Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits
Over summer, I learned something brand new. I learned that there is incomparable power in leaning on the past. Some days won't always be easy, inspiring or glamorous, but the difference between thriving and falling flat on your face in those moments is the promise of the past.
In a 7-minute talk, Catrina Henderson shared her story, which ignited a new passion in me. It's a story of how she waited for decades for a dream to happen, and what she learned in the process.
As small as a mustard seed...
Somewhere between England and Australia, Catrina sat in her living room and switched on the TV. On the news, she was Israel and the Israeli people, voiced-over by reports of their ongoing conflict with Palestine. In that moment, something inside her moved, and from then on she fell in love with the country. She visited it nearly every year and dreamt about what it might be like to live there and have church in such a historically significant place.
It was a big idea, but Hillsong was just a small Australian church back then. How would she convince a bunch of Aussies to uproot their lives and go somewhere else? How would she convince the leadership to invest their resources in her dream?
I imagine that questions like these wandered across her mind. Year in, year out, she'd visit the country with the same aspiration and a growing level of frustration. Nothing was happening, the vision wasn't taking off - what if it wasn't God at all, what if she was just deluded?
It wasn't like she could do anything anyway, she couldn't do it on her own. So she continued to go to her church, working in various roles. Year in, year out.
A dream come true...ish.
Then 2016 came along.
By this point, Catrina had assumed a leadership role in the church, and got the opportunity to go on a worship tour with Hillsong United. A dream come true...ish. She was one step closer to her dream but not quite there yet. After the final night of the music tour, she looked up at the star-covered sky (in a very movie-esque way), and sighed a half-wish, half-prayer that one day soon, there would be a fully-fledged church in the heart of Israel.
The next night, over dinner, the head of the church announced that Hillsong was expanding into more global locations yet again.
Then he turned to Catrina and ask if she'd lead the Israel expansion, launching in 2017.
Fast forward 25 years, and what started as a tiny seed, was finally coming true.
Is there something you forgot?
Hearing this floored me. How many of us are willing to wait for that long, especially when there is no predefined end point? Right now I struggle to even wait for 25 days for certain hopes and aspirations to come to fruition.
It's easy for me to write "fast forward to [date]" as above, but it's misleading. Subconsciously it tricks us into thinking that those years can be skipped, like some of those years weren't long, difficult, boring and challenging. Like some of those days weren't disappointing. Like there weren't temptations or mistakes made along the way.
The truth is, you can't fast forward the years.
You can't fast forward the days where the dream felt like it was miles away. You can't fast forward the self-doubt that comes when you wait, wait and wait again only for nothing to happen. Instead, you have to live out the wait: day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. But how?
There is weight in the wait. - Bobbie Houston
To begin with, don't put your life on hold, give up or try to create a shoddy version for yourself while you wait. You have to live as if the promise is coming, because a God-given vision always comes to fruition, even if it takes longer than you expect:
But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day! - Habakkuk 2:3 TLB
It's in the waiting that you learn the power of what Catrina calls 'The Holy Spirit of Yesterday'. By recalling on and leaning on her initial dream, Catrina was able to keep the faith over 25 years.
While it's true that God prepares beautiful things for us in the future, we are also consistently called to remember the words that have ALREADY been spoken over us, and learn to lean on them. Don't let impatience, boredom or anxiety get the better of you, they feel the strongest when you only focus on what's missing right now, instead of all the wonderful things that have already taken place.
When we're able to recall what God has done in the past, and what he does as a matter of principle, fear of the unknown future and frustration with the present slowly die out.
"And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you, O men of little faith? So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time" - Matthew 6:30 & 34
There's a reason we're urged not to forget these words: they sustain us in the mundane times, of which there will be many.
There's a reason for these historical records. While there is beauty and value in the new, there is maturity and substance in a promise from the past. Never forget that.
How this works for me
Lately, I've had mild anxiety about what the future holds. Every time that's happened, I've noticed one recurring theme, I had been spending more time looking at the world around me than reading God's word. And when my focus shifts, the anxiety creeps in through the cracks. I try to tackle the 'what-if' doubts with all my best moves: talking to friends, trying to 'figure it out' myself, sleeping, being excessively busy, listening to podcasts, sermons and even worship music. But the anxiety still nags... until I read The Book, The Bible.
Knowing where to start can be hard, so I always begin by revisiting some of my favourite verses: John 16:33, Matthew 6:25-34,James 1:2-8 and Philippians 4:6-7. They remind me that a) struggle and success are both important factors in life and b) somehow, some way everything works together in my favour, as long as I don't give up.
"I plan to keep on reminding you of these things even though you already know them and are really getting along quite well!" - 2 Peter 1:12
Philippians 4:6-7 was the first verse I found for myself and held onto at age 16. A decade later it's still just as relevant for my life right now. Reading the word elevates and expands my thinking, keeping me focused on the big picture. Sometimes we think our freedom is found in discovering the new, but all it takes is going back to something you know already. That's probably why there is so much emphasis on reading your Bible - not because it will make you a 'good person' but because when all else fails, it won't.
Sermons, worship music, books, devotionals and all those other things are helpful, but they're secondary to going to God directly, and we need to remember that.
The doorway to comfort
But when the Father sends the Comforter instead of me*—and by the Comforter I mean the Holy Spirit—he will teach you much, as well as remind you of everything I myself have told you. - John 14:26
We're human, we're not always going to remember everything on our own and God knows that. Sometimes we will need reminders and prompts. Other times we won't know where to start and that's why we are invited to ask and pray, because there is a someone who will bring comfort [ease, content, relaxation, and serenity] in days riddled with anxiety, confusion, boredom or a sense of nothingness.
The wait is the doorway to comfort. On that journey you become a better version of yourself, and get a deeper understanding of the true nature of God for yourself - no middle-men needed. You learn to live well, finding ways to fan the flame of faith and keep the dream alive. You learn that the "power isn't in the promise but in the giver of the promise".