Friday, October 28, 2016

Strenuous Rest – Growth in the Kingdom of God

God spoke to me in the tough tones of reality recently, saying in no uncertain terms that we either grow or rescind our growth — over the lifespan.
The following passage from Proverbs may seem peculiar in the context of growth, but I wonder if our growth in the ways of the Lord can be likened to keeping the condition of our flocks; the attention we need to give to our herds to that of tending our growth; like riches, gains for growth don’t endure forever; that it continually needs work; that growth we can never rest from, but in growing we’re challenged to find rest along the way; to carry within the burden of growth His ever reliable and comforting peace.
“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks,
give careful attention to your herds;
for riches do not endure forever,
and a crown is not secure for all generations.
When the hay is removed and new growth appears
and the grass from the hills is gathered in,
the lambs will provide you with clothing,
and the goats with the price of a field.
You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed your family
and to nourish your female servants.”
— Proverbs 27:23-27 (NIV)
The lambs and goats in terms of growth are the opportunities that come our way for the advances we make in our growth. Where growth is our imperative we’ll always have plenty. We can trust God for provision when we serve Him with diligence.
There is a harrowing truth about life, which is growth, for nothing defines life better than growth. If we don’t grow we rescind. In growth, there’s heaven, the veritable abundant life, but hell is saved for the lazy.
It’s sad when someone who has spent decades tirelessly doing the Lord’s work begins to give up; and worse by far when they do. Or when a person decides that faith is no longer worth the effort, as if real faith requires effort when all it requires is the trust of surrender, which is paradoxical, because there’s also significant effort required in working out our faith in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
No matter how mature we grow in the faith, we still have to front up on the Monday morning experiences of life ready to work.
God is no respecter of persons. We all must live by the rules bound up within eternity.
May you grow and in the growing experience joy,
May you not be disheartened, and certainly not in totality,
May you experience the gentle whisper of His grace,
As you work within rest and rest within your work.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bubbles of Hope in a Season of Despair

From within even the deepest grief there’s the foretaste of something paradoxical, illogical, nonsensical, new. The enemy will want us dissuaded in despair, but, as we hold onto the hope that God infuses into our hearts in that hope-filled moment, a moment we’re gifted with that runs cross-grain against the flow of loss that underscores the season, we have a first fruit of what’s coming.
The hope-filled moment is a bubble.
It’s the instant of experiencing a moment’s hope within even the rawest despair.
In an entire season of despair, there are thousands of these bubbles of hope, and as each bubble bursts we must remember the purpose of a bubble. Bubbles of hope come and bubbles of hope go, but one thing bubbles of hope do is they help sustain our hope.
Experiencing bubbles of hope in the season of despair seems cruel on the one hand, because that’s simply not our reality, but it’s kind on the other hand, because we sorely need such hope — and sometimes anything will do.
We need to believe that a new season of hope will shine through soon, even if it seems ever elusive, and even impossible some moments. It’s such a hope that keeps us hoping in the despairing season. This hope is not simply stringing us along — a hope deferred, making us sick (Proverbs 13:12) — because if we keep acting faithfully, obeying God by trusting Him for the promise of growth in the extraneous season, we’ll experience joy like a tree of life at the appropriate time (see Galatians 6:9).
But the point is this:
We must embrace the encouraging oasis vision
in the reality of the parched land.
If we don’t embrace what we can so easily be cynical or angry about, we cannot continue to act in the faith that transports us to that hope realised.
We find a way to steer past every grating annoyance and transcend every burgeoning fatigue.
Bubbles of hope contain sufficient oxygen to inspire life when despair threatens to kill our courage.
Where there are bubbles,
there’s oxygen,
meaning signs of life,
and where there’s life,
there’s hope.
As you sojourn in a season of despair, whether it ends up being a week or a year or three, may you be blessed in the knowledge of God’s faith in you as you trust Him.
Steve Wickham.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Looking Backward From the Future

The Abundant Life leads, step-by-tremulous-step, day-by-striving-day, into a Land we look back from. It’s the future as we see it right now, but, in its own time, it will be a time from which we’ll look back on — the future now being the past as we look back then.
Can you see it? — much as a new thing in the livery of Isaiah. If you anticipate it, the perspective will surely bless your day; if you live it, the perspective will certainly bless your life.
If we look back from the future we only see the past, and the worst result is regret. But if we look back from the future, by borrowing the experience of vision, we take aboard our ship of grace, wisdom, which is the ballast of the Abundant Life.
The wise look back as a function of moving forward. They don’t forget the vastness of wisdom in the matter of experience, for surely experience is a devoted and trustworthy Teacher. And how good is the Teacher who makes of extraneous lessons that which would otherwise be lost to experience?
Looking back from the future is God’s perspective over a life that is still so potentially fraught with error and folly. Looking back from the future, the Teacher reproaches the mistakes that are still yet to be made, cautioning for correction before it’s too late.
Reproof is better than regret, for re-assessment is better than remorse.
Meaning for the present is founded in looking backward from the future pondering a whole life lived.
May God truly bless you as you receive the Abundant Life of looking back from your future! — even from death’s door, as impetus for life that is yet to be lived.
Steve Wickham.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pushed Past Breaking Point Into Discoveries of Resilience

It was only as I was brought to the point of sheer frustration, recently, that God was able to show me a new thing; that is, a new thing for every person who follows Jesus. The point I was brought to would have caused a different response until a short time ago. Yet, like He did first thirteen years beforehand, the Lord showed me that everything in life is a test. Seeing this is most of the battle.
The trials that confront us are faced by all human beings; however, God is dependable: he won’t allow you to be tried beyond the limits of your endurance, but with the trial [he] will also provide a means of escape, enabling you to endure it.
— 1 Corinthians 10:13 (USC)
This is such an important theological principle. One that is most often misread. The trials we face are common to everyone, and yet these trials will push us to the limit, before we learn that our limit isn’t actually where we think it is. We think we’re pushed too far, but limits were made to be pressed too far. It’s how we come to be resilient. It’s only when our limits aren’t pushed that we fail to grow. But when we’re pressed past our limits we find God was always there to catch our fall.
So, in this, we learn a vital lesson. In being tested, and in being taken to the brink, even to the point of stumbling and failing, God provides a means of escape which enables us to endure it.
Then we find the resilience within us is like the treasure Jesus speaks of:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
— Matthew 13:44 (NIV)
The treasure is worth more than any tangible possession, just as it is worth treasuring up within us — the experience of being confident in our faith to endure the test.
Within the testing time comes with the snapping point. And it’s only as we reach and go past the snapping point that we find we’ve discovered a new resilience.
It’s that point where we have been cajoled to rage, succumbed to despair, or simply pushed through it.
Resilience is what helps us to know that the point of discipleship is to be pushed beyond our limit; to be stretched to breaking point, and to realise that that point is the very precipice that brings us to learning.
God needs to break us out of our dependence on comfort, to bring us to the discomfort that comes in the test, which is the nexus of learning.
Within the snapping point is the treasure. By noticing what once would break us, but now no longer does, we’re shown our growth in the grace of resilience.
God won’t expose us to every test common to humankind, but we all experience the tests He ordains for us. Some of these tests will push us to and beyond our limit, for which there is growth in the faith. When we reach breaking point, we find there is something more; a great treasure worth hiding and hoarding. If the tests of life cannot destroy us, nothing can.
God’s goal in our practical lives is to expose us in experiencing His gospel power at work in us, resurrecting us to a victory over the tormenting tests simply because we pressed on.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

How God Meets and Grows Us Through Our Emotions

Why does my heart feel so bad? Why does my soul feel so bad? Oh the pain… enough of this! It’s okay. I can find comfort. I can find an escape
No. There’s an opportunity cost in denying our rawest emotions, or bypassing them through cynicism.
The opportunity we miss is a deeper, more intense connection with the Spirit of God. Intimacy through pain, treasure through adversity, blessed favour through weakness.
The point of the starkest emotions is that they break us down. Our emotions level us sufficiently, that in our surrender, in the loneliest depths of our being, God ministers His gentle, salubrious, gracious Presence into the nodules of our spirit, healing us spiritually in our soul. This healing requires the discretional capitulation of every defence to allow God comprehensive access to our vulnerability. It cannot work otherwise than by the access-all-areas gate pass of the purest trust of faith.
A deeper relationship with our relational God is secured through deeper connection via the truthful expression of our emotions. The lonelier we happen to be, the better.
Adversity is a vehicle to get us into the emotional state of ego’s renunciation.
This is, I’m sure, why God gave us David’s laments, Job’s travails, Lamentations, 2 Corinthians, and the like. We need to read something of God’s spiritual ministry when we’re at our lowest emotional ebb. True to life, without cause for escape, the great biblical characters had to cling to God. If we only had victory stories in the Bible we would be sorely ill-equipped to receive the Lord’s spiritual healing. But God shows us in His Word just exactly how the heroes of faith received spiritual encouragement — by being open to Him, emotionally.
How peculiar: God uses adversity to force us to trust Him in our emotional need which grows us spiritually.
May God truly bless you as you eagerly expect an encounter with Him when you’re crippled by adversity,
Steve Wickham.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

This Day, the Lord Has Made, for the Living

One day it will be all over: life. Many have come. Many will come. Then there is us. You and me. Ensconced on the nib of time. Life. What we have. Now. For this time. Only.
Then what comes, comes.
But now is the time, to plan, to prepare, the best we can, to live what life we can. And in the planning and preparing to find time to live. To have sufficient faith to plan, knowing that plans may come to nothing. Yet still to plan.
As a husband I enjoy being married, but it’s as a father that I sense that time marches on, and being a father of a pre-schooler occasionally concerns me in the opposite way — what if I die before he can remember me?
Life makes me contemplate because of the tenuousness of life. Like the near-miss on the road — a second earlier or later: history is written in these events. Lives are placed upside down and find themselves ever in a spin. Then, more than ever, we realise just how fragile life is. Cancer diagnoses, marriage breakdowns, as much as clean bills of health and announcements of impending weddings… the events of life that happen in most if not all lives.
As a parent, there is time in the presence of our children we don’t capitalise on, yet when we’re away we miss them terribly at times. As a partner, we think of our spouse, and we don’t often enough thank God for them.
Life. Blink and we miss big bits of it. Yet, it lingers and takes literally a lifetime to live.
The imperative is to live. Live. As if there were no tomorrow, and we were about to meet God and give an account of our lives.
You are living, so live. Live the best you can this very moment. And if it’s rest you’re called to, rest. If action, then act.
God gives us this day. What we do with it is up to us.
May God truly bless you as you live, senses engaged in realm of time,
Steve Wickham.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Oh, to them who die

It is appointed for us to die the one death — a transition that must take place in each person’s being, a return to lifeless flesh turning to dust.
It must occur. Once.
In each person. We only have the one death to endure. It is enough for us. It is a great encouragement that that one death is nothing more than anyone else has to endure. In this we face what all in humanity face, whether by pain or by peace. And death is but a transition.
For the loved one departed, they know only more than we do for a little while, and then we shall join them in that most remarkable of knowledge; a knowledge no one can know until they have graduated to that eternal stage, having been committed to that destiny beyond earthly redemption, to be at God’s all righteous disposal.
Oh, to them who die, who are transcended by life apparent, as time continues winding on, and yet they may see what we cannot.
Oh, to them who die, especially the one gone early, prematurely, without warning, gone in a heartbeat. And it’s peculiar how each death seems that way. We still miss that one. We could do nothing otherwise. This one never loses their grip over us. Thank God, we are interminably connected, through the binds of realms, beyond time in the heavenlies.
Then, as we miss that one — oh, to them who die — God shows us a fresh thing. Their memory and even their felt presence reminds us, as real as is God’s Presence, that eternity is real, and that reality touches us spiritually in ways that life could not otherwise.
Death is nothing to fear. Theirs or ours. Beyond time, death must keep us, until life eternal reigns.
Death connects us with the ultimate reality, for all we know is about to be swept away for something so wondrous that puts all the burden of this life into its context.
Death ought to touch us as it does, with unfettered emotion, but we should know something truly eternal, which is pure wonder.
It is thoroughly good to be touched, for to be touched is to be touched by God.
May God truly bless you as you bear thoughts of death peacefully and majestically,
Steve Wickham.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Conflicted Emotions Are Welcome In the Kingdom of God

When the lawyer heard the high court had ruled against his client — a deaf woman seeking to be a juror, necessitating a thirteenth person in the jury — he was (they were) both disappointed yet undeterred. They felt both emotions simultaneously.
We all do. Many situations in life we find ourselves having to put on a calm front whilst seething inside. Or, we may present a stoic exterior whilst being shattered within.
When our partner asks us what we think, or how we feel, we may at that time have two equal though opposing truths operating in unison within ourselves, such is the confusion we often face in our emotions.
This, of course, is a reality that is acceptable in the Kingdom of God. We were made that way; to be all at sea at times.
It helps and does not hinder that we accept this about ourselves — that certain situations leave us reeling for the ability to reconcile circumstances. Yet it would hinder us if we were told we had to ‘wise up’ and sort ourselves out and snap out of it.
God made us as emotional beings, and we’re best surrendering to the forces of truth that impact us. Being real in the moment, we journal about those feelings that well up from nowhere, and grasp the cognisance of the flurry of our thoughts.
Rather than reject our emotions as being silly, we’re silly if we don’t take our emotions seriously, and give them their due regard.
May God truly bless you through a shalom in your entire emotional world,
Steve Wickham.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Anger, Destructive Masquerade of a Soul’s Sadness

“Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything.”
 Lawrence Douglas Wilder
I once knew of a man who gave up his whole life in a flicker of rage. He murdered somebody. In a fit of fury, he destroyed a life. He devastated several lives. He certainly demolished his own life. Prison time, however, was a time for recollection and recovery. He refused to be characterised by what was, quite definitively, his worst moment. He was able to do that in an encounter with the Spirit of the living Christ. He was a changed man, though all his days would ever be tainted by that one moment of madness. Yet such was the grace that this man had received, he knew he was no longer judged. He no longer judged himself, and he had learned to turn his regret outward into purposeful restitution.
He learned something else about anger.
Anger wasn’t all there was. Much deeper down something important resided, as if there was an alluvial quality to his emotions that he had not yet tapped. He discovered something in the peace of God. In the tranquil waters of his own soul he was introduced to a pool of sadness ever present in his material identity. There he found such empathy for himself, led there by the Lord’s Presence, that he forgave himself those horrific behaviours. He saw the fear generated sadness for what it was. It made sense, and acceptance was enabled.
Anger was merely the masquerade for a deep-seated irreconcilable sorrow that ran irrepressibly within and incessantly throbbed as an undercurrent in his life.
The moment he agreed to take a pilgrimage to his sorrow was the moment he was healed of the need of anger.
Anger needs safe expression, and that is through honesty expressed as sadness or fear.
May God bless you in your anger, as it invites you deeper into your sorrow, so you might journey with it, into a vast and deep emotional healing.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

3 Agonizing Journeys Through Anxiety

Funeral homes and hospitals, and even shopping malls for some, bear the same features. Job interviews, public speaking, and noisy environments, too. They can be anxiety-inducing places and situations. The list runs on. For most people, these places and situations evoke minor or moderate levels of anxiety. For some, certain places and situations evoke major levels of anxiety. What I will share with you below are not so much anxiety-experiences from places and situations, but entire seasons of anxiety.
My first season of anxiety occurred in the event of major grief. I carried a constant fear around with me, something I could not shake. When I felt particularly overwhelmed, which occurred I think about seven times, I had panic attack events. Times when I felt adrenalin was being injected directly into my heart, which resulted in the sensation of my chest feeling crushed. Fortunately, I learned diaphragmatic breathing at the time and found that, and getting away from people at the time of the attack, helped allow the panic to subside. I also learned the power of my thinking. I could literally think my way into these situations as well as think my way out of them (if I was sufficiently aware).
The second season of anxiety I will share involved an acute two-week sojourn into inexplicable fear — the state of constant uneasiness never left me for fourteen days (the first couple of weeks of 2010). I couldn’t explain it at the time, what the source of the fear was, but I did manage to identify that I was afraid of what was coming. And I had anticipated correctly. I recall how disconcerting the nagging feeling of dis-ease was; it was wretched. That year was tough for me in the workplace. The experiences were ultimately beneficial, though, as I was able to reconcile those particular matters by the year’s end.
The third season I will share involved a psychosomatic condition that didn’t leave me for six months or more, and probably closer to ten months. This was in 2011. It was a condition that I thought was linked to the amount of keyboarding I was doing, but I couldn’t have been further from the mark. The worst of this season was carrying a feeling that my arms and upper back were on fire. Anxiety had become buried into my subconscious mind, and was rising up through my body. It took over my conscious world and I journeyed with fear for most of the year. Only later could I identify the source of it. It emanated directly as a fear response to the manager I had at the time. I won’t go into the person, as the point is my anxiety, but suffice to say, I had never encountered such a personality before (or since). Just the thought of encountering this person began to make me swell with hypervigilance. Since then, however, I think I’ve developed coping mechanisms to better hold myself with such people.
Anxiety comes in myriad forms. Sometimes it’s our mind, our heart, or our body trying to tell us something. It’s never enjoyable, but it can be endured, and the objective is to find coping strategies to alleviate the pain, the thinking and feelings at source.
What I learned about my seasons of anxiety is they all started and operated differently. They were each a puzzle to unravel. Each season required courage, but more so patience.
The great benefit of having suffered anxiety, however, is we’re granted the capacity to empathise with those who also suffer mental illness. Most people carry such illness with them at some point in their lives, and many do so intermittently, regularly, or almost their whole lives.
As you journey with your own anxiousness, be in relationship with your fear, and I pray God piques your awareness, so you may be blessed in the learning of effective ways to accept and alleviate your anxiety.