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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Discouragement’s Importance In Every Person’s Journey

What a victory Elijah had had for the Lord in 1 Kings 18! He had singlehandedly conquered a whole swath of idolatrous prophets — those ascribing their worship to their impotent god, Baal. What Elijah didn’t count on, however, was how that victory would incite the ire of the King’s wife.  He had twenty-four hours to get out of town![1]
Out of victory, having experienced maximal favour of the Lord, comes the threat of death.
There are times in our lives, perhaps after a time of lucid encouragement, when we’re slapped down.  In a mix of emotion, shock bypasses all our veneers of emotional protection, and immediately we’re tossed down without defence, and thrust into a depression.  Depressed!  How did it so quickly assail us?
That is discouragement.     It’s an experience common to all humankind.     Yet, the absurdity is we feel all alone.     About as alien as we could.     We never realise the next person could be as discouraged as we are, or more!
We enter into the temptation to shrink back, to isolate, to avoid all difficulty.  Fear causes us to hide when the cause of help would be to share our burden and take a hiatus.
And for a time, we go into avoidance mode, into that fake place of ‘safety’. It’s understandable. We’re trying to reconcile just what happened, what we’re to do about it, and how to respond and recover the lost ground. We need privacy about now, or so we think.
Discouragement is both a temptation and a test. It depends on how we think about it.  It’s our thinking that has to be challenged. If we continue to think fearful thoughts, we’ll succumb and isolate. But if we acknowledge how we feel in our thinking, telling ourselves it’s okay — indeed, understandable — God can give us the strength to manage the thinking moment.  Panic can give way to peace; chaos to calmness. Even when we’re still flailing.
God has a role for discouragement.
Discouragement makes us depend on God which causes growth in humility and integrity. Journeying with God through discouragement takes us deeper in the experience of bearing reality. It’s His greatest wish for us, that we would love truth. And if we can love a reality that breaks us, we can love God no matter what. Could anything then defeat us? We would have nothing left to fear other than having a right fear of God, Himself.
See how important discouragement is as an activator for growth? It’s never nice, but it is necessary. And if that’s no encouragement for you in being discouraged, take heart and know semblances of confidence will return soon enough, especially if we allow ourselves the freedom to be vulnerable enough to share with our loved ones.
Discouragement reveals us as true disciples, reeling in a reality that redeems God’s strength if only we stay weak.
Discouragement’s purpose is to goad us to get on with our journey of dependence on God.  As soon as we’re truly dependent on God we quickly realise the importance of trusted others in sharing our burdens.
Stay strong in your weakness, and in that be blessed knowing He is with you and for you!
Steve Wickham.


[1] See 1 Kings 19:2.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When Loss Opens Eternity’s Doors Through Grief

Stories were the theme of my day recently.  Narratives of life… of family, distant and imminent, of the weariness of time, of pain and loss, through death and separation… but also of reconnection, of hope for a future beyond loss, of achievement underpinned by purpose.
We all have stories, and every story is interesting.  Ann Oakley (nee Hawke), a beautiful indigenous person, grew up completely separated from her family — from her mother and siblings — and was ‘loved’ by countless foster families, many of whom were well intentioned but woefully ill-equipped to love a child with a torn identity.  After two decades and more of running, fighting, and grieving a world of hurt, it was the elders within her indigenous community who took her as a broken human being and counselled her in forgiveness, in reconciling more loss than most of us could understand.
Then there’s the story of Ray Palmer.  He and his wife received a knock at the door by uniformed men in 2010 that shattered their lives.  Their son was serving in Afghanistan.  He’d been killed in a helicopter tragedy.  As Ray shared his story, his relived grief as fresh in some ways as the day he first heard the news, I realised afresh, their son will never return to them.  There is something irrefutably final in loss; it makes sure grief forces its ways through the barred doors of our emotional citadel.
I don’t want to over-spiritualise death, but I’m afraid I cannot help it.  Death is spiritual.  Death takes us into another world.
Of recent I’ve been playing the haunting 1999 track, Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? By Moby.  There is something utterly life-giving, in the eventualities of experience, in willingly going to the depths of agony.  Our soul hears the heartache in songs that repeal joy for a wailing sorrow.  We know life is like that.  Life crushes every one of us.  Within every one of our stories is an eternity of sorrow.  And yet that’s exactly what deepens us in life.  It’s precisely what makes us humans of substance.
Grief does something to me as I connect with it.  Being in relationship with it, having recovered from the unrivalled soul-lonely pain of loss, I have found is a gift — eternity’s door is then ever ajar for reminiscences that requite gratitude.
We’re enlarged by grief in the longer run, because that’s what eternity does to us when she touches us.
My grief is treasured in the loss of a once-cherished marriage and in the loss of a son who will never return to us.
It is only my faith in God that can explain how life-shattering sorrow is turned to a deep abiding joy.
Loss opens eternity’s doors to us in our grief.
It’s a gift we never realise at the time; a compensation
experienced later.
Photo: an enduring image of the moment, 11pm 30 October, 2014, I met my deceased son.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

3 Places You Draw Your Needs From?

We draw our needs from three potential places: from others, from ourselves, and from God.  Only when we draw our needs from God are we in the lap of God’s will.
Drawing Our Needs From Others
Co-dependency is one example of where we need others to fulfil us.  Another is in the practice of serving others so that we would be fulfilled; that to please others is the only way we can be pleased.  When we draw our needs from others, we don’t rely on God or draw on the resources God has given us for our use for ourselves and others.
Drawing Our Needs From Ourselves
Working in our own strength is only sustainable for a while, then we tip into burnout, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, disappointment, and ultimately despair.  When we draw our needs from ourselves, we act as if we don’t need God or others.
Drawing Our Needs From God
Reliance on God is not a thing that can be taught to anyone, except by the Holy Spirit.  Only the Spirit of God can convict a person to understand the fact: life runs best when we dwell along the axis of God’s will.  When we draw our needs from God, we’re best for ourselves and others, which means we’re best for God.  God knows we need others and He gives us what we need for ourselves, but only when we draw our needs from God can we need others and ourselves appropriately.
May God truly bless you as you draw your needs from God,
Steve Wickham.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

What Begins When Love Ends

This is all just words.
Just words.
No story.  Nothing to tickle or titillate.  Nowhere is a story a help to some other than when it’s told and told so well as to be left there, as it is, to be experienced, to elicit unjudged feelings.
These words here are but an attempt to recapitulate the concept of loss and to postulate the idea that there is purpose in loss.  Further, that loss endured is life-giving, even if that’s your search yet you’ve not found it yet.  Still, by faith, you’re compelled forth into an impossibility that God has echoed, somehow; that which cannot be ignored, as real, though still unreal.
It’s coming, if it hasn’t come already.  It tarries for nobody.  It moves without warning and stuns us, bringing us to a depth of life we never thought quite hellishly possible.  Loss.  It comes.  Don’t be anxious.
***
Grief begins when love ends, yet in endurance emerges persistence, grit, honesty, and brokenness.  Faith, in one word.  All because something wonderful ended, such that something more wonderful could begin; a journey into the rawness of self without pretentious masquerade.
Grief introduces us to a journey we would never take of our own volition; a pilgrimage taken alone, no matter the company of friends; a sojourn where God calls life to a screeching halt.
And, all that said, traversing grief, true to your reality, dependent on God alone, unafraid of emotional meltdowns, learning to feel broken, accepting enervating despair that feels permanent, experiencing joy through a sepia filter of sorrow, qualifies the sojourner for a copious salvation, a great compensation of God, which is faith’s reward for trust.
One possession grief leaves us with is the gift of remembrance.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, September 2, 2016

What God Taught Me at School Today

As I shovelled mulch into the wheelbarrow I had four young male students engage me in the finer points of the work.  One was Indian, another Caucasian, another African American, and the final boy was Asian.  I was captivated more by their unity of friendship than their curiosity for my work, even as I did explain the benefits of mulch for gardens and how to move the product.
Their unity shouldn’t have seemed strange.  It should make us enquire about it, and give us cause to celebrate it.  And though it would seem that these four boys would have their disagreements from time to time, as occurs in all walks of life when we share a common space with others, it appears that there’s more that connects them than separates them.
Yet, as we grow older, and certainly into adolescence and subsequent adulthood, we’re more often than not polarised by our world to be separatist in one way or other.  We’re expected to choose political and religious alliances, not to mention the fact we’re trained in life to have an opinion on almost everything.
As soon as we decide to have a view we prove ourselves as separatist, unless we hold in mature tension the idea that there is one thing more important than the view we’ve chosen.  That is that the next person’s right to choose in opposition is as sacred a right as ours is to choose as we have done.  If we’ve agreed beforehand that that will be our value, we have every right to hold a view.
We must always hold ourselves to the shortest account on our suspicion of others and of our excusing of ourselves.  We question the other’s motive, yet our motive is as pure as driven snow.  That’s default human nature; we have to contend with ourselves first and foremost.  The problem is in us, or begins with us, not so much the other person.  (Of course, the opposite is also true, if we look at things from their viewpoint.)
***
Four six-year-old boys, each of different ethnicity, yet best of friends, taught me that unity transcends difference.  What love puts together, indifference will not separate.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Greatest Thing About Pain

Pain there is in myriad amount and variety.  We cannot escape the fact that there is pain in this world, in each of our lives, circumstantially and existentially.  Pain is so inlaid within life it causes us to ask a question as to its role.
If pain is taken as a given — again, there are so many variations of pain, all of which are valid, even if some versions of pain are more compellingly valid than others — we have an option.  Wrestle with it or give into it?  But notice that it’s only by making the right choice (to wrestle) that we access the only compensation for pain — the greatest thing about pain is what’s coming.  Whatever is coming that instils joy is hope.
The greatest thing about pain is the hope that says, “this will soon be over.”  That hope inspires us to persevere.  And persevere we must.  No other viable option remains.  So, we are challenged to rest up, and not give up.  A great many decisions to persist were made out of a resolve that came out of a peace-lit reflection — where we took all the ligatures off ourselves, thought with clarity, and realised with boldness that our challenge is doable.
This is where the Christian hope sets free those in pain, to a future that transcends the pain.  Heaven, in a word; where there will be no more tears and pain (read Revelation 21-22).
This will soon be over, when God wills it over.  And compared with eternity, our lives are so correspondingly short.
Yet, there are many types of pain that are temporary, where the hope we may hold has viability in this life.  Whether it’s fatigue or physical pain or depression or grief or loneliness; there is hope in this life that such pain has an end in this life.  These are the foretastes of heaven in the manner of our very lives.
Such a hope has to captivate our attention, because it causes us to hope in the majestic lived reality of faith; the only logical way to live, which, paradoxically, would seem illogical.
Pain forces us to hope or it drives us into oblivion.  See how there’s only the one option?
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

When Tears Flow for Another’s Success

OVERCOME with emotion right now, difficult as it is to see these letters typed onto the screen of my Surface Pro.  I’m so very thankful.
Having just returned from taking a very special friend, basically an extension of my family, someone I’ve been a pastor to, and a person we’ve become connected with; his family and our own family — a kinship.  We’ve very much travelled a unique journey together over the past nearly two years.  We’ve had such significant losses to deal with; the centrepiece of such losses occurred on the same date — no coincidence; a God-incidence.  We’ve faced the worst together, and met the best side by side.
This very special young man goes to England, boarding his aircraft even as I type these words, to play professional basketball in the British Basketball League.  And yet to know his journey and the setbacks that he’s dealt with, he is a walking miracle of God’s grace — a fine young man in any guileless person’s standard.  A man of faith and character.
So, as I prayed in departures before we said goodbye I thought nothing of emotion, until I was walking away.  Then God showed me a vision!  Back to a time two months earlier when his doubts were more certain that this dream-come-true was actually happening.  And still, in the present moment, so thankful to God were we both, with his mother and father and all his dear friends, for the fact that this moment had finally arrived.
When you invest yourself in another person’s life it’s a labour of love and you never expect anything in return.  Serving is its own reward.  But then when they do succeed in ways you or they couldn’t anticipate you’re blessed in being overcome with gratitude for what you feel for the fact of their success.
Thank you, Lord!
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Why When Everything Matters, Nothing Matters

Everything matters in life when we care, but there comes a point where that sort of modus operandi no longer works.  It involves too many risks, it takes too much energy, and burns too many bridges.  And, like with busyness, caring too much about too many things runs us ragged, not just spiritually, but behaviourally, and in our compassion fatigue, we find ourselves on a slippery slope to emotional despair.
The encouragement in this is the opposite is also true.
The fewer things we actually care about, the more we can authentically care.  So in today’s world where there are so many things we can and should care about, we may feel guilty for not caring.  But wisdom decrees a choice still needs to be made.
Some things are worthy of our care,
other things we choose to care about are not.
I’ve found personally, a great awakening in this fact, that the more I don’t care, the better off I am for caring most about the things that really count.  The less scattered I am, the more solidified I’m able to be to care for the things that truly matter.  The less I’m bothered, the more I’m safe within myself for others.
This is about moving from caring about what people think of me to caring more attentively about what people think; from stressing too much about my anxieties and insecurities to trusting these, through acceptance, to God’s care; from worrying about the future to knowing God cares and, in letting go, trusting His plan, because I can do no other wiser thing than to accept His plan; from grieving about my circumstances to mourning for those suffering much more than I presently am.
This is not about caring less, per se, rather than it’s about caring about the right things in the right way, for the right reasons.
***
When care is undiluted,
attention is focused,
so care has good effect,
and intimacy is experienced.
The truth is when everything matters, nothing matters.  But when we can surrender that all-encompassing passion, honing it in the acceptance that says “I can’t control everything, nor even more than a few small but important things,” all that passion comes to be funnelled into something useful — a tempered passion enshrined in humility that knows there are always limits.  Limits for our good.
Those small yet important things that we have control over are our expectations and attitudes.  And although they’re small, they’re crucially important, for our attitudes and expectations will either reconcile or ruin us.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Turning Frustration Into Fun

Through one ten-hour day on the road delivering meals all over the metropolitan area I counted up about seventy-three frustrations — from being cognitively overwhelmed, to fleeting confusion about my routes, to delays in traffic, to non-obliging customers, to responses from other road users, to shifting loads and other surprises, to the excessive noise distracting concentration in packing those parcels in an industrial kitchen, even to my own responses to my own fallible decisions on the road, etc.  A litany of hindrance.  In one working day.
It was as if I was being exposed to every possible frustration within the myriad array.
But the frustrations, themselves, it became apparent, weren’t the central point.
Quickly, God was revealing something deeper in the fabric of possibility.
Frustrations reveal the hidden dimension, behind which is manifest the spiritual realm of character testing.
Within testing, frustrations have their unique and God-appointed-and-shaped purpose.
Only as I let each of these seventy-odd frustrations wash up hard against me did they erode my anger from within me.  Even as I tensed up, as if to give way to the anger, I felt a Presence within me reminding me, “It’s a test, so just give your tension to Me.”  God showed me, with every ascending temptation to frustration, that each one was a test; and that each one I was able to easily overcome if only I was aware it was a test!
If we go the opposite way, letting frustration mount up on the wings of anger, stock-piling it, then rage threatens with unparalleled and frightening immediacy.
Rage catches up with everyone who must hide their honesty.  Frustration is quickly turned to anger in the form of rage for the person who cannot live the sort of reality for which their deepest soul craves.
The task is clear.  Let us ensure frustration becomes something useful, not something violent.  If only we could turn the frustration into something useful, and we can.  If only we could turn it into something akin to its polar opposite: fun.
***
When frustrations are taken mindfully, and that mindfulness of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, makes us aware of the testing, we’re able to see it, overcome the frustration, then to enjoy a spiritual strength we perhaps had never before seen.  That joy makes us laugh; for spiritual capacities in torment, for potentialities of distance in tumult, for perspective in the trial.
Suddenly we’re having fun in our frustration, and we might say in our response to the frustration, as Jesus did, “Get behind me, Satan.”
With every frustration won over, and not a temptation lost to rage, we’ve endured patiently, through surrender.
The awareness that sees frustration as temptation to anger is the same awareness empowering us to endure patiently.
When we know how to deal with frustrations in the moment, we’re then able to find the fun in what comes next.
The feeling of victory when we overcome our frustration is tantamount to joy.  And that’s the best sort of fun!
What is the use of frustration other than as impetus to overcome it?
***
As I reflected over the day that could’ve been from hell, both in those very moments, and especially later, I was given cause to thank God for the situational awareness only He could give me.  To manage those moments, with courage, patience, and the wisdom to know, “This, too, shall pass.”  And, to experience victory over those frustrations.
It’s in these times of shrieking defeat that we still have the choice, smile, breathe, be still, and start all over again.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Wise Maxim for Marriage, Ministry, Life

Talking the important issues of life about five minutes before bed one night, and my wife says, “It’s a tension.  A Master of Divinity taught me it’s all about the tension — work your heart out whilst learning to relax.”
My wife has uttered some gems in her time in my life, but none better are they than this.
It applies just as much to marriage as it does to ministry as it does to life.
Work hard, resisting resenting anything along the way, and let go of everything that would hold you back.
Acknowledge that everything worthwhile is worthy of hardship while we work: marriage, ministry, life.  All of what we’d call worthy is cheapened when we expect it to be easier than the hardest thing we’d ever do.  And at the very same time, everything that we experience is either to be inculcated within or cast aside.
In marriage we’ve learned that married life is hard work.  It was never meant to be anything else.  Only when we approach marriage with a hard work ethic, then do we experience the joys that only God, in our diligence, could give us.
Joys come as a consequence of knowing expectation is the temptress of the foolish.
I’m sure it’s the unromantic couples that have the happiest of marriages.  They don’t allow the folly of fairy tales to script their relationship.  Instead, they take control of the manageable things, leaving the unmanageable things to a trustworthy God.
It’s the same with ministry.  It’s about service, humility, other people, and discipline.  Only when we enjoy doing the work of ministry, for what that work is alone, are we treated to the joys replete with the Holy Spirit’s Presence.
Why do we allow ourselves to get deluded in the romanticism of the world, when, in terms of ministry, our Bibles are full of the only applicable guidance?
Life holds us to the same measure of wisdom.  Work hard.  Enjoy the work.  Let go of anything unworthy.  Enjoy the joys that come as a result.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.