by Sarah Highfill
“Ouch! That hurts!” I remember thinking to myself as I felt my muscles stretched beyond their current capacity. I had just started CrossFit in North Africa and we were only in the warmup, which was workout enough for me at that point. We were supposed to be stretching our legs as far apart as they could go with both hands on the ground in the middle. The problem: my partner was supposed to be pushing me deeper into the stretch with each count. “One”—a little push that wasn’t too bad. “Two”--another push. “Three. . .Four.” Now we were at “Five” and it was starting to be very uncomfortable. “Six” Why did we needed someone pushing us? When it was just me, I could control how far I was comfortable going.
I didn’t realize I was resisting the stretch until my partner flat out told me—“Stop resisting.” I had gotten to the end of my comfort zone and was starting to feel some pain. However, once I stopped resisting, my partner pushed me deeper than I would have ever gone on my own.
The Lord used this to speak to me. I was in a season of being stretched spiritually so I could grow and go deeper in my faith and in my relationships. I was being strengthened and didn’t realize it. My spiritual muscles were being stretched and I was becoming stronger. I felt the Lord whisper to my spirit, “Stop resisting what I have for you.” I couldn’t go deeper in my walk without the stretching and the strengthening.
I was reminded of this lesson recently at the conclusion of my time with my connect group. When we are being stretched and refined through the fire, it hurts, and the fire is very hot. But, it is worth it! The growth, maturity, steadfastness, and perseverance that comes out of these uncomfortable times is worth it all! James 1:2-4 ESV says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The Living Bible in verse four says “So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems.”
When I was being pushed into that deep stretch, believe me, I was squirming and ready to push my partner off me. In that moment I didn’t see it as a growth opportunity because I was feeling the pain and ready to squirm my way out of it. Sometimes we might be uncomfortable because previously we have never faced this particular kind of trial. But we don’t have to give into fear, and we are empowered to count it all joy.
Are we willing to be temporarily uncomfortable so our faith can grow? Are we resisting something God intended to produce growth because it may be painful, awkward, or uncharted territory? Do we unintentionally resist God because it is a troubling situation we’ve never faced before? Are we counting it…all of it…joy? I think it’s interesting that in several of the translations I looked, it doesn’t say to count it AS joy, meaning similar to joy or to the extent that it is likened to joy. But. . .it IS joy!
There will be growing pains, awkwardness, and uncomfortable stretching, but guess what? We can be joyful and confident that God is working something wonderful in us by growing, stretching, and refining us to be more like Him. With the help of the Holy Spirit as our partner, we can relax and be taken deeper than we ever could go on our own or have ever been before.
Sarah Highfill serves as a missionary to North Africa. She enjoys doing and coaching CrossFit. When she is state side she enjoys taking her Schnorkie, Shadow, for walks and being involved in the ministry of Stained Glass Theatre.
by Mary Ann Martz
“CANNOT UPDATE. CREATE SPACE.”
The flashing message on my computer was not unexpected, but today required my full attention. The hard drive on my aged Toshiba, was simply too full to support the latest Windows update.
But the message to “create space” spoke more deeply.
Before the Coronavirus, our life in ministry was exceptionally full and pre-packed with expectations. Our culture applauds high productivity and, without realizing it, our ministry can begin to reflect these same values.
Months before the shelter-at-home order, God had prodded me to slow down. These weeks of working from home, Zoom meetings, and recording Sunday services have become a “severe mercy,” forcing us to clear our calendar and quiet ourselves, seeking God’s direction.
In her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton captures this tension:
God is infinitely patient, and knows the greatest thing he has given us is our freedom. If we want to habitually, even exclusively, operate from the level of our own reason, he will respectfully keep silent. We can fill ourselves with our own thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings. He will not interfere.
But, if we invite him with attention, opening the inner spaces with silence, he will speak to our souls, not in words or concepts, but in the mysterious way that love expresses itself—by presence.1
Isn’t this the essence of “being still and knowing” God, (Ps 46:10) by “creating space for God’s activity rather than filling every minute with our own?”2 Through silence, we consciously withdraw from the demands of life, the noise of our own thoughts, and our desire to control, to hear a truer Voice.
To explore this further, Barton offers three strategies for creating space.
1. CREATE A SACRED SPACE
Place has a particular stronghold in our memory. We are creatures of habit and creating an environment that is set apart for meeting with God—away from our responsibilities—can position us to hear His heart. Sacred space can be a comfy chair in a quiet room, a walk on a trail, even a prayer closet.
As a young, stay-at-home mom, our piano was situated near an east-facing window. And each morning, the sun would stream in upon the piano bench, calling me to come sit, play, and worship. In that home, it became a sacred space where I met with God and learned to allow His creativity to flow through me. This was not productive practice for Sunday worship, but rather an intimate exploration, a gift offered back to God.
Today, almost three decades later, others play on the platform, and that aging piano no longer sits in sunlight. But that bench still calls me to come and sit, to explore and improvise—to enjoy His presence.
For me, it has become a sacred space.
2. CREATE SPACE IN TIME
Because time is limited, it has value.
Creating space in time is to give God our undivided attention, set apart from preparing for Bible study, Sunday’s message, or even praying for needs. It is the discipline to refuse temptations and simply show up before God, letting Him do the rest.
“Over time,” writes Barton, “our body and soul respond to established rhythms, so eventually the very act of entering this set-apart time and place ushers us into our own inner sanctuary.3
This is the principle of Sabbath, where time for God is written into the very rhythm of life. Creating time requires saying no—to expectations, digital devices, distractions—even to worthwhile things. It is to consciously turn away from the temporal to focus on the eternal.
When Mother Teresa trained her young Sisters of Charity to live among the poor of Calcutta, India, she wrote time with God into the daily cadence of their lives. Each morning and afternoon, everything stopped for an hour of silence, prayer, and meditation on the scriptures. Why?
We “need silence to hear God speak. . . . Silence of the eyes, the ears, the mouth. Who can underestimate it’s importance?”4
These words are true for us today, as we carve out space in time for God.
3. CREATE SPACE IN OUR SOUL
In ministry, because we share our lives with so many people, it can be hard to maintain privacy with God. But “sacred space,” writes Barton, “is also a place in our soul that is set apart for God and God alone.”5
She encourages “pondering the things that take place during solitude in our heart, as Mary did, rather than too quickly using them as tools for ministry. This is a way of keeping some things precious and sacred, rather than allowing them to be commandeered for utilitarian purposes.”6
For Mary, the events surrounding Jesus’ birth were unprecedented. But she pondered these things in her heart, storing them away like precious treasures. Thirty-three years later, as Jesus went to the cross, those treasures were there to sustain her. Each memory vividly underscoring God’s plan, bringing purpose to the pain of the cross.
Recording our own moments with God has great value. Seasons will come when we may question our ministry, our direction, our purpose—perhaps even our faith. But reviewing those private moments with the Father can anchor us to our calling. They build a framework for our faith, acting as mileposts of God’s presence to reinvigorate our sense of mission and supply courage for the path ahead.
At the time of this writing, we have no clear date for returning to ministry as we knew it. But it is evident that God has “created space” for us and given us a brief window to “invite Him with intention. And as we silence our eyes, our ears, our hearts to listen, He’ll give us wisdom and His strategy for moving forward.
1. Barton, Ruthy Haley. Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 35.
2. Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, 35.
3. Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, 38.
4. Wellman, Sam. Mother Teresa: Missionary of Charity (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 1997), 107.
5. Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, 38.
6. Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, 38.
Alongside her husband John, Mary Ann has served in full-time ministry for 30+ years. A lead pastor’s wife at 23, she has experienced almost every role in the church, including teaching, leading worship, creating ministries, writing and directing productions, and developing projects. She looks for God’s truth and glory in unexpected places, and loves to explore through reading, hiking, snorkeling, and traveling adventures with her husband. They are passionate about missions, and have led teams to South Africa, Cuba, Vanuatu, Sri Lanka and Alaska. With two married children, they are savoring a new stage of life as grandparents. Mary Ann received her ministry credentials in 2014, and she and John have pastored Blue Springs Assembly for 22 years. They reside in the Kansas City area.
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