My past is a trail highlighted by the places where flowers grew. I can track my life in flowers and foliage. I can’t tell you who was with me during many childhood events, or even what we did, but I can tell you the colors of the flowers and the kind of plants that grew nearby.
I’ve always been drawn to flowers. My first wanderings, at the age of four, were in search of flowers. Out of the yard, into the nearby graveyard, and across the lawn to bouquets conveniently placed for my little fingers and sniffing nose to find. (Yes, that journey got me into trouble.) I have no memory of the gravestones but I still remember the flowers. When I was five or six I experienced the wonder of God in a beautiful encounter with an iris. (You can read the story of this first powerful connection to beauty in the post, ‘Beautiful Journey’.)
It’s only recently I’ve come to see how my path has been dusted by beauty, scents, and the colors of flowers. I denied them room in my life for many years as I sought a professional career. I was a woman in management in a man’s world—yes, it was a struggle back in those days. In one instance, I was actually told to my face I would never get the job because I wasn’t a man. I met the challenges and won some battles, but the cost was high. What it really took from me was the beauty of flowers. I began to choose black or gray suits and filled my world with dark, muted colors to diminish any femininity that might come leaking out and undermine my goals. But I’ve come to realize flowers are a part of the identity God formed in me. I was created to respond to flowers and when I don’t there is something sadly missing. The color of life becomes gray.
Flowers speak to me of many things. They artistically express beauty, color, form, and shape. I see the essence of God in the glory of a flower. They also speak to me of hope. Flowers are the evidence a plant is going to produce fruit. The sign there is something more to come. Flowers remind me of transition. A flower is only one stage in the life of a plant. A lovely one, but not the end as there will be fruit and more seeds produced. Last winter, God dropped three words into my heart for the coming year: transition, fruit, and harvest. As I contemplate a delicate bloom I see the promise in a single flower and have hope.
One day not so long ago, I realized I had permission to enjoy flowers. That loving them did not diminish my strength. The power of beauty superseded my perception of fragility. Just because it looked fragile didn’t mean it was—not in ways that matter. I saw that simply because a flower was delicate didn’t mean it couldn’t stand up to storms or burst its way through rocks to bloom on frozen mountain tops. Like love is stronger than death.
Flowers also speak to me of God’s love of variety. Thousands of flowers all over the earth express beauty in very different ways. Loving flowers is a celebration of the unique and beautiful. How can I answer the question, “What is the best flower?” or “Which flower is the most beautiful?” Should I even ask that question when each flower has its own lovely essence? Flowers teach me to focus so I can see variations and subtle color shifts, different shapes, forms and textures that are all just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed when I take the time to look.
I always come back to the idea that beauty has the power to change the world. We are designed to respond to what’s beautiful in nature, in people, and in relationships. We are created to resonate to music, art, poetry, and stories. Sometimes it takes discipline for me to accept the gift of flowers from God. I have to pay attention when I’m in a hurry or busy or I will miss all the flowers He’s put in my path to remind me of His love and beauty. If we slow down and focus we’ll see what God’s put in front of us to remind us of His powerful beauty and love. As Grandma always said, “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.”
The Power of Beauty | Naeem Fazal | Video
Several months ago I woke up from a dream where Jesus walked away. Later, I could laugh, but at the time I remember standing in the middle of a dirt road surrounded by prairie fields as far as I could see and feeling wildly scared. I looked down at something on the ground near my feet and when I looked up all I could see was Jesus’ back as he walked down the road. Away from me.
What? My mind started moving in hyper-mode. But the Bible says He never leaves me. He is my Good Shepherd. He leads and guides me. Where is He going? Why is He going?
And then I saw it. He was leading me. He expected me to be following.
I don’t know why I didn’t see it first thing. Maybe the surge of fear slowed me down or maybe I am just one of His slower children. He leads and guides but do I follow well? Obviously not always.
This morning it felt like He wasn’t here. I went through a list of things I might have done to offend Him. The areas of repentance that needed to be made. I asked what I should be doing that I wasn’t. I didn’t hear a thing. I remembered my dream and began to ask God where I should be going with Him that I was not.
Follow is another word for obey and although it is easier and carries less religious baggage, it means the same thing. Am I following where He wants to go and doing what He wants to do or am I just standing around in the dirt thinking?
There is a recurring fear of lack in my life and it has come around again. Rearing its voice above the voice of God to speak, loudly, lies that tend to immobilize me. Lies that slow my feet until they stop altogether and I stand in the middle of the road watching Jesus walk away.
My enemy, who hates me because I am so valuable to God because God made me in His image and I am loved deeply, even to the cross– that enemy hates God and all that He loves. That enemy knows how powerful the words and promises of my Heavenly Father are in my mouth. He will do anything he can, create any lie to keep me from following Jesus into the fruitful destiny that God’s dreamed for me.
I see now that it is obedience that keeps me following but wavering in my devotion to Christ slows me down and makes me a target for the smelly lies of the Evil One. His tactics never change. I should be smarter by now but so often I just believe the wrong words. First, my focus moves from Jesus and onto whatever is bothering me. Then my mind starts worrying it as a dog does with a bone. I no longer see the promise in God’s eyes and heart but am primed and ready to listen to the enemy when he comes to speak his prophecy and promise over my life. Promises of lack, emptiness, and failure. And yet in the faithfulness of my God, I hear the Holy Spirit whisper in my heart, “Don’t listen. He’s a liar.”
As I take time to repent from my unbelief, from my unfaithful ways, I see Jesus ahead of me on the road looking over His shoulder, smiling and motioning me to hurry up and come on. So I do.
Heavenly Father, forgive me for my sin of unbelief. For not seeing how big and beautiful your plans are for me. For not seeing how awesome you are. How trustworthy. How faithful to keep me in my future and hope. Forgive me for seeing the enemy so large and powerful when you said he’s not. When he was created by you and his power was destroyed at the cross. Come Holy Spirit of Jesus and be strength, hope, and life in me and through me, to a world of people who know torment as I do and even more. Help me to follow you this day. Amen
A Goose –
The other day God started talking to me about a goose, a golden egg and a fish. About how I spend my energy in life; how I sacrifice a lot of time, peace and joy to gain some golden egg laid by a special goose. I chase it, making prayers to convince God to give it to me. I even believe it is my right to have it. To own it. Sometimes I even think it’s my job to chase the egg. I think, well God gave it to me, of course I’m responsible to make sure it doesn’t get away from me.
I think He’s trying to teach me that it’s a matter of focus. Of seeing that the gift is never more important than the Giver and never more important than spending time getting to know the One who loves to give gifts. When I’m chasing the golden egg in my life, all my prayers begin and end with petitions for the egg. All my focus is on this golden orb or lack of it. Your egg may be different than mine but each of our eggs represents an area of lack in our lives. The career that isn’t quite climbing. The bills that aren’t quite being paid every month. The dream that just doesn’t work right. Our relationships with people, our gifts and talents, our challenges with money. There are golden eggs in all our lives. Eggs that take our focus, that drive us down a tortured path on a quest that sucks the joy, fun and vitality out of our lives.
I forget I was was invited to take care of the goose that laid this golden egg. I’m called to nurture the source of my dreams, my abundance and my joy. The goose is not God, but rather it’s my relationship with God. God who is the giver of all good gifts. My relationship with Him is the source of all golden eggs in my life. My invitation is to steward my relationship with the One who offers fullness and abundance. I am called to care for the gift that is His presence because everything I need is in Him. And then, through this one act of coming closer. Of opening my heart’s door to Jesus so He is in me and I am in Him, He stewards the path of my egg. He makes the high places flat. He makes the crooked places straight. There is no more torment in gaining the golden egg, only joy in co-laboring with the One whose heart desires to give. The one whose heart I know and trust.
I cannot manipulate God but He longs to be with me, in relationship with me. He waits for me to notice the goose, as it were, and lift my hands from the egg then see the Living One who is the source of all. A living, breathing being who loves me so deeply He gave His most precious son as a gift to redeem me from the kingdom of darkness. From the power of the evil one whose intent is always to destroy—to drive me to distraction as he steals from me and lies to me. But God reaches out toward me with His huge love and longing and simply waits for me to take my eyes off the golden egg and look into His face.
We are made in the image of God and have great capacity for accomplishing things, great reserves of strength and a strong will to survive so the quest for the golden egg we’ve touched with our hands can consume us. It can lead us to give all for it—all peace, joy, hope, family bonds, time with friends and relationship with God. We cannot chase this egg and care for the goose at the same time. It is only possible to do one or the other.
The path to leaving the egg-quest can be a bumpy one. It takes prayer. It takes inviting Jesus into the dark places of fear within me that convince me there isn’t enough unless I have the egg. It takes faith to take my eyes off the egg when fear says it is THE most important thing in my life or tells me it is my best hope.
I see myself rolling a big golden egg through a tortuous path. I hear Jesus speaking behind me, inviting me, calling to me and I hear my own voice say, “Just a minute, God, I’m doing something important here.” Imagine that.
It is impossible for me to chase the egg and love the goose at the same time. Impossible, like it is a physical impossibility for light and dark to share the same space—the nature of light causes darkness to disappear. Following Jesus is a way of living from a paradigm that appears to make no sense but that brings more life, fullness and abundance than I ever knew was possible.
The thing is, our ways are counter to God’s ideas. His ways make no sense to us, so seekers who choose to go against all they know and understand take a giant step of faith. A step that moves the heart of God and the hands of heaven.
A Fish –
Stewarding our relationship with God means taking time to know Him. Reading His word, worshiping, meditating, waiting to hear His voice. It means making time with Him a priority and it makes no sense because I have lots to do and don’t really have extra time to…what, waste on God? So awful to think that, be we do. I know it’s true because until I knew Him more, I thought the same thing. And it’s not like I can hide this thought from Him! As I started getting up earlier and giving time to God, I began to hear new thoughts. Feel new feelings—like love and honor for others who had hurt me. Like confidence in God’s goodness. Like hope in a future I thought I was too old to explore.
In our time together, He began to speak about my business and my writing. Creative thoughts, interesting ideas and strategies. He gave me plans about things I had given up on, and I saw the fishermen lower their nets one more time, obeying the words of Jesus, though they had fished all night without catching a thing. I saw their excitement and amazement when the filled nets nearly sunk the boat. I heard Jesus laugh at the look on my face when I realized He meant for me to do the same thing, to launch that failed project one more time, to lower my fishing nets again—but only when He speaks the word to me.
I cannot hear God if I am not listening. We all live busy lives. Most of our listening is done in between tasks or while we’re doing something else like waiting in line at the store or standing in the shower or driving to work. It is important to make Him a part of our lives in all those places, but it’s critical to make a space for God that is His alone. One He does not share with any other task. He died so He could have a close relationship with us. It matters to Him. It must matter to us, too. If I cannot hear God, I will not know when or where to drop my nets. I won’t know there’s a coin hidden in a fish for my financial need. I won’t know which fish has my coin. I won’t even know there is a fish!
The source of what I need is never in the answers such as the egg, the coin or the fish. The source of what I need is in the questions. A searching heart that seeks for God asks, “What is on your heart, today? How can I come closer? What must I do to see you?” This heart finds Him. The heart that stewards a relationship with God, like we would care for a goose, not starving it to death but feeding, watering and protecting it, is a heart headed for transformation. It’s a great journey following Jesus and you want to be on it.
People called to be creative artists, designers, inventors, musicians or storytellers can be the most tormented by life. Born with creative souls and receptors tuned to slight nuances, we see and feel things in a way others do not, which offers a lot of opportunities to be wounded.
We are those who resonate from beauty and truth. We are calmed by the lovely, whether words, pictures, nature or music. It’s how we roll. There’s no point telling us to get our feelings off our sleeves because we can’t. Oh we can build walls to protect ourselves from those who enjoy poking us—those who simply have no notion of being attached to the world through color or song, but we can’t turn off who we are without losing our souls.
We’re like the strange jellyfish that washed upon the beach and is irresistible to the insensitive but curious passerby. The ones fearful of the unknown use a stick to jab about the creature. The braver ones use a finger to nudge the intriguing, shimmering unknown mass. A beached jellyfish gets poked, prodded, stepped on or smashed with rocks. And let’s not even talk about the pain that people with shovels inflict.
What we don’t understand makes us afraid. I know because I respond the same way to the unknown. When that large, speckled, bug-thing in Texas comes charging at me all legs, tail and wings I do not stop to find out if it’s a beneficial bug before I start swatting away. But on certain days I remember I am called to be creative and I do see the unknown as a big playground where I can let my imagination and curiosity run wild. On those days, I check out the bug directories in hopes I can be a better neighbor to the good but odd bugs in my backyard.
The box jellyfish is pretty interesting. It can have up to 24 eyes. Real eyes with eyeballs made up of lenses, retinas and corneas. That’s pretty advanced for the invertebrate family. These eyes are set in pairs around their bells pointing in different directions giving them a 360-degree view. Although this gives them a great ability to detect prey, the main purpose of these eyes is to keep them properly oriented in the water. They are beauty in motion and focussed on being in the right position in their world, which is not on a beach but in the ocean waters. Did you catch that? They do not have this extra sight to focus on their enemies. Creatives are not given extra senses to discern the works of darkness. Our real calling is to find beauty and truth and express it in a million different ways so people who don’t have as many eyes can see God’s wonder and majesty and be drawn to Him.
Jellyfish are composed of 95% water. The stuff of their true home. We are not our best on the beach but created to live in the vast spaces of a wide, deep ocean. Transition to our true jellyfish home begins in our heart not in our job or ministry. When the Lord told me He did not create me to build a business, I got so excited I immediately ran off and tried to figure out how to Do Art. I forgot that He’d also once told me that every time He speaks to me it’s an invitation to come have a conversation to find out more. When I finally wandered back, after a few months of frustration, He began talking to me. But He didn’t mention art. He wanted to talk about forgiving the people in my past who poked and smacked me. He mentioned that blessing them was important to living in my true place. He talked about trusting Him for provision, about moving from a place of faith in His word to a relational trust in Jesus the Word. And eventually, eighteen months later, I began to float upon the waves in my jellyfish place.
Another thing you should know is that jellyfish are dangerous to their enemies. The box jellyfish, my favorite, explodes a most powerful lethal, venom at its enemies. I think we’re dangerous, too and are a very real threat to the dark world. Christ John Otto, in his book An Army Arising: Why Artists are on the Frontline of the Next Move of God, says, “ [enemies of God] are afraid of beauty because beauty will lead us to the One who is beautiful. It is not a stretch to see that artists will strike horror [in them.]” No wonder we experience so much brokenness, not that God plans it that way, but that our enemy lies watching for certain signs that identify children as those jellyfish people who will be his worst nightmare if they find out who they really are, if they ever discover they are God’s wildest dream and come running home to Jesus. We are God’s plan that will threaten evil in the world. A plan of beauty, of rest, of knowing our heavenly Father and expressing His light and life in a most powerful way on the earth.
My word for you today is to stay off the beach and find time to visit with your heavenly Father about your true home in Him. And don’t go poking the unique, different people you can’t understand because they may be wounded jellyfish people just like we are.
I have come to believe that all the supernatural experiences I have had are simply invitations from God. Invitations to come closer. To seek further into who He is and how He thinks. To understand how He loves.
I had a dream a few years ago where I was traveling from church to church, looking through their teachings and books, seeking truth. Finally, after I had been at this awhile, Jesus showed up. He stood in front of me as if to ask me what I was doing. His face was so bright. He did not speak out loud, but into my heart, saying, “I am who you seek. I am the message. Seek me.” I, lover of books, was invited to seek Jesus, the true message of the book.
In other dreams I have been given things I don’t understand. Scepters, robes, oranges….Recently, Jesus showed me a story. I was a little girl playing in a forest. There was a small, lovely garden that I knew was mine. I was enjoying some project with flowers, twigs and stones. A rock showed up in my hand and I began to look around for something to do with it. I pounded it on the side of a tree. I drug it through the dirt, making a ditch. I played catch with it. About the time I was reaching my arm back to give it a good throw at something, I felt Jesus behind me. He gently took the rock and broke it open just like you crack open an egg. Inside were the most lovely crystals, purple and shiny. He set it in my garden, moving it with precision to a specific place at the foot of a flower, then turned and smiled at me, holding out His hand.
What I learned from that story is that God gives me gifts that I have no idea what to do with. He gives me gifts as an invitation to seek Him more. To ask Him what to do with the gift. How to make it work. Like a father gives a child some kind of kit at Christmas, his intent is to teach and play with that young son or daughter. To spend time with them. To love and be loved in a time of play and learning. Heavenly Father loves us so deeply, yet we may not recognize the invitation to come close in the gifts. Sometimes it seems we are wired to head off to the library or the church when we are given a heavenly gift. Conferring with others, first. Seeking understanding for the usefulness of the gift.
Perhaps the gift is simply an invitation to come visit the One who adores you. Perhaps it is only for beautifying the garden not building roads or defeating foes. Perhaps it is Jesus’ way of tossing rocks at our windows and inviting us out to play. He is the best friend you will ever know. He is inviting you today. Accept the invitation. It will be wondrous!
Bethel Worship | God I look to You
Graham Cooke Soaking | Everything in Life is an Invitation from God