When your will takes over your logic

It’s been ages. Last post was in February! But I was finishing my degree and for a little while I just lost the drive to meditate and think about blog posts, even though I have loads of drafts and ideas written on my phone. I completed my undergraduate degree in Sociology in May, and my graduation will be some time in September/October, so I have lots of time to think, read, write and catch up on various things that had to be put on hold. Today is also the last day of a  fast that I’ve been doing since Monday, so I can get some clarifications about my career and life goals. I’ll try to keep you all updated.

This week, I’ve been thinking about the will, and how closely it’s linked to pride. On Sunday, I went to my surrogate mother’s house for morning prayers, and we reflected on how God will go to any length—no matter how ridiculous to us—to save us from ourselves. He has a will for our lives, and we stray from it, and end up having to tread down dark, dangerous and miserable paths—which he allows—in order to finally see him and what he had tried to tell us from the beginning. We look over our shoulders at the adjacent road we could have gone down: bright, warm, and easy, and chide ourselves for being so foolish. This is why I’ve decided to wait patiently and pray about where I should go next in my life, because the initial experiences of sixth-form and university were riddled with doubt, loneliness and concern, that I’d made the wrong course choices; gone to the wrong institutions; started in the wrong year. For once, I want to walk down a path with confidence that it was the right decision.

As we spoke, some extra thoughts came to mind. There are a few ways to deal with wrong choices: some go into crippling self-pity and chastisement, resenting and hating themselves to the point of depression; others get annoyed because they saw where they went wrong, but pray for wisdom for the next time. Although some times, when their decisions lead to failure, some people project their frustrations on others. “It wasn’t me; the reason I did this was because; if only so-and-such had acted differently”. We’re all guilty of this at some point: deciding not to own up and admit to what we did wrong because it’s easier to blame someone else.

God’s will doesn’t just refer to our careers, but every choice we make. I thought about the blame game we tend to play with ourselves and each other, and for the first time, I could actually envision the wicked, who didn’t make it into the New Jerusalem in Revelation 20, charging towards the city to fight God. This passage always befuddled me because I thought “who could possibly do that, wouldn’t they just be really sad that they didn’t make it?” But if so often, when our bad choices and wrong doings are put in front of us in the calmest of ways, our first reaction is to lash out, give the silent treatment, and make excuses, then what hope would there be for someone being faced with all the wrong decisions they had made that led them to be standing on the outside of the Ultimate Gift? They’d no longer be able to see all the measures God had taken to save them, they’d just see everything that everyone else did, that caused them to miss out on heaven.

The will is a scary and great thing. If we let our pride and ego get in the way, we’ll only make decisions for ourselves; we’ll live solely for our own interests; which will inevitably not only hurt us, but someone else. Furthermore, when these decisions cause problems, and we’re confronted with this, we’ll never admit to it, deciding once again to put the blame on others. I had this experience this week and it’s honestly the most frustrating thing: when you tell someone they’ve hurt you and done something wrong, but they’ve decided to be upset with you for reasons they can’t properly vocalise. But after reading and studying this week, I think I know what the problem is.

If we stopped engaging in this battle of wills, of self interest, and instead surrendered our wills to God, we’d all be walking down that sweet, easy road happily. But until then, we struggle through the brambles.

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Ditches and Rollercoasters

It feels as though 2013 has been a whirlwind of a year and I’m looking forward to the end of it.

From the start of this year, till now:

My brothers suffered the deaths of their mother and aunt; their grandmother suffered a heart-attack some time after. My grandmother died in April and I had three assignments due in at university that week. As I was taking part in her funeral in Jamaica, I had to miss my exams. It was stressful getting all the evidence of her death together before I left England, especially because I had to finish off all my assignments at the same time, but I did do it and in June received a letter stating that my extenuating circumstances had been accepted. There were loads of other trials that took place during the interim: I missed the course options deadline even though I had made an attempt to choose them whilst overseas; when I returned home and tried to phone my university about it I was spoken to rudely and told it was all my fault. But I prayed—and God pulled through. My teachers fought to get me on the programmes I wanted for September and were very kind to me. I began July looking forward to my final year…

Today, though, has been insanity. Our house could have been repossessed, but we’ve been able to keep it, thanks to God speaking through the kind judge this morning. I went to Prayer Tower at Plaistow Church, but there was something on my mind: I didn’t feel all that well; the sun had made me sluggish and I felt a little annoyed at a comment that had been said during the meeting. I was looking forward to going home, but there was a strange entity between me and my ‘better half’. He seemed broodingly absent for a while, and his quietness soon turned to dark irritation—at what I don’t know; I didn’t know what to say to make things better. When we parted at my door, I wondered silently why I had bothered to embrace him. When I turned around at the door to wave, he was gone. We were supposed to have dinner at my house, but I suppose he’s not coming tonight. I think it’s for the best.

The final aggravation, though, was an infuriating letter from my university that I saw upon stepping through the door. I opened it expecting to get a summary of my grades, but the letter says that I have failed my 2nd year and I need to contact someone immediately to organise resits.

Ten Firsts

One 2:1

One 2:2

That’s what I received this year. The two exams I missed accounted for less than half the grades. I’ve calmed down a little now, and I know God has it in control, but every letter of correspondence I receive from this place makes me wish I never attended. I really hate it and I can’t wait to leave. And I’m so confused—They supposedly accepted my extenuating circumstances, so what does this letter mean? Earlier I began to feel as though I gave my testimony too early; there was still another threatening ditch around the corner.

I’ll close with a passage that was read today during Prayer Tower. I believe God orchestrated the meeting—that even though I was barely concentrating, the subject matter of complaining and murmuring to God, and the Bible texts that were read out, seemed to have been preordained for me to hear. This is one of my favourite texts, and it gives me hope:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Be Blessed.

xXx

 

Constrained By…?

I went to a prayer meeting last Monday afternoon at Plaistow Church at which I was given an experience that I’m really grateful for. These meetings are held every Monday and there has never been a time that I’ve visited and received no blessing. These people seriously believe in prayer; they treat it like medicine and if anyone steps through the doors in dire need of help, they prescribe the dosage with a faith that I really admire. Last Monday was the first time that I’d left the meeting with a page of notes; of thoughts, that I wanted to share on the blog and expand upon in my diary. We discussed a reading from Ephesians 3 from which Paul tells the church of Ephesus to not be discouraged over any trials that may come his way but to look to God instead. The discussion on this text eventually led onto the topic of God’s love and mercy.

Paul was an interesting person and he’s probably the best subject matter after my previous post. After years of torturing, killing and imprisoning countless Christians, he became one of the most well known Bible writers and an advocate of love and truth. There are times in the New Testament that you can see his patience has been tested by the churches, or times when his faith has taken a nosedive straight into the darkest depths of his mind—a friend once told me that he displays signs of depression in the book of Timothy; as he tells his fellow disciple about struggles he’s faced but the hope he still has in God. Because of these experiences Paul encountered, he more than anyone could testify about forgiveness, mercy and love—he wrote one of my favourite passages in the Bible, the ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13. He tells us that love is patient and kind; selfless and longsuffering. This is true love and it comes from God. Probably one of his greatest gifts to a fallen race.

But with true love comes false love. Infatuation; lust; exaggeration. People who were madly in love with each other on their wedding day are praying for the other’s death or downfall a few years’ later. Someone who spent decades with their spouse, producing an army of children and good memories, can engage in an extramarital affair with alarming ease. On the news recently the case of Jeremy Forrest has returned: a 30-year-old school teacher who fell in love with one of his students. She was 14 at the time their relationship started and he was married to a woman his own age. Despite being madly in love with his student (and she with him), he failed to see that a man with such responsibility should respect a girl enough to not accept her virginity when she is underage; his deep love for her was shallow enough that he could not patiently wait until she left school as a legal adult—even more, his love and his own heart was just so consumed with passion that he was unable to see that eloping with a now 15 year old girl to France would not end well, and that she would be missed by her family and would not be able to attend school. Love should be rational, surely? Which is why I don’t like the term ‘fall in love’. Falling isn’t a good thing; it denotes something that happened suddenly and unexpectedly; a fleeting feeling or passionate emotion. You fall and you hurt yourself; you could also say ‘plummeting in love’.

Christ’s love is supposed to ‘constrain us’. Not in a controlling way or forceful bondage, but to restrain the negative nature of ourselves: his love and sacrifice show us how to live for others, live for our faith and live selflessly. His love alone provides a blueprint of how to go about things. False love is a delusion. It comes from the enemy and can be hard to detect. Since my last post about love, I’ve really been meditating on it and thinking more about how I should act if I say I love someone. Well, for one, I wouldn’t be thinking about my own lusts and selfish desires, but about how the other person would feel—also a Christian and also in the same line of guilt. I would want to preserve their dignity and body, respect them as a fellow child of God and give them the boundaries they deserve. I would be patient and understanding towards them; mindful of their feelings. I would try to adopt the Christ-like character, rather than ‘my heart’.

If the love of Christ constrains me, I don’t want to be chained down to anything less.

Sinning so much that God Rejects You

It’s a strange concept to think about, but one that is dangerously common amongst Christians…

It’s easy to place Christianity on a spectrum of beliefs. There is always one extreme or the other: the Christians who are so ambivalent towards Christianity that the Bible for them is mostly a fictional account; allegories, stories, examples, parables—and nothing that we should take too seriously. Jesus was a guy who only spoke about love; the Old Testament is virtually irrelevant to life. On the other end are those who take everything militantly literal. Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because of gay people—and not sin (which is what the Bible actually says); you have to do-do-do. It’s all about what you’ve done for God: how many tracts you’ve handed out; how many people you’ve made feel uncomfortable at your rambling criticisms of their fornicating ways… all of that stuff.

In my opinion, both of those attitudes are wrong. Together, they portray a warped view of God and of Christianity. They also distort the issue of ‘sin’.

One can talk for years about sin. It’s created all the problems in the world; we’re all sinners; we sin naturally because of our fallen nature, yadda yadda. But what does sin mean to you as a person? What does it mean to me?

For a little while, in my effort to understand it, I broke away from the militant crowd and started believing in the other extreme—after all, militancy usually makes me feel wretched about my state as a person. I believed that everything was about ‘love’ and I barely needed to ask for forgiveness because sin would sort itself out somewhere. This was years ago, but it did nothing to really console me. If it had I wouldn’t be agonising over it now.

I always pray for the forgiveness of my sins and I always believe that I’ve been forgiven, but some sins are culturally seen as more sinful than others, which eventually leads to a feeling verging on despair once they’ve been committed. I’m obviously talking about sexual sins: masturbation, pornography, pre-marital sex; lust. A lot of the time they’re hidden secrets, like sewage pipes beneath the city. People know they’re there and that many people in their congregation struggle, but it’s so shameful that no one listens—especially if it’s a woman who is going through these things. For women, we’re lucky if we can find a trustworthy friend to confide in.

Recently, my problems with lust made me feel very low. I’m eternally thankful that God has given me the power to not have sex outside of marriage, but at the same time I know that if I continue to entertain thoughts and be suggestive in my actions it will only be my fault if it actually does happen. A few weeks ago this problem really manifested itself and I didn’t want to pray about it. That militancy that had surrounded me after years in the church came back: that God is quick to anger and you mustn’t sin otherwise he’ll wipe your name out of the Book right away. I kept picturing Him just staring at me in admonition and I almost couldn’t open my mouth. How many times would I come to him with the same problem? How presumptuous can I be, to put myself in the same risk and then ask for forgiveness afterwards? How can that possibly work?

And that’s when I finally understood what sin does to the Christian—what it does to me. Sin separates us from God in all ways. For one, God is sinless and I am not. That gap in status is enough, but on a personal level, one that is based on a relationship with Him, it makes me ashamed of myself. It means that I think of myself as ‘too sinful’ for God to listen to; I’ve done too much. He’ll reject me.

What folly.

A belief like that is an indirect rejection of the Cross: Jesus’ sacrifice was made to free me from sin and give me the freedom to ask for forgiveness and the power to overcome it. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies…

I’m glad for these experiences, though. Sometimes you have to get knee-deep in your Christianity, with all its mud, sand and dirt, to find the little treasure shells beneath. It’s then that you grow to love God for who he is.

Understanding God

It dawned on me the other day that I don’t actually know what love is. What does it mean to ‘love’ someone, what do you do when you ‘love’ someone? How would they know that you love them?

A baby latches onto the first source of food and comfort they find. They understand that the fragrant, warm, secure blobby thing above them from which milk is secreted can bring them happiness. A little child knows that this blobby thing is their mother, eventually their father too, and they build a relationship with their parents. They don’t fully realise that the reason why they burst into tears at the school gates, watching the red lights of the family car vanishing far into the distance, is because they love their parents and don’t want to see them go.

Love gets more complicated when you’re older. Suddenly, it’s not just your parents that you love, but your friends. Sometimes teachers, eventually you’ll grow in love with someone who isn’t related to you. All different feelings, manifestations, decisions and contexts, with one word to describe them all.

Love.

A word used too freely. I have members of my extended family that I am not close to; some I’ve only met a couple times. Sometimes I don’t get on well with them at all. But then, I’m expected to say that I ‘love’ them, immediately, on the first meeting. People generally say that they ‘love’ their siblings, but they don’t ‘like’ them. What does this mean? It’s a cliche that people use on the assumption that everyone knows what they’re talking about. Another one is ‘loving someone is not the same as being in love with someone’. Words and adages and riddles; they mean nothing to me.

I spoke to my dad about it yesterday. My dad and I talk a lot about these things. I’ve told him when I’ve fancied someone, or had relationship drama, and vented to him about the odd ways of men and women in the church. I asked him how he knew he had been in love with my mum. He was honest: “it’s indescribable”, he said “but there’s a difference when you love someone as a Christian. It’s no longer ‘I fancy him, I fancy her’; emotions can’t be the main part of it. You learn to love Christ first; you experience His love for you; then you learn to love other people”.

I think it’s the best explanation I’ve heard about ‘love’. It cannot be explained in a few words or actions. It’s a verb and a noun and an adjective; it’s a decision you make–you decide to love someone and stay with them and accept them for their faults and their good sides–and yet it’s a word that rouses emotion: anger, joy, arousal, desire. It can trigger hate; people kill others over their love for someone else; people kill themselves because they love someone else…

Christ killed Himself, didn’t he? He sacrificed himself, lived a life of persecution and completed his task on the cross out of love for people who to this day give him nothing in return. That’s why love is so hard to understand; because to love someone means to make sacrifices.  It means you put yourself on the line: you give up your time, defer your personal happiness to make someone else happy and safe. You compromise and give without expecting anything else in return.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

1 John 4:8

I’ve been praying for God to teach me how to love truly and earnestly; to be willing to make sacrifices and care for people as I should, not just as a Christian, but as someone who has morals. I know from the text above that love comes from God first, and more importantly that ‘love’ is something I’ll never fully understand…

…because to understand ‘love’ is to understand ‘God’.

When Life Gets Hard, Get on Your Knees.

I think this is the first post of November, which is really awful. University work has come back with a vengeance, but I’m grateful that God has really helped me reach my personal word-count goals. He’s really been giving me the strength to get things done.

In addition, there has been a lot of problems at home recently. It’s nothing that I can go into detail about, but I’ve felt drained and frustrated and hurt and confused and angry all at once and in quick succession. Every now and then the world reminds me how powerless  I am against the grand scheme of things and God shows me that I can do nothing on my own. A couple weeks ago I got into probably the most bizarre and pointless argument of my life: it had no meaning; it was ignited by a ludicrous stimulus and both of our arguments were incoherent. Halfway through the argument I gave up and began mocking and trivialising the thing, which didn’t help, but I only did this because for the first time, a Bible text that is quoted so often on the pulpit actually had practical relevance to me. My eyes were opened as I saw the strange movements of dark forces before my eyes.

And to top it all off, I walked into church and they were discussing the very same text for Sabbath School. It was comforting.

Here it is…

11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Ephesians 6:11-13

I know now that I can do nothing. And I’m glad I know this, because it has made me pray more and surrender to God in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve been praying for my family more than I ever have and it makes me feel good.

God’s got it in control.

 

Reins

You had me
on my hands and knees.
I crawled like an animal on the ground
the dirt carved rancid contours in my skin
which helped to map the journey
of the sins
that I held dear;
How far these acts had brought me
and how near to death I am.

I felt a scorching sun between my legs
which pulsed with each throbbing movement;
sent daggers of pain along my spine
every time I remembered.
The blood that runs from me
like a leaking tap
or angered menstruation
only causes others to see
that I allowed you to use me.

A noose to cut into my neck
and a red handkerchief to gag me
a cloth plastered to my eyes
so I lose sight of any Light:
all my hope is gone
and I’m bound to you entirely

There are things that I love doing
and some activities refuse to be abandoned:
those websites that I sought out
and watched with morbid fascination
until they were all I thought about during the day
and rushed home to spectate again;
those novels that told me I was invincible
and excited me for other things;
those people I loved to talk to
about affairs that didn’t concern me;
those men I went home with
so they could fill me, yet I still left feeling empty;
those times I ignored the Word for Worldly Things…

Now I only have your word.
How far must one have fallen,
to believe the slippery solicitations of a serial
adulterer
deceiver
and fiend?

How far must one have fallen? I asked,
as the Devil rode me like a fool
for his bidding.

 

Chain Link Fence

My week has been uneventful but revelatory. I opened up to the Rolling Prayer Request list that my friend set up on Facebook. I started to write my prayer request and deleted it several times. It dealt with an issue that I wasn’t keen on letting people know about—after all, I don’t know the majority of people in the group. I was aware that I would be recognisable as the girl with “that problem” if I ever went to a national church event. I’ve already made friends with people in the real world because they recognised me from the list. I didn’t want to be branded with anything.

I’ve really built this up haven’t I? Anyway, this is what I wrote:

 

Please pray for me. I suffer from low confidence and low self-esteem. It shows to other people and gets me in compromising situations, I guess. And I’m too sensitive. My sensitive nature has had me holding a grudge for years whilst the people involved just carried on with their merry lives. Basically, just pray for me to be more Esther-like or something. I feel as though my current personality, one of “fear” and “worry” completely contradicts the Bible’s standard of having faith and being bold. After all, if I have a strong relationship with God I shouldn’t be so emotionally weak. Thanks xXx

I got a lot of responses that really touched me. The same people I was weary of before took the time to message me privately with words of encouragement. It really gave me a boost. I then saw that there were people who were also going through the same state of mind but had been worried to ask for prayer about it before. I hope that this helped them in some way.

I would like to end on a thought about how we build and break each other in church. In a place where everyone wants to be seen to be doing something for the work of the Kingdom, I reckon it can be easy to heap too much praise on an individual when we like them or magnify their open sins when they look like a spiritual threat. This boils down to our natural sinful nature and is something we will only overcome by completely surrendering to Christ.

But it really hurts me when people say ridiculous and demeaning things just to ensure their own delusions of piety and status. I’ve just read a quote from an unknown person (and to be honest I don’t want to know them) fundamentally saying that the church needs men to stop the drama that women generate and this is why women don’t make good leaders.

As a young woman in church, when I hear things like that, how can I possibly have high self-esteem? If I’m being judged and broken down in such a way by the brothers in my own church, I don’t think it’s surprising if my morale is a little low. I feel more anger at such statements initially, along with the drive to prove the speaker wrong—at the same time, I feel terrified. I’m supposed to pick a husband out of this bunch.

I’ll be away for a week on Monday, so this is my last post until the 24th. I’m going to a church camp meeting in Wales. Hopefully I’ll have lots to talk about when I get back.

xXx

 

The Right Way to Pray

Is there such a thing?

I actually wanted to talk about Independent Women, but something happened today that really put me in a sour mood for a good few hours…

I was asked to do the closing prayer at Sabbath School today. I actually hate praying in public: the words never come out; I get tongue-tied and I forget most of what I have to say. A few months ago I had been asked to do the pastoral prayer and I was dreading it until my Sabbath School leader suggested I write it down, so that I cover all the bases and don’t forget anything. Since then, this has been my way of doing public prayers before the church. I pray before I write the actual prayer and pray after, I pray throughout for inspiration. It has never been a problem before and it alleviates some of the stress on my part.

Today, I did my closing prayer and a few minutes afterwards a visitor from the Netherlands asked me to see him outside. Then he pretty much berated me for reading the prayer! He told me that I must never do that, and that God would give me the words to say. He said that prayer should always just come from the heart and not be prepared beforehand. I calmly told him that I heard a seminar once where it was argued that preparing prayers were not unBiblical, because in the same way one would prepare a sermon to speak before the church (and a sermon is also something that “comes from the heart”, with God leading it), one could also prepare a prayer. Which was true, I can’t remember the exact seminar, but I know it exists because that particular message was relayed to me.

As soon as I had said this, he looked embarrassed for telling me off; shuffled away and said “Oh sorry, I’m from the Netherlands so I don’t really know.”

You “don’t really know?” And what’s coming from the Netherlands got to do with it?

Huh?

This is why we should be cautious of people who say their opinions on religious matters with such conviction. If I hadn’t had the seminar to back me up, he would have made me feel really stupid and I would have had a completely negative outlook of my prayer life. All it took was a couple words from me for him to admit he didn’t really know what he was talking about. If only Jim Jones and David Koresh had had the same challengers. Yes, I am taking it a step further than what really happened, but when it comes to religion people are easily swayed, which is something I’ve seen a lot of recently in my own church. One person comes along, with no credentials, says something slightly “grey” with enough confidence, and then everyone starts to get confused.

Beware of such people!

Anyway, I felt really cheesed off after this man spoke to me and I have to admit I treated the Sabbath in a terrible way; I even went off to the cemetery to sulk! God forgive me.

Is there a “right” way to pray? Or are we too used to praying traditions?

The mind wanders…

 

Peace of Mind

I feel relieved. Holidays are here so I can have a lie-in, do some much needed revision and relax for a bit.

At the same time I feel worried. Money is running low, I’m still without a job and I haven’t done as much Bible study as I would have liked. I started so well, researching into the Old Testament texts but then one night I was too tired to pick up my Bible and it’s been over a week later with no progress. I’m trying to get back onto it.

My life of true singleness is going fine though. That’s probably where the rest of the relief is. Now that I’ve stepped out of the proverbial boardroom, to leave the youth to stress about how Godly they look to the opposite sex, I’ve been able to concentrate on my walk with God a bit more. I want to learn more about myself and about Him and just … live.

My mother came with me to church last Sabbath for Visitor’s Day. She enjoyed her day and I’m just hoping she got something out of it, something more than just a rousing sermon. That’s my prayer, anyway.

A short blog post. There are other things I want to write, more poems I want do, but at the moment I’ll just leave this here. Hopefully I’ll be able to put more of my thoughts down during the holidays.

xXx