Why I need you to sing “we”

One of the biggest critiques of modern worship is that it’s far too individualistic. It’s all about me and God: I sing about my worship of God for who he is to me. To a certain extent this is a caricature, but there is truth in it.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Modern (Western) culture is centred around the individual. We define who we are by reference to our “authentic” inner self, which is something we discover within our own inner worlds without meaningful reference to our relations with others. Swimming in the waters of modern individualism, it’s difficult for the Christian lyricist to move away from the individualistic language with which so many modern worshippers connect.

But sometimes I need you to.

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What to do when God answers your prayer

You would think that the answer to this one would be easy: say “thanks!”, celebrate, or breath a sigh of relief. But sometimes we can be left not knowing what to do, and not knowing how to be before God. When we’ve sat holding this prayer before Him for so long, it’s like suddenly we don’t know what to do with our hands, we don’t know where to look, we don’t know what to say.

Some years ago I was at a woman’s conference and I found myself exactly in this space. It felt so strange; I was at a woman’s conference, and I wasn’t crying – normally my eyes start leaking just on the way driving there. But this time, I had just received my breakthrough. After a protracted season of struggle and disappointment we’d finally conceived our youngest daughter, we’d passed the “danger zone” of pregnancy loss, and it felt like I had nothing left to say to God. I’d said thanks, but now what? I had inhabited the space of grief for so long, that now it was resolved it felt like I didn’t know who I was before God now, I didn’t know what to bring to him.

What do we even talk about any more God?

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Door with handle

Invited into Intimacy

Whenever I read Hebrews 10, I think of Seinfeld. Not Jerry, but Kramer – the way he would swing the door open and stride into the room without ceremony, without even a knock (no idea what I’m on about? See here). In (kind of) the same way, “…we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19).

Even if our conscience is guilty, we don’t need to hide our mistakes (I hope Dad doesn’t find out!), instead, we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him” (Heb 10:22). We can run into the Father’s presence, even when we’re feeling like that’s the last place we belong. I love how The Passion Translation expresses Romans 8:15-16,

And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty,” leading you back into the fear of never being good enough. But you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!” For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!”

We don’t just enter God’s presence in order to find mercy in a transactional sense. It’s not like we hand over the paperwork and get our account book back with our debt cleared; nor do we hand over our afterlife passport to get our heavenly visa like we’ve entered some kind of spiritual immigration office. What we are able to enter into so boldly is not just an audience with the king; we are invited into intimacy with our God. We are invited into the presence of God in order that we may present to him, and that we may experience his present-ness to us. Just as two people can sit together at a table in a cafe, both sipping their coffees but absorbed in separate phones, we can be in a space where God is, but not be present to him. On the other hand, however, because God is everywhere, the opportunity is always open to us to enter into his presence.

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Fine print of mortgage terms and conditions

Terms of Engagement

Now, if I was Creator God, I would have set things up differently in the Garden of Eden. It seems like a bad arrangement from the start: why even put the tree there, in the middle of the garden? Everyone knows that if you don’t want your kids to eat the treats, you hide them out of sight, up high in the cupboard, or you don’t buy them at all. You certainly don’t leave them out in the middle of the kitchen bench.

I would have arranged it differently. It would be less risky, I’d have less chance of being rejected. It would be safer, more controlled, more… robotic. But, of course, that’s not real relationship. Love requires the possibility of being rejected, and so the choice to disobey is offered to Adam and Eve.

In eating the fruit, our first parents weren’t just disobeying a rule, they were pushing away from God. The underlying thought goes something like “I can’t trust God to guide me in life… I know better… I can decide for myself what’s good for me… I’m going to make up my own life separate from you God”.

Turns out, you don’t know better, and your own life separate from God is full of hurt, shame, and ultimately death.

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Painting, Path Leading through Tall Grass by Renoir 1877

Well-worn paths

Every preacher has a favourite verse or theme that they slip into every message. Mine is probably Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (NLT).

Time and time again, I come back to the idea that a large part of the process of transformation of discipleship lies in changing the way we think. We need to move away from broken systems of thinking and behaving and allow the Spirit to transform us inwardly by a total reformation of how we think. The NIV calls these broken systems “the pattern of this world”, and I think that captures something of the neurobiological reality of who we are as persons: a lot of our being in the world is shaped by patterns of thinking. These are habitual thought processes, ingrained stories that we tell ourselves, ones we picked up from our family of origin, formed as a result of experience, and repeated again, and again, and again.

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Ultrasound scan of missed miscarriage

Dream and disappointment… and dream again.

Several years ago I came home from our national pastors’ conference knowing that it was time to try for a fourth child. I had been arguing about God with this one for a while, but something had shifted, and I had felt a clear nudge: NOW. There followed a constellation of “coincidences” that confirmed that we should go ahead at this time, and before long we had a positive pregnancy test. 

A new dream was on her way!

But that dream didn’t last. The 12-week scan had only bad news: my womb was empty. That little bittie had died weeks ago, but my body hadn’t realised yet it yet. 

I was crushed.

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child smiling behind trifle with 1/2 candles

She did what she could

One of my favourite traditions that we’ve developed as a family is celebrating half-birthdays. There’s no party or presents, just cake and candles, the family singing “happy half-birthday”, and a girl grinning in surprise because she hadn’t done the math herself. 

I love making cake almost as much as I like eating it, so usually the effort to make it happen isn’t onerous. But on this occasion the mental load was high and the emotional reserves were low, so I did something that old Maja never could have: I just bought a thing. No hand-crafted cake for this girl’s half-birthday, it was a short-dated trifle that I grabbed from the supermarket in between running errands. While she was out of the room, we whipped it out of the back of the fridge and I hastily (and badly) stuck in some pre-used candles. 

Not a thing of beauty, and I couldn’t eat a spoonful, but she loved it. 

As a recovering perfectionist, that crappy trifle was a sign of real personal growth for me. And, believe it or not, it was prompted by my reading of Mark 14:3-9 that morning. 

Yes, your devotional reading of Scripture can guide your dessert choices — this is practical theology. 

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close-up of Michelangelo's statue of Moses

Unqualified?

When I was in my final year of high school (way back when we called it “form 7”), we were all encouraged to complete a career aptitude test. It was a computerised quiz that asked us a bunch of questions and then spat out some suggestions about what kind of careers might be a good fit for us pursue. It was good for a laugh.

20 years later, I thought I’d try it out again. Turns out I should reconsider retraining as a Forestry Scientist, Economist, Zoologist, Landscaper, or Obstetrician — no, no, nope, maybe, no way.

There is some merit in them I’m sure. It’s worth figuring out if you have an aptitude for a vocation before you pursue it… kind of.

If you think about the kind of person who was taking on the role of public speaker and leader of a nation, there are a few personal aptitudes that it would be helpful; not least the ability to speak fairly well. After all, it’s a public speaking role.

But then there’s Moses.

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

Deep calls to deep

If there was ever a good place to have a meltdown, it has to be in the shower. It’s usually private, you’re alone with your thoughts, and because the water is already flowing the tears come easier somehow. At the least, the fact you’re having a good cry is a good reason to stay there a little longer, and, let’s be honest, any reason will do.

It’s in those moments that Psalm 42:7 often comes to my mind

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

However great your water pressure is, you’re never literally experiencing the desperate flooding the psalmist describes, but sometimes, in your heart, you are.

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sign on office door mum is working

Embracing limitation

I admit it, I’ve been jealous of people who have been isolating at home without kids during this pandemic. And all that talk about how we can binge-watch Netflix while learning Spanish and crochet and making sourdough after we’ve cleaned out every single cupboard… it grates. Yes, I have been watching more TV than usual and, yes, I have made sourdough (poorly), but having four kids at home means it’s a juggle to do all the things. All the things are not getting done.

Those four little people have put a serious damper on my productivity, and I struggle with the limitations of that… I struggle with limitations all together, but not in a good way.

It can seem like a noble pursuit to be always pushing against your limits. I’m still working my way out of an unhealthy mindset of ministry where a good girl is one who’s run off her feet, forever saying “yes,” and prioritising everyone else’s needs not out of love but out of obligation.

But it’s sin that has us forever pushing at the boundaries — dissatisfied with Eden and grasping for more, instead of being content that we already have everything we need. Not satisfied with being made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-7), the first Adam wanted to become divine (Gen 3:5). The second Adam (that’s Jesus) instead lay down his divine nature (Phil 2:6) to embrace the limitation of the human nature.

To be limited is a very human thing.

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