Monday, May 30, 2016

The Point of Hardship Is What It Points To

God uses challenges and hardships for our refining,
But we must first look for the dark cloud’s silver lining.
There is always something to see in the dilemma at hand, if only we’re curious enough to seek God for the knowledge of it.  The trouble is we often respond very emotionally when we’re blindsided by situations and thoughts we didn’t anticipate.  We panic.  But, if we hold that moment, asking God to show us something new, He will.
Yes, He will.
The point of hardship is the learning within the situation itself, not the pain, though the pain will drive us to learn.
The time in the hardship that’s hardest is the in-between wrestling-with-conscious-pain time.  Most of us experience this sort of hardship weekly or at least monthly, and yet there are entire seasons where we wear hardship as a kind of parasite; the hourly task.
If we’re open to the fact, by faith, that God uses challenges and hardships for our refining, we complete the transaction, by becoming aware of this fact’s power, by simply looking for silver lining in this particular loathsome cloud.  It’s there alright!
God will always show us something new if we’re curious enough.  And that new thing will make the hardship tolerable, and in that we’re refined, and taught how to live as a disciple of Christ who can willingly bear and carry their cross.  And, be aware, the new thing of God is not something we could learn anywhere else, and don’t expect others to understand.  It’s between us and God.
The point of hardship is discovery; to learn how a setback can be turned into a comeback.
What about pain?  The point of pain is never the pain itself, but what the pain causes us to do.  Pain causes us to look deeper, to canvass wider, and to search longer, so our perspective becomes broader.
The point of hardship is it forces us to become curious, if we’re courageous enough to be open.  We only get curious if we don’t otherwise become cynical or compromise to cowardice.
With curiosity we’re able to see more readily the blessings right before our eyes.
Ultimately hardship points us to God, for the point of God, in pain, is He enters our hardship by the intimacy of example.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Emotion and Authenticity

“Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.”
— Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
I met with a guy once who felt men could never learn about their emotions from women.  I immediately thought that was crazy.  It’s mainly because emotions have nothing to do with gender.  Emotions are all about authenticity.  Wherever we can trust ourselves to a situation we can be emotionally present and demonstrate emotional intelligence.
In recovering from the breakdown of my first marriage, I used to think I was getting in touch with my feminine side.  It wasn’t that at all.  I was simply broken sufficiently enough that my defences were down to the point where authenticity was all I had left.
And thankfully that sense for authenticity stuck.
When you’re broken, day after day, month after month, when you’ve no longer got a defence, but you have a faith, and with that some sense for hope, even if it’s scant, you get used to being real.  Being inauthentic is no longer attractive.  Being emotionally false gains you nothing.  You wear your emotions externally.  Courage becomes you.  You’re not afraid of tear stains down your cheeks.  You’re not put off by a quivering chin and tear-glazed eyes.  Appearing ‘weak’ is not a deterrent.  And you begin to see the concepts referred to in the Bible as they come alive in you.  Then you realise this is how Jesus heals us.
Emotion and authenticity are inseparable.  If we’re authentic we’re at peace with our emotions, and no longer in fear of them to suppress them, which can only cause harm.
Being authentic is the journey through which we’re to gain emotional mastery.  Just because we have command over our emotions doesn’t mean we need to be ‘emotional’.
To be true, to be real, to be authentic, is to allow the safe expression of our emotion.
Trust our emotions and we trust God to heal us from the inside out.
And yet, we must understand trust is an ongoing journey.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Keep Calm and God Will Fight For You

Doubtless, being slaves to Pharaoh, being chased by Egypt’s finest, feeling sick with worry that the angel of death stood immediately before them to slay them, the Israelites wailed!
And Moses stands there and says… “keep calm, stand still, and you’ll be saved!”  Note that Moses was once a quick-tempered man.  Only a patient man in God’s leader for His people would calm the people down even as disaster beckoned.
Times when the enemy is bearing down are times when we’re likeliest to justifiably panic.  But, with faith, we have no need of panic if we simply do God’s will.  We do what we can.  We keep calm, investing in the logic of process, for this, too, shall pass.
But there’s more to be communicated as far as stillness is concerned.
Stillness is akin to silence, and together the two talk about the soul calmness of tranquillity.  We don’t imagine any spiritual or holistic gain in practicing stillness until we try it.  But there is a gain, alright.
As we practice stillness, removing from our mind’s grasp any distraction, we practice an emptying of all need for anything other than God.
Could it be that the very thing we search tenaciously for all our lives is found when we finally let go?  That is the very thesis of this article.  Let go, let God, and God lets His gracious power to us, for the timorous moment.
When we face a new threat, the fears we just left seem minuscule.  But they were what they were, and there is yet something right before us to overcome.  We must take our discipline and think with our mind, using our thoughts to discipline with strength the fear in our heart.
Healing possibilities ramp up when we slow down enough to be still and allow God’s Spirit the space He needs to minister to our soul.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

When Life Reminds Us That We Don’t Have a Clue

WHEN life bears its teeth for absolutely no reason at all (or at least it seems that way) we have a choice to make.  And likewise, when we cannot believe the fortunate situation we’ve been blessed to enter, we find ourselves bewildered — in the very best of ways.
We think we know all we need, until that moment arrives, when we need more than we could ever know or think.  Yet, still we hope, because there’s choice.  God reminds us at times, for our own good, through the circumstances of our lives, that many situations of life we haven’t got a clue about.  There’s still a choice.
Everything mean happens for a reason, even if that reason happens to mean everything seems to make no sense at all.  In this, too, hope is possible, because there’s choice.  There’s always a choice.
Choice is a powerful thing.  When we feel we have choice, options open up, and, even where there are no options, we feel more empowered, and hopefulness, through a peace that transcends our understanding, abides.
When life, or an area of life, is completely shrouded in doubt, it’s never more important to feel there’s choice.  If we cannot see the choice we have, we’re not thinking laterally enough.
Where there’s choice there’s hope.
Life reminds us often enough that we don’t have a clue.  But there is One who does.  And that’s all that matters.  Blessed are they who can accept this.  There’s no point in not accepting it.
The real beauty of life is its unpredictability that ought to inspire wonder rather than fear.  And the only thing that stands between a wonder-response and a fear-response is the response of choice to choose for hope.
When life throws us a curve ball, we have the choice to transcend our aloneness, and live by the choice of hope.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sitting Patiently In the Dark

ALONG the road toward a goal, its realisation some time off, and it’s not just any old goal — our whole being might necessarily revolve around it — we sit and wait.  It’s not so much that God is teaching us to wait, but it is necessary to wait, and, in that, He’s teaching us to sit patiently in the dark, before all can be revealed… in His time and way.
Sitting in the dark,
Where patience runs thin,
And doubts swarm thick,
And the whereabouts of God,
This soul just cannot know.
Sitting in the dark,
It’s pitch black in here,
Where darkest are the shades,
And suspicions wistfully abound,
While hope fades to again see the glow.
Sitting in the dark,
How horrid to call this home,
Where uncertainties proliferate,
And silence of aloneness prowls,
The situations of mortals are definitely the foe.
Sitting in the dark,
Where there’s no light to hide,
And hiding would be a luxury,
Waiting to be found,
God’s blessing again to know.
Although the poem depicts the starkness of being in the dark, hopelessly vanquished by some perception of future as it’s seen in the present, it’s best to finish on the redeeming features of sitting patiently in the dark.
How are we to otherwise learn a variety of patience that is borne on a most disparaging darkness?  Being in the darkness, sitting without fear, patiently without fidgeting, is the only way to learn it.
If we can sit patiently in the dark, with no hope ascending, God’s Presence not descending, then, we can do anything.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Visions For Encouragement

Prophetic gifts come in a variety of forms, and, depending on our church tradition, we are open to these gifts, in ourselves and others, or not.
One way the prophetic gifting works through faith in God is through visions for encouragement.  This is where God speaks His possibilities through our reflections.  We think either with intention or not, consciously or unconsciously.
A vision for our encouragement comes, many times, when we least expect it to, because God is active with us, by the prayer of His speaking, when we open up cognisance to our spiritual environment.  This spiritual environment is like a river of God communication — it’s there!  We just have to be open to hearing, exploring and acting.
All prophecy ought to be of encouragement, because all of the Kingdom of God is about encouragement.  Encouragement can involve challenge and even rebuke if it’s immersed in the seedbed of love.
Visions for encouragement are crucial especially when we feel down and out.  God speaks into our minds, through a word-vision, an image, or via a word of encouragement from another person, which God uses to furnish our mind with possibility.
Visions for encouragement are to be
 held loosely as possibilities.
One thing we don’t count on with visions for encouragement is that not all of them — not even most of them — end up coming into reality.  Whether a vision for encouragement comes to pass or not is irrelevant.  What’s important is the vision for encouragement is possible; something for which we might hold loosely in our belief for what God might desire for us.  “Might” is an operative word!
God uses visions for encouragement to speak to us, through prayer; to not give up, to press on, and to steady faith in the absence of hope.
God speaks through the perspective of encouragement, messages for the mind of prayerful visions for hope.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

When Love Draws Close and Safe

Moments we live for, moments that arrive, stay, and then depart as quick as they came; moments we live for.  Hope draws us along the passage of life through the mode of time, and we readily live for the sweetest of moments for which God installed a craving.  And when the moments are allowed to arrive and leave, as we accept our moments, the steady abiding peace in a love within settles our hearts for the temerity of reality — moments that are harder to withstand.
Some moments serene,
Pitter-patter of the rain,
Safely inside rugged up,
Reflective in the goodness,
Of God, no sign of pain.
Some moments driving,
Incessant pace disturbs,
Peace of heart interrupted,
Tasks to be done,
Serenity it curbs.
Some moments exciting,
Holding on in hope,
Don’t know what is coming,
But hope gives,
Capacity to cope.
Some moments, winter,
The shallow cold draws near,
Hope makes way for doubting,
The better way,
Is not as clear.
Some moments silent,
Making moments count,
Striving to be still,
Waiting, trusting, breathing,
Gathering at God’s fount.
Love is saturable in all forms of life.  It isn’t just when we feel warm and safe inside, out of the driving rain, that we can feel love.  God’s love reminds us in a thought, that He is there, always.
Moments make up the one life, and the one life was made for love.
When, as we contemplate love, what can be felt, experienced, enjoyed, given and received, we become better persons, compelled to act.
When love draws near,
All feel safe,
As courage climbs, fears melt,
Where compassion finds, love’s indwelt,
Where death meets hope,
Resurrection life!
Answer’s in the love,
For every fallen waif.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

12 Things Nobody Can Ever Take From You

About 4PM on an idle Tuesday God gave me a gift that I’d been praying for.
As I looked, I was granted a precious revelation — there weren’t other things I needed at all.  I wanted them.  I did not need them.  I already had everything I needed.
He said, “You can say this: ‘I have what I have’.”  A commentary on that might go like this: all of that, I have given you, and nobody and nothing can take these from you.  So, rejoice, be glad, in the little you have that is much for you.
I imagined what I had — that I could see: this son, these daughters, this house, this wife; this life.  Any of those can be taken from me, some to death, other things to financial misfortune, but there are things within these things that cannot ever be taken away.  They always were, so they always are.  Nothing we lose is truly lost.  We retain it, certainly within our memory — which gives credence to the quote, “Don’t be sad it’s over, be thankful it happened.”
Here are twelve things you can count on to be yours forever:
1.      Your memories as they’re etched into history.  You could suffer dementia, but nothing changes the good you’ve done, and eternity may well reward us in cherished reflections over even the things we’d forgotten.
2.      Your body; what a magnificent instrument of creation, no matter what you look or feel like.  No matter your body image, your body is yours.  Till death you part.  It’s a living, breathing miracle, your body.
3.      Your soul remains yours during the whole of your life, and you, alone — with God’s help, hopefully — are its curator.
4.      Your plans, even the ones that end up dashed, are yours.  Your plans encase your dreams and they’re as important to God as they are to you.  We arrive at maturity the moment we can hold in tension the wonder in a dream we have with the matching plan that’s been dashed.  Maturity is philospophy.
5.      Your mind and heart, they’re yours.  You may ‘lose’ your mind, or, for a season, you may lose heart, but they’re still yours, no matter their condition.
6.      What you see is yours.  Even the things that aren’t actually yours are yours.  You see them, therefore you can enjoy sight of them.  Even if you were to turn blind, you’d still have the power of perception.
7.     Another thing God told me: “There are some things anyone can take from you, but there are equally things nobody can take from you — look, explore, find, and enjoy, in their entirety!”
8.      The present moment can be taken from no man, no boy, no girl, no woman.  Be mindfully present and God will give you glimpses of His eternity.
9.      The thought that you can choose, which identifies that choice is yours.  The choice is yours!  It’s all yours.
10. Your dignity cannot be taken from you, even in the most despicable of undignifying situations.  It would only be your choice to feel undignified.  (Having said that, there are many experiences of life that are genuinely humiliating, though there is recourse for healing every human indignity through the ministry of the God of our souls, the Lord Jesus’ Spirit.)
11. God is yours as much as anyone’s, over the face of all humanity and history.  You’ve no less important than anyone else.
12. Your patch of heaven if you’ve agreed that Jesus is your Saviour and Lord.
Twelve more things that can’t be taken from you: your smile, your tears, your investment, your role in another person’s life, their role in yours, the music and movies you like, the sensations you enjoy, the grace of God, your time on earth, the blessing of communication, your ability to let go, and your capacity to learn and grow.
Contentment rests in knowing God has provided our needs so we need know nothing else but the rest in His contentment.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Faith for When Life Turns Against Us

On the one hand, there seems no living advantage in having faith — to give up our lives that God might ‘control’ us.  But, on the other hand, there is one thing for which faith is indispensable.  When life turns against us, which it inevitably does.
Faith is indispensable when life spits at us through the teeth of rejection.  The saliva of denunciation is humiliating, but faith makes it possible to take the next step as if we were never more accepted (and through Jesus, we are!).
Faith is obligatory when we have no sane choice other than step into the unknown in the belief that God is good and won’t let us down.
Faith is crucial when anguish abounds.  It gives no credence to giving up.
Faith is paramount when our backs are against the wall.  All other options cavort sink with ineffectuality.
Faith is the imperative for hope when life turns to death.
Faith is priceless when the Jewel of Hope falls out of the crown of life.
We need to believe in our suffering, that enduring our suffering patiently produces in us patience.  To not believe is to make of the suffering something utterly futile, which has no character of the love of God about it.
We believe in our anguish that our choice to endure will redeem some precious and priceless compensation; treasurable growth.  And it turns out, that’s the way endurance works.
The love of God infuses life, and to go about life without faith is to go about life choosing hopelessness, as if there were no other options.
There is no point to life without hope-producing faith.  But with faith, we overcome mountains of impossibility with little other than the belief that we can.  Because, we can.
We must save faith for a rainy day.  But we’re apt to live frivolously on the long balmy days as the storm belt threatens.
It’s tragically ironic.  We build faith when we most need it by the truckload.
We’re most ill-prepared when the rains come teeming down and the gusts howl in a torrent.
Build a viable faith now, by living in a force-ten conditioned life.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Faith to Fight Meets Dark Night

As I read about a pastor’s response to assist a family come to terms with the loss of their eight-year-old son, accidentally hanged in their backyard, I choked back tears for their loss.  I know something of their pain, but any parent, whether they’ve lost a child or not, knows the irredeemable sting of death in this life.  (Sure, death has lost its sting for all eternity, but a parent must still work out their salvation, here, without their dead child.)
As I checked on myself, having willingly entered into grief for this family, I noted a flatter-than-normal demeanour.  Charting the previous years, perhaps nine or more, and maybe nearly thirteen, there had been a series of dark night seasons that had come to punctuate our lives.  Not that our lives are probably any different to yours.
Christian faith is no ticket to ride the theme parks of the world; it’s a ticket to ride the crucified, yet resurrected life.
That probably won’t win many converts, unless those would-be-converts have hellish lives, which many unfortunately do.
Faith is no immunity from a season of hellish life, but it is an inoculation from such a season’s hopelessness.
The dark night of the soul is an experience popularised by Saint John of the Cross.  It depicts the faith life of a devout man who senses God’s Presence had left him.
There’s not a genuine journey of faith with God that doesn’t endure some sort of dark night season or experience.  That, I hope, is an encouragement to you, who may feel like giving it all away, as if God’s promises were a lie.
Beyond clichés, and being so tired of them, you look again into the heavens and bellow as the Psalmist did:
“How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you hide your face from me?”
— Psalm 13:1 (NRSV)
I know this sentiment very well.  You’re not alone, and neither am I.  We come together as members in a community of faith, knowing that others are enduring their lives too.
So when dark night comes, have faith to fight, because soon enough victory will come into sight.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.
Postscript: if verse 1 of Psalm 13 spoke to you, go now and read the remaining five verses!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Discomfort—Trust—Courage—Blessing Cycle

Some of the biggest lessons of life are also the hardest.  They truly send us into an oblivion of pain for the purposes of eventual profit, in terms of competence and/or character gain, initially, then for blessing later on.
Let’s take the discomfort of humiliation.  Humiliation is to feel humiliated — it’s a perception thing.  It’s not a reality other than being a felt reality.  And we can’t stay there.  Sure, it’s blindsided us, but we have the will to recover.  Humiliation is not the end.  It’s a fresh beginning, if we turn to the Lord who never stops loving us; who has opened His arms to accept us no matter what.
So this is what we need to be aware of:
“Remove sorrow from your heart,
and put away pain from your flesh,
because youth and the prime of life are fleeting.”
— Ecclesiastes 11:10 (HCSB)
You may be older of years, but, hear this, you’re still in the age of your youth; you’re still in the prime of your life.  Youth and the prime of life end at the end of life.  Humiliation at any age is not the end of the story, not by a long stretch.
So, if we’ve met humiliation, the next step, having wilfully accepted it, is the grand expanse of humility.  There’s no better place in the whole of God’s Kingdom than of being contrite of heart.  It may not feel good, but it’s the perfect launching pad from which a submitted spirit takes the step… into trust.
Only from discomfort comes the compelling opportunity to trust with daring resolve.
Trust is superfluous when there’s no reason to risk.  It’s true that there’s little trust required of a person of faith whose life is going swimmingly.  Thank God you have the need to trust in Him fully.  Thank Him that there’s no other way for you in this circumstance.
To trust naturally involves courage; it implicates a determined pluck of passion that will catapult you into your purpose.  It’s always God’s work to situate us in our purpose, for it’s His purpose, but never without trust.  Again, it may not feel good, and it won’t help you feel better, but thank God you’ve got the courage to step forth into the unknown, for which He is revealing your purpose.
From purpose can only come blessing, and when we’re blessed our purpose flourishes ever more.
When we’re hemmed in with discomfort, we’re forced to find the courage to trust God, so He will lead us out into our purpose, which is His blessing.
Discomfort leads us out of safe environs with no future into a future where unknown environs are scarily awesome.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Blessed Are Those Who Don’t Bargain With God

Common to the grief process, bargaining is a state of mind we enter into to escape from a reality that brings us to our knees.  We enter into such thinking both consciously and unconsciously, and out of such motives are driven our actions.  We can be willing to sell something precious for a song in the process.  And God knows that’s no good for anyone, let alone ourselves.
Of course, God won’t endorse such transactions.
It’s been said to be a legalism for those of a prosperity gospel; “God, you give me this, and I’ll give you that.”  Faith this way is stuck to outcomes we, ourselves, have engineered, where God alone is the engineer of all providence.
Still, there is empathy for any of us — all of us — who find ourselves given to such desperation we’ll bargain our way out of it.  It’s our human nature, and we find it hard to keep such a check on our motives.  But we must.
God understands the lonely sense of deprivation that brings us to the point of bargaining.  But instead of bargaining, God seeks us that we would seek Him.  Instead of bargaining with God we ought to find God to be the bargain.  To find in His Presence, the best bargain of all.
Blessed are those who don’t bargain with God, but instead trust patiently in His provident grace.
It is a blessing to forego the human limitation we would often place on God.  Why do we settle for lentil stew (Genesis 25:34) when we could have an entire banquet at the proper time?  But it does take faith to let go of something we think we could have now.
In God’s economy, it’s best to do without that which was never intended to be ours, to accept, in time, what was always destined as ours.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Faith In the Reality of the Private Life

If Jesus isn’t real in me in my home, in those interactions nobody else sees, He’s real in me nowhere.
These words above are biblically real, but they’re also ever more relevant for a man; a husband and a father.
Not only is it true that there truly is only an audience of one, it’s also true that if I’m not Christlike in my private life — where any lack of love impacts my loved ones most — I’m not Christ’s disciple in my public life, in ministry for Him.  And this is not just about how I impact my loved ones directly; it’s also how I might potentially impact them in negative ways — if, for instance, I had a secret life that I was hiding.  I don’t, but the history of the Church is a litany of moral failures, and we all harbour things we’d prefer weren’t ever known.  Balance this with the fact God knows all.
Faith has to be a reality in our private life or it makes no sense.  We cannot sustain a façade, but I understand people seeking to do just that.  Fear drives it.  Wanting to keep up appearances to maintain a lie of a life.  But we would be fooling no one significant if the only significant witness were the Lord Himself.
But there is now another side to this realness of faith…
A person, a man, a woman, anyone, when they’re real, as much as they can be honest, must acknowledge the providence of God in the brokenness of humanity.
The foundation of the real faith life is the fearless embracing of our brokenness in trusting a flawless God.  Brutal honesty equips disciples by courage for courage, by humility for humility, and by faith for faith.
As we live the realities of truth in our private lives, our courage bestows to us courage, and blessings pile up in our public ministries.
Now back to where I started; as a man after God: my faith is real or it’s fake, depending on how I treat my family.
Faith must commence from a core, and, because of our brokenness, our core is in the admission of our frailties.
Truth in the private life is as valuable for faith as gifting is in the public life.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.