Grace for the Good Girl

Here at More Precious, we love speaking about grace. Grace being: the immense act of love and sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross to save us, despite the fact that we don’t, and never will deserve it.

We’ve spoken about how grace fills our cracks and makes us whole, how grace gives us hope and identity. We’ve realised that grace is for the broken and messy, that grace is for us even when we feel lost and dirty and afraid and far from being good enough.

But what about if we DO feel ‘good enough’ – or even when we just don’t feel particularly bad? Is grace really needed for the girls who never miss a Sunday and never argue with their parents? Sarah’s post today on this topic is wonderful and much-needed. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. L x

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Okay, first admission: I stole the title.

When I was younger, I was given a book called ‘Grace for the Good Girl’ by my Sunday school teacher as an end of year present (a.k.a. subtle spiritual hint) but was far too proud and offended at the ever-so-subtle hint to ever read it.

Second admission: I’ve always been a ‘good girl’.

I was that eager-to-please kid in school that spent hours on a piece of homework, craving for recognition. I was that daughter who never really outwardly rebelled against her parents, and provided relief from the tension from other more rebellious siblings. I was that friend who didn’t give into peer pressure, who said no even when it was social suicide because that’s who I was: the Good Girl.

I would look at other teenagers in my church who were sneaking out to parties, drinking, going too far in relationships and living a double life and I would quietly sit and judge them.

When I saw them, I saw hypocrites; people that would turn up to church and say the right answers in Sunday School, whilst living for everything else but God from Monday to Saturday. I didn’t see that I was the biggest hypocrite. I judged everyone else for living pretty obvious double lives, but in reality I was deceiving everyone around me about who I was – including myself.

In my eyes, I was great. But, ironically, the ‘God points’ that I was giving myself were blocking my view of Jesus. I thought that I was good enough to earn salvation on my own. I heard the story of the Prodigal Son and secretly felt sorry for the older brother. I disconnected myself from Bible passages about humans being sinful… maybe all those people were sinful, but I was different.

And then, God stepped in.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:3-5

After hearing those verses in my youth group one night, my life changed. I’d heard it several times before, but this time God opened my eyes to the truth. I was blown away at the ridiculousness of my self-righteousness. If God’s standard is perfection, then no matter how good I was, it wasn’t good enough. Yet, I was so used to my ‘goodness’ that I couldn’t see how pathetic my attempts at earning my salvation were.

It’s as if we are born with black shirts, and to be right with God, our shirts have to be completely white. Not off-white, or white with a few dark smudges, but pure, spotless, unspoiled bleach white. I tried to make my shirt white; I used religion as a stain remover for my blackness. I tried to ignore the colour of my shirt and tell myself that it was white. But nothing worked.

Here’s the good news though; my story doesn’t end like this!

I realised that nothing I could do could get me to a standard of perfection – and so, I finally looked to Jesus. And to my amazement, he was wearing a shiny new white shirt. But he didn’t just look at my sorry state and boast about how glad he is that he has a white shirt. No, he reached out to me, embraced me and offered to swap shirts.

Isn’t that amazing? That even someone that was denial about how helpless they were can ‘swap shirts’ with Jesus? Even though I will never fully understand the depth of my darkness, He still made me white and unblemished.

And that’s why I’m a Christian today.

Not because I’ve got it all together (and I’m sorry when I make it look like I do)
but because I really don’t.

Jesus has some pretty strong words about hypocrisy and pride. Earlier in the passage, he warns that the way we judge others is the way that we will be judged. Yet even now, as a Christian I find myself looking at other Christians and comparing myself to them on my inner ‘holiness metre’.

God isn’t giving up on me though. Even though I’m possibly the slowest learner out there, He’s patiently showing me how much I need Him. The more I learn about Jesus’ death on the cross, the more I realise the extent of my need for him.

My battle with self-righteousness will be a long one – possibly even for the rest of my life. If this has resonated with you, I want to encourage you to keep fighting. God doesn’t promise that he will take away our battles, whether that is battling more obvious outward sin or a more inward, devious fight like mine.

But He promises that his grace is enough, even for people that don’t always see their need for it. And He gives us strength to continue fighting it.

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Sarah

Sarah

Sarah is an English student at Durham University, who has somehow managed to make it to second year, thanks to Sparknotes, Yorkshire Tea, Taylor Swift and some pretty great people. Sarah is passionate about telling students about Jesus and discipling girls in their walk with God. She lives in a small seaside town in Wales where there is never a dull moment, thanks to her crazy big family! 

Christmas Devotional: God With Us

In today’s Christmas devotional, Emily takes us through what she loves about the Christmas Story – how God came to be with us, ‘Immanuel’. 
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 Matthew 1:22-23

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’

God is so powerful and strong yet he sent his own son into the world through a normal girl called Mary. God works in unexpected ways; we never know what he is going to do next. He is outside of our understanding.

Immanuel means ‘God with us.’ This is amazing; we can have a relationship with the king of the world. Everyone can have a relationship with him. God is with us through all of life.

There is a song I used to sing at Sunday club, it says ‘sometimes good things happen God is there, sometimes bad things happen God is there too’. God is always with us. We can remember this by reading the Bible and listening to Christian music, and it is amazing to have Christian friends who we can chat to and encourage each other.

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Mia & Emily

Mia & Emily

Mia & Emily go to school in Cambridge and are part of the same church family as Lucy, Hannie, Emma and Katrina. They love sleepovers, Great British Bake-Off and reading the Bible together as ‘study buddies’!

God’s Glory In Our Mess

This post is transcribed from Hannie’s wonderful talk on 22/11/14 at St John’s College, Durham University for the event ‘A Life More Precious’. It is based on her very first More Precious post, back from August 2013!
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As many of you will know, back in Easter earlier this year, Lucy and I invited all of our writers to contribute posts that shed some light on dealing with the difficulties of being a young Christian woman in the 21st century. As the summer progressed a clear theme emerged from the posts – one of God’s glory in our ruins.

In response to the courage and honesty shown witness by all of our fabulous writers, I want to tell you the story of God’s glorious redemption in my ruins.

To start with I want to turn our attention to Jeremiah 29:11:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”

Having grown up believing in Jesus and His resurrection for as long as I can remember, this is a verse that simply rolls off the tongue. However, years later, I found that this passage, whilst so easy to offer as a consolation to friends, was much harder to believe in the reality of life.

When I was sixteen my life changed dramatically and my family never really looked the same. In December 2008, my mum became seriously ill with clinical depression. Within 8 weeks of my mum first noting that she wasn’t feeling well, she was in hospital due to the severity and intense form of depression she was experiencing. For the next few years, she was in and out of hospital, and at times family life was unrecognisable.

If any of you have any experience with mental health, then you will know that there is little more chaotic. Suddenly, the tidy life that I had envisioned for my future was messy, painful, and uncertain. In fact, the only way that I could cope with this uncertainty and chaos was to control the one thing I knew how: food.

And so, in February 2009, with my mother in hospital, I too found myself receiving treatment for anorexia nervosa.

Initially I had prayed for healing for both my mother and me, believing at face value all of the verses that I had read as a child – God loved me and wanted to give me good things, so surely He would heal my family?

As the years went on with no healing, I found myself doubting everything I had grown up believing. How could God have good plans for me if this is where He had placed me? How could I ever believe that God had planned a hope for me if all along He had known what was coming?

My process of reconciling all the pain and struggles with faith began where it always should, His Word. I removed my emotions from the equation and looked back at the only place I could find the truth about His character. The Bible tells us:

God is good, and keeps His promises:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Deuteronomy 7:9 (NIV)

Every good thing comes from Him:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17 (NIV)

He loves us… so much so that He sacrificed His son for us:

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
1 John 4:10 (NIV)

And all this never changes:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and I believe that what it says is true. Therefore, according to this alone, I must have faith that God is working according to His promises.

Of course, this is so much easier said than done.However, the disparity between His promise and our current circumstances becomes a little clearer when re-reading Jeremiah chapters 28 and 29. To give the scripture some context, against the false prophecy of Hananiah, Jeremiah relays God’s message that the Israelites were to remain exiled in Babylon for 70 years, rather than the two years promised by Hananiah.

It was to this backdrop of suffering and despair that God offered his promise so well-known in Jeremiah 29:11. God did indeed offer a promise that was undeniable and inevitable, but it would not come within the timetable of the Israelites, nor would it come according to the packaging they had requested.

Understanding this, I was able to realise that God’s promise of hope and good really had little to do with my understanding of the past few years. God would keep His promise of providing a hope and a future, but it was unlikely that this hope and future would look anything like I had imagined.

I have been forced to face up to the gaps in my faith. Who knew how easy it was to believe in God and all His entirety when life was easy, compared to when life doesn’t go your way? It took hundreds of sleepless nights, and hours of fear, to really know that God was there. Because it is only when it feels like you have nothing left, nothing to hold on to, do you find yourself really letting go and reaching out to Him and Him alone.

I realised that the injustice I felt towards it all, the innate sense of wrong, was actually God’s way of reminding me that this was not the world how God intended. We live in a fallen world where mental illness is merely a symptom of the poison fruit. But He has found a way, and that will forever be our hope – even if it I will never fully grasp it until eternity.

I don’t know what pain or ruins you have brought here today, and maybe you have lost sight of God altogether, believing that He couldn’t possibly exist, or be good, while you suffer and endure unbearable pain.

And I can’t promise that the pain will go away – sometimes it never gets better. My mum still fights to stay alive every day – and the voice in my head telling me not to eat is never that far from the surface.

But I can promise you that God will never leave you or forsake you in this dark world.

I want you to know that you have been placed on this earth as an image bearer. You are here to bear the image of hope. In my brokenness and fear, God has shone through the cracks and I am a reflection of His immeasurable goodness.

Because of his goodness, I know that one day He will wipe away every tear and I will see my mum whole again.

I have been trusted with a story. We have all been trusted with a story. We are called to see beyond the night and point towards the light. We were born for such a time as this – to tell the world of something better.

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Hannie

Hi, I’m Hannie, Co-Editor and Social Media Manager here at More Precious. I recently finished my time studying at the University of Birmingham and have since been abruptly dropped into the “real world”. I love running, fresh flowers and spending a copious amount of time in coffee shops with friends. I am passionate about encouraging a generation of girls and young women who radically pursue their God-given purpose.

Christmas Devotional: To Treasure

Welcome to Luke Chapter 2, where we are partway through the Christmas Story! We’re starting from verse 16, where a host of angels have just told the shepherds that Jesus our Saviour will be born…

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Luke 2:16-19

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

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Sometimes we can find ourselves caught up in the hustle and bustle of our lives – especially in the countdown to Christmas. We can forget to take time to be still, think, ‘treasure’ and remember who God is and why we celebrate Christmas at all.

These verses and the way that Mary ‘treasures’ and stores the glorious moment of Jesus’ birth in her heart reminds us that it is good for us too to store up evidence of God’s goodness in our own hearts, so that we can remain strong in our faith. Our identity is secure in Him!

We can find and store up our own ‘treasure’ by reading the Bible, where we can see God’s character.

It is so encouraging to remember His past provision and goodness, and know that we can have hope and confidence in the future because God is good and He loves us.

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Mia & Emily

Mia & Emily

Mia & Emily go to school in Cambridge and are part of the same church family as Lucy, Hannie, Emma and Katrina. They love sleepovers, Great British Bake-Off and reading the Bible together as ‘study buddies’!

Life Lessons from a First Year

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Luke 2:41-49

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.

Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished.

His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked.
“Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Joseph and Mary take Jesus, age 12 to Jerusalem for Passover. On return, they do an entire day of travel supposing that he is with them before realising that he is not.

In my first term of university, I have made the very same mistake.

I have blasted off ahead; relying on my own strength, overly confident in my own gifts and resources and for a number of weeks all seemed to be well. Like Mary and Joseph I have been wrapped up in the movement of the crowd and arrogantly assumed Jesus was following on behind me.

It is worrying how far Mary and Joseph get before realising they’ve lost their son. It is worrying how far I’ve got before realising it’s been a while since I checked in with God, especially when I claim I’ve been entirely focused on Him all along.

In the same way Mary accuses Jesus of treating his parents badly, I have been accusing Jesus of being distant and treating me badly. The truth is, he doesn’t walk away from me, it is me that has strayed from him. Then when I panic and begin anxiously searching for him in the overwhelming mess where I claim he’s deserted me, his response is the same as it is to Mary…

“Why were you searching for me?
Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Why is my instinct to panic? Why am I anxious at all? The answer to the search is obvious; God’s house stands firm even through our turmoil, and the door is always open.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Psalm 61:2

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Katrina

Katrina is a first year Sports student at studying at Durham University. Although often missing her wonderful Cambridge home, Katrina has found Durham to be a hard place not to fall in love with. She is settling into university life by attempting to try all the coffee shops (despite not drinking coffee)! Katrina is passionate about watching girls grow with the assurance and knowledge that they are valuable and crazily loved daughters of God.

Life-Giving Relationships

This post is transcribed from Emma’s wonderful talk on 22/11/14 at St John’s College, Durham University for the event ‘A Life More Precious’.
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The internet can be an incredibly powerful thing. Thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to build relationships with the MP girls through Facebook and email, when I’d never met them before. That’s great, but it’s also slightly scary – for all the girls knew, I could have been someone completely different to who I said I was (Catfish, anyone?).

It just goes to show how artificial the internet is, and now that so much our lives are spent online we are starting to reflect that artificiality. We spend hours on Facebook and Instagram, trying to create the image of a life that is worthy of Pinterest and as a result, our lives and our relationships are now more artificial.

Even church can become artificial. Many a time I’ve found myself slipping into a Christian language littered with buzzwords. We are so concerned with fitting in and looking good both in church and out of it that we’re acting and even talking in a different way.

We have a huge preoccupation with how we present ourselves.

If you are a Christian, do you really think the best way to represent God is by fitting in? We cannot expect people to think there is something different about us if we are acting in the same way as everyone else. Ultimately, we cannot ‘give life’ in relationships, if what people are seeing are not our true lives.

We’re living artificial lives when we should be living authentic ones. But why is it important to be authentic in our lives and relationships?

God made you to be unique and individual, but God also made you in his image. That means that if you are just being yourself, then you are automatically showing the image of God to people.

So, how can we live authentically?

1. Be truthful

Have you ever lied to a Christian friend about a mistake or a bad decision you’ve made, because you didn’t want to seem like a bad Christian? Well, not only would your friend be in the wrong for judging you, you are also in the wrong for hiding your mistake. By hiding your mistakes, you’re actually denying the grace that God has freely gifted you. And by lying to your friend, you’re saying that you’re more concerned with offending your friend than you are about offending God.

Galatians 1:10 says ‘For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.’

Who are you trying to please? Your friends or God?

2. Share your weaknesses

A huge part of being a Christian is sharing your life with people. But that means sharing everything. And if we’re going to be authentic, then we have to share the bad things as well as the good things, like our weaknesses or worries or fears. By saying, publicly, ‘I messed up and I made a bad decision’, you can then say ‘but it’s okay, because through the grace of God I have been forgiven’.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says:
‘…But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’

We should be proud of grace and boast in the fact that
we can make mistakes and still be loved.

Not only will that be a great example of God’s love to your non-Christian friends, but it will be a huge encouragement to your Christian ones.

We need to be consistent in our authenticity. Being a Christian does not mean making your life look as holy as possible. In the same way, your value does not come from how holy other people think you are.

3. Love

John 15:12 says ‘Love each other as I have loved you.’

This is the key to authentic, life-giving relationships. God loves you, for exactly who you are; flaws and bad habits and mistakes and all. It’s quite simply really: in order to have great relationships with other people we need to love them like God loves us – for exactly who they are.

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Emma

Emma lives and works in the fabulous city of Leeds with her husband, Tim. She has a passion for encouraging those who are low in spirit and loves to hear stories of God’s perfect timing. Her favourite things include a good latte, travelling, eating dessert for breakfast, dim sum and making people happy with food.

Click here to read the rest of Emma’s posts.

Christmas Devotional: God Never Fails

Today we are diving into the Christmas story in Luke Chapter 1. We are starting at verse 34, where the angel Gabriel has just told Mary she will have a baby boy (Jesus)…

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‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
For no word from God will ever fail.’

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’
Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:34-38

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What struck us is that the situation Mary is in is absolutely outrageous, it’s a scandal.   However Mary doesn’t get angry or upset. She is very calm and does not doubt the angel from God. She understands the privilege of bearing God’s son.

God is telling Mary not to be afraid because he has got everything planned out. These verses demonstrate how God’s plans never fail and he has everything under control. You wouldn’t think God would choose a young, insignificant girl as a major part of his plan for salvation.

This is a reminder to us today to be on the lookout as God works unexpectedly.

We find it encouraging even though we are young and sometimes feel insignificant. Like Mary, we should adopt a servant-like attitude.

We are encouraged to know that everything God says will happen will happen! The song, One Thing Remains is very helpful – it tells us how God’s love never fails.

Mary trusted in God. When life seems complicated we can think of all the things God has done and it makes us so happy that God is in control.

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Mia & Emily

Mia & Emily

Mia & Emily go to school in Cambridge and are part of the same church family as Lucy, Hannie, Emma and Katrina. They love sleepovers, Great British Bake-Off and reading the Bible together as ‘study buddies’!

Faith Worked Out: Lavinia Brennan

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Today we’re taking inspiration from Lavinia Brennan and Natasha Rufus Isaacs, members of Holy Trinity Brompton church in London and founders of Beulah London. Beulah is a luxury fashion label that makes classic pieces for occasion and evening wear. However, it sees itself not as a typical fashion label but primarily as a ‘kingdom business’, as a hub of employment where lives can be transformed and people are pointed to life with Jesus. Each of their clothes tells a story, and the theme of ‘darkness to light’ (beulah, Isaiah 62:4) is central to every design.
We had the fun of speaking with Lavinia to find out more about how the Beulah girls approach running a successful and influential business, while keeping God at the centre of all they do…

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Fun Five

Fun Five

Book on my bedside table:
‘The Locust Effect: The End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence’ by Gary Haugen.
Ideal dinner party guest:
Scott Harrison, founder of Charity:Water.
£10 treat:
Cinema with cola bottles – always.
Question I’m always asked:
‘Why did you start Beulah?’
Most underrated virtue:
Kindness
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So we’d love to know, what pushed you to take the plunge and found Beulah?

Well I suppose there wasn’t an initial, one-off cause; Nat and I were out in Delhi, India in 2009, and we had the amazing opportunity to work at Atulya, an aftercare home for women victims of sex trafficking. We didn’t necessarily think that we would go on to create something like Beulah, but we had a real desire to provide employment for these women, and we felt really called by God to create a business that would transform lives for these women.

I suppose we were starting from a place of total trust in God – neither of us had any fashion training, or any business experience for that matter – but yet we have been very fortunate and God has really blessed us.

We both have Christian families, with parents that pray for us every day, and actually we work in an office where each of the girls is Christian. This wasn’t even intentional – it just happened that through applications and internships, we ended up with an office of Christian women, which makes for an amazing team.

Have you faced challenges as Christians working in the fashion industry?

Well, the fashion industry is tough, whether you are Christian or not. We wouldn’t say that we are a fashion-forward business, we look beyond seasonal trends and want to create classic, timeless pieces. We’re not primarily a fashion business, because we always want our clothes to point back to the initial idea behind beulah: light from darkness, the transformation of lives. In this sense, we’re not really within the fashion industry, but using clothing design and creativity for a greater purpose.

…and how does being a Christian company affect your day-to-day approach to business?

Ooh.. (laughs) – I’d love to say that we pray every single morning as a company and consistently keep routine – reality is, sometimes the busy nature of business and general life gets in the way. But actually it’s really great to be in a company where we’re all Christians and can all keep each other accountable – so our interns or our assistants will sometimes remind us all to pray or to take some time out to keep things in perspective. We learn a lot from them, and it’s really great to be reminded of what we’re doing and who we’re doing it for.

We try and have a Monday meeting where we pray with all the staff team, and look to the week ahead – that’s really helpful. And of course, we’ll always pray before meetings or presentations with clients or other businesses – that’s something we always commit to.

A few members of the MP team have recently treated themselves to a few Beulah designs.. (!) We loved the recent packaging around the concept of ‘kintsukuroi’. Tell us about this?

Like I said, we want every season to represent what we stand for, and our SS14 designs centred around this concept kintsukuroiwhich is actually an ancient, Japanese practice of fixing broken pottery by putting it back together with gold. It’s all about something being more beautiful for having been broken.

This obviously has parallels with our vision: the redemption and transformation of lives. It also has links with the idea that ‘beauty’ smashes, and actually our breaking can become part of true beauty.

Do references like this across your designs spark interesting conversations about your faith with people?

Definitely – it’s very well-known that both Nat and I have a strong faith, and the press love to ask us about it – people are really intrigued by what we stand for and what our beliefs are. We’re obviously really happy to speak to them, it’s a way of being distinctive. We get a lot of comments in particular about our name Beulah, which comes from Isaiah 62:4 and is all about the marriage of us and God.

We noticed another Bible reference in the title of your SS13 collection: ‘Ephesians 6′. How else do you draw inspiration from the Bible and implement it across your designs?

Yes, we always focus on themes linked to the core concept of transformation of lives, and the bringing of women from darkness to light. We always include a Bible quote at the end of each of our lookbooks, and actually our AW14 collection is called ‘Enlightenment’, where we have centred around the passages in John (especially John 1:5) about darkness becoming light through Jesus.

What has God taught you through Beulah so far?

The whole thing has been a massive learning curve for us – and so we are always seeking guidance, right up to the 23rd hour. This has taught us lots about trusting God, really trusting – and also lots about obedience. God has led Beulah in different routes to the ones we had imagined, but it’s all about that trust and that willingness to let Him work. I’ve learnt to trust that God has the right plan in every situation.

What advice would you give to girls who are seeking to do God’s will, but are at a bit of a cross-roads and struggling with making decisions in their life?

Well, after I graduated, as you know – Nat and I spent those two months out in India. We were working for a church there, which gave us a lot of space and a lot of time to just really speak and listen to God. I think that’s key – it’s so easy to be caught up in the busy-ness of life, that I really valued having space to think things through.

What I would also say is, trust God with the right plan – but be proactive! Sometimes Christians get a bit lazy and think that they should just wait around for God to speak to them clearly. I think that God actually speaks in lots of different ways – Nat is really visionary, she has great dreams and pictures, but I never get that – God speaks to me quietly, through music or times of worship, or when I’m just standing at the back of church. Be in tune with different callings, and don’t think that God will always speak to you as you would expect.

So – don’t be scared of trying and testing a few things. If you think you might be able to live for God in a certain place or a certain way – go and do it! If it’s the wrong thing, He will guide you to where He wants to use you.

What is your vision for Beulah in years to come? How do you think God might use it?

We would absolutely love to liberate more women, so expand the company and create a hub of employment for vulnerable people. We would love to have these women involved at every level of the company, in the business, the admin, right at the core and heart of Beulah. I suppose we are looking ultimately to be a kingdom business, to operate in a godly way.

Just like our church vision – we want to play our part in the re-evangelisation of the nations and the transformation of society – and we are always learning how to do this in every aspect of the business. We would also love for other companies to see the way we operate and be inspired to work the same way – that would be amazing, for there to be a network of kingdom businesses.

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A huge thank you to Lavinia for speaking with us back in September – we loved hearing from her and hope you do too! You can read the rest of our Faith Worked Out interview series here.

The Art of Decision-Making

This post is transcribed from Emma’s wonderful talk on 22/11/14 at St John’s College, Durham University for the event ‘A Life More Precious’.
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The years we spend at school and university, as well as the post-university season of life, are all times in our lives when we are faced with lots of big decisions. Which GCSEs and A levels shall I do? Which activities am I going to be involved with? Shall I do further study after school, or travel, or find a job?

And as we know, the Bible doesn’t always give us a precise answer for every single decision we face. But what does the Bible tell us about making decisions?

What is the art of making a great decision?

Let’s take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.

 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Right here, God gives us the big picture – the answer. Four words. Verse 33:

Seek first His Kingdom.

This is a radical way of living. Seeking first God’s kingdom means that He the number one priority in our lives. It means that we seek him first, before anything or anyone else, and that we surrender all things to Him.

It means that we don’t live lives full of ‘as long as’ moments, like where we might say: ‘God I completely trust you and give you my heart, just as long as I get a 2.1, or as long as I have a boyfriend, or as long as I graduate with a grad job, or get to live with that group of housemates next year, or as long as I feel like I’m winning in at least one area of my life’.

Seeking first God’s kingdom means that we seek His glory wholeheartedly, passionately, 100%, full on! It is unequivocal. There are no more ‘as long as’ moments; we surrender everything to Him. We give our first and our best to him.

We need to remember that we are part of His kingdom,
He is not a part of our kingdom.

The other half of the story that we see in these verses is that we are called to trust God with the details. It’s all the way through the passage in Matthew 6: ‘do not worry… do not worry… do not worry…’.

What’s the summary? Jesus is saying, don’t get caught up in worrying about the details.

He calls us to:

Seek first God’s kingdom and trust Him with the details.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that the decisions we make should be taken lightly or not thought through. Absolutely not. God gives us brains. He expects us to use them. He calls us to be wise. We should find out the facts, do due diligence, engage our minds with situations we face.

But Jesus commands us not to worry about the details, and whether we will have what we need, because he promises to give us everything we need to do what he has called us to do.

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So how do we do all this?
How do we seek first God’s kingdom and trust Him with the details?

In order to make decisions that seek God’s Kingdom first, we have to look to Him first. We get on our knees and fix our eyes on Jesus. Why? Because when we do this, we see that we can trust Him with the details.

Fixing our eyes on Him reminds us of who He is. Real prosperity is only found in Jesus Christ. We need nothing else. Jesus loves us more than we can even imagine. The God of the entire universe, the creator of everything that we see around us, the God of the whole of history, loves us, enough to send his son to die for us. He made the biggest sacrifice that can ever be made, for us.

Even though you and I are just one little tiny microscopic dot on the vast canvas that is the whole of the history of humanity, God knows our names. He knows our deepest fears and our biggest dreams. And because of Jesus’ abundant and overwhelming love, we can be in a relationship with Him.

The more we grasp the immense love that Jesus has for us, the greater our joy will become. It is contagious. It is unbridled. It is unconstrained and infectious. It is relentless. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we grow in the joy it is to know Christ.

Psalm 23 says:

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.

So in practice, when we pray and worship God, we acknowledge who He really is. It is a way of articulating all that we believe about God, and saying that it is true.

We acknowledge that there is a God, and it is not me. When we speak to wise Christian friends, they also help point us to Jesus too.

The more I see God as He really is, the more I see that I can make decisions where I seek His kingdom first, and trust everything to His unfailing love.

Every single detail.

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Emma

Emma

Emma graduated from Cambridge two years ago, having studied law. She now enjoys working in finance, which comes as a surprise to those who know her. Emma lives in Cambridge and loves being a member of Christ Church. She loves music, food, Jesus, her friends and since her wedding in April this year (!) is loving the adventure of marriage!

Listen and Follow

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Today we’re looking at John 10:2-15 – ‘Jesus the Shepherd’

Jesus said: “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.

Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

The shepherd calls his sheep, and goes on ahead of them.

The sheep listen to the Shepherd’s voice, and follow him, because they know his voice.

So often I spend my time wondering what I am supposed to be doing… but in fact it’s very simple – listen and follow! 

The shepherd (Jesus) knows his sheep (including me) and his sheep (including me) know him.
He lays down his life for them (including me). He brings life to the full (including to me). What amazing truths! 

Our challenge: to listen and follow!

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Contributor

Margaret

Margaret is the mother of our regular contributor, Emma. She lives in Cambridge and like Hannie, Lucy and Emma is a member of Christ Church. She teaches English in one of the Cambridge schools.

 

Blessing in the Battles

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Something I’m not very good at is recognising answered prayers, and remembering that God is at work in my life every single day. It’s easy to fire back some ‘Please God’ prayers, but to try and cultivate a greater awareness of God’s hand in my life, and a sense of gratitude for His goodness, I have started to instead write my prayers and my thoughts in two columns:

Blessings.                                               Battles.

Sometimes, our idea of ‘good’ or of ‘blessing’ tends to get mixed up with our worldly perspective of happiness: the idea of fun, of feeling comfortable. We tend to mistakenly think that we are strongest on our Good Days, the times when we are feeling energised or happy.

Romans 8:28 doesn’t speak of ‘blessings’ as such, but it speaks of God’s sovereignty in our lives, and how His hand is over every good experience, and every bad. It reminds us that they are all in His plan:

“All things work together for good to them that love the Lord,
to them who are the called, according to His purpose.”

Romans 8:28

I used to read this and subconsciously wonder when this season of ‘good’ would arrive for me. I thought it would come once I’d finished school, once I’d started university. It was easy to think that perhaps in The Future, things would finally come good: by then, I’d have found all my life-long friends, my skin would have cleared up, I would have acquired the right amount of clothes for every occasion, I’d ideally be fairly comfortable, and perhaps I’d even finally be in the habit of going to the gym every morning…

We’re in a society where we can instantly ‘fix’ things if they are broken. And perhaps this was my mindset: that God ‘working all things together for my good’ translated into God fixing everything in my life, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with hard times. This isn’t quite the case.

For sure, as I’ve entered into each new chapter of life, I’ve been overwhelmed by good, showered with blessings from a God who is good, kind and faithful. However, in each stage, there is also always an underlying ripple of discontentment: there are always boring days, there are always sad days. There are crying friends, broken relationships, large-scale tragedies and internal conflicts.

There is a lot of illness, there is stress, insecurities, bad choices, and all the mess of the world that mounts up each and every day. There is a lot of good, but there is much pain and dissatisfaction sprinkled along the way.

There are battles.

And we will never reach a season of complete, uninterrupted ‘good’ in this life. And actually, in this world, we will always face discontentment.
Because this is not our home, and it is not how God intended it to be.

However, once I’ve realised this and started to think of life in these two tracks (blessings and battles) rather than always daydreaming ahead to an elusive future chapter where I have got things ‘sorted’ – I am instead learning to search for God’s goodness in the now, and to bloom where I am planted, knowing that there will always be battles along the way.

In my two (very long) columns, I have noticed a few things:

1. There far more blessings than I had realised or recognised, and I am not thankful enough.

2. My ‘battles’ often fade into their right place when I gain a Heavenly perspective, and remember that God is very present in both tracks of my life.

3. Feelings of self-pity or doubt tend to fade when you realise that your Creator is daily holding your world together, looking out for you, looking after you; ever-present in the very fabric of your life.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve also been learning this:

There are blessings in the battles.

I will be most benefited when I encounter God’s love and am made more like His Son Jesus; and that is likely to happen in the desert place, in the times that are hard, confusing and messy, the times when we feel like we are going backwards or struggling to see God at all.

When we feel most pressured, we are in the process of being refined, as daughters of a Father who wants the best for us and wants us to know Him more. This is the greatest ‘good’ we could experience – even when it doesn’t look like it.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way.
James 1:2-4 (MSG)

It is no wonder that we are happy when things are good – but it is a real testament to a faithful God when we are praising even in the desert place, to a God who gives and takes away. The greatest good that I can experience is the grace of God, and His unshakeable nature, which doesn’t depend on circumstances.

All these blessings and battles, all the good and not-so-good days – they are all according to God’s purpose. He has total control: even when things seem completely dark, totally chaotic, painfully boring or completely stagnant.

Praise to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.
Psalm 144:1 (NIV)

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Lucy Twitter-Bird@lucybeauchamp

I’m Lucy and I’m just beginning my final year at Durham University. I love my hometown Cambridge and I also love living in the beautiful little city of Durham, where the coffee shops are plentiful and the people are GREAT!

Running More Precious is one of my favourite things and it’s the biggest source of encouragement! Like I said in my bio, I’m still learning how to live out a little of the thankfulness of Pollyanna, the kindness of Katy Carr and the faith of the Proverbs 31:25 girl – perhaps one day I’ll get there!

The Challenge of ‘Getting Well’

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Today we’re looking at John 5: 1 – 9 – ‘Jesus At The Pool’

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.

Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him:

“Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

What can we learn from this?

The people at the pool were blind, lame and paralysed. Though we might not be physically blind, lame or paralysed ourselves, we are in the sense that we are so often unable to live in the way that God would intend for us.

One particular invalid had been by that pool for 38 years. Our problems can also become entrenched in our lifestyles – they can be long-standing and never-ending. But, Jesus asks if we want to get well.

Do we want the risk of change, are we up for facing the responsibilities that come with being fit and able-bodied?

The invalid felt isolated with no-one to help him. At our point of greatest need, we too feel utterly isolated and alone.

But look at this: Jesus commanded and the man obeyed and was healed. Emphatically, Jesus has the same power in our lives. He commands us to get up and get going – He gives us the power to do so!

We simply have to accept and obey.

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Contributor

Margaret

Margaret is the mother of our regular contributor, Emma. She lives in Cambridge and like Hannie, Lucy and Emma is a member of Christ Church. She teaches English in one of the Cambridge schools.

Faith Worked Out: Bobbie Cheema, QC

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As Christian girls growing up, decision making is at every corner – and it can sometimes be hard to see how faith and ‘normal life’ can fit together, let alone how our faith can be at the centre of all we do. How can we live as Christian girls in all sorts of different contexts? Last month, we launched our new interview series: Faith Worked Out, to try and answer these questions through a series of interviews with women from all paths of life. 

Today is our third interview of the series, and we have the immense privilege of hearing from Bobbie Cheema, QC. Bobbie is a Senior Treasury Counsel (the second woman ever to be so) and was appointed Silk in 2013. We are so excited to publish today’s post, as Bobbie shares with us some of the ways she has seen God work in her life, the lessons she has learnt along the way, and her advice on serving God in all we do. Enjoy! xo

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Fun Five

Fun Five

Book on my bedside table:
The Children Act by Ian McEwan.

My coffee order is: Stronger.

£10 treat:
A pedometer to walk further every day & Badedas for a long soak in the bath afterwards.

Favourite Bible verse?
“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

Most underrated virtue: Brevity.

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Why did you want to become a barrister and how did you work out what it is that God has put on your heart? What is the vision that He has given you for your life?

I wanted to be an astronaut. I had to change to something else because I was told NASA would not be interested in a girl from Yorkshire. I loved arguing and trying to persuade someone else that they were wrong. I liked the fact that in law there are rules which have to be worked within but which give real opportunity for flair.

I didn’t find it hard to work out what God had put on my heart, whenever I read the Bible it would be verses about justice and mercy that shone out. I didn’t start out with a plan or anything like a complete vision; I just wanted to be useful and do something really well.

As doors opened for me in law, one after the other, I realised that this was interesting work that gave me a sense of God being pleased with my efforts and that there was a place for a woman of faith in the less salubrious parts of society as reflected in the work of the criminal courts. My vision is to be a complete woman; I want to be a blessing to my husband and children and to do my job in a way that brings honour to God.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Most of my day is spent in court at the Old Bailey or other court, usually on my feet, arguing law, making speeches, calling witnesses or cross-examining defendants in murder or terrorism trials. I try to get out of the building for a few minutes at lunchtime for some fresh air.

I often have meetings to advise on upcoming cases after the court day and there is always lots of preparation and advisory paper-work to do including sometimes last minute advices for the Attorney General about whether sentences passed in serious cases around the country should be appealed on the basis that they are unduly lenient.

How do you try to keep God at the centre of your day to day life?

Because my own resources of patience, application, resilience and concentration are so limited I need God’s help all the time and so he is always right there, ready to help and I have no problem seeking his help.

I can tell quite quickly when I have not been actively seeking God’s presence in my work and when that happens it is as if I need to throw myself into a deep swimming pool to be refreshed again. So I do (metaphorically speaking).

As a Christian, what do you find most challenging about your work?

Often in my role I am trying to expose the truth which is sometimes uncomfortable for people and I know that the tough approach necessary to do that may seem inconsistent with kindness and gentleness and other fruit of the Spirit, so I have to make sure that I am in the right place with God when I do that work because it is not at all inconsistent.

There are many role models in the Bible: people who were strong in faith, active in society and not always popular, Queen Esther, Priscilla, Rahab, Daniel, David and many others. The fact that there are limits to what our court system can achieve is a challenge: at best we achieve human justice, at worse there may be injustice despite our best efforts.

I cannot take the many vulnerable people involved in criminal cases either as witnesses, victims or defendants into my arms and show them that there is the possibility of healing and hope. I can only try to reflect God’s love through the way I treat them, the respect and honour I try to give wherever it is possible in the way that I speak to them and look at them.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt?

Don’t have a ‘to do’ list. Do stuff instead.

Having your treasure in heaven means you can risk rejection from others and be fearless.

We are all much more capable than we think.

Be generous, always.

How can we be ambitious in our work in a way that honours God?

Working hard, being honest, honouring others and lifting up the weak have their own reward. Private morality is reflected in public life and if we focus on worshipping God in our hearts and not people-pleasing then God will honour us.

Ambition is not about diminishing other people. It is not easy. Sometimes it is very hard to keep ourselves pure. But it can be done; we have a wonderful model in Jesus. He was ambitious – he intended to save the entire human race even the billions not born.

It is ambitious to seek to be the best that you can possibly be in the work you have been given to do however hard it is: the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a prayer of absolute weakness but utter obedience. I don’t want to short-change God with the talents he has given me. I would rather end this life tonight, completely confident that I had lived it to the full, than hoard any part of my life in order to stretch it out.

When life is busy, how do you make time for rest and space with God?

My best times with God are when I am working, in the heat of the job, when I am under pressure and needing to lean on Him. That is when faith really counts. It can be hard to get regular long periods of solitude with God in this present season in my life but I am pretty good at praying on the move and having a Bible App on my phone and iPad means I can be engrossed in Daniel’s adventures while sitting on a tube-train (sometimes missing my stop as a result). I use Nicky Gumbel’s Bible in One Year which is fantastic and always thought provoking.

How would you encourage girls who are at a bit of a crossroads in their life, or about to face new challenges at school, university or work, and are looking to serve God passionately and whole-heartedly but unsure of the best way to do this?

Ask yourself what do I really like to do? Then what am I best at? Next what skill or quality would I most like to develop in my life?

God puts desires, talents and ambitions in us and so we need to learn to know ourselves and present ourselves to His examination. These questions tend to suggest the way ahead. Also ask an older woman you respect to pray with you and think about whether it will be constructive to make yourself accountable to her for a period. If you are really stuck, I would say always pick the option which gives you the most opportunity to serve others.

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We are so grateful to Bobbie for sharing her wisdom with us, and we hope her words encourage you to pursue God and bring Him honour in all you do. We’re praying that you would be passionate about serving Him as your King.

Begging and Believing

Red D

Today we’re looking at John 4:46-53 – ‘Jesus and the Official’s Son’

Once more, Jesus visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him:

“Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”

So he and his whole household believed.

Notice this..

The man ‘begged’ Jesus.

The man persisted with Jesus.

The man ‘took Jesus at his word’.

The man ‘believed’.

How hard do I petition Jesus for what I need? Do I see him as the only solution to everything or just those problems to which I have no solution of my own? Do I take Jesus at face value or do I remake him in my own image as limited and disinterested? Is my faith growing and maturing?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, may we bring everything to you and trust in your grace, love and power. Help us to know that your ways are higher than our ways, and your plans are greater than our plans. Amen.

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Contributor

Margaret

Margaret is the mother of our regular contributor, Emma. She lives in Cambridge and like Hannie, Lucy and Emma is a member of Christ Church. She teaches English in one of the Cambridge schools.

Stronger As We Go

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Today we’re looking at John 4:7-15 – ‘Jesus and the Samaritan Woman’

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
(For Jews did not usually speak to Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
 

…and also at John 4:31-34 

…Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work…”

 

‘Sustenance’ means strength – and we all need strength to keep going. Jesus said ‘whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’.

Later he said ‘my food is to do the will of him who sent me’. What can we learn from this? I picked out three things:

1. The ‘water’, (our spiritual refreshing), has to come from Jesus and only Jesus.

2. We should never feel spiritually needy if we dig deep into Jesus through the Bible and the Spirit inside us.

3. We need to emulate Jesus in seeing doing God’s will as something that sustains us, not something that tires us out or makes us weaker.

What an encouragement to start our day by remembering that we get stronger and healthier by attempting all that God wants us to do!

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Contributor

Margaret

Margaret is the mother of our regular contributor, Emma. She lives in Cambridge and like Hannie, Lucy and Emma is a member of Christ Church. She teaches English in one of the Cambridge schools.

 

Weak Made Strong

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I look through my diary for the next couple of weeks, and take a deep breath (and eat some smarties – they always help). That niggling overwhelming feeling sets in, and I start to worry that I need to add ‘breathe’ to my to do list, just in case I forget. How on earth will I get everything done?

Then when that rare spare evening does come round, I want to seize the opportunity and save the world by achieving 15 different things. But in reality, I end up doing one thing – rather badly – and am left feeling despondent and useless.

I so want to be someone who takes life totally in my stride, who is totally easy going and laid back. I want to live freely as a daughter of Jesus. I want to relish the opportunities He has given me, and jump at the chances I have to make even tiny, small differences in the lives of those around me.

But I feel so far away from this: I feel so weak, tired and overwhelmed, sometimes just by looking at my diary. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul says:

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

This verse can sound a bit back to front – why does Paul say that when he is weak, he is strong? It’s because when we are weak, we realise that we can’t do everything on our own. We realise that it’s not all about us. We acknowledge who we are before God – that we are in desperate need of a saviour, of forgiveness and of His love.

And with this truth comes great strength: the strongest ever strength (excuse the poor grammar but you know what I mean). Our loving Heavenly Father is unshakeable. He walks hand in hand with us, every step, every minute, every day. He commanded the entire universe into being, and also knows my name, my deepest anxieties and biggest dreams.

Half-way through a busy term, it is a good moment for us to take a breath, look at where we are. Are we trusting in God as our strength? Or do we think that we can get through the weeks ahead on our own? Or perhaps we feel ok most of the time, and that we will call on God when the going gets tough.

God is our only true strength. We can easily think that our strength is in our brains, our looks, our popularity, our sporting success, our family background, our ability to make things happen, or our money. The world will tell us we can get by on our own (or perhaps with a little help from our friends), but the Bible is clear: 1 Corinthians 16:11:

“Look to The Lord and his strength. Seek his face always.”

Let’s seek his face, and get on our knees in prayer – and literally on our knees as it helps us remember who God is.

God is our strength. He is never shaken.

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 Emma

Emma

Emma graduated from Cambridge two years ago, having studied law. She now enjoys working in finance, which comes as a surprise to those who know her. Emma lives in Cambridge and loves being a member of Christ Church. She loves music, food, Jesus, her friends and since her wedding in April this year (!) is loving the adventure of marriage!

Faith Worked Out: Adrienne Ferguson

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As Christian girls growing up, decision making is at every corner – and it can sometimes be hard to see how faith and ‘normal life’ can fit together, let alone how our faith can be at the centre of all we do. How can we live as Christian girls in all sorts of different contexts? Last week we kicked off Faith Worked Out to try and answer these questions through a series of interviews with women from all paths of life. 

Today is our second interview of the series, and we are hearing from Adrienne Ferguson of TreePress. Adrienne is one of those life-giving, encouraging ladies (that you just really want to be like when you grow up)… We are so very excited to share her stories and advice with you all this morning and hope they encourage you to live as girls of God. Read and enjoy!
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Fun Five

1. Favourite month
July- Wimbledon, pimms, Breton stripes, stars, camp fires, mangoes.
2. Habit I wish I could stop
Watching Made in Chelsea
3. Song I would sing in a large, echoey stairwell
Anything from Annie- childhood favourite in many stairwells!
4. Ideal dinner party guest
Emma Stone
5. Place on Earth most like Heaven
The hammock hanging under the treehouse in my parents garden- oh- with a coffee…

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Tell us about you and your journey so far…

My beautiful mama became a Christian a couple of years before I was born and so I have been blessed by being prayed over by warrior Christian women in home groups and bible studies for the past 37 years. Our church life was rich and full of amazing friends and families wherever we lived, and there was always space to ask questions and grace to make mistakes.

University was not wild or rebellious season, neither was it enlightened or spiritual – in terms of my faith, it was a very still, motionless time.  I was a spectator – but quite content to be sitting in the stands.

Next step was London and my first job as a teacher. City life was busy, fabulous, exciting and bursting with activity. But my faith had turned from apathetic viewing from the sidelines to restlessness and an acute sense of frustration.

Despite  cramming my life full, I felt completely empty. I saw a new course starting at a  church near Oxford Street (where I was shopping!) called Christianity Explained.

Little did I know that this was the pilot programme for what is now Christianity Explored  and throughout this time, I heard familiar bible verses and stories as if for the first time,as if they had been written just for me. I understood what Jesus dying on the cross meant for me, Adrienne, and there was a very gradual filling up. No more restlessness, or anxiety, but instead – the crazy peace that transcends all understanding. Amazing!!

Within months  I had confirmed any Christian cliches and had packed up my London life and moved to a missionary school in Kenya where I spend 3 years teaching surrounded by incredible Christian people who loved me and guided me in my new faith.

For the last 10 years I have been living in Edinburgh, teaching, growing, leading, listening, creating, building and by God’s grace have been used to serve him and serve others through drama, writing and working with kids. And 3 months ago I left teaching, packed up again, and moved to London to start my own business called TreePress

Whatʼs the story behind TreePress?

Laura and I met 8 years ago when she  came to the school I was teaching in as a GAP student from Sydney where she immediately joined me in the drama department to produce and direct school plays.

Throughout her time University over the next few years we continued to creatively collaborate and produce plays and events together – dreaming, and hair brain scheming in my parents treehouse.

After 10 years of directing school plays  I was finding it  a real challenge to source scripts and so started to write my my own plays. I then began to talk to publishers and found that they had their own challenges in resourcing the school stage. I could see the problem  and Laura – now a management consultant in digital strategy could see the solution.  Over the next 2 years we grew TreePress – an online marketplace connecting those who are writing plays to those who need them. And after  8 years – we are sitting next to each other again – and we’re loving it!

What do you love about what you do?

There is nothing more exciting than seeing something that you dreamt about come to life. To see action in your ideas. At its very core, theatre is a collaborative experience and we are in a position where we can support playwrights, theatres, teachers, directors and publishers and give them a platform and a community to encourage and build  their creativity and allow them to make a living from their craft.

And the net result: more performance in schools and the empathy, courage and confidence that it instills in young people. It gives people wings to fly – and we are able to watch everyone soar. What a privilege.

What or who do you have a heart for?

When stepping into a good theatre space, both audience and players  are creating an environment where what happens, for the time that it takes, is real. It’s a microscope on life,  an accelerated season where we are forced to form an opinion about what is important, and in doing so, we are then forced to form why it is important. Theatre encourages all those engaged in it to question – why? when?  what?  who?

I became a Christian as a 23 year old full of unanswered questions about what life was about – and I love building a business that creates space for people to question what is important and  and to explore  what makes us human. Drama fosters creativity, empathy, collaboration and courage and with that one can not escape to consider what you believe in.

What led you to use your gifts for God in this way?

Drama, writing  and story telling have always been at the heart beat of my life. In a church setting, I am completely hopeless with cooking, rotas and committees and have  always been far more comfortable speaking to people and sharing Gods word creatively. And, I have always been encouraged by my church, family, colleagues and friends to do it. Amazing people of God challenging me, pushing me, embracing me  and loving me.

How does your faith influence the way you approach day-to-day business?

TreePress is about investing in people whether they are  children, writers, teachers, directors or publishers. It is about building structures to love people and giving them the support  and strength to succeed so they can take flight. My faith guides how we talk to people and how we value them. It prompts me to always treat every conversation with dignity, respect and integrity. It gives me courage to fight when strength is needed, peace to know when to be still and courage when the fear descends.

What are the biggest things that God has taught you across this past year?

That He is in control. In the last 6 months I have had God’s incredible peace when quitting my job before we knew if we had funding, when leaving my flat with no-one in place to pay my mortgage, when moving country with no money to pay rent. At every scary stage, God put exactly the right people in my path to encourage me in every step. It’s been amazing to have felt his protection and direction in such a real way.

What advice would you give to young girls trying to figure out what direction to go in, wanting to serve God but not knowing exactly what that might look like?

Pray. Pray. Pray. Push doors, read, try new things, engage in the world around you, be bold, take risks, speak up, listen, ask questions – be out there living and know that your Heavenly Father is delighted with you and will not let you down. Go for it!

What encourages you from day-to-day to keep pursuing Jesus in every sphere of your life?

Knowing that I am completely useless without Him. That I am full of sin and brokenness and that my only hope is that by grace, I am loved and can somehow,  be used for God’s glory. Nothing makes sense without Jesus – and when I find myself looking inwards God is able to give me a glimpse of the  world through his eyes  and the strength and courage to step out in his name.

A big thank you to the wonderful Adrienne for encouraging us so much; let’s remember this week as we go out that we are useless without God, but yet we are loved and can be used for His glory – amazing!

Loving, not liking.

Emma writes for us today on how to do relationships with those people who we find hard, or who have hurt us. A great post to refer back to when you are finding it hard to practice forgiveness and grace with others, just like Jesus, and a wonderful reminder of how much God continually pours out His love on us, despite the ways we have hurt Him.

Ever meet someone you just don’t like? I have. Maybe because I’m a Christian and I’m supposed to love everyone I shouldn’t be saying that, but I just can’t deny it. There are people who just plain irritate me and annoy me, and I find it hard to spend time with them without wanting to roll my eyes or say something sarcastic.

But there are also people I don’t like because they have hurt me. There are people who are manipulative and mean. Some who are downright nasty. I can guarantee that you know some of these people too.

You might have heard these people being called ‘grace growers’. You know, because they take a liiiiittle bit more patience, and you find yourself quickly being reminded that God loves everyone. Even the anonymous person who ate your slice of cake (the one you’d been saving!).

Author Graham Cooke puts it marvellously:

‘Nasty people are our grace growers. They provide (unconsciously!) a shortcut into the nature of God’s kindness, love and goodness. Learn to spot the opportunity in the crisis and take advantage!’

It can be really, really hard to take advantage of the crisis. But it is possible. So how can we learn to love someone when we don’t like them?

1. Stand in their shoes

One thing that irritates me is when someone cuts me up when I’m driving. But one way I try to manage my annoyance is to imagine what it is like to be that person. I don’t know what’s going on in their head and I don’t know what’s happening in their life – a loved one could be in hospital and they could be anxiously driving to see them. The grumpy man at the supermarket checkout might be having a bad day at work. The new girl at school who I think is annoying might find new social situations difficult and be worried about how to make friends.

Ultimately, we don’t know what is going on in someone’s life that might be causing them to be angry, or irritated, or mean. Standing in their shoes helps us to feel empathetic and allows us to be more patient.

You will meet people who hurt you and disappoint you. It can be really, really hard to forgive, particularly if you feel that they are not deserving of your forgiveness. It feels unfair when the person isn’t sorry. But forgiveness is less about the person that has hurt you and more about you.

If we hold onto bitterness, not only will it poison us, but we allow the devil to breed resentment and anger within us. Understanding the reason for my irritation will help me to find a coping mechanism. It’s about changing the way you react. I cannot fix the person who hurt me or make them sorry; I can only change my attitude and control how I react towards the situation. The best way to react is to remember that we have hurt and disappointed God, not just once, but over and over again.

But God continues to forgive us, even when we don’t deserve it.
And if we want to be like Jesus, then we need to do the same.

2. WWJD?

But sometimes, we encounter people who are not just a slightly irritating, but people who deliberately hurt you. People who, no matter how hard you try or how much effort you put in, never seem to want to do anything but be unpleasant towards you. God gets this a lot.

So what would Jesus do? It’s a phrase known around the world and put on T-shirts and wristbands and bumper stickers for a reason. The question ‘what would Jesus do?’ is a great reminder to consider how we can emulate Jesus in any situation. So when you encounter a deliberately nasty person, ask yourself ‘how would Jesus respond to this person?’

Jesus was constantly surrounded by difficult people, people who didn’t like him or understand him and even people who wanted him dead. American pastor Rick Warren says that there were four ways Jesus dealt with difficult people:

- He realised he couldn’t please everybody. (John 5:30)
– He refused to play their game. (Matthew 22:18)
– He didn’t retaliate. (Matthew 5:38-39)
– He prayed for them and let God handle it. (Matthew 5:44)

3. Let go

It can be really difficult to not allow ourselves to get dragged into arguments and fights. I have found it difficult to let go and allow God to take care of things in some relationships with difficult people, because I felt like a failure and a bad friend. But I realised that a friendship with someone who treated me badly was dragging me down and causing me to behave in way that wasn’t loving or honouring God. The situation made me frustrated and hateful. The blame didn’t lie with the person I was angry with, because again, I didn’t know what was happening in their life to cause them to behave like that.

Jesus stopped himself from being distracted by crowds who wanted to see him, by removing himself and spending time alone with God (Luke 5:15-16). He didn’t remove himself as a reaction to their behaviour, but because he needed to focus and protect himself. In the same way, it is not wrong to end friendships that distract you from focusing on God, just as you would remove yourself from a situation that might tempt you or hinder you from being the person God made you to be.

We can approach friendships in a grace-filled way, always praying about how best to invest our time and energy as Christians with the people around us.

4. Love

But there is another way that Jesus responded to difficult people: with love. Jesus loved everyone, even the people who killed him. The more you live in the knowledge of God’s grace for you, the easier it becomes to love other people. This is why it is important not to listen to what other people say about us and form our identity from that – but to spend time in God’s word, embedding deeply into our hearts that God loves and cares for us.

It seems like it’s hard to love people you don’t like. But love is about actions, not about feelings. To love your neighbour is not about liking them. 1 Corinthians 13 lays it all out for us.

Love is about actions. To love someone is to be patient with them, to be kind to them, to not get angry and to forgive easily. In that way, it is possible to love someone and not like them. And that’s okay.

NB: If you are experiencing hurtful behaviour from others that you think might be bullying, always speak to your parents or somebody trusted about it, seek further advice and perhaps take a look athttp://www.bullying.co.uk/ 

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Emma

Emma

Emma lives and works in the fabulous city of Leeds with her husband, Tim. She has a passion for encouraging those who are low in spirit and loves to hear stories of God’s perfect timing. Her favourite things include a good latte, travelling, eating dessert for breakfast, dim sum and making people happy with food.

Click here to read the rest of Emma’s posts.

Truly in the Kingdom

Autumn

Today we’re looking at John 3:1-8 – ‘Jesus and Nicodemus’

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

What can we learn from this?

‘Very truly I tell you…’
This shows us that Jesus has authority to speak – he knows the truth and imparts it to us in a one-way communication which is far from reciprocal.

‘No one can see/enter the kingdom of God unless…’
We are all the same without God – we all have the same need, no exceptions. We cannot have access to God’s kingdom on our own. Without him we are outsiders to the kingdom.

‘…unless he is born again / of water and the Spirit’
Birth is a one-off, and spiritual ‘birth’ into new life with Jesus is only needed once – no matter how many mistakes we make! Once we have experienced spiritual rebirth through committing our lives to Jesus, we are truly in the kingdom, just as a baby, once born, is always in the world.

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Contributor

Margaret

Margaret is the mother of our regular contributor, Emma. She lives in Cambridge and like Hannie, Lucy and Emma is a member of Christ Church. She teaches English in one of the Cambridge schools.

 

 

 

Finding My Strength

Today’s guest post tells one girl’s story that speaks very powerfully of God’s sovereignty in situations where we cannot seem to see a plan, or understand our situation. It is a beautiful presentation of what true joy looks like. We have found this an incredibly life-giving testimony and we hope you will too.

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Standing in my gown outside Durham Cathedral in July, I don’t think I could quite take in the fact that I had made it to the end of three years and that I was actually graduating. Everyone says going to university is a life-changing experience, but when I started the journey north in October 2011 it was safe to say my expectations were way off course!

Having heard about freshers’ flu, when I succumbed to it in week three I felt it was a rite of passage and I could now share the experience of my peers. However, by week six, when I was still bed-bound and feeling as though I had been hit by a sledgehammer every morning, my rite of passage seemed a very different experience.

I spent the winter months trekking up and down the hills of Durham, falling asleep in lectures, and struggling through my essays. I tried my best to keep praying and trusting God that I would get better soon, that the doctor would give me a diagnosis, and that I would start enjoying university life.

Second term became more harrowing, however, after the doctor confirmed that I’d had Glandular Fever and had now succumbed to Post Viral Fatigue. A diagnosis provided an explanation as to why the description of being tired had taken on a whole new meaning. However, there is no end date or recovery time frame that goes with the explanation, nor any way of curing it. It is debilitating and life-changing.

Over the next six months, my body and mind continued to take a painful and terrifying battering. I spent countless hours and days trapped in my college room, held back by pain, fear and worry on a scale I had never experienced before. I clung onto a dim hope that God would pull me through. (Of course, with hindsight, I can say that that hope wasn’t dim at all – God was shining through the darkness!)

In a letter I received from my boyfriend, he wrote these words:

“You are loved by God, therefore find strength in him…
Your purpose in Durham will be revealed and I know you can find strength in God”.

He then quoted Deuteronomy 31:8:

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you,
He will never leave your nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.”

This verse came to be my source of strength and comfort as I battled on, not knowing or understanding why I felt so much physical and mental pain, but knowing that God was beside me, protecting me, and would see me through.

As I re-read my diary from first year I can re-live the nights when I would be awake until the early hours frightened, worried and confused, or the days when I could hardly function due to pain or exhaustion. And yet I would still have incredible (albeit miniature) moments of calm, where God would break in and restore order and give me peace which transcended all understanding.

My room became plastered with bible verses as visual reminders of what to do when it all became too much. 1 Peter 5:7 was stuck above my mirror – “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” – reminding me to lay all of my worries, problems, fears and thoughts before God, to trust him to make sense of things because He loves me.

What I found most challenging was the battle going on in my mind. According to a rather blunt doctor at home, “having PVF means your body is depressed, so obviously your mind is going to be depressed too”. Depression was another bombshell I had not anticipated and wasn’t ready to accept, even if it was one facet of the illness and normal for those who have had Glandular Fever. Being a Christian and being depressed seemed just totally unacceptable – I was supposed to have the joy of the Lord inside my heart which would make everything better! Yet despite the fact I was clinging onto the certainty that God would get me through to the other side, I suffered panic attacks, nightmares and insomnia.

The summer of 2012 saw me reach the lowest and darkest point of my life to date. I was so ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t pull myself out of it, and of the pain I was causing to those who I loved most.

But God was working in the darkness, shaping me and moulding me.

Since my GCSE year I have loved Jeremiah 29:11:

“For I know the plans I have for you,”
declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future”.

During the darkest time I couldn’t make out the plan, understand it, or see what lay ahead but I knew God had one. Trusting when everything else crumbles sometimes feels like you’re clinging onto a rock on the side of a cliff with one hand. But that is faith, and it gave me the strength to push on.

Looking back over the three years, I can clearly see how God brought people into my life to support and sustain me. I became surrounded by people who cared for me and prayed for me persistently, never getting annoyed or bored by the seemingly unending tiredness and despair. I found a church and cell group who, I think unknowingly, became the foundation for my security and stability in Durham, and provided me with spiritual nourishment to turn a corner and fight on.

So after contemplating dropping out over a dozen times, attending less than fifty percent of my contact hours, and battling with my body and mind for two and a half years, I actually finished university on a high. It may not have been the university experience I expected, but God pulled out all the stops. His grace was abundant, his provision perfect, and his power immeasurable.

Illness, especially when out of the blue and long term, has the power to define and crush you. It took me on a journey which I didn’t want, hadn’t bargained for, and didn’t enjoy. But I am thankful for what it taught me. It forced me to live day by day.

When you are seemingly left with nothing, God provides time and time again, and brings you joy in the smallest and most insignificant of things. I realised that being joyful and experiencing joy in the Lord has nothing to do with always smiling, being the most involved Christian, or even being overly happy.

It is the quiet, unshakeable knowledge that God is Lord of all, he is faithful, and he will deliver you from evil, even if you can’t fathom how, when or why.

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Lucy

Since graduating Lucy has moved back home to south-east London and is just about to start a job in the city. She loves singing and performing and has (nervously) ventured to ballet classes. She is excited to see what comes next in God’s plan and is still learning what it means to find joy, and to trust God amid everyday life!

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