Ok for all of you who were at Ripon this year, it's been over a week since it ended (how did that happen?!?) and I wonder whether some of those best laid plans made in the middle of the meeting room or in the prayer tent or during dorm time seem like a distant memory....well don't worry! That's pretty normal!
What we know is that God is not interested in whether or not those plans were kept down to the letter - He is much more interested that we make space for Him in our day at all, whether that's 5 minutes or 5 hours. So unless you're one of the few who gets up at 3am each day to read the Bible (and completely impressed if that is you!), here are some top tips about making room for God:
- Bible Apps - lots are free, it means you can have Bible on the go even on the bus, some great devotionals also included on some of them to help focus your time
- Find something you do every day that you have to be doing (e.g. walking to school, brushing your teeth, having a shower) and make that time you spend with god
- Spotify is a great way of getting some worship music on your phone cheaply and on the go - maybe add on the Ripon Facebook page what you're listening to at the moment and give each other some new ideas
- Change up where you talk and listen to God - keep it interesting
- Write/draw things God has done for you or has said to you as well as answers to prayer - helps you to remember all that He is doing in your life day to day
- Stick post-it notes on your mirror or somewhere where you'll see it regularly with your favourite verses on
- Get in the habit of praying for the person nearest you (doesn't need to be out loud, especially if the teacher is talking!) - maybe sat in your lesson or in the queue for dinner or walking past someone - this not only deepens your relationship with Him but also helps you focus on the bit of the world He has placed around you
Finally - get some people round you and do it together - this might be your mates from church or some of your fellow dormies from this summer. All I know is I find it a whole lot easier to keep up with God if I've got friends alongside me giving it a go too, plus it might even be a whole lot more fun :)
It’s so easy to think that we’re not good enough; in our studies, not good enough for our parents, feeling guilty when we mess up and thinking we’re not a good person. More than ever the media tells us our appearance isn’t good enough. The world makes money from telling us we’re not good enough, always pushing us to buy the next new thing. I struggle with this mentality often, and I can sometimes slip into thinking that I’m not good enough for God either.
But this is not true:
‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.’ (Ephesians 1:4).
We were not a mistake. God, the huge amazing God, made us, and he thinks we’re perfect as we are! The reality as a Christian is that we don’t have to do anything to make God love us, because of Jesus’ death on the cross. We don’t deserve this, but it is real.
Recently, when I’ve been feeling unsatisfied with myself, and wishing ‘if only I was ….’, I’ve been reminded of the image of a plant. We’re not a finished product; like a plant, we are constantly growing and changing, and as long as we face the sun (God) we will grow stronger and taller. I need to accept that I’m far from perfect, and it’s unrealistic to aspire to be perfect, because I never will be. Rather, I need to remember that God loves me in my imperfection, and praise him that I am so ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14).
So I hope this can be an encouragement if you are feeling that you’re not good enough in some way. Don’t let yourself be defined by any human definition of worth, whether your own or someone else’s. God thinks you are worth it, and he is so pleased with you.
Because of Jesus, you are more than good enough for His love.
Listen to this song...
(I’ve included the lyrics if you can’t listen to the song)
All my days
I've been wearing the mistakes I've made
Like a coat I could've thrown away
I should've brought it to You
All my pain
Like a fire burning in the rain
Like a stain I couldn't wash away
I should've brought it to You
Show me what You see
When You look at me
Show me what is real
More than what I feel
We have stains, it's true
But when Your light shines through
We all look like stained glass windows to You
All my fears
I've got one for every single tear
Like a flood that's rushing through these years
I'll bring it all to You
We both know
I've been barely holding on to hope
Like a sneaker with a worn out sole
I'll bring it all to You
This song was not one that I looked for, it popped on my spotify in a ‘recommended to you’ playlist. For the first few times I’d been listening to it without really thinking about it, I had sort of assumed that it was just another love song and it blended in with the rest.
Then one day I actually listened to the lyrics and thought about it.
That’s when I realised that it was a love song, but one about me and God.
I realise it may make seem a little naive as its quite obvious once you really listen, but the time when the lyrics became obvious were at a time when this particular message was just what I needed to hear.
I know that I am forgiven by God for what I do and that he will eternally love me, no matter how many mistakes I make or how big; as long as I turn to him and ask. But often I still cannot move past the mistakes and forgive myself. I feel as they are a part of me, and made me who I am today.
But the lyrics of this song say in a way, that these mistakes have made us who we are with God, which makes us as beautiful as stained glass windows to him. The colours on the glass are the mistakes we have made but when we have also come to God and asked for forgiveness, it changes the way that we perceive them. We become someone through who God shines his love. And that even with mistakes, you are with God, who loves you and helps you to shine as the person he created you to be.
On Mount Sinai God revealed His character to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments.
When you think of mountain top experiences with God, what do you think of?:
Miracles? Prophecies? Hearing an audible voice? Seeing visions? Healings?
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
The experience described here is massive! “Everyone in the camp trembled”… all the people experienced this and because of that experience you would expect them to grow some incredible fruits in Him. However, a few chapters later this generation had to be killed in the wilderness because they didn’t believe in God’s promise of deliverance to the promise land. As we go up a mountain we can see more. The danger is that when we get that new perspective we either stay there or don’t acclimatise and so panic… or in this case die!
So often we associate a mountain top experience with understanding. This is deception. Often when we come to God with a question or a request we won’t see the answer straight away. If we take the Lord a question and we are willing to camp and wait (as the Israelites did), the revelation will be massive! We can camp peacefully in the knowledge that God is good and knows the plans He has for us, otherwise we value the answer more than the mystery:
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you
Not all of our biggest revelations and experiences will be “mountain top experiences” either. God comes and meets us in everything, we just have to say “yes” to Him consistently in the small things and He will grow us. Small is the new big!
Matthew 13:32 talks about planting small mustard seeds. If we can give God our small “mustard seed” yes then He will grow us.
We live in such an “on demand” world. We can click a button and have something delivered to our doors the next day, we can press a button and watch live TV coverage of almost any event going on in the world at any given moment and we can contact a friend simply by opening facetime. We expect the rules of God’s kingdom to apply to this Earth. They don’t. God doesn’t operate an “on demand” kingdom. We have to be willing to camp and trust His judgement that He gives us as much as we can handle at the right times. If we want God to operate in an “on demand” way then we are giving ourselves to an experience not to God. If we only want to see the “big things” then we are not in true surrender of our hearts.
In God’s kingdom He does everything. All we have to do is position our hearts in surrender so He can build in us. We never do the building. As He builds, He enables things to flow out of us so that He can build even more. WE NEVER DO THE BUILDING, IT IS ALL GOD. Humility isn’t the ability to stand, it’s the ability to fall and to glorify God in our “fallenness”.
Fallenness however is a position of our hearts. We don’t have to physically fall. Everything around us can be fine and we can still be in this place of fallenness. We need God to pick us up and carry us out of the “smoke” (Ex 19:18) around us and take us to a place of freedom and humility to walk in His plans that He has for us. At Ripon last year we talked about “your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as in heaven”. By surrendering our hearts in this way we will see God’s kingdom come.
Last summer I began working as a carer for the elderly and I was so thankful for the job as it had been something I had wanted to do for years. However, the reality and hardships of the work quickly became apparent. I was working long hours, travelling much of the day and having to deal with upsetting situations on a daily basis. Quickly realising that I couldn’t continue the job in my own strength, I decided that each day I would read a Psalm in the local park and each day I learnt more about who God is.
One rerecurring theme that I found in the first 20 Psalms was this idea of refuge (a place of safety and shelter):
Psalm 9:9 ‘The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of troubl
Psalm 11:1’In the Lord I take refuge.’
Psalm 14:6 ‘ You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.’
Psalm 16:1 ‘Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.’
Psalm 18:2 ‘…my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.’
Each day, no matter how it was going, I felt encouraged by the words that I read. How in times of great sorrow, the Psalmists continued to be thankful and allowed God to be their rock and comforter. It wasn’t a chore or a task, but a gift freely given to let God into my life and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
It was still a difficult job, but as I look back, those days were filled with such light and joy for I was reminded each day of my identity as a child of God. However your January is going, remember the Lord’s promises for you, remember the love that He has for you and seek His guidance through reading the Bible.
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
This passage is so exciting. Like for reals, so exciting! We are being called to share the word of God with those around us. Woah. Be that with our family, school friends, team mates, colleagues, the list could go on. This is ordaining you to be the change in someone’s life, to have the privilege of sharing God’s amazing grace and love with someone.
Now I know what you’re thinking, that’s sounds fantastic but it isn’t that glamourous, the heavens don’t open with a light beaming down angelically on you when you do that. Or maybe, for the less theatrical amongst us, the people we’re talking to are just not that interested in what you have to say. I have been in that place so many times, where you’re just talking to a blank wall, or the person you’re talking to shuts down and attempts to discredit every word you say.
Don’t be disheartened.
You have planted a seed.
Just because you may not see the fruit of your conversation immediately, that doesn’t mean that something isn’t stirring within them. Keep praying and you will see God’s hand at work, in both your life and others around you. Pray for opportunities and you’ll be surprised with how God hears you. Have courage.
We all wear masks.
Different masks for different days and places and people.
Well I know I do, sometimes all of my focus can be put into what sort of person I should be, funny, charismatic, whatever I think will fit the situation and often I can forget to be me. When I was getting ready to go to university and I kept thinking about what person I should be, how I’d fit in, rather than just being myself.
Often we feel by putting on these masks and changing who we are, we can fit in better, become more popular but in the process we often lose ourselves. We hide ourselves from the people we call our friends, our families see someone different as do strangers on the street.Sometimes you find yourself asking does anybody really know me? Do they know the person I am when I take off all of those masks.
There are times when even I feel that I don't know myself and it is in these times where I particularly turn to God, he always knows who I am, he knows more about me than I know about myself. For me knowing that there is someone who unconditionally loves me more than anything for who I truly am helps me to continue. It gives me the confidence to move forward and to be more like myself; the person I truly want to be. God is never going to decide he doesn't love you anymore. God is always going to be on your side as he has known you from before your birth and has shaped you into the person you are today, without all those masks, and he has done that for a reason, as he loves you and wants the best for you.
‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ psalm 139 v13-14
One of my favourite things at Ripon is the response time after the evening talk. This is a quiet time to spend thinking over what you’ve just heard, receiving prayer, and basking in the presence of God. I love the peace and the serenity of it.
When you read the Bible you get the impression that Jesus enjoyed this too. Time and time again he ‘often withdrew to lonely places to pray’ (Luke 5v16). Jesus saw the importance of getting away from the noise of the crowd, the distraction of his friends, and the pressures of life to spend some quality time with his Father.
Let me tell you something – you can do this too.
Jump on a bike and go someplace quiet; be that your local park, hill top, or babbling brook (in my case the murky waters of the Thames). Bring your bible – and a bite to eat – read something short and ponder on it. Think about what it tells you about Jesus. Think about what this means for you. (Hint: remember Sam’s message of PIGS – promises, incarnation (God with us), grace, and surprises). And then just chat with God: open up a two way conversation. If you get stuck go through the Lord’s Prayer and see what you remember from the talks from the summer.
For example something God has been telling me recently is that He is in absolute control over everything. You might hear this described as sovereignty. In other words He is KING. Not only that but he is the King of Kings. This is particularly clear in the story of Daniel (read Daniel chapters 1-6 if interested). Kings and kingdoms come and go yet God remains eternally in charge. For me this is reassuring: that whoever was elected as president, regardless if my siblings keep their jobs, and whether or not I catch the bus on time – He is in charge.
Follow Jesus’ example – you can’t go far wrong.
I found myself the other day sat underneath the Hungerford Bridge in London during an intense downpour, whilst beside me a couple of girls from my university Gospel society sang Tim Hughes’ songs with this homeless man called Jamie.
I think we often look for reasons to move away from God, whether or not we would spell it out like that. Whether it’s busyness at work or school, social commitments and/or insecurities, or a general disenchantment with organised religion. Whilst life can be complicated, heavy-going and nigh-unbearable, I think I find it simpler without God. My faith has always been one of occasional peaks amidst deep valleys of doubt and frustration. My reasoning: I have difficulty seeing God in the world sometimes.
At my university, I’m involved in this society called the Hot Choc Soc. Misleading name, I know. We basically go around Central London with flasks of hot drink and snacks and have conversations with homeless people there. It’s not just some saviour complex. It works just as well as respite from the insular student lifestyle. It makes people from opposite ends of the spectrum of privilege sit on the same concrete and talk about the same things.
So we met this guy, Jamie, taking shelter under the bridge as it started to rain heavily (which as always made me sentimental for the North). As it turned out, Jamie was from up North also, and he talked about a sadly-typical story one would hear from the streets: of addiction; of financial difficulties; of families torn apart. He sipped cheap cider whilst he spoke to us, and showed us marks of self-harm on his arm. The scars, he said, were the reason he had go a tattoo over them.
John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.’
Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible. He leant over at that point and said ‘I still believe in him, I do.’ He explained how suffering was part of faith. He explained how recently he had read his Bible, which was protected within a faded Tesco bag to his side, and been motivated with the notion of redemption. Drinking less. Seeing his kids more. Praying when he could. Being thankful for what he did have.
It was that last point which was most impressive. So while the two women beside me began to share their favourite songs and sing them together with Jamie (I resisted, for my singing voice wasn’t exactly on par), I had time to think, in a particularly profound atmosphere.
Even Jamie, for whom life had not been in any way easy, and from whom almost everything had been taken, not only believed in God, but saw fit to worship. I may have my doubts, but at least I can contemplate them in a warm bed.
I’ve found myself shouting at God a lot this year.
Maybe that’s not what a trainee vicar should be doing – but that’s where I was at. Just over a year ago I left behind a city, friends and a job I love to move north to start my training – to do what I felt like God was calling me to do. But it didn’t quite work out as I imagined. I was unhappy, things were difficult, my particular training route wasn’t working out as it should have been, and even wise mentors and friends were questioning if I’d maybe heard God wrong about where to do my training!
Though I’d like to be able to say that I could see how God was bringing good out of the experience, I really couldn’t. I had no idea what He was doing. I felt let down. So I found myself shouting at God a lot – ‘I’m only trying to do as you asked! Why’s it so rubbish? What are you playing at! I came here for you! Now show up please, sort it out, show me what you’re doing!’
But despite all that, I was convinced that this was where God wanted me. A wise friend once told me: if God’s not saying anything at the moment, just keep doing the last thing he told you to do. That feeling of calling was about all I had to cling to. So I reluctantly resigned myself to pressing on.
Well, suddenly, and to my great surprise… this year things are infinitely, unbelievably better. God has come through in a way that I couldn’t even have imagined. I’m loving it. It’s not always easy, but it’s life-giving. I know I’m absolutely where I’m meant to be. And I can see what God is doing!
And what’s God got to say about that? I felt like his words to me were, ‘See! All I ask you to do is be faithful!’
The big lesson for me in all of this has been that sometimes faithfulness is enough. What God was asking of me last year was to be faithful to him – to trust him, and to believe that He would come through. I wasn’t doing faithfulness very well. I was shouting at God, not thanking him. I was grumpy, not grateful. But sometimes faithfulness, as a friend I phoned in desperation one day told me, simply means not leaving the room. That was about the extent of the faithfulness I was managing – but it was still faithfulness.
You may not be called to be a vicar, or to move away from the city you know, but we’re all called to follow Jesus. And sometimes doing that is really hard. It’s made me wonder – when we don’t see what we want to see, or things don’t work out as we think they should, what’s our response?
I stumbled across some words that a group called the Northumbria community pray every day. They make expressions of faith, ending each one with ‘today I believe’. Here’s one of my favourites:
Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.
(Read them all here – they’re great!)
Following Jesus isn’t easy. It’s hard, every day, to remember that He loves us, to trust His promises, to trust that this is the best way to live. But faith, and faithfulness, is about choosing to trust and believe every day. ‘Today I believe’ is enough. We make that choice, one day at a time. My experience since moving has brought me to a place where I can say to God, with the writer of Psalm 18, ‘to the faithful you show yourself faithful’ (Ps 18:25). We stick it out and God comes through. That’s a truth I can choose to believe each day, too.
So I’ll leave you with a couple of encouragements. Firstly, ‘the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it’ (1 Thessalonians 5:24). And a song, for those of you who, like me, find music a helpful way to connect with God*
*With the caveat that it does definitely feel like God is delaying sometimes. But we can trust him and believe that he is coming!