Cultivate change – building foundations in turbulent times

This is the last in a series of posts that I have been doing on preparing for turbulent times:

Change is coming whether we like it or not and learning how to mold our lives so that we bend rather than break in the midst of that change is one of the most important challenges to our current spiritual wellbeing.  Fortunately there are ways to prepare so that our faith grows and strengthens during these times.  Here are some of the principles that I have found most helpfu

  1. Identify or establish stability zones.  By this I mean identify those aspects of your life that are not going to change.  Routines and relationships that draw you close to God and to each other need to be identified and nurtured during turbulent times.  That is why I think that maintaining regular and familiar spiritual disciplines is so important.  It is these practices that maintain our sense of order and security in the world.  Without them we have no anchors for our lives.
  2. Stay put.  The tendency when life falls apart is to move because we think there will always be more and better opportunities elsewhere.  And of course sometimes this is necessary, but moving always adds to our emotional and spiritual instability.  It uproots us from the stabilizing influence of friends and the spiritual communities that anchor our lives.  If you do need to move it is important to unpack and establish new routines quickly.  Living out of suitcases and boxes gives an impermanence to life that can be very destabilizing
  3. Surround yourself with “at home” items.  This is something I learned when I lived on the mercy ship Anastasis and travelled constantly rarely feeling I knew where home was.  Family photos, pictures of my favourite at home scenes in Australia, making a meal of familiar comfort foods all helped me to relax and feel secure.
  4. Establish and maintain friendships that have the potential to be stable.  Many people I know specialize in disposable relationships.  Every time they move they close the door on the important friendships they have forged and look for new relationships.  Nothing can be more disruptive in tough times.  And of course these days facebook, iphones and email make staying in touch so much easier that there is no excuse for giving up friends anywhere in the world.  Part of the privilege of my life is that I have literally made friends all over the world.  Knowing that, and nurturing that is a hugely beneficial part of my life.  Reminiscing on the good and the bad we have shared together often gives me confidence to face new challenges.
  5. Identify enemy factors.  What are your greatest temptations and destabilizing influences?  That is what I mean by enemy factors.  A little introspection and honesty gives all of us an idea of our own particular areas of struggle.  How have you dealt with these in the past?  What practices could you establish now that could make you less vulnerable to these enemies in the future?  For example as a young adult I was prone to depression.  I was most vulnerable when I was alone and feeling sorry for myself.  Journalling each week on what I was grateful for and where I saw God at work totally transformed my view of the world and tendency to depression.
  6. Affirm the good, don’t concentrate on the bad.   This is closely linked to the point above.  The more we focus on the good things in our lives no matter how trivial they may seem in the overall scheme of things, the easier it is to handle the bad.  Unfortunately bad news always tends to travel faster and speak louder than good.  The internet instantly and constantly puts us in touch with disaster.  Hunting for the glimpses of hope and redemption often requires a lot more effort.  That is one of the reasons I try to post regularly on things I see that reflect the hope of God’s kingdom.  it is also why I love to write about the kingdom and the hope that God gives us for the future.
  7. Avoid surprises.  Our normal response to sudden change is rejection.  We dig in our heels, cling tightly to what is familiar and try to barricade ourselves into the world that is passing.  In Mustard Seed Associates we try to help people think about how the world is changing and how we as God’s people need to change now in order to be more effective in the future.  In a few weeks we will be holding a seminar here in Seattle with local church leaders to talk about the state and local government cutbacks that will impact all our lives in a possible second wave of recession.  Looking for positive responses to these challenges before their full impact hits will make a huge difference to our ability to cope and to continue to be God’s compassionate response to our neighbours near and far.
  8. Look after yourself.  I love the imagery of how God dealt with the stressed out prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19.  Here he is running away from Jezebel frightened and depressed.  He wants to lie down and die.  And God lets him lie down.  God gives him rest, food and water.  Only then is he led to the mountain of God.  I think that God knows how important good sleep, good food and good exercise are for all of us and encourages us to keep our minds and our bodies healthy.  When I get too busy I stop working out in the garden and sometimes I stop doing regular exercise.  Neither of these are good for me and my spiritual and emotional as well as my physical body suffer.



Build on the Rock of God – Spiritual Foundations for a Rapidly Changing World

Build on the rock

This is the third article in a series I am writing on Turbulent Times are here to stay.  You can check out the other entries here:

Turbulent Times are here to Stay – How Do we Maintain our Stability?


Turbulent Times are Here to Stay – Believe in the Future.

Build on the Rock of God – Spiritual Foundations for a Rapidly Changing World

When life becomes stressful and insecure it is the strength of our spiritual foundations that determines how well we weather the storms.  Now obviously this is a topic that is very inadequately handled in a single blog post.  I could write a book on it and many that are far better qualified than I have already written hundreds of books that spell out the spiritual foundations we need to stand firm.  The problem is that most of us don’t seem to listen to what we read or put it into practice.  We want to be in control, we want to determine our own future rather than putting it in God’s hands.

Spiritual foundations don’t just spring into being at a moments notice.  They are laid years in advance and must be constantly nurtured and grown until they become the very fabric that holds all of life together.

Strong spiritual foundations don’t just appear because we go to church each week and  read the bible regularly either, in fact I sometimes think that these regular observances make us complacent about our spirituality.  Strong foundations require regular self examination.  They are formed by the ways we weave the principles and practices of God into the fabric of all we are and do.

Psalm 51:10-17 has always been a great reminder for me of the principles that provide immovable spiritual foundations for stressful times.  It is a psalm that I come back to regularly when I know I need to be strengthened and changed.

  1. Create in me a clean heart O God.   Solid spiritual foundations begin in the place of prayer – not intercessory prayer but contemplative, penitent prayer where we lay our lives open before God and allow God to show us where we need repentance and forgiveness.  Though time spent praying doesn’t make us more righteous it certainly places us in that position of humility in which we can more easily discern and grow into the ways of God.
  2. Renew a steadfast spirit within me.  This speaks to me of the need for a heart attitude of endurance and perseverance.  Unless we firmly believe that God walks with us through the hard times as well as the good we will never develop strong and enduring foundations.  It always amazes me how often people turn and run for something new when things get tough.  Or else they buy into escapist theologies that encourage complacency and inactivity in this world while waiting for soul rescue into the next.  Looking and listening for where God is at work in the midst of our struggles rather than looking for a way out is essential if we are to remain faithful to God’s call in these challenging times.
  3. Do not banish me from your presence.  This reminds me of the need for regular times of fellowship with God not just on my own but in company with others who seek to move forward into the ways of God.   This morning I read some very apt words in Hebrews that seem appropriate here So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.  (Hebrews 4:16)
  4. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.  The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit  is essential for our spiritual wellbeing.  I am not sure that God ever deliberately takes the Spirit from us but I do know that I can quench the Spirit’s ability to guide and instruct me in the truths of God.  And I can also create a shell around myself that makes it almost impossible for God’s Spirit to comfort and sustain me when I most need that help.  Learning to discern the Spirit’s guidance is something that only comes through practice and it is easy for us to take this guidance for granted.  I have met very few people who intentionally keep a journal of their prayers with the sole intention of learning to better discern the spirit’s guidance.   I know even fewer who deliberately nurture that sense of the Spirit’s comfort and love that is so essential to our relationship with God.  I must confess that I am not good at this either though I am not sure why. I know how easily I misunderstand what the Spirit is saying . I know even better how often I need the comforting presence of the Spirit particularly in the midst of challenging times.
  5. Restore to me the joy of your salvation.  Stress often undermines our joy and makes up lose hope in the promises of God.  Allowing God to restore the joy of our salvation in the midst of challenging times speaks to me of our need to live with gratitude at the centre of my life.  Counting my blessings, looking for where God is actively at work in our world, getting involved in activities that I know please the heart of God are the best prescription I know for restoring God’s joy in my life.
  6. Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. To respond to change we must be able to bend and not break. A willingness to listen, to learn to obey and to change are at the heart of our Christian faith.  Being willing to follow God into the midst of the pain and suffering of others is never easy.  It demands a flexibility of sprit that holds lightly to the things that have been so that we can move into the things of God that will one day come into being.
  7. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.  Not a crushed and drained spirit but one that is broken of its independence, its pride and its self centredness.  The imagery that comes to my mind is of a horse that is broken so that it can be controlled by its rider.  The wildness, the self will, the desire to go our own way must all be broken and repented of so that be can be fully open to the ways of God.


Finding the Center – How Do we Balance Our Lives?

I just received an email from a friend with whom I was supposed to meet this morning.  Unfortunately she is so stressed out trying to maintain the balancing act of work, life and faith that she has had to cancel.  And she is feeling guilty not just because she is too busy but also because she cannot stand the pressure of the balancing act.

The compulsions all of us face to get busier and busier are enormous and our culture constantly impresses on us the fact that we should never slow down or take a break.  Multitasking is the order of the day and hundreds of gadgets appear every year to help us with the ever increasing complexity of the juggling act.

But is this really the way that we are meant to live and conduct our work?  What relationship does this type of life bear to the way of life in the kingdom of God? Perhaps you think that I harp on this too much, but I am concerned that this way of life is not sustainable for any of us, and it is certainly not drawing us closer to God and God’s kingdom ways.

Many of you know that a couple of years ago here at Mustard Seed Associates we started using the Quaker discernment method as a way to conduct our staff meetings.  It is a wonderful process that focuses on listening and learning from each other rather than on the assigning of tasks and the seeking after goals.  It encourages us to develop relationships and form community rather than see life as an assigning of tasks and an accomplishment of goals.  It also affirms the fact that God speaks through all people and that every voice needs to be listened to and taken notice of.

To be honest we drifted away from this approach for a while last year, but with the encouragement of our Quaker pastor friend Stan Thornburg, we have returned to its use this year with amazing results.  If you are unfamiliar with this process you may like to read the 2 posts I wrote when we started using this approach

Quaker Discernment

More About Quaker discernment

The sense of community and mutual respect this process engenders in us is phenomenal.  Part of what I have discovered is that it slows me down and encourages me to listen to those around me – not just in the midst of our meetings but at all times.  And believe it or not I think that as a result I actually accomplish more – more of what matters from a kingdom perspective that is.

Life is about relationships but our culture has converted it into a series of tasks and goals.  To move into a different way of thinking and operating we need new tools and processes that affirm God’s new life that wants to blossom and grow within us.

Let me finish with a centering prayer that I wrote over the weekend and have been using this week to help me focus and discern in the midst of all that is happening in my life and at MSA

May the centre of all things be Christ

May the way of all things be Christ

May the truth of all things be Christ

Behind, before, within, without

May the life of all things be Christ

Learning From Stress In Times of Financial Crisis

The group writing project What I have learned from Stress, initiated by Robert Hruzek’s on Middle Zone Musings really caught my attention this month because I don’t think that there has ever been a more appropriate time to talk about financial stress and  the growing economic pressures we are all aware of at this time.  For those who enjoy riding the roller coaster at 6 Flags the current economic crisis might provide excitement but for those who are watching their savings dwindle and their chance for retirement disappear it seems more like crashing into a mountain at high speed.

I have never had a stable income and for most of my life have had to raise my own support as well as support for the ministry I was involved in first as Medical Director of Mercy Ships and now as CEO for Mustard Seed Associates.  This is commonly called living by faith. though I am not sure that faith has always come into the way I coped with this method of supporting myself.  I well remember one occasion on which I needed to raise about $10,000 for a recruiting trip that a friend and I were making around Europe to raise awareness of the ship ministry.  As the time of our departure grew closer my stress level soared.  I lost weight because I couldn’t eat, I got irritable because I couldn’t sleep and worried myself sick because I was not sure where the money was coming from.   The last of the money we needed for the first part of our trip came in 2 days before our departure date.  As we travelled God faithfully provided all that we needed for the next step of our journey. It wasn’t the way that I wanted it to happen but it certainly taught me a lot about trusting in God.

I think that God is a strong believer in what I would call the “just in time” delivery system.  So often we focus on what we think we will need next week, next year or even in ten years time and we get anxious when what we have accumulated doesn’t seem to be enough or when as in the current crisis what we thought we had suddenly seems to slip away.    It is very hard to relax and trust that God will provide.
One of my favourite Bible passages about God’s provision is:. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. (2 Cor 9:8, New Living Translation). I have learned over the years that God does provide for our needs and often God provides richly and abundantly far more than we can ever imagine.  However God provides not so that we can accumulate for ourselves but so that we can share, otherwise what we already have is likely to go bad before we are able to use it.

When we face financial insecurity as many of us do at present, it is easy to focus on the seemingly scant resources we hold in our hands and our stress skyrocket. Trusting in God’s promise of abundance and generosity is almost impossible and so we can easily become tightfisted.and selfcentered. Yet often God’s miraculous provision only comes when we share the seemingly paltry provisions we hold in our hands. Like the way that God provided for the widow and her son who shared what they thought was their last meal with Elijah. Or like the way the young boy who shared his small helping of fish and loaves must have watched with awe and wonder as Jesus used it to feed thousands. The best way to deal with our financial stress is not to worry about how we are going to accumulate more for ourselves but rather to focus on how we can be God’s compassionate response to those who have less than we do.

I am convinced that God has a different way of doing multiplication tables. When I share generously of the provisions God has placed in my hand it often seems to multiply in awe inspiring ways that confound my understanding and that prodces joy not stress.

As we look ahead to what will probably continue to be financially insecure times, I think that all of us need to ask ourselves: What are we holding onto that God intends us to share? How can we reorient our thinking and remember we trust, not in the diminishing resources we feel we hold in our hands but in the God who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. (2 Cor 9:10)