Monday, 27 August 2012

One toe in ...

One toe in
What if … God has called me to something but it looks as if it might be a total waste of time, and end in tears? Have you ever grappled with that thought?

When I began writing I thought that I would be writing fiction for children, but after 3 children’s books, the direction of my writing took a very definite turn towards non-fiction, and for years that is what I did. There were plenty of gaps in the market that needed filling and God blessed my efforts.

Then about 5 years ago I went to a conference about friendship evangelism – something I’d done a number of times in the past. It was a great conference and there was a lot of laughter and helpful teaching. But somehow I felt detached. ‘Lord,’ I prayed on Sunday morning ‘What am I doing here? I’ve been here, done all the things they’re suggesting and even written a book about it. Is this a waste of time and money for me? Did I make a mistake in coming?’

‘I want you to write about it again’ God seemed to whisper. ‘But this time make it fiction and make it fun.’ I shook my head, wondering if my imagination was working over time. ‘Fiction and FUN?’ What on earth did that mean?   I knew that ‘inspirational fiction’ was a rapidly growing genre in America, but in Britain Christians were used to borrowing their fiction from their local library, which, for the most part, ‘didn’t  do inspirational’.  For that and other reasons, British publishers were not interested in publishing it. So to write the kind of book that God seemed to be suggesting looked like a spending time and effort on something that would definitely result in a dead end.

You’d have thought that I would have learned by now. There have been many times in my life when God has seemed to ask me to do the impossible. But for some reason I’ve been firmly stuck on this one … arguing, stalling, putting it off … that is until I read these words :-

“It isn’t necessary to understand the whole journey, in order to obey and take the first step. Surrendered people obey God even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.
      Abraham followed God without knowing WHERE it would take him.
              Hannah waited for God’s timing without knowing WHEN.
                    Mary expected a miracle without knowing HOW.
              Joseph trusted God’s plan without knowing WHY circumstances happened as they did.
Hmm! My delaying tactics and arguing would seem to be saying only one thing … how about you?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Something beautiful for God

What  if … I obey God’s prompting, and step out in faith, but nothing seems to happen as a result? I saw a beautiful example of the kind of dogged determination that ‘keeps on keeping on and gives up giving up’ when I was in Bulgaria last year. It moved me so much that I wrote about it in the form of a prayer for my new book ‘It’s just You and Me God’ published by Discovery House in a few weeks time.

Huddled against the early April chill
she sat there in the doorway of that little church
muffled in gloves and scarf,
her shabby winter coat was barely thick enough
to keep her warm.
And yet she sat there in the early morning chill
pulling the rope that reached the bell tower,
so that the single bell tolled out its message,
‘The church is here
God is waiting
Come and worship’.

The building has survived dear Lord
throughout the years
that  aetheistic forces ruled the land.
But now perhaps God seems quite unfamiliar
and  church attendance,
is deemed both dull and out of date,
 to those who’d never known you.
For though I watched her for at least an hour,
as far as I could tell from where I sat ….,
no one came.

Did her arms ache, dear Lord
and was her heart discouraged?
Feeling perhaps
 that it was hardly worth enduring
the cold, the early rising,
the tuneless clanging
of that solitary bell,
when no one came?

For Lord you couldn’t say it was a lovely sound.
Unlike the joyous peals that thunder out
from churches and cathedrals,
created by a team of eager ‘campanologists’,
a thing of beauty in and of itself,
Especially when in this small village
 no one came.
And little seemed to happen
to reward her work.

And yet Lord
when you whispered to my heart
“You don’t see what is going on
 within the hearts of those who hear”
I realised 
that at the very least
she had an audience
of two.
You, Lord, who saw her sacrifice of love
and treasured it.
And me,
to whom you spoke so clearly.

So thank you Lord
 for all the hidden people,
who faithfully rise early
and labour late,
doing the little things you’ve called them to,
in spite of difficulties and disappointments.
‘Tolling’  their particular bell,
so that the people all around them,
whether they seem to listen and respond
or not,
can know that God is here.

They faithfully repeat the news
He loves and values them
And waits with arms outstretched
For them to find their way back home,
To worship.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Taking a Risk

What If … God seems to be prompting you to do something that is way beyond your current ‘pay grade’! Can you step out in faith without ending up in a horrible mess? My friends Daniella and Svetlana would say ‘Yes! Absolutely!’

There were all sorts of reasons why, humanly speaking , it was not a good idea to start a woman’s magazine in a post communist country, in the late 1990’s. At that time Christians in Bulgaria, were often poor and there were virtually no book shops in which to sell a magazine. Everything would have to be done by subscription through the churches, but this was a risky strategy, because culturally people weren’t used to subscribing. The communist years had left a legacy of distrust in authorities; why would you give money for something you might never receive? Would women take that step of trust, with the little money they had? And who would write the articles? Apart from Daniella, who could do the editing, they knew of no Bulgarian Christian writers. So they would have to find suitable articles from Christian magazines in the West, and get permission to translate them.

Despite all these difficulties these two brave women inched their way forward as God opened one door after another. Other editors did give them permission to use their articles initially. They were both able to attend Media Associates Littworld conference [ ] in England, where editors, writers and publishers from all over the world came together to learn how to produce literature for their own cultures.

In the bookshop at the conference centre, they discovered a book by Joyce Chaplin, a former ‘literature missionary’ who had created a Christian publishing house in Ghana , and trained local writers to write for it. Daniella and Svetlana took her ‘Christian Writers Club’ home with them, translated it into Bulgarian, and set about training a group of a dozen women who loved the idea of writing for Leah, but had no idea how to do it. Little by little these fledgling writers gained skills and confidence, others went through the training process, and now, after ten years, the quarterly magazine is entirely written by local contributors.

What was their secret? They believed that they had heard God speak, they took one step at a time, and in spite of Daniella’s serious illness, the challenge of getting women to commit their money, and a steep learning curve for all involved, Leah has changed the lives of many many women. And the next challenge? A Leah Library of Bulgarian authored books for women so that they can grow and flourish as Christians.

What are you hesitating over today? I love the quote about commitment that urges us to just take that step and see what happens.

‘Until one is COMMITTED there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth – that the moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise not have occurred.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, BEGIN IT.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Monday, 6 August 2012

One thing leads to another

One thing leads to another

Bulgaria in the early 1990’s was a very different place from the country it is today. Grim grey blocks of apartments dominated the skyline and packs of dogs roamed the city streets, turned out to fend for themselves by owners who could no longer afford to feed or look after them. But the people were warm and friendly, with the same problems of rebellious teenagers, and husbands who were not prepared to share their wives’ attention with a ‘God’ whom they could neither understand, nor see any need for. Women have the same hopes and fears the world over.

Over those ten days we visited 5 different churches, one of which was still under construction. The highlight of my trip was the night we spent with an old lady who had used her home out in the country for meetings of the underground church during the Communist era. What an honour to sleep under the same roof as someone who had risked her life for her Saviour, even if she did wake us at 5 a.m because she had invited the leading ladies of the church to come and have breakfast before they went to work!

The time flew past and as I said goodbye, God seemed to put a thought into my mind that I should share with my hosts from Mission Possible. “I’ve loved speaking to the women in your churches “I said tentatively,  “But they need so much more. Have you thought of sending out a monthly letter [ no email then] with some suggestions for bible studies or answers to their leadership questions?’

Daniella, who was the editor of their magazine for teenagers, went somewhat pale but made polite noises! I flew home and for 18 months heard nothing. Then I had a letter which set both them and me on a new path. “You suggested a Newsletter” wrote Daniella. “But God has shown us that we should make a magazine for women. We think we will call it Leah, because women are looked down on in many churches and in society. And Leah was the less favoured wife of Jacob. Can you help us?”

Do you have instances in your life when God has taken you in a totally unexpected direction? What happened? I’d love to know.