Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

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Are you in a Service Station?

I’ve been pondering on how life and ministry can feel like driving on a motorway. Traffic is moving, things are good, you can be alongside the same vehicles for a few miles, then they move further on or you speed up and pass them, or one of you turns off. There can be an occasional hold-up, but you’re all in it together and that brings a sense of shared trouble and solidarity. You have purpose, you’re moving with intent, you have somewhere to go.

But after you’ve been on your journey a while, especially a long distance one, you need to pull over into a service station.

Service stations are places to be replenished, rested and refreshed. You leave the busyness of the motorway behind, it almost feels like a different world. When I first enter a service station, I feel dazed and not quite with it after focusing on driving (or dozing while Adi drives). My first port of call is usually the loo, then I head for coffee and food.

Service stations are temporary. They do what their name implies: they serve us so that we can get back on the road feeling strengthened, more alert, and ready for the next stage of our journey.

Service stations are necessary. Without them, journeys would be hard and unpleasant. Some of us would be crossing our legs and desperately hoping for the journey to end. We couldn’t take a break when we’re tired and that would be dangerous for ourselves and others.

In life, we all spend time in service stations occasionally.

There have been times in my life when God has brought me out of ministry and laid me aside for a period. When I was ill for a year, I lost my job and ministry and felt pretty useless. But God kept reminding me that He had a purpose in it, things do to that He had planned just for me, and that I wouldn’t be in the service station for ever.

When Jesus was on earth, He sometimes withdrew with His disciples from the crowds to have rest from ministry. Even He spent time in service stations, like immediately after He’d been baptised.

JeepWhen you’re in a service station, it can feel like you’ve been overlooked by leaders, that you’ve been forgotten or are useless, that you’ve had your day and now there’s nothing. It can be painful. Or you may feel drained and exhausted, as if you never want to get back on the road again ever.

But this season will not last for ever. It’s temporary. God has good plans for you; He has a purpose in all of this. He chose you to go on unique adventures with Him.

God would not take you into the service station without good reason. It’s necessary. Ask Him what He wants you to learn through this time. Let Him heal ministry wounds. Go deeper with Him. Enjoy Him. Rest and be refreshed.  He will take you back onto the road at the right time.

 

Sheer Delight

Interacting with animals is one of life’s good gifts. (Warning: this is a post that only animal lovers will truly appreciate!)

My guinea pig Pickles used to love racing me up the stairs. I showed him how to do it, then initiated us racing side by side. Always me initiating.

Then one day, I felt pressure on my mid-calf. I turned and looked down. There was Pickles on his hind legs, nudging me with his front paws. When he saw he had my attention, he got into the start position at the bottom of the stairs. It was a proud and emotional moment as I took my place on all fours by his side, and then we galloped up together. I forget who won, it doesn’t matter, my little furry boy had come to me to play, and my heart was full.

These days, I look forward to having Truffles the rabbit to stay. He loves cuddles, especially having his head and face gently stroked and his nose kissed. When I stop, he butts me with his head, wanting more. It’s a delight when he responds by licking my nose, and then he sits back expectantly waiting for me to resume kissing and fussing over him.

Animals don’t have to respond. They could just put up with me fussing over them before trundling back to whatever truffles-and-methey were doing prior to me coming along. Sometimes they do just that. But when they respond with pleasure, or even initiate contact, that brings me joy.

I think it’s similar to the way we interact with God. He pursues all of us everyday with His goodness and mercy. But when we respond to Him, that delights His heart.

To be honest, I don’t always feel like praising God or spending time with Him. Sometimes work is busy, life feels pressured and stressed, and I’m tired. But I know that when I do come to Him, it delights and blesses His heart.

For me, this looks like walking or bouncing or dancing (depending how I feel) up and down the kitchen, singing and praying in tongues. I read the Bible with pleasure, as if He had written it just for me. That makes even the hard bits that I don’t understand precious, because my Friend wrote them.

Other times we go for a meander together through the woods or in the countryside. I even go running with Him.

The pleasure I have in playing with a rabbit or guinea pig is nothing in comparison to the sheer delight the Father has in me whenever I come into His presence.

All His Resources

[They] came to request a message from the Lord. They sat down in front of me to wait for His reply.

Yesterday, I read these words written by the prophet Ezekiel and they caused an impromptu worship time.

Before Jesus was born, if people wanted to hear from God they generally had to go to a prophet and hope he or she (mostly ‘he’ but sometimes ‘she’) was a godly person.

But with the coming of Jesus, everything changed. Jesus came to usher in God’s Kingdom, and that means we have full access to the Father and all His resources, blessings and gifts.

One of the many things I love about Grace Church is the way my pastor Nick Sharp is able to explain deep spiritual truths simply. He often reminds us, for example, that we have the privilege of being able to speak in the prayer language of tongues because Jesus died to give us this gift.

Another spiritual gift that we highly value at Grace Church is that of prophecy. I love that we no longer have to go to a prophet to hear from God because He speaks directly to us when we become His children.

He does this in different ways: through the Bible, other Christians, in dreams and visions, in pictures and impressions. (The measure we use to check we are hearing from God and not just our own imagination is whether or not it holds true to the Bible. If it does, then it is most probably from God as He never goes against His Word.)

What a privilege we New Testament saints have: to know God as Father, Friend, Deliverer, Master, Saviour, Brother; to be able to talk to Him without fear of condemnation; and to be able to hear from Him freely.

What an amazing, truly awesome God!

Prayer for the Government

Give Your love of justice to Theresa May, O God,
and righteousness to her Cabinet.
Help them govern UK citizens in a right way;
let the poor be treated fairly.

May the City yield prosperity for all,
and may the country be fruitful.

Help the Government to defend the poor,
to rescue the children of the needy
and to bring their oppressors to justice.

May they fear and respect You as long as the sun shines,
as long as the moon remains in the sky.
Yes, forever!

May the Government’s rule be refreshing like spring rain on freshly cut grass,
like the showers that (constantly) water the UK.

May all the godly flourish and live in peace under this Government.
May there be abundance and prosperity for all.

Keep our country safe from evil influences,
seeking to destroy all that is good and right.
Keep our people safe from terrorist attack,
and ruthless enemies who show no mercy.

You, God, rescue the poor when they cry to You;
You will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
You feel compassion for the weak and needy,
and You will rescue them.
You will redeem them from oppression and violence,
for their lives are precious to You.

Bless Theresa May and the Government!
May we always pray for her.
Bless our country and pour out Your Spirit,
How we need You!
We long for You, come and revive us, O Holy One.

Praise the Lord God!
He alone does wonderful things.
Praise His glorious Name forever!
Let the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Yes, let it be, let it be.

Praying for our rulers is a command; we are told to pray for them so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. But I must confess to forgetting about this most of the time.

Recent events – it feels as though our country has been tipped upside-down and given a thorough shaking – have brought it to the forefront of my mind.

When reading this psalm (72), I thought it would be useful to turn it into a prayer I can use regularly.

Whatever you may think of Theresa May or the Tory Government, praying people are called to pray for them. No one could envy her this job right now with so many huge decisions to make and implement, and more pressures than I can begin to imagine.

So let’s pray.

Photo by Susie B courtesy of Free Digital Photos used with permission.

Build

God built a perfect world for people to enjoy,
But Eve and Adam’s in-built pride sent everything awry.

Noah built an ark and kept his family safe,
Job built his faith by trusting God through trials,
Leah built a nation, though Rachel was the favoured wife,
A divine architect gave Moses plans to build a place of worship.

Proverbs says that a wise woman builds her house,
But a foolish woman tears it down.
Hmm, easy to give way to anger…. followed by regret
Than to wisely go a peaceful way.

Dear Elizabeth built up Mary’s faith,
Who would have thought a virgin could be pregnant?
And with the Chosen One!

Jesus builds His Church,
She is a glowing Bride,
No spot or blemish in her,
Looking to the day when God will build a brand-new world for Her to enjoy.

Rest

You may have woken up today rejoicing at the outcome of yesterday’s vote. Or maybe you are disappointed and wondering what on earth is going to happen now.

To be honest, whatever the outcome you were hoping for, it’s all rather unsettling. There are big changes ahead as we go forward; we don’t really know what to expect. What promises will hold true and what were lies?

I’ve been pondering today on various truths, just to anchor myself in all the uncertainty.

I woke up today feeling somewhat overwhelmed. But to God, the nations – the UK and the whole of Europe – are like a small drop of water in a bucket. This comparison puts things in perspective! Yet it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care, He loves each individual in every nation.

When God promised the birth of the ultimate ruler and deliverer several hundred years before Jesus actually arrived, God said that the government would rest on Jesus’ shoulders. His government and its peace will never end. Jesus will rule with fairness and justice forever.

I don’t know what exiting Europe will look like. I don’t know how it will affect me personally or how it will affect the UK as a whole. But I do know that one day all of this will come to an end. One day, King Jesus will appear in the clouds (it may sound fanciful but this is no fairy tale) and take His rightful place as supreme ruler. He will be the perfect king who will work everything for everyone’s good, and there will be no dissatisfaction or disappointment ever again. His is a kingdom that could not be any better: full of love, peace, rest, light, joy, fulfilment, fairness.

A couple of things before I finish.

Some of us on Facebook are using Friday 8th July as a day of prayer for our nation. Our government needs much wisdom for the days ahead. Please join us: https://www.facebook.com/events/1098981783507359/

If you’re rejoicing today, please be sensitive to friends who are disappointed at the outcome. Rejoice but please don’t rub it in.

If you’re disappointed today, talk it out with someone you trust (and to God if you are a praying person), take time to process it and grieve. Don’t let it eat into you and take root.

Rest in the truth of who God is and the glorious future on offer with Him.

Not What I Expected…

This wasn’t supposed to happen. How did I end up here?

I lay on my back, staring at the ceiling, my face deadpan, counting in my head until he had finished. He was my twelfth customer of the day.

I hated what I was doing but there was no choice. He had made that clear. ‘If you don’t do as you’re told, I will kill your family.’ It made me feel sick and clammy.

My parents thought I was on my way to the UK to work in a hotel. They had been so excited. There were no career opportunities in my village, it was too small. And I’d always wanted to learn English. It made me feel so grown up and sophisticated when that man came and interviewed me. He was so charming, showing me photos of where I’d be working and assuring my parents that he would accompany me so I’d be safe.

Safe? Ha. That was a joke. If only….

There was no job and no hotel. Just a bunch of other girls naively hoping for a better life.

He took away our passports and gave each of us a small room with a bed in it. This is where we work and where we sleep. There are four of us in this house. I seem popular with the customers, so I earn lots of money. Not that I get to keep any of it.

This is not what I expected. Will I ever get free? 

 

Last weekend I was at an ACW writers’ retreat at Scargill House in North Yorkshire, hosted by Adrian and Bridget Plass with Tony Collins of Lion Hudson and Monarch Books as main speaker. Tony gave us a challenge to write about a journey. So I wrote it from the point of view of a young woman trafficked to the UK from Eastern Europe. Although it is fiction, this actually happens.

Refuge

Today’s Lenten word prompt is REFUGE.

One of my favourite authors as a child was Patricia St John. Actually, I still enjoy her books!

Her book Star of Light tells the story of Kinza, a little girl born blind who is sold to the village beggar by her cruel stepfather but who is rescued by her older brother and taken to a missionary nurse in the city. Kinza is adopted by the nurse and goes from poverty and abuse to a life of love and security. But after a few months, the stepfather discovers where she is and secretly whisks her back to the village where he can make money from her begging. In collaboration with Kinza’s brother, the nurse travels to the village to try and negotiate with Kinza’s stepfather who denies that he has the child.

There is a beautiful scene where Kinza, who has been hidden under rugs by her stepfather, hears the nurse calling her name and cries out. At once, the nurse scoops the little girl onto her lap and holds her safe. Kinza relaxes in the arms she trusts but then begins to tremble when her stepfather starts shouting. The nurse immediately reassures her and Kinza ceases to be afraid of this horrible man who mistreats her. She has a place of refuge, in the arms of her adopted mother.

 

Mighty

Day eight’s word prompt for Lent is MIGHTY.

For me, the word mighty conjures up mountains, high seas, a knight in armour, a white charger snorting for battle.

All of these were created by the one whose name is Mighty.

On days like today when I’m tired, a bit stressed and generally out-of-sorts, I want someone who is bigger than me to turn to. I need someone wiser than me, who is never stumped or in a mood, who is always consistent and knows what to do. This Mighty One invites me to come to Him and give him my rubbish and mess so that He can give me His rightness and peace and joy. It’s a great deal.

This painting of Britain’s Lake District by my dad is a powerful reminder that my help comes from the Mighty One who created them both.

 

Ron

On Sundays Ron was usually at the church door, waiting to welcome people with a firm handshake and shy smile. He worked wonders with the old boiler, knowing just how to coax heat from it, so that we could enjoy warm radiators during the sermon in winter. No one else was ever quite able to manage it. When he was away for a six-week-world-holiday-of-a-lifetime,  we shivered our way through meetings huddled in coats and scarves. Oh the relief when Ron The Master Boiler returned and we had a warm building once more.

Ron arrived early on Sunday mornings to turn on the electric heaters in the cold, damp rooms we used for Sunday School so that when the teachers and children turned up, the rooms were toasty and welcoming. Before leaving, he made sure the timers were set on those self-same heaters to ensure they came on in good time for the pre-meeting prayer time in the evening.

When my keys refused to work in stiff locks, Ron was my go-to guy. Even in the pouring rain, he gave every appearance of being happy to help.

He took charge of filling the baptistery with a hose pipe whenever it was needed (doing his utmost to ensure the water was warm), made tea and squash for holiday Bible clubs and Bible exhibitions, and collected up hymn books and newssheets at the end of the service.

Dependable and stolid, faithfully getting on with the next thing, contentedly chewing his mints, an amused chuckle, twinkling eyes, a well-worn Bible: these are my memories of a special man.

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