd, therefore, is our opportunity to not only return to God what rightfully belongs to him – us, of ourselves – but to be blessed, also, by knowing the richness of God-felt Presence in our loneliness moments.
At the end of ourselves is the power of God, and we redeem this power in the foreclosure of our insistence to run the other way. When we are willingly lonely with the Lord, we are graced by his Presence.
Sadness within the purest loneliness invites us to enter the Presence of God... and there can be no better experience... paradox of paradoxes... ironies sweeping past ironies... the worst brings the best into view.
Loneliness can be like a gateway into the heart of God, where we present as we are, with nothing added; where we do not hide from our loneliness. We let it be. In such a place we are safe; it’s a sanctuary where God heals us for that moment.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.