Friday, December 24, 2010

goodbye for now and happy Christmas!

Well, here it is - my final post on in all honesty for a while! Thanks so much to all who've joined me during the last 3 years, and for your comments and encouragement. It's been the most wonderful opportunity to get to know you and grow in Jesus together.

I'm not sure exactly when I'll be back. If you subscribe to my blog you'll know when I reappear, because you'll get a post in your inbox. If you want to know when I start blogging again, you can subscribe here (for email) or here (in a reader) or contact me and I'll let you know.

Happy Christmas to all of you! I hope Christmas is a blessed time for you to remember the great gift of Jesus our Saviour. May God bless you and help you to get to know Jesus better during the coming year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

how you can use in all honesty

Tomorrow will be my last post on in all honesty for a while. I'm taking a break to work out whether this is how God wants me to use my time. My husband Steve has long service leave next year: a wonderful opportunity to rest, recover and reflect on what God wants from me.

Normally, I'd post from the archives while I'm away, but I won't be doing that this time. I need a complete break! But please feel free to dig around in the archives. If you scroll down the right column of my blog, you can see I've indexed everything pretty thoroughly. Browse through the topics as much as you like!

Every now and again, someone writes and asks if they can print something from in all honesty to share with others. I'm always surprised and encouraged when this happens! Here's some ways you've used in all honesty:

  • you've printed a post on a particular topic to discuss in your small group
  • you've shared what I've written with someone you're mentoring
  • you've used ideas for Sunday School lessons or Bible studies
  • you've put a post in your church's bulletin
  • you've included an article in the hand-out for a women's conference or retreat.

I'm often asked about copyright. All you need to do is contact me then include something like this at the end: "This article first appeared on Jean Williams' blog in all honesty ( and is reprinted with permission."

If it's something I wrote for Sola Panel or The Briefing, you'll need to include something like this: "This article first appeared on Sola Panel ( / in The Briefing ( and is reprinted with permission from Matthias Media."

I love it when God uses what I've written to encourage others - that's why I write - so share away! Just contact me and tell me about it - you'll make my day!

image is from stock.xchng

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

why we don't ask God for things - and why we should

I was talking with a friend recently about how reluctant she is to ask God for things. Me, I'm a terrible nagger, and nothing is too trivial for me to pray about, from the common cold to parking spots. But I often forget to ask for things that really matter, from big things like the growth of God's kingdom to little things like daily help with my anxieties and ungodliness.

So why don't we ask God for things? Here are some possibilities.

  • Our requests seem too trivial to bother him with.
  • We're protecting ourselves from disappointment and doubt.
  • We feel like we're being discontented, selfish or greedy.
  • We assume our prayers can't affect his sovereign plan.
  • We think we can handle it ourselves.
  • We assume he is unwilling or unable to help.

So why ask God for things - even trivial things, even things we're uncertain he wants us to have? Here are some reasons.

  • God encourages us to ask (Eph 6:18).
  • When we ask, we're treating God as a Father who loves to meet our needs (Matt 7:11).
  • Asking is a step towards relationship, not a step away from it.
  • It's better to ask and deal with our disappointment and doubt if he says "no" then never to ask anything at all - at least we're dealing with God, not ignoring him!
  • Asking is an expression of dependence: when we ask, we're relying on God rather than ourselves.
  • If we don't ask, we won't receive (Lk 11:9-10).
  • Our prayers are part of Gods' sovereign plan, even if we can't understand how (Jn 5:14-15, Jam 5:16).
  • God wants us to pour out our need and our hearts to him (as the Psalms show).
  • Asking is the solution to anxiety (Phil 4:6).
  • God promises to listen attentively to our prayers (Ps 34:15).
  • Our faith, joy and thanksgiving increase when we see God answer our prayers (1 Thess 5:16-18).

As we grow, our prayers will grow too; but God wants us to come as we are, trusting he will hear us, like children to their father.

Why do you think we don't ask God for things? Why does it matter?

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

big M Ministry and little s service

The word ‘ministry’ just means ‘service’.1 It's a fact I already knew, and perhaps one you know too; but earlier this year I came to see its implications.

I was walking along, praying about my Ministry. I was praying for the wisdom to know which Ministry to do, how much energy to put into certain Ministries, and when to stop one Ministry so I would have more energy for other Ministries. Suddenly, like a bolt to my brain from the rather grey sky (it was the fading end of a Melbourne winter), came the word ‘service’.

Ah. Service. It cuts out the middle-man, doesn't it? Instead of Me, Ministry, and You, there's just Me and You—and between us, love—a love which is more interested in your needs than in my grand plans for my Ministry.

When I think in terms of Ministry—with a capital M—here's what happens.

  • I choose certain Ministries because they further my Gifts, my Visions, my Goals, my Passions, and my (although I don't use this word, of course) Ambitions.
  • I choose my church because it fits my Ministry Plans.
  • I regard people as interruptions; after all, I'm reserving my energy for my Ministry and for any Ministry Opportunities I may receive.
  • I plan my Ministry with the precision of an American missile strike, constantly question whether I'm doing the right Ministry, and massage events so I'll be offered the Ministry I deserve want think is best.
  • I worry about my Ministry: how many people are receiving it, whether it's growing, what its future will be, and how I'll cope if things fall apart.
  • I'm filled with enthusiasm for exciting new Ministries—enthusiasm that fades as they become more familiar, more tiring and less interesting.
  • I'm filled with exhaustion when it comes to old Ministries, and do them with dogged, grumbling perseverance (I'm good at dogged, grumbling perseverance) until I burn out and give up.

When I think in terms of service—with a small s—here's what happens.

  • I'm set free from anxiety about my Gifts, my Visions, my Goals, my Passions, and whether I'll ever get a chance to use, pursue, achieve or fulfil them.
  • I'm set free to look around my church and community, see what needs to be done, and do it, even when it doesn't play to my strengths, no-one ever sees me doing it, and I don't want to do it much anyway.
  • I'm set free to serve you in love, right now, according to your needs, even if I'm not gifted to do what you need.
  • I'm set free from worry about numbers, growth, popularity and success, for I remember that even if only two are gathered around God's word, his Spirit is at work in us.
  • I'm set free to hold my plans for the future with an open hand, for it's God's plans which matter, not mine.
  • I'm set free from having to pursue all my interests and use all my abilities (for God is incredibly profligate with his gifts), and can just get on with furthering God's kingdom.
  • I'm set free to rest, for it's God's kingdom that's being built, not mine, and he hasn't advertised recently for another King or Saviour.
  • I'm set free to follow the example of Jesus and pour myself out in loving service during times of hardship, discouragement, and fruitlessness, faithfully serving God in whatever situation he's placed me in.

Perhaps it's time I took a scalpel, cut the word ‘Ministry’ out of my vocabulary, and, instead, talked and thought in terms of the word ‘service’. Perhaps then I'd stop worrying about my Ministry (along with my Vision, Gifts, Goals, Passions and Plans) and just get on with serving God's people, and making Jesus known, whenever and however I can.

1I'm talking about the Greek work diakonia, which is usually translated ‘ministry’ or ‘service’, and which turns up in places like 1 Corinthians 12:5 and Ephesians 4:12.

This post first appeared on Sola Panel yesterday.

images are from Bnet_efekt, Eva the Weaver and Leo Reynolds at flickr

Monday, December 20, 2010

what I'm reading: dependence and sufficiency from The Briefing

Today's quote is a little gem from missionary Terry Blowes, quoted by Guan Un in his Diary of a ministry apprentice in this month's Briefing.

Twenty years of missionary service has taught me that I have a very big God, and a very small me. I went away as a very self-sufficient, self-dependent person. I came back as a very insufficient, God-dependent person.

Take out the "Twenty years of missionary service" and put in "Three years of blogging", and you have me! It's a great summary of what God has taught me during the last 3 years, as you've travelled this journey with me.

image is from stock.xchng

Friday, December 17, 2010

shaking the eggs

A couple of offerings from the family camera...first, from the younger 2 kids of the house, then from the older 2...

One of our favourite things is collecting the eggs at Grandma's house...

...but best fun of all is...SHAKING THE EGGS!

And that's how we make scrambled eggs in the shell. Shaken, not stirred.

(Just don't tell Grandma.)

whoopee cushion: stop motion without the motion

Ben (10) has been sick a lot this year, first with whooping cough and recently with flu. While away from school, he's done lots of stop motion photography (without the motion, because we don't have an animation program) mostly involving railway tracks and Thomas the Tank Engine.

He and Lizzy made their own stop motion show (without the motion) about a whoopee cushion the other day. Here it is (without the motion - but perhaps if you squinted and scrolled down really fast...) - and, as a bonus, you get to see our messy house too! :)

Well, it made me laugh, anyway!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

tweaking is not the solution

Ask my friend, and she'll tell you I'm a tweaker. Give me a problem, and I'll work out how to solve it. Anxiety? Perhaps if I had a 1/2 hour quiet time every morning. Exhaustion? Perhaps if I limited my working time to an hour a day. Illness? Perhaps if I ate more healthily, did more exercise, got more sleep.

They're excellent things to do, but you'll notice that they all revolve around the same word: "I".

I'm convinced that somewhere, somehow, there's a perfect life within my grasp. I just have to figure out the right work/rest balance, the right organisational methods, the right ministry decisions, and I'll feel less anxious, less bewildered, less overworked, less miserable. I'll feel that elusive sense of happiness which I know is waiting for me if I just get things - well, if I just get things right.

Except that the solution to my problems doesn't lie with me. It doesn't matter how many books I read, how many solutions I come up with (thought-diaries, self-talk, spiritual disciplines) - these aren't where wholeness and happiness can be found. As I heard in a Christian talk recently, security isn't a somewhere or a somehow: it's a Someone.*

What do the psalmists do when they feel worried, fearful, discouraged or despairing? They pray. And I'm not talking about prayer that pretends the problem isn't there, or prayers where you sort your thoughts and feelings out before you pray. I'm talking about real, raw, honest prayer: "Oh, God, I feel dreadful! Help!!"

The psalmists pour out their pain and confusion to God. They sort out their problems in the presence of God - or, more to the point, they ask God to sort out their problems. They don't get things right and then come to God; they admit they don't get it, and cry out to God for help. They do the "I" thing - "Oh my soul, trust in God!" - but they do it with God.

I've been trying to depend less on myself: my abilities, my determination, my organisation, my psychological ploys. I've been trying to depend more on God: starting, instead of finishing, with prayer. Over and over again, I'm surprised to discover that God's grace and strength are there for me: all I need to do is ask.

* The talk was by Lisa Watson at Belgrave Heights Women's Convention.

images are by Sultry and Bold Bone at flickr

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (12) conclusion

Last week I finished the story of what happened when I got too busy. So where am I at, 9 months later?

My feelings have returned to the usual random collection of ups and downs. The lessons I learned stay with me: wisdom to say 'no', willingness to rest, and an awareness of my warning signs of burnout - things like anxiety, discouragement, lack of perspective, loss of motivation, and the inability to relax.

Am I still too busy? At times this year, I have been, with the usual consequences. It's a little disheartening, after all God has taught me, to still battle the same temptations: perfectionism, ambition, people-pleasing, my drive to fix things, my longing to do everything in one lifetime, and the superwoman syndrome.

I've made some helpful changes. I cut down my extra ministry commitments to 1 a term (I've learned some wisdom!) but discovered that 1 ministry commitment easily expands to fill as much time as 5 ministry commitments (my seminars and articles were very thorough! :) ). You see, the issue isn't really my circumstances - it's my heart.

But God has been at work in my heart. I'm less driven. Instead of grabbing every ministry opportunity, I hold my dreams more lightly, trusting God's timing. As you know, I'm planning to take some time off blogging next year to rest and reflect on what God wants from me - not something I would have done a year ago. God is good.

One final comment: please don't conclude from what I've written that busyness is a bad thing. It's good to be busy in God's service (Phil 2:17, 2 Thess 3:8-9). But when we're so busy that we burn out and can no longer serve, or fail to serve those close to us, or can't trust God and rest - then we've got a problem. And that problem is in our heart. That's what this series has been about: the idols of our heart that drive us to over-busyness, and the way that God's grace sets us free.

Let's work hard, pouring ourselves out in God's service; but when we've done all we can, let's rest, trusting God to work in people's lives.

images are from flik and Laurie Pink at flickr

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

woman to woman (7) conclusion: becoming an older woman

This is the final post in my series woman to woman. It's about the woman I want to become.

When I think about growing older (something I'm increasingly aware of!), these words by John Piper remind me of who I want to become:

One of the challenges I repeatedly hold out to the people of our church—especially the women—is that they make it one of their aims to age into a sage. I love the vision of older women full of seasoned spiritual fruit that comes only with long life and much affliction and deep meditation on the Word of God. So many younger women yearn for older women, who are deeply wise, to share the wisdom God has taught them over the years.

When I was a young woman, I longed for the encouragement of an older woman. As I grow older, I hope to become the kind of woman I longed for. I hope to fill this gap in the lives of young women around me.

This isn't just my dream. Every Christian woman has a responsibility to help women who are younger in age or in the faith to grow in godly womanhood. If you're a Christian woman and this doesn't lie close to your heart and shape your priorities, you need to ask yourself why. We don't all have the same gifts—we will respond to God's call in Titus 2 in different ways—but our Lord Jesus Christ has committed younger women to our care.

The desire of my heart is to see a new generation of Titus 2 women in our churches—older women who devote themselves to teaching and training young women. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you and I committed to asking God to raise up women like this? In the meantime, let's be the answer to our own prayers.

Quote is from John Piper When I Don't Desire God 109-110.

This series is based on my article Woman to woman: Answering the call of Titus 2.

Monday, December 13, 2010

what I'm reading: psalm for the busy

When I'm too busy, I become an insomniac. I lie awake at 3 o'clock in the morning, fretting and planning and finishing tasks in my head.

Here's (the first half of) a psalm which reminds me that all my frantic worry and busy labour can't achieve a thing without God. He is the one who "builds the house", not me.

Knowing that, I can sleep peacefully. I can rest.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labour in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
(Psalm 127:1-3)

Friday, December 10, 2010

changing churches

Six months ago, we left our church and helped to start another church. It's not something I could tell you about at the time, but it's made life pretty tough for me this year. It's good to be able to finally fill you in! Here's something I wrote about the transition.

A church is a family is a family is a family.

I realised the implications of this (I'm a slow learner) when I read Simon Flinder's article "When it’s time to go" in The Briefing. He says leaving a church should be hard: it's like leaving a family. It's not something to be done lightly or easily.

Sometimes, leaving a church is unavoidable. That's where we've found ourselves this year: between churches (for reasons I won't go into here - but, let it be said, not because our old church was a bad one), and now starting (or re-starting) a new church family. We began with a small group of people we know well, but we left many familiar faces behind. Some I'll see in my Bible study until the end of the year; others I may not see again for a very long time.

So what did I feel? Shock. Heart-ache. Grief that still pulls at me. Fear. Doubt. Anxiety about what the future holds. Uncertainty. Homelessness. A deep longing for familiarity and stability.

One of the hardest things was being between churches. It felt exciting at first - such a relief not to have to lead Sunday School or feel responsible for people! - but quickly lost its novelty. After 4 weeks of going to other people's churches, I woke up one Sunday morning and knew I couldn't do it anymore. I sat up the very back of my friend's church and cried (very embarrassing!), longing for a church family I could call my own, a place to love and serve and belong.

A few months ago, our new Bible talk began (we weren't yet calling it a church) as twenty people met in our living room. There were no frills - no songs, no welcome team, no stained glass - just a bunch of God’s people sitting on the chairs and floor of our home. Our home – what a privilege! In all the chaos of cleaning, cooking, setting up chairs and clearing away the mess, there was great joy. The joy of being back with our church family. The joy of hearing our own pastor bring God's word to us. The joy of homecoming.

Our minister put it perfectly: no matter how small and simple the gathering, when God's people gather around God's word, something amazing happens.

Since then, there have been ups and downs. We now have a name and a place to meet. We're on the way to getting a logo and a leadership team. We're growing in numbers, and there's a real buzz about the place as people become Christians and are established in their faith. It's taken me a while (did I mention I don't cope well with change?) but I'm starting to feel at home, as if, yes, this is my family.

I know the excitement will fade. The day will come when I'll feel like grumbling about the work to be done, when the glow of enthusiasm gives way to tired familiarity, when it seems we can't go on. On that day, I hope I won't forget to look around me and thank God for the immense privilege of being part of this part of God's family on earth.

image is from stock.xchng

Thursday, December 9, 2010

woman to woman (6c) getting practical: everday ideas for women encouraging women

Here's my final list of practical tips for women encouraging women. This time, they're for younger women. It's easy to complain there's no-one to mentor us, but too often, we don't notice the women God has given us. How can we seek encouragement from older women?

3. As the younger woman

  • Remember that you can learn from older women even when they're not theologically informed or trained in formal ministry. Respect older women and what they've learned and have to offer. Listen.
  • Attach yourself to older women you respect, and ask questions. Seek out women who are standing firm in their faith, who have persevered through suffering, who have a heart for evangelism, who have raised their children well, who respect their husbands, or who trust God through long-term singleness or childlessness. Write down questions to ask them.
  • Ask an older woman to mentor you, to read a book with you, or, if it's less intimidating, to pray with you. Older women may not realize what they have to offer, or may not want to push themselves forward. It may be up to you to take the initiative.
  • Find an older woman who excels in a particular kind of ministry—hospital visitation, walk-up evangelism, cooking for large gatherings—and ask if you can go along to learn from her.
  • Call an older woman and ask for advice and prayer the next time you struggle to pray, manage your time well or love those you live with.
  • When there are no older women available, seek mentoring from a distance. Read biographies of Christian women who stood firm. Read books and listen to talks by Christian women.

Any other ideas?

Thanks, Jenny, for the idea for this post.

image is from stock.xchng (I think!)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (11b) burnout

Here's the second half of my story of burnout.

December 2009. Summer holidays have begun, and I'm jogging. Pounding the beach, praying, tears streaming down my face. I never jog, but I run to escape the weight I'm carrying. I feel like a soldier training with a weighted pack - only in my pack is the despondency I can't shake, heavier than ever now the year's busyness has ended.

Early January, 2010. The summer holidays drag on, and I keep despondency at bay by taking the kids on outings and decluttering the house; but it's there, like a black pit, the moment I stop moving. I'm tired of this. I feel so weak, so useless. Why can't I do it all like other women? Why am I not strong enough?

January, 2010. I write in my journal, "I hate feeling like this. I won't deny it. I'd love to feel strong again - to feel joyous and energised and engaged. But it's when these things are taken away - the pride, the enthusiasm, the self-reliance - when all that is left is God and me, and I am weak and wrung out, like a floppy dishrag that's been used one too many times - that I realise my smallness and my need."

Late January, 2010. Steve gives me a day off, and I go to a local park and sit in my favourite cafe. All the discouragement and fear and self-doubt pour out in pages and pages of unreadable black scrawl. And then I pick up my Bible and read, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" (2 Cor 12:9). I'm not strong, I'm weak: but God's treasure is in this jar of clay (2 Cor 4:7).

February, 2010. My feelings don't change until I talk to my friend, who has far more experience of depression than I do. She speaks 9 simple words: "You will feel excited about things again one day." Oddly, that's all I need to hear. It seems that just a whisper of hope is enough. I'm still uncertain of what I'm feeling, but from this point on, I'm no longer drowning.

March 2010. It's not easy to learn to learn to live without an idol; but I'm starting to realise that God's grace is here, waiting, on the other side. I write, "When depression is a reaction to loss, it has stages and an end. You have to let it run its course and have the courage to face the things it throws up at you."

God's grace meets me in the place where dreams die. His severe mercy has brought me to the end of myself, driving me to repentance and into the heart of his grace. Here, what I do doesn't give me meaning, only what he does for me.

image is by Jim Blob Blann from flickr

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (11a) burnout

I've told you about my 3 years of increasing busyness, as I took on every ministry opportunity I could. Today and tomorrow, I'd like to share with you what happened next.

Both roads - stress and burnout - lead ultimately to depression. The depression that comes from stress is due to the exhaustion of the adrenal system. On the other hand, the depression that comes from burnout is the loss of your vision, of your ideals.

8th July 2009. I'm leading a seminar at a women's conference. My friends advised me not to take this on after a crazily busy term, but I did it anyway. At the end of the conference I'm offered a fantastic ministry opportunity. I write in my journal, "It's the dream come true, the recognition I seek, the bigger stage. It's terrifying and exhilarating." I say 'yes', because how can I say 'no'?

9th July 2009. At 5.30 pm the day after the conference, the bottom drops out of my world. A 24 hour adrenalin high gives way to a deep low. This is normal. What isn't normal is the 2 months of despondency that follow. Every step - every smile - feels weighted. I write, "I'm longing for rest. I don't seem to be able to stop and get off this crazy ride."

Early August 2009. Instead of feeling excited about the fulfilment of my ministry ambitions, all I feel is dread. In my journal, I pray, "Thank you for the emptiness ... Thank you for reminding me that the idol I've set my heart on and schemed and worked so hard for is hollow and empty and can't deliver on its promises. ... You've stuffed me full and said, 'See!'"

Late August 2009. I go to a seminar on burnout, and the symptoms sound all too familiar: I'm drained, unenthused and distant from relationships. The solution, apparently, is to pull out of things and take some time to rest; so that's what I do. I cancel several ministry engagements - including the ministry opportunity I was so excited about - at some cost to my pride, and face a term with less things in it.

September 2009. It's odd how empty I feel. Relieved, yes, but empty. "Weariness. The blank nothingness that we call 'feeling flat'. Exhaustion. Disengagement." Without my busy plans for ministry, I'm living without a safety net. I've lost my dreams, my confidence, my sense of worth. Drained of enthusiasm, I'm unfamiliar to myself. If depression is a normal reaction to loss, then I'm living it.

October 2009. Earlier this year, I read the story of a middle-aged man who found that a red Ferrari didn't bring the happiness he longed for. Well, duh! But it lead to my own "duh!" moment: isn't ministry achievement just an idol painted in socially acceptable colours? In some ways, it's worse, because I'm taking something meant for God's glory and twisting it so it's about me.

November 2009. It's a busy month (I'm writing for Equip book club and Christmas is approaching) and, in the busyness, I manage to distance myself from the way I'm feeling - for a while.

Tomorrow: what happened next.

images are by LunaDiRimmel and -JosephB- from flickr