The summer of 2014 will be memorable for me, as I was privileged to take a three month time out of usual responsibilities as a church leader. The time of June to August was a change of pace. I didn’t stop working totally, but wrote, dedicated time to hobbies, sought God about this season of my life and spent quality time with my family. It was time very well spent. When I reflect back on it there are many lessons I felt God was teaching me. The three most timely ones I think also may apply to you:
God has His hand upon your life
During the summer I was hoping to find some spiritual renewal in my faith. I was a bit weary; a four year battle to overcome depression was a still carrying lingering effects; I knew my heart had a habit of closing down to God and others when I was stressed. I didn’t know what conference or counselling opportunity could help bring fresh healing and personal vision. Well God had a surprise in store! The fortnight before my sabbatical myself and three friends attended a house of prayer networking conference in Europe. I went with a ‘work head’ on, but God chose there to minister deeply into my heart. Four three days I couldn’t stop crying during worship or in the prayer room. Past regrets, disappointments, tiredness was so profoundly washed away in the sense of the Lord’s presence and healing. A new experience of the Father’s love for me opened up my heart in a very beautiful way and the veil of sadness from past depression was lifted from my emotions. It was truly a spiritual encounter…and I hadn’t even started my sabbatical! The experience has changed my and meant my next few months were full of purpose rather than seeking for a watering hole.
What this says to me is that God has his hand so clearly on my life. He knows my needs and how and when He needs to work with me. Most times I am not so aware of that fact, and that might be true for you too. Yet there are these wonderful times and seasons where He underlines the truth that he is ordering our steps and profoundly involved in our days and destiny. The Psalmist’s realisation about God in Psalm 139 was that ‘You have laid Your hand upon me’ and ‘that knowledge is too wonderful for me’!
God is interested in your dreams
I had planned two special things during this sabbatical time. The first was to take time to develop my photography hobby. I was able to take a day a week to wander and travel a bit to take landscape pictures and get a bit better at it. It has been an interest of mine for a while and it felt so good to give quality time to my hobby. Being in the midst of nature and trying to capture it on camera was fun! I lost track of time as I was in the ‘zone’ so often and enjoyed seeing some improved progress. The other dream was to take an extended family vacation in America. We had talked about it for a few years, to go to the west coast when the children were old enough to appreciate and remember it well. It all came together in August for 16 days. We did a fly drive and toured from LA up the west coast all the way to Seattle. So many memories and experiences, from the them parks to national parks, from cities to rural small towns, from interstate highways to hairy mountain roads. It was a family trip of a lifetime so far!
What all this underlined for me is that God is really invested in your dreams. The longings and desires that are deep in our hearts are known by the Lord. Not everything I have longed for has come to pass, yet these two interests and desires of mine have been fulfilled. If God has made us, that also includes placing good dreams and desires in us, with the view that He can help us achieve them. There was a struggle to find time and finance to do these things for me; dreams don’t often come to us on a plate! What is interesting for me is that neither photography or the holiday were ‘spiritual’ dreams, but He seemed pleased with them and blessed them beyond words. As Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 3v19: ‘God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine’! Let’s keep our dreams alive.
God has an unswervable purpose for our world.
My other focus in June and July was writing about the future, about End Times, Jesus’ return and some spiritual themes around those topics. God has prompted me again and again to dig into these things in order to understand them better and communicate them to others. So a short book has come together over the last few weeks. What has come through to me in this studying and writing is that God has a clear and sovereign purpose for humanity and for the earth as a whole. I was discovering afresh that this plan is revealed throughout the bible and seen most clearly in the coming of Jesus. The logic of His first coming – life, death, resurrection and ascension – brought in a kingdom life that has been at work in our world ever since. My fresh reading about the future shows that the Christian gospel includes an amazing finale – Jesus coming again to finish what He started and sort out the messes of our world and reign in power and love.
This truth is always relevant and gives Christians hope even in the face of evil and struggle. It might be very helpful in the light of current world crises and conflicts. When we are not sure how good can triumph over some of the evils we see, we can remind ourselves that God will finish the work of salvation He has started. I read in my bible readings yesterday the famous passage in Isaiah 9 about ‘to us a child is born’. Verse seven at the end of the reading struck me most: ‘Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this’. God is serious about His kingdom and zealous about bringing about His plan of salvation.
Of course, this is the bigger picture we find ourselves in. God helps us to know that His hand is on our lives for our good. He takes our dreams and desires and helps us find fulfilment in many of them. And all this is within the greater context of a world in which God is working out His good and greater plans.
So reflecting on this summer, I find that the months have been full and significant. As I return to normal routines, I wish I could be as aware of every month is such a vivid way. I find myself praying with the Psalmist again, here in Psalm 90v12: ‘teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom’.