This time of year, we take part in a fast. It’s always a very meaningful time where we push back and set our minds on our relationship with the Lord and what He has planned for us in the coming year. It’s kind of a reset button that helps us keep our ears and hearts open to God’s voice. No one enjoys the physical process of fasting, but the benefits far outweigh the discomfort.
At home, we’ve always encouraged (never forced of course) our young children to give up, or fast, certain activities (TV and other forms of media for example) or unnecessary snacks for a period of time. Our youngest is an avid potato chip fan – she knows most of what’s available here and panics when the chip stash runs low. This year, she has laid down the chips and has somehow enjoyed the sacrifice. Of course it’s not a full chip fast but it’s precious nonetheless!
One of the often overlooked parts of fasting has to do with what to do with the money we’ve saved with far less grocery shopping. Do we save it or buy something that we’ve wanted but haven’t been able to afford? Do we pay down bills or put it into savings?
While saving money feels good, there is another powerful element of fasting that has far-reaching potential:
Isaiah 58:6-9 NKJV
“Isthis not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”
Today the three of us piled into our little car and drove to the store and purchased food and soap that we will distribute among some of the poor in Blantyre where we live. This is actually something our daughter thought of last year after seeing how poor many are in our city. What we purchased today will be bundled into care packages that we will begin distributing this week and she will be front and center putting the packages together. Her joy is palpable and contagious!
Yes, we are aware that this little bit of help will most likely do very little in the larger scope of things to address poverty – but simply because it isn’t enough doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Who knows? This little bit of help might just be the glimmer of hope someone needs to see to light their way in the dark. Obedience in the Kingdom of God goes a long way and translates into miracles.
About the potato chips? That sacrifice will go a long way.
Stepping off the plane for the first time in Burundi, I seriously wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. I stood with my husband and children on the airport tarmac after our plane landed. It was warm, the sun was hot, and there was no one waiting for us. There was no air conditioning in the airport terminal, I remember being thankful for the breeze that blew through the baggage collection area. With my left hand, I held tightly to my 5 year old son’s little hand and balanced my 1 1/2 year old daughter on my right hip. We were all tired of living out of suitcases; we had spent nearly a year in France studying French prior to our arrival that day in Burundi. From France, we flew to Nairobi, Kenya and, after a short time, made our way to Burundi where the adventure of our lifetime was about to begin.
Time and again I’ve relived that same scenario; going somewhere where I’ve not been before to start a church from nothing. Where would we start? We never knew until we got there. Who would work with us? We would find them. When would we leave? When the time was right.
It took us 9 years of hard work to see the church grow to a place of maturity where we were able to leave to go plant a new church in a new nation and start the whole process all over again. Now, 18 years and a number of churches later, I have learned a few things about stepping out in faith into the unknown – and I’m still learning! In our affirmation-driven society where many in Christian circles have rarely seen the raw faith that’s required to face the world head-on for the cause of the Kingdom, they find they are ill-prepared for the reality that awaits them when they do step out. Often, they fall victim to discouragement, even despair, when the enemy meets them head-on (believe me when I say that he will seek you out the moment you say “yes” to the Kingdom’s call).
In Acts 14, we read the account of Paul ministering on a journey that had taken him through several cities. In one of the cities, Lystra, a man was healed (Acts 14:10) and the crowds went nearly crazy over the great miracle they had seen: a man who was born crippled, was healed and walked. It was amazing! Paul and his partner, Barnabas, could hardly restrain the people from making sacrifices to them, calling them gods. One would think that this great miracle would open great opportunities to the city; however, that was not what happened. Shortly after this miraculous occurrence, the same people who Paul ministered to were “stirred up” (Acts 14:19) to stone Paul. He was left for dead but, in another miracle, got up and went on to another city called Derbe where many received the Gospel and a large number of disciples were made. Later on, Paul returned to Lystra and other cities where he had preached, encouraging believers along his way.
In reading this account, I was taken by the fact that first Paul was almost worshipped as a god and then he was stoned by the same ones who wanted to worship him the day before. The emotions he felt must have been extreme. In studying Paul’s life, I’ve noticed he was someone who didn’t require a lot of maintenance; he worked to support himself by making tents and never is he seen in the scriptures asking for expensive gifts. His main focus was the Kingdom’s advance in the earth and he wouldn’t let himself get sidetracked by the peripheral things of this life.
Nevertheless, Paul was human and I am sure at this time, and many others, he must have felt conflicted, even tempted to be depressed over the rejection – but he doesn’t even make mention of any anguish over this ordeal in the scriptures. He was simply concerned to build the Kingdom, grow the churches he planted, and be faithful to his call. Affirmation would come later in abundance simply by hearing the words, “well done.” However, until that time, he fought the fight of faith and kept his faith.
Our service to people isn’t based on their merits or their appreciation of our call to serve God. I’ve found that if I can keep this front and center in my own life, I’m not easily disappointed. However, the moment I let my focus on the Kingdom fade, that’s the moment I fall into discouragement. Whether there are people to meet me at the airport or not, I’m moving forward. Whether someone thanks me or not, my eyes are fixed on the prize. Whether what I do looks successful or not, I’m already a success in my Father’s eyes, for His approval already rests on me.
“Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the Kingdom of God established.” Paul W. Harrison
This has, for me, been an amazing 21 days; it has been a very good fast. You may ask, “How can a fast be good?” The benefits of fasting far outweigh the discomforts and inconveniences we face when on a fast. Fasting is a time that we set aside to turn our concentration away from the noise of daily life and set our hearts to hear from God. This is what we’ve been doing and God has surely been speaking to my husband and I and our churches in Africa.
What we face as we return to “normal” life tomorrow is keeping the revelations of the fast before us instead of forgetting them when life hits us in the face. If we aren’t watchful over the ground we have gained spiritually during the fast, we will lose it very quickly. In spite of the fact that life is now going back to normal, we can’t live life as we did before and hope to preserve the treasures we have found during this time.
Proverbs 1:29-33 TLB“For you closed your eyes to the facts and did not choose to reverence and trust the Lord,and you turned your back on me, spurning my advice. That is why you must eat the bitter fruit of having your own way and experience the full terrors of the pathway you have chosen. For you turned away from me—to death; your own complacency will kill you. Fools!But all who listen to me shall live in peace and safety, unafraid.”
What we have experienced in the past has, at times, looked and tasted like “bitter fruit.” This happened because we didn’t choose to reverence the Lord, honor our relationship with Him. We became familiar with what is holy and we chose to turn away from Him and His advice. The journey of life lived this way is increasingly bitter and full of “terrors” because of our choices. It isn’t God Who brings destruction – our own complacency, lack of passion for God, that brings destruction.
Like you, I’ve heard it said many times we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. A fast like this one we have been on is meant to get our eyes off of our own opinions and to turn our focus onto God’s opinion. If we go back to living as we were before without making adjustments, life will certainly return to the way it was before the fast.
There are a few practical ways I’d like to share with you on what you can do to keep the “spiritual edge” you have gained during this special time. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few ideas to get you started:
Create a vision board – where you post the things God spoke to you for this year. As a family, we have done this this year. Our vision board is in a prominent place in the house where we will see it often (Habakkuk 2:2,3). Ishah Whipple, one of our guest bloggers during this time, wrote a wonderful piece about vision boards. Click here to read more.
Be diligent to spend consistent time in the Word of God and prayer. There are many Bible reading plans available online and in books, I encourage you to find what works best for you and stick with it. Prayer is not as difficult a discipline as we might think; prayer is simply communicating with God. God just wants to spend time with you. Write your chosen time in your daily planner – the time that works best for you – and stick to it.
Create spiritual goals for the year that are attainable: reading books by solid Christian authors, taking a Bible class online or at your home church, and finding something that keeps you challenged spiritually.
Be consistent with your attendance in your local church. If you’ve never taken notes during the sermon, maybe now is a great time to start.
Involve your family in setting “God goals” for the year.
When you fall short at some point, don’t give up. Pick up where you left off and keep going.
Take short breaks for fasting during the year. For many years, I’ve fasted on Wednesdays to keep myself spiritually sharp. This past year I didn’t fast on Wednesdays as much as I would have liked – but that will change. I will be fasting more consistently on Wednesdays once again.
One of the main reasons people cite for not spending more time with God is that they “don’t have time.” Well, we make time for the things that matter to us. I encourage you to review your timetable and delete those activities that keep you from growing in your relationship with God.
I’m truly blessed that you have journeyed with me these three weeks, thank you. Now that the fast is over, I look forward to a wonderful vision-filled year! I’ll still be here, writing as The Cultural Misfit, talking about laundry, kids, church planting, coffee, and whatever else inspires me. I hope to find you here.
Here is a conversation that I regularly have with my husband Jamie when I want to do something on a Friday, which is his usual study day:
Me: “What are you doing on Friday?”
Jamie: “Oh, the usual, it’s my study day. I’ll be preparing my Sunday sermon.”
Me: “So you’ll be home all day?”
Jamie: “Of course, I need to study!”
Me: “Fridays are important.”
Jamie: “What do you want???”
I’ll usually keep making my “faith hints” until such a time, as Jamie is so exasperated with me that he needs to know the real reason for my hinting. My questions have nothing to do with his studies or what day of the week it is; I just have something I need to do and I’m “testing the waters” to see if they will stir them in my direction on a Friday. Jamie says I always manage to get things my way; hmmm, I must have some amazing skills that I have honed over the years.
In Mark 10:46-52, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting on the side of the road. He was begging, as this was the acceptable practice for the disabled to earn a living in that time. When he heard Jesus was coming, he “began to cry out” for Jesus to “have mercy” on him. He was told to quiet down but “he cried out all the more.”
Jesus called Bartimaeus out of the crowd, and I find it interesting that the crowds, who had initially told him to be quiet, turned to him and said, “be of good cheer, He is calling you.” Isn’t that just like people today? One day you are discouraged for reaching for your apparently crazy dream (as Bartimaeus was reaching for his dream to see), and the next day, when it seems your initially crazy dream is getting some attention, you are encouraged. When God gives you a dream, don’t expect it to be celebrated when it’s only a dream. You’ll go through a season of “blindness” when your dream is just that: a dream. Be patient until the time comes for God to bring it to pass (Habakkuk 2:2,3). Once it does, it will be a witness to all, but in the meantime, don’t be discouraged when you’re told to “be quiet.”
When Bartimaeus finally found his way to Jesus, Jesus asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” My initial impression is that Jesus already knows what he wants; Bartimaeus wants the obvious – he wants to see. Why did Jesus ask a question with such an obvious answer?
In times of blindness, we cry out to God in spite of everyone telling us to “be quiet.” If we can persist past the criticisms and rejection of people and cry out, “all the more” to Jesus, He will call us and ask us as He asked Bartimaeus, “What is it that you want Me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus didn’t ask Jesus why He asked what he wanted, he didn’t make any “faith hints” like I do when asking Jamie to do something on a Friday. He simply replied, “That I may receive my sight.” Jesus answered, “Go your way; your faith has made you whole.” The scriptures go on to say that immediately he saw and followed Jesus on the road.
We are now in day 19 of our 21 day fast and I have heard in my spirit the Lord challenge me with those words, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He already knows what I want but I need to hear myself say it. I need to “cry out all the more.”
Mark 11:23,24 NLT“I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.”
Faith works this way: you must believe and speak. It is how we receive our salvation once we have repented (Acts 3:19; Romans 10:9,10) and it is by faith that we live (Habakkuk 2:4) and receive anything from God.
Words have power as we have discussed already in Day 6 – Words. We activate our faith in God as we speak His Word and agree with Him instead of agreeing with our feelings or what appears to be real. Now is not the time to be hinting in faith about what you need – tell God and expect Him to have the answer!
So what is it that you need from God? What does God say about it?
Do you need the doctor’s report to change? Do you need a healing? See 1 Peter 2:24
Do you need God to provide for you? See 3 John 1:2; Philippians 4:19
Do you need God’s protection? See Psalm 91
Whatever you need, there’s a promise for you in God’s Word. He has promised it and since He cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18) you can trust Him to take care of those needs.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21) what will you choose today?
I challenge you to make 2017 be a year of breakthrough faith for you, I know I am ready for the challenge – are you?
Today I’m honoured to have a dear friend and coworker in the ministry, Hattie Asberry, giving us a bit of her wisdom for the day. I encourage you to take in all that the Lord has given her as a deposit for us on day 18 of our 21 day fast. Her contact information and ministry website are listed below, please take time to visit her site and take in the wonderful work the Lord is doing through her.
Life is an amazing journey filled with tremendous twists, turns, trials, tests and triumphs. The fictional character Forrest Gump says it best “My mama always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” His mama taught him the ways of life and left him to choose his destiny. The movie depicted how Forrest faced many tribulations throughout his life, but he never let any of them interfere with his happiness. From wearing braces on his legs, to having a below average IQ, Forrest continued to believe that good things would happen and he followed his dreams. He turned each setback into something good especially when he struggled to get his leg braces off and discovered that he could run faster than most people.
His mom also taught him that, “You have to do the best with what God gave and you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.” Such great advice. But, unlike Forrest, we have a true and living God who abides in our hearts to lead and guide us. You and I know that we can easily get stuck in our fast-paced life with inevitable distractions, disappointments and undelivered promises from people. Looking to people to affirm us and approve of us. Looking to people to make our wrongs right. Looking to people to be the friend to us that we have been to them. Looking to people to fill voids in our lives that only Jesus can fill. We often find ourselves forgetting our purpose to serve and worship our Lord…because we are focused on the twists and turns of life better known as distractions.
Distractions are tricks of the enemy to keep us from the call and focus God has ordained for our lives. There are so many things in this world that fight for our time: money, relationships, health,career, education, worries, fears, busyness, social media, internet, telephone, texting, church and family. If you are always busy or on the phone how will you hear God when he calls? Even people, places and things that appear important or things that we classify as could not have been helped can all filter under the distraction trick. Satan appears in many shapes, sizes and fashions to continue to steal your time, kill your dream and destroy your relationship with Jesus Christ. Recognize him and stay focused! Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2).
To focus means to center our attention and concentration upon a certain thing. For the Christian that thing would be Jesus who is our Lord and Savior. Like Forrest Gump, life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. Last year was one of the most challenging years of my life…but my constant self-talk was run your race [Hattie run your race, run your race I whispered morning, noon and night]. Regardless of life’s circumstances I knew that God was with us and I kept my eyes focused on Jesus Christ. We can choose to focus on the negative or we can focus on the positive. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).” Focus your attention on what is most important in your life.
In the midst of life’s twists and turns…how can we resist distraction and keep our hearts and minds focused on Jesus Christ? In 2017 reposition yourself closer to Jesus. Commit to reading your bible daily, improve your prayer life and spend time meditating on God’s Word. Talk to God and allow him to talk to you. Learn to listen to God and understand the varying ways he communicates with those he loves. Build an intimate relationship with Jesus (fall in love with him) and know that He is your protector. Seek God and not opportunities then opportunities will come. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Take control of your thoughts, for as a man thinketh in his mind so is he. What you believe will determine your destiny. We become like the things we focus on. That’s why it is important to focus on beauty and godliness. Recondition your mind to focus on these things as Philippians 4:8 tells us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Guard your heart, bring your life into focus and allow Jesus to fill your mind.
Direct your focus and run the race God has planned for your life! If Forrest Gump, a simple-minded but kind-hearted Alabama boy can succeed in life through a mixture of luck and destiny…what about YOU?
I remember when my husband and I were young newlyweds (seems it wasn’t THAT long ago) and we were in “discussions” over how many children we hoped to have. Initially, I wanted three children and he wanted two. In the end, neither of us had our way; we have ended up with four wonderful kids. We couldn’t imagine life without any of them. Now, 3 of the 4 have grown up and moved on, 2 are married, and we have 1 grandson – this is far from what I imagined what our family would look like when we “entered into discussions.”
Beginnings are like that: we think we can plan everything out and see the end from the beginning. It’s overwhelming, thinking of how off-track that kind of thinking can be. How many of us were ever planned up enough to face marriage, raise children, to live life in the face of an ever-changing culture? If someone has found the secret to being prepared for life, please let me know!
I married into a pastor’s family and my husband was an associate pastor at our home church at the time. I wasn’t prepared to be a pastor’s wife, not by a long shot, let alone prepared to be a church planting pastor’s wife in a foreign culture when we moved to Africa as missionaries three years later. I didn’t come from a family of preachers or ministers; we were just regular folks, so when I managed to hook the preacher’s son I was in way over my head. There are no handbooks on how to be a minister’s wife or how to follow the call of God. Neither is there an “exit strategy” built in to this call. The ministry, I have learned, is not a vocation. The ministry is a call that goes far beyond vocation. It is part of your soul. It doesn’t matter if we are paid or unpaid for what we do because we can’t shake the call.
Somehow I find myself wondering how, almost 33 years later, I am still partnering in the call with my husband and dreaming for the future, dreaming about church planting, feeding children, and raising up national leaders to help fulfill the vision of planting 1,000 churches in Africa. How many times did we need rescuing throughout those years, I cannot count. Those rescues range from facing sickness, trusting God to keep us safe in war, to the normal financial stresses of raising a family. However, God’s rescue came faithfully each and every time.
Every deliverance, every rescue, has to start somewhere. Those beginnings often go unnoticed by us. They can come in the form of a relationship forming, educational opportunities, chance meetings, all appearing to us as being “normal” occurrences in life. However, the Father, unbeknownst to us, uses those instances as “beginnings” of our rescue.
Judges 13:5 NLT“…he will begin to rescue Israel…”
There will be times in all of our lives when we are aching for rescue. Maybe, like Israel, you are already at the point in your life of needing a rescue. At the writing of the above scripture in Judges, God began to deliver Israel. He was working their rescue out before they even knew that He had heard their call. His answer came subtly, humbly, in the form of a child named Samson born as an only child to his parents who had not been able to have children. Samson’s rescuing of Israel wasn’t manifested until many years later – but the moment he was born, the rescue began.
The beginning of a rescue comes to us in much the same way as the deliverance of Israel by Samson – in small beginnings, God connections, chance occurrences. The work of God in our lives doesn’t come by accident; He is always preparing a rescue for us because He knows exactly when we will need it.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”
You can be sure that somewhere in life your rescue began and, as sure as there is a beginning, there is an end! The Rescuer is faithful; you will see the tide change in due course.
Who is your best friend? I would say my husband Jamie is my best friend. We’ve been married 33 years this coming July. We’ve been together so long that I wonder if he can read my mind sometimes, and vice-versa. We finish one another’s sentences and generally have the same opinion about life in general; there are a few exceptions that I won’t list that aren’t really important except when I bring them up (haha).
My husband knows he has an open door into my life – he is more familiar with me than with anyone else. Ours is the kind of relationship that I wanted in marriage and I’m so thankful God fulfilled that need I had. With such friendship and familiarity between us, there is something that we both need to guard our hearts from; and that is contempt (disdain, disapproval, or scorn). It’s easy, when you know someone as well as we know one another, to view their opinions, ideas, and ways of doing things with contempt since you know not only their good points but are aware of their frailties as well.
Familiarity can be a positive mark in a relationship. I’m not fearful to talk to my husband about anything; I know that he has my best interests at heart. I’m also so familiar with him that I know when I can talk with him. For example, when he is studying on Friday, preparing his preaching for the weekend, I know that it’s not a good time to have a deep discussion about anything. If my attitude towards him shifted to the negative and I began to despise him for his way of doing things, then, that familiarity I have with him has brought a harvest of contempt. As my husband, as my fellow believer, I need to honor the person God has made him to be and allow room for him to be himself just as he honors me as his wife and fellow believer.
In the same way we need to guard ourselves in our relationships with our spouses and friends, as Christians, we have to be very careful not to allow our relationship with the Lord to become contemptuous because we have become so accustomed to His love and grace.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 MSG“Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me.’ After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: ‘This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me.’ What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.”
If we don’t watch ourselves in our relationship with the Lord, we could easily fall into the same trap as the Corinthians did with the Lord’s Supper (Communion). Things had taken a drastic downward turn in the Corinthian church; they had turned the Lord’s Supper, and church life in general, into a competition. Criticism and divisiveness filled the air and the Apostle Paul felt it necessary to step in and bring correction.
Familiarity – Honor = Contempt
Jesus faced the same issue as He attempted to minister in His home town:
Mark 6:3 NLT“Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just a carpenter…’ They were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him.”
The people in Jesus’ hometown despised His ministry because they were familiar with Him. They knew his mother and father, they knew He hadn’t studied the law or attended any prestigious center for training on religious affairs. The miracles they had heard of Him performing weren’t enough to change their minds about Him – they were deeply offended.
Why is it when God uses someone we know, a friend or family member, we immediately view him or her with skepticism? Simply because we know where someone comes from doesn’t preclude them from God using them. Perhaps we wonder, secretly or even unconsciously, why is God using them instead of us for our character and giftings are so much better than theirs. When we allow contempt to rule in our hearts to the point that we judge others and the work God is trying to do through them, we stand on shaky ground.
Mark 6:6 NLT “And He was amazed at their unbelief.”
When contempt takes hold and grows, it grows into offense and unbelief. Once those attitudes take hold in our lives, our spiritual growth comes to a standstill:
Hebrews 11:6 NKJ“But withoutfaith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Unbelief stands in opposition to faith and stalls us spiritually. Those things we have been fervently praying for will be kept from us as long as we have unbelief reigning in our hearts.
I never want to amaze God with my unbelief because I couldn’t receive from someone I was familiar with or because I became so familiar with God that I didn’t hold my relationship with Him in reverence. What a catastrophe, yes catastrophe, that would be; that I would keep God’s blessings from coming into my life because I had set myself up as judge and jury over others.
Today, I challenge you to hold your relationship with God and others with reverence. Yes, He can use whomever He wants to use, whenever He wants to use them, and however He wants to use them. I’ve found most of the candidates God calls are what we would consider “disqualified” because of lack of experience or their human frailties. Those are precisely the ones God uses for when He uses such incompetent people (like me), He will get all the glory!
I’m amazed today that God loves me so much and would send His Son for me, that He has given me wonderful people to serve with, and that He would use me to do something for His Kingdom.
Today our guest blogger is Jacqueline Nkunku. Mama Jackie as we know her is a true daughter to me in the faith. We have shared many amazing times together, our daughters grew up together, truly she is as close to me as any biological family could be. Today, she shares an intimate and powerful testimony of the healing power of love.
Mama Jackie has served alongside her husband pastoring our church in Bujumbura, Burundi. She has an amazing gift of wisdom and has been a powerful minister in the church for many years. May you be blessed by her words as I have already have. Her contact information is below.
My father was in the military and my life as a child went like this: I was born in Camp X, grew up in Camp Y, and then we would move to Camp Z and start all over. We lived with most of our family belongings in boxes because we could move at any given moment. I made friends in the different military camps we moved to but lost those friendships each time we had to move. I hated it. I lived life as a nomad.
My relationship with my father was tied up, much like a bundle of ropes. I was always complaining about what he did or did not do. He once slapped me when I was in 3rd grade for telling him that I had done so well at school, that I knew I would be at the top of the class. He said I was a liar; it was impossible that I was that bright. I resented him for those words and concluded that my father was bad and mean person. He obviously did not love me so I decided I would not confide in him anymore about school and education. Not after that slapping. I was young but I remembered.
I finished high school at 17 but the year before my father said he would no longer be paying for my education. Somehow I was able to finish high school without his support. I was angry but what he said confirmed my perception of his lack of love and consideration for me.
I wanted to get a BA in education and that is what I worked on. I completed my studies and I started working but lived with my parents. My culture did not allow young women to live alone.
I fell in love with a young teacher, former classmate and after many years of pleading, my family accepted to receive the bride price from him (this is the custom in our part of the world).
The account of the last week I spent in my parents’ house is as follows:
My in-laws-to-be brought the bride price on the Tuesday afternoon, before the wedding. On Saturday morning, my fiancé and I went to the Mayor’s office for the civil ceremony (this is the legal procedure in our country) and then the church wedding was planned for that evening. However, between Tuesday and Saturday, something very unusual happened.
I came back from work on Wednesday evening; my father wasn’t in his recliner as he always was after coming home from work at 4:30 pm. Every day like clockwork, he would sit in his recliner and monitor all the comings and goings of our household.
To our friends and neighbors, my father was known as “The Leopard.” When The Leopard was at home, everyone knew to make himself or herself scarce. Everyone knew him to be a rigid, angry military man.
I had been working for an international airline and my schedule was tight; I had no time off before the wedding and would only go on leave for a week after the wedding. That Wednesday evening when I came home from work, I could not see my father at his self-assigned observation post. I went from room to room looking for him and I found him in my bedroom. He was listening to my favorite song and my father was CRYING. I had never seen that before. I was alarmed at this point and asked him what was wrong because I could not associate my father with tears. Impossible. The Leopard was crying?
He told me that he was so sad I was leaving home. Since my in-laws-to-be brought the bride price, he understood that he would not be seeing very much anymore, that I would be devoted to my future husband and my own family. Dad proceeded to tell me that he had always loved me but did not say it very often. He told me he had named me Jacqueline after his own name, James. He then opened up and told me how he had been forced into the military by the colonial powers of the time. He had been brought from a foreign country into a new and strange culture, traditions and languages. He had no one to turn to. Before his time in the military, he had been a businessman, and in one day that all changed when was forced to become a soldier in the military. He lived in frustration, unable to voice his own anger and pain. Dad talked to me about my heritage and explained that he was from a royal family. He said he missed home and could not even get news about his family – he felt lost and forsaken, he was hurting like a lost child in the wilderness.
I discovered a completely different person that night. Then it all came back. I remembered Dad and I taking long walks in the different camps where we had lived. He would carry me on his shoulders and we would have fun together. There were times we went to another camp for helicopter rides. The memories flooded back and the tears ran. That moment is when I realized that I had locked my father in a prison of hate and did not want to let the love flow.
We spent Wednesday night talking and talking and I realized that Dad never hated me. He did not know what to do with his own frustrations, hurts and challenges. We spent Thursday night talking some more. We spent Friday night together, still talking.
The wedding took place on Saturday evening. I went away with my husband but I was happy that Dad and I had had time to talk and mend. I had always loved my father.
I shared this story to explain that very often we judge things and people’s actions from our own perspective, our hurting selves, forgetting that we have to consider all aspects before drawing conclusions.
I am the Vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, for [otherwise] apart from Me [that is, cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken off] branch, and withers and dies; and they gather such branches and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:5-6 AMP)
The last week that Jesus spent with His disciples is full of insights and kingdom wisdom. He shared on perspectives, focus, vision, concentration, principles, the way forward, keeping up the fire, heaven, mansions… He could sense that His time was close and that His earthly ministry was drawing to an end. He wanted to pour out His soul, emotions, and feelings.
Very often we assume that the Lord our God does not love us, that He does not care about us because we did not have our bread with turkey ham. We are not even aware that there are people who have no bread at all and we complain about turkey ham!
The Lord wants us to understand that He does not hate us because we are going through hardship. He desires for us to understand that no matter the circumstance, He is with us. The Lord wants us to focus our attention and vision on Him alone. Our circumstances do not change Him, we cannot change our circumstances by our own strength but He can change our circumstances as long as we put our trust and faith in Him alone.
I had focused so much on the fact that my father had slapped me when I was in 3rd grade that I forgot about the years that he had paid for my education. I was the one who had decided that I would not inform him about school related issues.
I saw him through my eyes full of hate and misunderstanding. I was the judge and had sentenced him to life without my love.
There are times we focus so much on our problems, challenges and shortcomings that we put the blame on God because we feel He does not show concern and He does not provide solutions. That is how we look at Him through our biased lenses.
The Lord wants us to live a life filled with Him and thus we flourish and bear fruit. It makes no sense to lock the Lord out of our lives because we are going through difficulties.
Later on, my husband received my father as he visited his office. He would drop by to know how we were doing. Dad would come home whenever he felt like it. He would tell me that he had wanted to hug me and that is why he dropped by.
There was a time while he was in the military that my father hit the chaplain who was sharing Jesus with him. So great was the change in Dad that later on, my husband shared Jesus with my father. To our amazement, Dad bowed his head and received Jesus Christ as his Master and Saviour. A year later, he passed away.
We need to yield to God’s plans, vision and purpose for our lives. Remember the Lord’s conversation during His last week on earth – many things will come into order as your attention is drawn to what He wants you to see.
Do not think that the Lord does love you because you are going through difficult circumstances. Jesus does not hate you. Jesus loves you and He wants to see you through. Stick to Him. You will bear much fruit. You can do nothing on your own. You find your purpose and significance in Him alone. Everything else is an illusion or smokescreen.
A common sight in Africa, vultures can regularly be seen circling the skies in search of their next meal. They are opportunistic carnivores meaning they don’t like to work for their food. When they are circling above and they see that lions have brought down their prey, you can be sure they will signal to their vulture friends that lunch is served.
While fully capable of fending for themselves like other birds of prey, vultures prefer to take what isn’t theirs. They are large birds, intimidating in appearance, and will protest loudly when challenged. But in the end, when stood up to, will fly away only to return and try again.
Vultures are thieves; they steal what doesn’t belong to them. You might think upon initial observation that vultures are fearful – but the more you watch them it’s obvious that they are not fearful – they’re just plain lazy, resourceful, and clever. They know that the mighty lion can easily bring them down with one swipe of their paw. They know that they put their very lives at risk to steal from the lion, but they are gambling on the lion’s becoming weary of chasing them away as they won’t easily give up on a free meal.
Lions will eat until they are gorged with meat as they often go long periods of time without bringing down an animal for a meal. For every time they are successful at bringing down a meal, there are 4 or 5 other attempts when they have failed. The effort they put out and the danger they put themselves in when hunting (for animals with sharp hooves and horns won’t go down easily) takes much of their energy. Once they have hunted and eaten, they often don’t want to bother with chasing away the vultures. The problem is if they don’t chase away the vultures, there will be no leftovers to eat when they get hungry again.
Vultures don’t announce their arrival. While they are often seen in groups, they search alone for carcasses. Once a carcass has been sighted, one lone vulture will begin to circle and others will soon join him. Then, the familiar circling pattern of vultures overhead can be seen. At first just a few birds will land, tentatively approaching their targeted meal. Once the first bites have been taken, those circling overhead land swiftly for their meal. Their work must be swift, as other scavengers, hyenas and jackals, or the ones who originally took down the kill, like lions, are sure to be nearby. There’s not much time so their work is in earnest.
Genesis 15:11 NLT“Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away.”
God had called Abram out from among his relatives to go to an unknown land. Abram in obedience left everything he knew and traveled without knowing where his final destination would be. He only knew that God was faithful, promised him a great family and nation that would be born from his family, and He was making a covenant with Abram to prove His faithfulness.
Abram, with great effort, had come to this point in his life and offered sacrifices to God. In no time at all, the vultures began to circle and swoop down to eat what he had worked hard to give to God. Abram was tired, but spent an entire night chasing away the vultures. At the end of the process, Abram’s journey to seeing God’s promise to him began as God made a covenant with him.
I’ve learned that what I’ve laid at the altar as a sacrifice to God needs protection from the vultures. Like the mighty lion, it only takes one swipe to shoo them away but the very appearance of a vulture can be intimidating and they will surely return to try again.
The vultures are circling; they’re searching for a way to quickly steal what doesn’t belong to them. The question is am I ready to protect what I’ve offered? Or, am I willing to let circumstances, the vultures of hailstorms (see Day 10 blog), weariness, doubt, and fear rob me of my future?
I’m about to get real with you today, I hope you don’t mind but here we go!
God called us to plant churches and I can safely say that church planting is not for sissies. It certainly is an adventure; I can never say to my husband that life with him is boring. Planting a church as a foreigner in a foreign culture is quite the experience that is deserving of much more attention than I will give it today. Suffice to say; you never know what will happen from one day to the next when planting churches, especially if you are planting in the developing world.
Our newest church plant is in Blantyre, Malawi, where we now live. How do you plant a church from scratch with no one but your own family in attendance for Sunday service? By talking with people everywhere you go about Jesus, inviting them to church and one day you find yourself with a congregation of people – however, it always starts with the first one who comes to meeting and it grows from there.
Our little congregation was initially meeting in a tent on a piece of rented land at a local school. Then, last month (December 2016) we moved to our own property in town. It was a lot of work getting the land ready to the point of pitching the tent. I’ve learned, having planted a few churches this way, that there’s a lot that goes into moving onto a previously undeveloped piece of land. The good news is that the day finally came when we were able to move. What a day of rejoicing it was for us, seeing the tent go up on our own property made our hearts sing!
That was the beginning of a complicated story that brings us up to today.
The rains, which we have been praying for due to prevailing drought conditions in the country, came hard and heavy at the same time that we were moving. The wind blew, the mud was deep, but our team kept working on site. One day we learned that a city water pipe had been broken by one of our workers, another day, one of the workers came close to having his foot sliced off by the brick machine (he’s ok now), it seemed every day a new complication arose.
Then there was a hailstorm last week so violent that it blew our tent down. We woke to news last Wednesday morning that it was down. Not only was it down but it also retained significant damage in the storm requiring a good deal of repair before we could put it back up. We don’t have electricity on site so we had to get a generator onto the property for the repairman to run his electric sewing machine (that we also had to have transported to the site) to mend it properly. It took two full days to completely fix the damage done by the storm.
Not only was our tent torn and blown over in the storm, but a retainer wall we have been building to help manage the erosion on the property was damaged as well. The adage, “When it rains, it pours,” certainly was true last week!
This is a season of fasting and prayer for us and we had scheduled prayer meetings throughout the week, what could we do? No shelter, no relief from the sun or the rain – it was painfully obvious that there was nothing we could do on our own about the weather. The storm happened and we stood, literally, in a lake of mud on top of a ripped tent. It was a mess and it was tempting to say, “Had we known, had we known…”
Psalm 109:4b NIV“…but I am a man of prayer.”
What did we do? We met for prayer anyway without tent, without shelter; it’s a time of fasting and prayer, we couldn’t simply cancel all of our meetings. While it was hot and sunny, we got a bit of sunburn; we thanked God for a reprieve in the weather so repairs and work could be done. Thankfully, after a few days, the tent went back up, amidst mud, sand, onlookers wondering when we would give up – but retreat is not, is never, an option.
As you read this, it may seem that we aren’t struggling emotionally through all of the seen and unforeseen complications we are facing. Yes, our faith is high, but we don’t always feel as if our faith is running high. What we have learned in the years we’ve served God is that as we go up one mountain and get to the peak of that mountain, there’s a valley between ourselves and the next mountain. To get to the next mountaintop, we’ll have to traverse that valley first.
Those valleys are places none of us relish entering. Who wants to go through a valley? Everyone wants to go to the top of the mountain for at the top of the mountain, you can see clearly where you are and where you need to go. What you don’t have at the top of a mountain is what you need to survive: food, water, and shelter. A mountaintop is a bare place, while beautiful, is not a place where you can live and thrive – a journey into the valley needs to be made to get the food we need to ascend once again to the top.
Psalm 23:3-5 NLT“He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”
The dark places in the valley are where we develop strength for the journey and as we trust God in the dark places, He is honored. There’s nothing but blessing to be gained at the end of the trial and God promises us that His provision and protection will be with us.
It’s time to pray. It’s time to cross the valley, get what we need in that valley, and ascend to where we can see once again.