Saturday, April 28, 2007

God's Favourite

I was attending a writer's conference when the guest speaker, Linda Hall, surprised me with her words. "You are God's favourite author." She was talking to the entire audience, all of us writers, and my initial reaction was one of incredulity and denial. But at the same time, something deep in my spirit responded as Linda continued, "If God were to pick up a book to read, He'd read yours."

It doesn't at first appear to make any sense at all. Can God have a favourite author? A favourite musician? A favourite mechanic? A favourite prisoner?

Looking to the Bible for answers, it does indeed seem as if God has His favourite people. He made a special covenant with the Nation of Israel. And Jesus chose only twelve disciples and from these selected an even smaller group of three: Peter, James and John.

A closer look at the scriptures, however, reveals that God's grace also includes the Gentiles. Galatians 3:28 tells us that there are no longer Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, male or female but all are one in Christ.

Reading this, we may perhaps assume that now Christians are God's favourite people. So if Jesus was on earth and his car broke down, would he bring it to a Christian mechanic?

Maybe - but then again, maybe not. We do know that when Jesus was here on earth, he was accused of hanging out with the "tax-collectors and sinners," his stated purpose being "to seek and save that which was lost." So if Jesus was on earth and had a car to fix, would he bring it to a non-Christian mechanic?

As I searched my heart and pondered the word "favourite" I realized that the real issue here is not that God might love someone more but that He might love me less. If I were a prisoner, would He visit someone else instead of me? Would He bother going to the prison at all? Or maybe God would spend all His time talking to the Chaplain...

But then I realized that I was looking at all this from a human viewpoint. I can love less. But GOD IS LOVE. God cannot love less. God cannot love more. There is no love greater than God's love. He loved us all so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross so that we could be reconciled with Him.

Each one of us is precious to Him - as precious as the sweet little grandchild I hold in my arms.

Is she God's favourite? Yes.

Am I God's favourite? Yes.

Are you God's favourite? YES AND YES!

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Thrill of the Chase

Writing is such a thrill isn’t it? It’s full of highs and lows, thrills and disappointments, agony and ecstasy. In a moment, our hopes and dreams become devastation and nightmares before turning once again to joy and exhilaration.

Ever since my first book of meditations, Prayer Companion, was published by Anglican Book Centre in 2001, I have pursued my dream of another such book on the shelves. That was six years ago and God has been leading me ever since towards the goal of Glorious Autumn Days: Meditations for the Wisdom Years.

Not only has God led me to this goal, He has taught me many new things along the way. The manuscript that I began in 2001 had only the bare bones of the book that was just published in March, 2007. It evolved, through daily living and spiritual growth, into the place where it can now help others to come more fully into a relationship with God.

It is true that I had hoped to be published once again by an established publisher but I got tired of waiting. Though I had always said that I would never self-publish, never is a long time. After being rejected by my third publisher in December, 2006 and being told, as if by a miracle, of a print-on-demand publisher on the internet a couple of weeks before that, I decided to put my faith in God and just do it.

I researched to the best of my ability and it seemed to be a legitimate company and one that I could work with. However, I decided to publish a small poetry book as a test run to see how it worked and if I could master the technology that was needed to make a professional looking final product. The poetry book, a second edition of Grapes from the Vine, was quite satisfactory but I realised that my meditation book would benefit from a better formatting job.

I searched for and found a book formatting wizard that I could download for a price and though it meant that I would have to also buy a more advanced Microsoft Word program than the one I had on my computer, I felt it would be worth it as I would then have it for any future publishing ventures.

I now have my beautiful meditation book, Glorious Autumn Days, in hand. And with the assistance of Carmen Leal’s book, You Can Market Your Book, I am progressing at a slow and steady pace, learning as I go, to market my book to others.

My website, is up and running; at N.J. Lindquist’s invitation, I write a regular blog here; I am putting myself in the way of media interviews and local speaking engagements and, all in all, I am very excited about the way God is leading me.

I have also assisted two other people to publish their books on and I know that I will be publishing more of my own work in this way. All glory be to God for His enabling power and joy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Help Us to Help Each Other, Lord

The normal human tendency is to assume that tragedy will happen to someone else, until the day it hits us. Then it is too late to begin to build the faith supports that we need. I hadn’t really thought about it, until the day my friend, Linda was sharing her testimony.

Linda came to faith at age forty. About ten years later she was hospitalized because of serious congestion in her lungs. The situation was quite critical. For several days her life hung in the balance. She did recover and in her testimony she told how she was so grateful that she had come to faith and had found ways to nourish her faith before the crisis arrived. She was certain that at the time of crisis it would be difficult to work through all of the issues, if she had not established her faith beforehand.

I proved the truth of Linda’s experience when tragedy came knocking at our door. Our son, John had been visiting his sister in Montreal one weekend and was returning to school in Boston. He was near St. Alban’s, Vermont when his rented vehicle hit black ice. In the few seconds, it took to roll over and slide to a stop in the meridian, John became a quadriplegic.

We were living in Paris, France at the time. The flight across the Atlantic seemed interminable. The next few days, it was difficult to drag myself away from John’s side. Somehow, I felt that if I stayed close, I could somehow will life and health into my son. I sat by the bed, my eyes darting back and forth between John’s swollen body and the monitors recording his vital signs. If the indicators on the monitor dropped below desired levels, I would immediately pray until I saw them come up again.

Friends and family insisted that I leave John to go to the hospital cafeteria or a nearby restaurant and eat. For the first couple of days, I just could not swallow. As soon as I put anything in my mouth, I felt like my throat closed and I could not get it down. I just wanted to get back to John.

What amazed me, in the midst of the traumatic fog was the support that we received from all kinds of unexpected places. It seemed that the news spread fast. John’s friends from Harvard Business School were on the phone to us asking how they could help and if they could come to see him. Our friends from all parts of the globe, and many people we did not know personally sent us cards, e-mails and phone messages to let us know that they were praying for John and for us and offering to do anything they could to help. This outpouring of love carried us over the rough road we journeyed during those months.

Weaving around and about all of our experiences seemed to be a sense of divine grace. This kindness was evidence of it but we saw it also in many circumstances that you could interpret as chance.

What helped me most was the spiritual discipline that I had made a part of my life for several years. I had learned the practice of daily prayer and thanksgiving. We had developed a prayer support team that carried us when we could not walk in faith, unassisted. The day that John had surgery to put a rod in his neck, I spent the time sending out by e-mail our monthly prayer newsletter and experienced the support of our prayer partners, during those difficult hours.

The habit I had of writing a page of thanks each day in my gratitude journal proved possible in those unlikely circumstances, because I had developed the discipline of finding subjects for gratitude each day. These signs of God’s faithfulness enabled me to see His grace in these dark hours.

About a month earlier, a friend from England had given me a book by one of my favourite British authors, Jennifer Rees Larcombe. It was called, “Where is God in our Deserts?” I had thrown the book into my suitcase in Paris, in case I needed something to read. As the acute crisis began to pass and John’s vital signs stabilized, sitting by his bed, I opened the book and began to read. As I did, her words ministered to my own soul and gave me hope.

Writing out what I needed and sharing this with others, finding reasons for hope in scanning my world for evidence of God’s goodness and relying on the faith of others to encourage my own by taking time to read what they had written, were the supports that kept my faith alive when the flame was nearly snuffed out by tragedy. They enabled me to see that God was there and that was enough.

Jumping in the Shallow End

I grew up with books. As a child, my best friends were named Laura, and Lucy, and Anne. I used to hide in kitchen cupboards, since we didn't have a wardrobe, and imagine that I was entering another world. Even today, I treat books sort of like blankets. I snuggle with them, cuddle with them, turn to them when I want to retreat into my own world and hide.

I love political theory, I love fiction, I love literature. I love a little bit of everything, I suppose. And yet I can't help but notice such a big difference between what was written a century ago and what is written today. They used bigger words before. They used more complex sentence structure. They used semi-colons!

Why do I bring this up? I think it's because I fear that we are losing our literacy, and with that losing a great vehicle of communicating some marvelous truths about the gospel. Isn't it interesting that almost the first thing that missionaries to new tribes do is write down the language and teach people to read so that they can eventually read the Bible once it is translated? We need to read.

Yet we don't. Today in Kathleen Parker's column about the decline of book editors at major newspapers, she says this:

Total book reading is also in decline, though not at the rate of literary
reading. Between 1992 and 2002, the percentage of American adults who read any
book dropped 7 percent, while literary reading (non-work-related reading of
novels, short stories, poems or plays) dropped 14 percent, according to the NEA.

What does this mean for Canadian Christian authors, and for the bookstores that sell their wares? We need to recognize this new reality and come up with new and innovative ways to communicate our message, as I have already talked about.

But I think it means something more than this. We need to show that books have value. Rather than trying to push books, we need to show the benefits of books. Maybe this comes from encouraging more book clubs as a way to form friends and talk about deep subjects. Maybe it comes from writing more study guides, since people do seem more inclined to read a book they can study on their own or in a group. Maybe it means finding more ways to communicate with the audience so that the book is more of an interactive experience. Since what people need more and more today is community, we have to create ways where books can grow community.

At the bookstore level, I think book clubs and readings (even if they're not by the author!) is a great way to do this. For the author, I just don't think there's an alternative to communicating regularly and directly with the reader. Perhaps we can set up newsgroups on our websites where people can ask questions and get ideas from other readers? We certainly need to be sending out ezines, I think, to touch the readers. Maybe we could also use more reader surveys in our books, so that people feel as if they have ownership in the material. I think it also means speaking more and getting out there, and I know that's hard when many of us feel far more comfortable at a computer screen.

I would hate to see the computer completely take over from books. You can't take a computer in the bathtub (or at least I wouldn't recommend it), and you can't really take one to the beach, though I'm sure it's been tried. You can't flip pages on a computer. It's a totally different medium. But we can't expect readers to naturally come with us unless we offer them something they need--and that "something" can't simply be a book. It has to be a whole experience.

This is a tall order, I know. It certainly isn't fair. But I don't see much of a way around it. It's going to take all of us a lot of time. But if our goal is communicating to change lives, we have to capture the audience; we can't expect them to come to us.

I would love to live in Anne's day, but I don't. I live in my day. I hope I can adjust to our new reality, and find a way to bring people back to books, and especially to The Book. Otherwise I worry that tomorrow may be a day without books. That's not a tomorrow I would like to see. But there's no sense complaining about it. All we can do is do something about it. If any of you have more ideas, I'd love to hear them!

Diversity and longing for a puppy

God has placed us in a world of stunning diversity. Spring and summer. Pine and sumach. Bears and squirrels. Cardinals and chickadees. Stars and moon. Trilliums and roses. Writers exhibit the same endearing quality. We’re all so different.

At our monthly writers’ group in Brighton, we begin with an exercise that inevitably illustrates our diversity. Usually, the exercise involves 15 minutes of freestyle writing during which we start with a given phrase, situation or character. A conversation in an elevator. Standing on a railway platform. An embarrassing moment.

My attempts often lead to short stories. I especially enjoy the stories that grow out of phrases such as; “It was as if.” This month we chose the phrase; “I would like to make an exchange.” We all took off in different directions. One wrote up a theological treatise on exchanging relativity for truth. Another described relationships she would not exchange. A third intrigued us with his description of a man exchanging strange coloured spheres in a market—reminiscent of a sci fi tale.

I wrote the following. I’ll let you finish it.

A Fair Exchange

“I would like to make an exchange,” said Buddy pulling a kitten from his jacket.

Mr. Jennison turned from his position between the rabbits and the hamsters to face Buddy. “An exchange?”

“Yes, sir,” said Buddy. “I don’t like cats. Mind you, if I did, this would be a very nice kitty.”

“Sorry, young man, but we don’t exchange pets.”

“But you must. My grandpa bought it here. He told me.”

Mr Jennison knelt down to look Buddy in the eye. “I’m sure he did . . . but you see we don’t exchange pets . . . we never have.”

A tear trickled down Buddy’s cheek. “I wanted a puppy . . .like . . . like that one over there.” He pointed to a tiny black ball of fur.

“I’m sure if you give this kitty a chance,” said Mr. Jennison, “you’ll really learn to love it.”

“Oh, I already love it. I just don’t like it—it’s a cat. “Buddy’s voice rose. “Every boy needs a dog . . . to follow him, and to sleep under his bed . . .to play with. My daddy had one when he was a boy.”

Mr. Jennison just knelt there with his mouth open. He didn’t know what to say.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Loneliness... Don't Underestimate It

Have you ever had times in your life when you felt like few people truly understand or appreciate you? You think you’re doing your best, you try to be as kind and loving toward people as you can, you maintain the most positive attitude you can, and yet something’s just not “clicking” with people who, maybe even a week ago, you felt perfectly comfortable with.

Naturally, when I feel myself disconnecting from people, a sense of loneliness sets in and I start to worry that I’ve done something wrong. In the past, I’d give in to that pressure and eventually go back to trying to please people and living my life the way they seem to think I should live it.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to do things that make others happy, but a compulsive need to please others and avoid having them feel disappointed in you can become crippling. For example, throughout my life there have been a number of people who have suggested that I need to be more independent, apparently because I have a very close relationship with my parents. This used to bother me and I would try to prove that I do have my own mind and life. Now I just marvel at the irony: Telling someone to be more independent is telling him or her how to live his or her life! If I've gained any independence recently, it's from the people whom I wrongly thought I had to please.

Loneliness that results from making right choices or from separating oneself from unhealthy influences is not a bad thing. I recently heard a great quote by A.W. Tozer: “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness.” (You can read the whole article here.) I’m not suggesting I’m a saint, but Tozer’s comment made me realize that loneliness can produce greatness. I don’t need to fear it.

Jesus was often alone. He was alone when He fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. He was alone when He prayed in the garden before His crucifixion. He was alone when he was being tried and beaten. And He was terribly alone on the cross. Surrounded by people, yes, but very lonely.

I don’t feel lonely right now, but at times I have felt disconnected from certain people in my life. The good thing is that I always know it will pass, and I also know that it’s okay. It’s a chance for me to refocus on some of my other wonderful relationships. And it’s a great opportunity to stop and think about what God is trying to teach me — to contemplate how He may be guiding me toward greater saintliness.

As Tozer said: “It is this very loneliness that throws [the truly spiritual man] back upon God… His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else.”

I love that! What a great reminder that only God can fill the vacuum in our lives. If I never felt lonely, I would forget how much I need God. And whenever I think I’m self-sufficient, that’s when I start to run into trouble. I need people (and I’m not ashamed to admit it), but I need God even more.

If you’re feeling lonely, don’t despair. God is with you, and He can turn your loneliness into a great experience.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Gift of Gentleness (Anglican Coalition in Canada news) (North Shore News) (Vancouver Courier Newspaper) (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada online magazine)

One of the great gifts of the world-renowned Alpha Course is its gentleness. Canadians do not like to be pressurized or have the Gospel shoved down their throat. Some have a great fear that somehow religious people will brainwash them and force them to do something that they do not want to do. The Alpha Course goes back to Paul's teaching to his protégé Timothy that sharing our faith needs to be gentle, kind and gracious (see 2 Timothy 2:25). As the past chair/president for Alpha Canada, and the current national Alpha chaplain, I know from first-hand experience what a gift the Alpha Course has been to so many.

Having recently visited Newfoundland and the Maritimes to attend the largest Christian Ashram retreat in the world with over 800 participants, I was privileged to hear hundreds of stories from Eastern Canadians whose lives have been deeply impacted by the Alpha Course. Over the past two years I have spoken at Christian Ashrams in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and once again I heard remarkable stories of Canadians whose lives have been decisively changed by an Alpha Course.

Nicky Gumbel has been strongly linked in many Canadian minds with Alpha. Nicky Gumbel was a successful lawyer in London who was convinced that the Christian faith had nothing to offer him. His impression of Christianity was dreariness and lack of inspiration. His impression of many clergy was that of undertakers. Nicky thought that Christianity was also totally irrelevant. He couldn't see how something that happened 2000 years ago and so many thousands of miles away could have any relevance to him in modern life.

Nicky was also convinced that the Christian faith was intellectually indefensible. At age 14 he wrote an essay in which he tried to destroy the whole of Christianity and disprove the existence of God. Nicky went through a phase when he enjoyed arguing with Christians just for the pleasure of exposing their "falsity."

Life is full of strange and unexpected turn-of-events. One of those turn-of-events was that Nicky Gumbel became so convinced of the relevance and truth of Christianity that he even became an Anglican priest. A few years before, the idea of becoming a pastor would have been the farthest thing from his mind—almost laughable. And yet it happened. A number of years later, millions of people all around the world are finding that Nicky Gumbel's Alpha Course presentation is helping them live a more meaningful life.

Seekers and unchurched people really love this safe opportunity to explore the meaning of life. All around the world, on every continent, people are taking the Alpha Course. Part of what makes Alpha tick is the wonderful fellowship during 11 weeks as people eat delicious meals together whenever they meet, but most important, people share questions. So often the questions of life can really weigh us down, but many are saying that this course has answered a lot of their deepest questions about life. That is why the symbol of the Alpha Course is a person carrying a very large and heavy question mark.

No question is taboo at Alpha. No one is put down or criticized. Nicky Gumbel's video presentations every week are thought-provoking and challenging. The discussion that follows is free-wheeling and very engaging. The Holy Spirit weekend in the middle of the course is the lynchpin that holds it all together. I so much value the gentle freedom in the Spirit modeled by the Alpha Course. Conservatively, I would estimate that over 370 people so far have attended our St. Simon's North Vancouver Alpha courses. Thousands of other congregations across Canada are also hosting an Alpha Course. I commend Alpha to you as a gentle gift to the people in your neighbourhood.

The Reverend Ed Hird is the rector of St. Simon's Church North Vancouver.

-this article is an excerpt from the new book "Battle for the Soul of Canada" which can be found at Reprinted in North Shore News, August 18, 2006, Vancouver Courier, September 15, 2006, and EFC October 11th 2006

Friday, April 20, 2007

Pride & Humility

Why is it that Christians struggle so much with praise? We know our children and grandchildren need it. We know our spouses need it. But somehow, even as we glow inside over kind words, we form arguments against them. We play "humility" games, tell ourselves not to get swelled heads, and remind ourselves of the failures and the criticisms in the not so distant past. It is almost as if we think God will be embarrassed or threatened by our victories.

Humility is a Christian catchword, pride the antithesis. Is it prideful to acknowledge an area of God's gifting; to thank Him for that gifting and then use it to the best of your ability? Is it prideful to communicate well, with clear, heart-felt language, beautiful word-pictures and a message of hope? Is it prideful to accept a thanks for a job well done?

To call our gifting "nothing" is to insult the giver. Yet to take credit for the "gift" as if it was all our doing is also to insult the giver. How then, do you find balance?

I have no easy answers, but hope you will indulge my love for poetry and join me in wrestling with this issue.

Called To Speak

A time to share.
Someone recognizes the gift.

Pride and humility,
oil and water,
stir, but fail to blend.

Called by God – yet
hunger for man’s applause.
Giving selflessly,
grasping selfishly
elated and ashamed.

So much less than I want to be, God.
So much more than I could have been
without You.

Speak through me
though self still seeks the honour.
Touch lives
though I hunger for the praise.
Lift me
that I might lose myself
in the wonder of Your love.

Let the words put on paper
as Your Spirit stirred,
outreach my failings;
overshadow my selfishness;
accomplish bigger things than my fame,
for too small – that
for Your gift.

Called to speak.

Speak through me then
though I have many failings, Lord.
Speak clearly
though I am oft confused.
Speak gently,
though I yearn to stir deeply.

Let that which lingers on the mind
be Your Words
though my hand spill ink on paper,
my lips form sounds.

Speak Lord
for now
Your servant bows before You
and listens.

Copyright Brian Austin

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Catching a Grateful Heart

As a mother, I’ve hit one of my most formidable challenges yet ... teaching my children gratitude in the face of a culture based on consumerism. The most vivid (and to my mind, shocking) evidence of “outside” influences on my children’s minds came earlier this week.

In reward for a significant accomplishment at school, we had purchased for Offspring #2 a toy he’d been drooling over for months. Every time the ad for this item showed up on TV, we were asked to pay attention to it, then given a litany of “really cool stuff” that could be accomplished if only this toy were added to the already overpopulated play area. The delight in this young one’s eyes as the toy was assembled, tried out and experimented with made the price tag worth it.

Then mere days later, this same offspring went into a crying, whining fit because Offspring #1 had birthday money to spend, and he did not. I attempted what seemed to be me to be a logical argument. “Now before you get all upset,” I soothed, “what special toy did you get just last week?” My darling child paused, thought, then replied, amid more tears, “I don’t know.”

I offered a reminder of the accomplishment for which the toy was a reward, but memory was not restored. All he could think of was the new toy now on the “must have” list.

Hubby and I discussed this distressing chain of events later that evening. We both recalled hearing parents lament our own lack of gratitude. That’s when we realized gratitude isn’t something we can “give” our children, like we give them new toys. It’s something we have to model, day after day, no matter how unaware they may seem.

This made me wonder how often my Heavenly Father bears the brunt of my ingratitude. I make a request, such as, “Please show me how to solve this plot problem.” He answers, I thank Him, and then I carry on. “Please give my manuscript favour in an editor’s eyes.” “Please help the book to sell well.” And so on.

I’m not suggesting my requests displease Him. Not at all. My understanding of Scripture is that He delights to hear what is on our hearts, and takes joy in meeting our requests when those requests are part of His plan for our ultimate best.

But how often do I thank Him for the things I didn’t ask for–relatively clean air to breathe, an abundant supply of healthy drinking water, the arrival of spring? Do I ever bother to thank Him again for prayers He answered months and years ago–my sister’s recovery from a stomach ailment, the unexpected income that paid bills, my husband’s repeated safety in various unsafe areas around the world?

Gratitude–it’s a gift that gives again and again. When I make even the smallest attempt to view my world with grateful eyes, I discover there’s more to thank Him for than I dreamed possible. May my gratefulness be so abundant that it also becomes contagious!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Down in the Mouth in Deep Cove

-an article for the March 2007 Deep Cove Crier

For the past nineteen years so far, I have been a monthly columnist in the Deep Cove Crier. I am always praying about some topic that people can really get their teeth into. Sitting in a Deep Cove dental chair gave me time to reflect on my next article. As the dental hygienist was scraping and pulling and prodding, I began to reflect on the significance and priority of our teeth. Teeth are unforgiving. You either look after them carefully, or they strike back in all kinds of unpleasant ways. Just talk to your friends who have had a failed root-canal operation. Even in these days of hi-tech painkillers, toothaches still ache.

I have been literally sitting in Deep Cove dental chairs for twenty years. Every six months or so, I receive the obligatory call from Dr. Gvoyai’s dental office. I thank God for a good dental plan! Dr. Gvoyai, due to health issues, has recently sold her practice to Dr. Harman Mangat at the Seycove Dental office. We will miss Dr. Gvoyai and give thanks to God for her friendliness and professionalism. I offer a belated welcome to the Cove, Dr. Mangat. Dr. Mangat told me that one of the things that attracted him to relocate to the Cove is that ‘village’ sense that still exists in our community.

The term ‘down in the mouth’ means to be low in spirits, downcast, or depressed. A number of North Shore residents report feeling more depressed this time of year because of all the rain. There is a perception out there that dentists suffer more from depression and even suicide. In chatting with my new dentist Dr. Mangat, he told me that the higher dental suicide issue is likely a myth. Roger E. Alexander, D.D.S., of the Baylor College of Dentistry, recently examined this stereotype. Alexander found data suggesting that female dentists may be more vulnerable to suicide, but unearthed no evidence that dentists take their own lives with greater frequency than the general population. "What we know about suicide in dentistry is based on weak data from the early 1970s, involving mostly white males" says Alexander, who called for additional research in the Journal of the American Dental Association. My sense is that there is a lot of pressure on dentists as they not only have to be technically competent, but also very skilled at running small businesses.

For the last fifty-two years of my life, I have been fighting the good fight, dentally speaking. My parents spent thousands of dollars on dental surgery and braces for me. I remember when a bully at Oak Park knocked me off my Pugeot bike and proceeded to stomp on my head with his boots. Having no idea what he was upset about, I naively said: “Can we talk about this?” When he grunted “no”, I realized that I was in serious trouble. I was about to either lose face emotionally or lose face literally, which would mean that my multi-thousand dollar smile was about to disappear. Being more afraid of my parent’s wrath over my braces than of the bully, I jumped on my Pugeot and rode off. This was one of the wisest dental decisions that I ever made, especially as I heard later that this bully later had his teeth kicked in and a broken beer bottle twisted in his face.

As a teenager, I felt very embarrassed by my braces, and later by my retainer which made it hard to communicate. My math teacher in Grade 10 actually thought that I was swearing at her when I was only answering a math question while wearing my retainer. She was not pleased! You may have notice that teenage peers can be ruthless in their affectionate terms for those who are dentally-challenged: brace face, metal mouth, tinsel teeth, etc. But three decades late, I am so grateful for the investment my parents made in me. Dentures just don’t compare to one’s own genuine teeth.

I used to hate flossing. Gradually I began to grudgingly admit the need. My thought of a helpful compromise was to only floss on the day that I went to the dentist. As I sat in the dentist’s office with bleeding gums, my compromise somehow did not impress them. I am now a passionate flosser who tries to convert other people to the ‘redemptive’ benefits of removing plaque. It occurred to me recently that many people view flossing and going to the dentist similarly to the idea of attending church. They may acknowledge that it might be good for them, but it is certainly not something to which they are looking forward. There are too many painful memories or alternately fear of the unknown. Many young people nowadays, unlike the baby-boomers or seniors, have never been to a church service once in their life.

Dentists want to make a difference in other people. Many are inspired by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” There is spirituality to dentistry that potentially involves the whole person, body, mind and spirit. Dr. Alex Yule is a retired dentist at St. Simon’s North Vancouver whom embodies this ‘Good Samaritan’ spirit. In co-operation with the Christian Medical & Dental Society, Dr. Yule has set up a free Dental clinic on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for people who are falling through the cracks. Hundreds of people are now being set free from chronic dental pain. What motivates Dr. Yule? His love for Jesus Christ and for his neighbour. My prayer is that we may all show that same love to each other so that none of us will remain down in the mouth.

The Reverend Ed Hird
Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver, BC
Anglican Coalition in Canada

Monday, April 16, 2007


Canada’s Women’s National Hockey Team won gold at the IIHF Championships in Winnipeg in April. (Way to Go Canada!) And for those of you who know me, you know I was there proudly wearing my Team Canada jersey shouting at the top of my lungs, cheering on our women in red and white as they battled their way to victory. And watching the crowd, it reminded me of something.

The gold medal game was sold out at 15,003. Nearly everyone was decked out in the Canadian colours. To see us all on our feet clapping and shouting as Canada won gold instilled in me the reminder that as fantastic as it is to see Canada win, there will be an even better experience in heaven when we as Christians will be there to cheer on Jesus when we see Him.

While we were packing the lobby at the MTS Center prior to the game you could feel the anticipation in the air. The doors would open an hour before game time, but still there was a palpable feeling of what was to come.

And, to at least some degree, that’s how it feels for me to be a Christian, living here on earth, waiting in anticipation.

We have lots to look forward to.

Now, if only there was a way to get the Jets back in Winnipeg…

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Grand Spectacle

At a certain time of day, early in the evening, I make sure the curtains on the windows in our living room are open. I don’t want to miss the spectacle. Yes, right here in Ponoka, there’s a grand spectacle every evening. It’s a spectacle of promise.

We are fortunate enough to live on a street that is one-sided. There are houses on the east side, but not on the west. That side is still an undeveloped bush, full of birds, squirrels and deer. It’s there that the spectacle of promise happens. As the sun begins to drop, the light slants, hitting thousands of small catkins hanging from the trees. When the sun hits them, they glow, making the entire bush light up. It’s the promise of spring; the promise of new growth; the promise of the colour green.

As I have watched the glow become more and more intense day by day, I have been reminded of all the promises God has given us. They, too, are promises of new growth, rebirth and second chances. They are filled with words of love and protection, encouragement and comfort. They confirm the power of all believers to accomplish God’s purposes. They speak about God’s faithfulness, mercy and forgiveness and His desire for a continuing relationship with us. They outline the path to peace and everlasting life.

None of God’s promises are hidden. He has made a spectacle of them, displaying them for all to see. They glow like the catkins on the trees across from my house. They are promises that will never be broken.

The Apostle Paul knew this when he addressed the people of Corinth – “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” 2Corinthians 1:20

There is no duplicity in God. Just as we know those catkins will develop and bloom into bright green leaves, we can know that God is saying “yes,” to us. “Yes, I am here. Yes, I love you more than you can comprehend. Yes, I want you to get to know me. And yes, soon, very soon, we will be together.”

One promise that sums up all the others can be found in Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” All the promises, all the trials, all the events of our lives, are meant to culminate in what is good. For the believer, there is no doubt it will happen.

As spring creeps to its fulfillment, as we watch the earth bursting into new life around us. we can be confident that the same kind of life is growing in us. The same kind of renewal is possible. God is saying “Yes!”

May we all shout “Amen!”

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Wielders of the Pen

Among Christians, I believe that the concept of living by the grace of God is basic and in spite of all the disagreements that has provoked, there’s an understanding that we are, we become, and we shall be - all because of the work of Jesus Christ in bringing salvation to broken humanity. No matter what interpretation we put on it, the challenge has always been to transform theological concepts into victorious daily living. Tied in with that have been some of the thoughts shared by members of the Word Guild. They, in fact, have inspired this, my blog contribution.

Loosely paraphrased, comments such as “I’m writing this because I believe that God has called me to do it,” or “write what God has put on your heart whether you get paid or not,” make me want to shout “Amen,” at least most of the time. But I may as well admit that there are occasions when writing seems to lose its spiritual luster and I wonder where God fits into the market report data sprawled across my monitor. Thankfully those times are few and far between now and I often find myself stopping to thank God for the opportunity of earning a living this way.

Part of the process of getting to that place, though, has involved looking at some of the responsibilities of the ancient Judeo-Christian authors. For example, there were the psalmists, but there were also men charged with recording the judgments of God against entire nations. Joyous events, filled with exuberance, were duly noted but so were curses and bills of divorcement. One needs look no further than the letters of the Apostle Paul to find examples of bleeding words interwoven between tender commendations.

“Then the Lord answered me and said, "Record the vision…'” (Habakkuk 2:2) The assignment was God’s; the fulfilling of it, the scribe’s.

I take great comfort in realizing the value placed upon these wielders of the pen. Anointed and called by God, they served in the world of commerce, or the judicial system, or construction, or in penning an exhortation…or of writing whatever they were called to do, whether they got paid or not.

How blessed I am - I even get to send an invoice!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Free! Take One

There’s always lots of free stuff to read, even if the bulk file on your e-mail isn’t always asking for your attention. It’s easy to subscribe to all kinds of e-newsletters about worthy causes, areas of interest, or from people trying to sell you something. Canada Post dutifully sends you flyers and catalogues. Our public libraries make so much freely available too. You may also have a free local newspaper that arrives at your door. This very blog-site is available to you at absolutely no cost. Why would you ever pay for a book, magazine or newspaper?

Obviously we buy what we believe to be worthwhile, and we invest our time in the worthwhile — whether it costs us money or not. This may include the free newspapers that are often available at your church or Christian bookstore. These papers are a good way to stay current with what’s happening in your Christian community, but they are not all created equal.

Some papers may merely be advertising in disguise. I’m not complaining about the number of ads in each paper, since that’s how they pay the bills and give you a paper free. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with simply being an advertising feature, but as Christians we should be careful to not accidentally deceive readers into thinking otherwise. It is important that if these publications want to appear to be newspapers, they need to maintain journalistic integrity. It is not honest to print glowing articles, or publish the promoter’s press releases as if they were reviews, in exchange for having purchased advertising. To disguise such an advertising feature as a newspaper, aimed at those not savvy enough to know the difference, is wrong.

Newspapers who guard their integrity hire skilled writers — such as many who are members of The Word Guild — to write objective articles. These writers are in no way connected with the advertising department, and feel free to tell you what is good and what is lacking in a book, CD, event, or whatever else is being promoted. The point is not to be negative, but to give readers an honest appraisal of things. If a “newspaper” is not willing to do this, they should make it clear they are simply an advertising feature.

Let’s encourage this kind of integrity, and live up to it ourselves.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What is Your Attire?

Ever wonder what your clothes say about you?

Many years ago, when fresh out of high school, I entered the workforce, the mega-big insurance company I was then employed with, insisted on a code of dress policy to be adhered to by every employee. Men had to wear suits and ties. Women had to wear dresses or skirts (and pantyhose even in the hot and humid summer) or pant suits. No matter we never saw clients in the office building, we were obligated to dress professionally, to project professionalism and success.

Later, when I worked for a trucking firm, my employer tried to whittle down my self-worth and she almost succeeded until I figured out if I dressed professionally, I'd act professionally, and would successfully battle down her assault on my emotions. It worked because my suits communicated--loud and clear--to me and my employer that I was professional and would remain unmoved in her attacks.

When I did a short stint with Mary Kay Cosmetics, the Director of our unit said, to paraphrase her, "Dress successfully, even if you're not; portray the right image at all times." I took her words to heart when I was called up for jury selection a number of years back. I wore suits every day. While the Crown Attorneys wanted me on the jury, the Defense never did. I must have projected a powerful image, that I would not be easily swayed.

All these years later, I still have the dress code firmly etched in my mind. Even now, when I attend a writer's group meeting or conference or participate in a book signing, I dress professionally. Portraying the right image is embedded in me. My desire is to demonstrate the professional, proficient person that I am so people will have confidence in me and in my work.

Experts admonish us to dress for success. They instruct us if we look "perfect," we will land our "dream" job. I'm sure there is validity to this comment but can we take this beyond the physical and worldly? To the spiritual? My daily devotions challenged me.

The Apostle Paul tells us to "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Romans 13:14 NIV)

To clothe myself with Jesus, I need to adopt His whole lifestyle. I need to live as He lived. Allow Him to be my Guide and Example. And I need to show Christ's grace, love, and goodness on the outside--something that has already taken place inside my heart.

If I wear Christ, I will be not just a faithful follower, but a successful witness, also. And, as an author, I want my novels to be clothed with Jesus' love. It's not about me. Never me. It's about reflecting the Lord Jesus Christ.

God Bless!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reluctant Reader

My daughter married a wonderful man. He's good, kind, loving, hard-working, a sincere Christian and a blessing to our family. However (and there is ALWAYS a forever), as with any character I have created, he has one fatal flaw that I can mention - he doesn't like reading.

This is fatal, because when we get together as a family it is not unusual to see bodies draped on chairs, couches, laying on floors, all ..... reading. He wanders around, trying to con someone, anyone, into playing a game, watching a movie, anything. The first time he came over and witnessed this very ordinary event, he looked around the living room and said with a faint note of desperation in his voice, "Does everyone in this family read?" We can't understand this lack. Our family loves reading and we indulge often.

Every Christmas I give the kids the same gifts - something to read and something to wear. The latter part of the equation hasn't been difficult for me and my son-in-law; it's the reading part that has had me stymied. Last year, I got him a subscription to a magazine, but I felt as if I was patronizing him.

Then my daughter had an inspiration. A year ago I had bought them the book, Marley and Me, because the dog in the book reminded me so much of their own fun-loving, but rambunctious yellow lab. She gave our son-in-law the book, and he read and enjoyed it because he could connect with this story. He understood these people and their dog. He read it to the end and he started asking if I had other books he might enjoy. so we found him a couple.

Sunday afternoon was a joyous moment in our home. We were ALL sitting in the living room, draped on furniture, reading. The room was blissfully quiet, only broken by an occasional question from him about the story he was reading and the sound of pages turning. We were at one with our reading and with each other.

What I am trying to glean from this is how to make that connection, as a writer, with my own readers. How can I make them not only want to pick up a book, but to read it to the end? These are the things that editors also wish they knew, and do publishers and distributors - so I'm not alone. As for my son-in-law, well, we have volumes and volumes of potential books for him to dive into and enjoy. I'm looking forward to the journey.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Christian fiction teaching moments

If you've ever written a proposal for a Christian novel, you almost always have to write something about the "takeaway value," some lesson or spiritual benefit for the reader. In Janette Oke's famous novel Love comes softly the takeaway value is in the title: it's a prairie romance about a couple forced together by circumstance who come to love each other slowly as they discover each other.

When I first started reading Christian fiction back in the early 1990s, it almost seemed part of the formula of the Christian fiction genre to have the Gospel preached in the form of the four spiritual laws and some character come to Christ in the course of the story. It's one of the reasons why Christian fiction has a reputation for an inferior product.

These days, Christian fiction---the genre published by the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA)--is not so rigidly conformed to those old formulas. In fact, there has been a trend in the other direction, to be less overtly preachy, even to the extent of leaving out the Gospel or downplaying it, but keeping a takeaway value such as forgiveness.

When I began writing The Defilers in the early 90s, I wanted to conform to what I thought were the specifications of a CBA novel. That meant I intended to include a conversion story and I wanted to have a clear takeaway value. I also wanted it to conform to the specifications of a good suspense novel on the secular side. Thus I tried to make sure that the conversion story was a natural part of a "character arc" or change in a character over the life of the story. I also wanted to make sure that any discussion of Jesus was realistic and natural, not tacked on or preachy. Thus, I set out to write a believable conversion story. The take-away message concerned the power of Jesus Christ over dark spiritual forces---in other words---spiritual warfare and the knowledge that "the battle is the Lord's."

Recently, Christian Week asked me to write about what I'd learned about spiritual warfare in the course of my personal spiritual journey to equip me for writing The Defilers. That feature--Giving the Devil His Due--is now available online. It explains some of what I hoped to get across in addition to a captivating, suspenseful story. I also reveal the various influences through other Christian authors in their works, both fiction and non-fiction.

One of the criticisms of Christian fiction--aka CBA fiction--is that it is didactic. However, I think that writing can have a message and still be good, compelling storytelling. But authors have to be careful to enflesh the truth with words, to make sure they don't just preach statements of faith in their work as if parroting the Sinner's Prayer is all you need to get to heaven.

The best works of art are those that also teach the author something in the course of the writing. Our Christian faith is not something that easily fits into a set of intellectual propositions. Instead, we have mysteries conveyed by stories of a virgin birth, a God who became flesh, who died and rose again. A Christ who is fully human and fully God in one nature. How do we comprehend a God who is infinite, omnipotent, sovereign, who became so small as to be born in a human womb? What kind of dangers do we run into by making God a character in our stories? Even our own human nature is not something that is easily portrayed by cardboard characters and cartoon-like plots. Christian fiction is improving and changing as authors within the genre gain the skill to put flesh on the truths they see, and explore the mysteries that are part of our faith.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Once Again by Marcia Lee Laycock

There's a song by Matt Redman that says -

"Once again I look upon the cross where You died.
I'm humbled by Your mercy and I'm broken inside.
Once again I thank You, once again I pour out my life."

While in Israel we visited a heritage village. It was much like the heritage villages here in North America that portray past history in tableau, with real actors and working artifacts. This village was in Nazareth and was laid out to represent the town as it would have been in the time of Jesus.

The day we visited, it was raining - pouring rain, in fact - so we were the only people there. We moved from one scene to the next - the potter's, the weaver's, the wine press, and finally the carpenter's shop. It was here the fact that this was a representation of Jesus' home hit me. I looked at the tools, the kind of rough wood he would have worked with, and Jesus became more real to me.

Perhaps that's why the tableau we saw next had such an impact. The figure at the centre was made of rough wood too, and was draped with a simple cloth. The lighting was subdued, flickering with small oil lamps, their tiny flames leaning toward the focal point of the display. The cross. The cross of Christ.

As the song says, once again I was struck by what Jesus suffered, what he endured for me. I was struck not just by the physical pain he was subjected to, but by the torture of having the sin of the world put upon His shoulders, the agony of knowing His Father was turning His face away.

And once again I became aware that there is nothing I can do to make it up to Him. No remorse, no penance, no acts of kindness. Nothing I do can repay that debt. And once again that act of pure mercy stuns me. The unconditional gift of love and forgiveness causes my heart to break. And that, I realize once again, is the only thing Jesus wants of me. A heart broken wide enough for Him to enter in.

Today is Good Friday. Once again thousands all over the world will gather to recognize that act of mercy and love - the death of Jesus on that cross. I pray that thousands of hearts will break wide enough.

"So they took Jesus and led him away. Carrying the cross by himself, Jesus went to the place called Skull Hill (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they crucified him" (John 19:16-18, NLT).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter Birth

Thirty-one years ago this Easter, I had what I can only describe as an “in-body” experience. I was having a baby. It started out the normal way. “I don't think we're going to get the baby's room finished today.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I think my water broke.” Think? It was a gusher. So at 5:00 AM Saturday morning, we went to the hospital. Nowadays, they tell you to go home and wait until the baby's head is half out. But in my day, it was, “Get into that bed and stay there!” So I got onto a bed (a generous word), where I endured contractions for the next 35 hours. That isn't a misprint. Thirty-five.

Normally, contractions do something besides hurt. They create an opening for the baby. My contractions, while painful, weren't quite doing the job. And because it was Easter weekend, the intern didn't want to bother the doctor too early. So there I was—in pain and helpless.

My husband, who stayed by my side the whole time, was as helpless as I was. It was his first baby, too.

Saturday dragged by. Any enthusiasm we had begun with evaporated. How long would this go on? As Saturday night became Sunday morning, I began to worry. I knew women had died in the past because of difficulty in childbirth. Could it happen today? I said nothing to my husband. He was as exhausted as me, and I didn't want to worry him.

Around 10:00 AM, he left the room. I felt so alone. Was the baby going to survive this? Was I?

Suddenly, I felt another presence in the room. A warmth came into my body. The pain remained, but I felt as though God were holding me in his hands. And in my mind, I heard him say that he understood. That he knew what it was like to lose a child. And I remembered that it was Easter Sunday—the day Christ rose from the dead. And I realized that if God loved me enough to send his son to die for me, I could trust him now. I told him that I trusted him to do what was best about the baby and me. Whether we lived or not was his choice.

I felt peace flow through me. The pain was still there. But my fears were gone. I wasn't in the intern's hands, or the doctor's, but God's.

Not long after, my husband came in to tell me the doctor was on his way. Apparently, a threat to call the doctor himself had finally motivated the intern. Once the doctor arrived, things happened. I was given something to make the labour contractions more effective, and soon I was ready. Ready? I was desperate to get that baby out!

But as we headed for the delivery room, the doctor warned me I might need a Cesarean. Just in case, I shouldn't push. I couldn't believe it. But I desperately tried to keep from pushing, afraid that I would hurt the baby.

Sure enough, the doctor decided a Cesarean was needed and sent my weary husband out of the room. The last thing I remember was the anesthetist saying, “I think you've had enough.”

I woke up hours later, alone in a private room. I had survived. But what about the baby? Eventually, a nurse came in with something for me to eat. She didn't mention the baby and I was too afraid to ask.

Half an hour later, another nurse came in. “Would you like to see your baby?” she asked.

I nodded, afraid to speak.

She brought me an adorable little bright-eyed boy with a bump on the back of his head where he had been trying to get through that opening that wasn't quite big enough.

Thirty-one years later, he is himself a proud husband and father.

And every Easter, I celebrate not only the birth of my first son, but also the continuation of my trust that the God who held our lives in his hands that Easter, who gave his Son for us on another, long-ago Easter, still holds us in his hands.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Holy Week

From Ash Wednesday to Holy Week we have walked with the Lord in the wilderness, searching for God’s deeper call to us. We were driven there by a desire to meditate on Our Lord’s suffering and a need to share with Him, as best we could, in that suffering. We have done our little fasts, which have reminded us of our Lord’s suffering; we have done our extra intercessions for those in need; we have participated in our Lenten Bible studies and prayer groups.

And now, we come close to Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. There is so much emotion to be experienced—anguish, grief and joy—in so few days. Even after two thousand years of knowing what is to come, still the events bring tears—tears for our Lord’s pain; tears for our own grief; followed by tears of extreme joy in the discovery of our Lord’s resurrection.

In monasteries and convents silence falls upon the monks and nuns on Wednesday (today) and through the rest of Holy Week. No unnecessary word is spoken; sadness and sorrow, edged with an expectation of joy, are felt with each whispered word; and every sung lamentation in the ancient church services of Holy Week rises to heaven in an attempt to join our grief with all Christians around the world.

Today, it is appropriate to write few words, the better to pour forth our joyful alleluias on Easter Sunday, proclaiming Christ is risen! Alleluia! Christ is risen, indeed!

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Unwanted Gift of Unanswered Prayer: A Thought for Holy Week

Everyone of us, have at one time or another experienced unanswered prayer. Some of us struggle today, trying to understand why God has not answered a long-standing prayer of ours.

To me, one of the most encouraging verses in Scripture is Hebrews 4: 15. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Jesus knows what it is like to contend with the challenges we must strive with. He knows what it means to try to come to terms with our unanswered prayers.

Think of Jesus kneeling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Note His transparency. He does not pretend that He is quietly willing to accept the suffering that threatens Him. He is honest and says to His Father, “If it is possible, don’t let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don’t make me suffer by having to drink from this cup.” (Mark 14: 35-36 Contemporary English Version)

These words of Jesus sound like a prayer I offered at the beginning of February 2003. That Sunday night we were traveling on the high speed train from Valence, in the south of France, back to our home in Paris. My body was in France, but my mind and heart were in North America. I knew that our son, John who was studying in Boston at the time, had driven to Montreal that weekend, to attend a conference and visit with his sister, Elizabeth. I was worried because I knew road conditions could be treacherous during the winter season.

As the train sped across the country, I prayed repeatedly. “Lord,” I said, “You can do anything. Please keep John safe as he travels this weekend.”

In spite of my unceasing prayers in this vein, I felt restless and doubted they were even being heard. I wanted to know that everything would be alright, but that assurance would not come. All I could do was leave my prayers hanging there in space, afraid to take the next step that Jesus took and submit to the sovereign will of God. Maybe, that was what He was waiting for before; before He could assure me all would be well.

The next morning, as I was meeting with the Lord for my normal time of early morning prayer, my heart tightened when I heard the phone ring. It was Elizabeth in Montreal, informing us that John had been in a car accident and was paralyzed. His vehicle hit black ice, and as it rolled, it broke his neck. My prayer had not been answered.

Over the months that followed I sensed a kaleidoscope of emotions, along with my questions, as I tried to understand why God did not answer my prayer. Would my surrender to His sovereignty have made any difference? It did not seem to do so for Jesus.

Jesus concluded His prayer in the garden by saying, “But do what you want, not what I want.” Perhaps, Jesus could say that because He had the absolute certainty that what the Father wanted was for the best, for Him and for all concerned. He was so certain that the choice of the Father was the right one, that when Peter drew a sword to defend Him, a little while later, He told Peter to put it away. He affirmed to Peter, “I must drink from the cup that the Father has given me.” He did not say it as a complaint or even as a reluctant acquiescence to the inevitable, but rather He affirmed his clear sighted acknowledgment that this is the way it must be.

What can we learn about dealing with our unanswered prayers by looking at this example of Jesus? One discovery is that our unanswered prayers build faith. Donna, a friend that I have occasion to work with, from another denomination, said to me one day, “Have you ever noticed that when a person comes to Christ, it seems like their prayers are answered so frequently, yet as they continue on their faith journey, the answers become less frequent?”

As we talked further about this, we concluded this is one of the ways that the Lord enables Christians to grow in their faith. If all of our prayers were always answered, just the way we desire, we would eventually take God for granted and fail to value all that He does for us.

When we discover that He does not act as we expect Him to in response to our requests that we are forced to go deeper. We then must ask ourselves hard questions. Have we lost our connection with Him? Does He have other plans for us? What is going on? Through our questions and reflection, we learn to have confidence that He is in control of our lives, even if we do not understand what is happening. He always gives us a choice. We can hold on to our demands or we can surrender them to Him and allow Him to work out all things for our good, not immediately for our happiness perhaps, but always for our good.

A quote that I heard in the sermon given to our congregation last Sunday was, “You never know how much faith you have until it is tested.” One of the ways that God tests our faith for us is by not answering our prayers in the way that we demand.

While it is evident that Jesus fully embraced the will of the Father for Him, this was clearly not an easy thing for Him to do. The Scriptures tell us how He struggled so intensely in Gethsemane that “His sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground,” according to Dr. Luke. (Luke 22: 44) Not only would there be the agony of His torture and crucifixion, there would also be the fear of abandonment by His Father, as He took upon Himself all of our sins. What He was saying “yes” to is beyond our imagining.

Our “yes” to His will that leads us to suffering pales in comparison. Yet, like Jesus, we would prefer another option. God never imposes His will on us, nor did He on Jesus. He may not change the circumstances that He has permitted us to experience, but He will not force us to accept that this is part of His will and that He knows the end from the beginning. Our strength is found in our relinquishment.

Is unanswered prayer really a gift? It is if it enables us to develop faith, to test that faith and find it will hold and to discover that His strength is ours through our willing relinquishment to His sovereignty.

Jan Karon has written several delightful books about an Episcopalian priest, Father Tim Cavanaugh. (In the USA, Anglicans are called Episcopalians.) When Father Tim gets in a tight spot, he prays what he refers to “the prayer that never fails.” We are not told what that prayer is until much later in the book. The prayer he uses is the prayer with which Jesus concludes in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not what I will, but what you will.” This prayer will never be unanswered, and can lead us to a new level of intimacy and trust in our relationship with God our Heavenly Father.

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