Godly sexuality

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So I’ve previously written about my beliefs about sex, & I started to explore the concept of ‘godly sexuality’. I’m now gonna expand on this concept, so it may be helpful to read ‘When 2 become 1′ (http://wp.me/p2Vhue-1v) to give you the context. But to summarise, I felt that to stay sexually pure is not about suppressing our sexuality per se, but about expressing it in a godly way. At the time I wasn’t sure exactly how that worked in practice, but felt that sexuality is much bigger than sex & romance, & that finding intimacy in friendships can be just as fulfilling as romantic relationships.

One important question to ask about this topic is actually, what is sexuality? I don’t think a dictionary definition is too helpful here, as our culture always associates sexuality with the physical act of sex, or the attraction that can lead to sex. But I reckon there is a lot more to it, ’cause I believe that there are emotional, mental & even spiritual aspects to sex, so then sexuality should encompass all these things! I believe sex is about 2 people becoming one- in spirit, soul & body. The worldly perspective puts the physical aspects on a pedestal, & the spiritual aspects have mostly been lost. But a godly perspective is the opposite- it puts spiritual aspects first, & physical last. & I think this is the key to maintaining a godly sexuality- it is committed to start from spiritual one-ness, perhaps leading to one-ness of soul, & eventually leading to physical one-ness with the one you marry. So in reality, godly sexuality isn’t about suppressing your sexuality, it’s about expressing it in a fuller way!

Now many of you may not agree with the view that keeping sex within marriage doesn’t involve suppressing your sexuality in any way. & you’ll be right to an extent- you often need to suppress your physical & emotional desires for this, but the purpose is so that your spirit can be more fully expressed. & at the end of the day, I believe your spirit is the real you, so you’ll actually be living more true to yourself. The thing is, if we always act on our emotions & impulses, we can cause a lot of damage to ourselves & others. Lust in particular has the capacity to consume you & distort the way you relate to others. Sexual brokenness has a uniquely damaging effect on our identity & our ability to connect with others, as the nature of intimacy is that it makes you vulnerable. But sexual wholeness is uniquely satisfying & euphoric, & it’s a gift God gave for us to enjoy & protect. & I believe you can experience this without having sex or even having a lover- I’ve found that it’s in God & through family that I’ve found wholeness.

So how can we put this into practice when we start to get tempted? I don’t think there’s an easy way to break free from lust. It starts with a desire to change, but that’s not enough- we need God to enable us to be strong against temptation. I’ve recently been praying for God to help me to say no to instant gratification, & that He’d set me free from its hold on me. & God will help you if you come humbly & really cry out for His help, but it may take a long while. It’s a process that can make you feel very vulnerable & uncomfortable, as it can be very hard to face your own darkness. But I believe it’s worth it in the end, & will allow you to be controlled by your convictions, rather than your feelings & appetites.

I reckon that the path to sexual wholeness is first of all, to find one-ness with God, in spirit, soul & body. One-ness with Him is really all we need, but God did create in us a need for other people. The bible urges us to have one spirit & heart, so this means that we are to experience spiritual one-ness with the whole Church. We can’t be emotionally & mentally intimate with every Christian though, as that’s not physically possible for us on earth. But God did intend for us to have people who we can become one in soul with; people we feel safe to be ourselves & be vulnerable with. & if we find someone who we can experience deeper levels of spiritual, emotional & mental one-ness with, then this is likely to be a good person to marry! If the person & time is right, then we can embark on becoming one flesh- spirit, soul & body.

But the purpose of all this should be that we partner together to pursue God & bring His kingdom on earth. When we unite together, we can synergise together to enable each other to be all we were created to be. Different people bring out different aspects of us that we may not have otherwise found out, & we are called to encourage, comfort, build up, spur on & serve one another in what ever way we can. At the end of the day, our sexuality & relationships should all point back to God, & be a reflection of the amazing crazy love that God has for all of us.

No holding back: things I’ve learnt during Lent & Hope Fest

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In my last blog entry, I wrote about my desire to pray against injustice & seek God about what I can do about it. I anticipated that this time of Lent would be a time of preparation, where God would reveal more of His calling for me & increase my heart for serving Him & others. I also felt that this would be a time of breakthrough in my life. Lent has been both very difficult & very beneficial, as God has been working in me & teaching me a lot. There were many times where I struggled with stress & despair, mainly related to the PhD, because I have less than 6 months left to finish. I have very few positive results, so I’m attempting to keep working hard in the lab plus write my thesis in my spare time. But in spite of this, I had a lot of really good prayer & worship times, & God’s presence kept breaking through in the midst of my struggles.

On the zip wire at Hope Fest.

I had been seeking revelation about what my calling is, & where my research fits in with this. I keep struggling to remain passionate about my work, but now one of the reasons is because I’m itching to do more to serve God & make a difference. This is my real passion, & it has often felt like the PhD restricts me & drains me of my time & energy. I do believe that my work is a significant part of my calling, as it gives me opportunities to reach out to people who I may not normally be able to reach. But it’s sometimes hard to see how I’m reaching people when I’m having to work like mad, sometimes by myself. So God revealed to me that my work is my training ground, & the things I’m learning through my work are equipping me for my future callings.

One thing I’ve been learning is to let passion be my driving force rather than fear. I was getting very stressed about the PhD, but I don’t work well under stress at all. I’ve found that working hard out of fear leads to burn out & despair, but working hard out of passion can be sustained. Now some people may think being passionate means you’re always feeling happy & excited about your work, & that this can’t be sustained. But in reality, passionate people are also willing to grit their teeth & make sacrifices for their work, probably more so than those motivated by fear. The actions may be the same for both motivations, but the difference is the reason- fear works hard because it can’t bear to fail, but passion works hard because it believes it’ll all be worth it in the end.

There was a time in 2nd year when I was really pushing myself to work hard, & my motivation was fear, & I resented my work at the time. I couldn’t sustain this, especially when my experiments were not working, & I felt useless & depressed. I realised that now I was scared I’d fall into despair again, & this held me back & prevented me from giving my best for my PhD. Eventually I asked my life group for prayer, then I started to break free from this fear & feel much more positive. God has been giving me insight on how to cope with the workload, & it basically boils down to committing to put God & His kingdom first, staying in the Holy Spirit’s flow & not giving in to instant gratification. Though this is easier said than done!

Isaiah 40v31 describes being in the Holy Spirit’s flow- it’s like soaring on wings like eagles, which fly by allowing the winds to carry them. It describes running without getting weary or faint- this is the kind of energy that I’ll need to complete my PhD well! But I realised I’m like an eagle who is afraid of falling, as it has been broken & damaged before. It’s not that I don’t trust God to catch me when I fall, but I know that I can still get hurt. It’s like lead climbing- I’m not afraid of falling to the ground (I have trustworthy belayers!) but I don’t like the sensation of falling, or potentially getting whacked into the wall! So I’m like an eagle who keeps flapping its wings, trying to do things in my own strength, as I refuse to lose control. But this only wears me out, so I end up falling anyway. So God is challenging me to let go of my control, & to fully rely on Him.

Recently God revealed to me that He gave me an adventurous spirit ’cause He’s called me to be a pioneer. Because my research is quite pioneering, I now know just how difficult it is to be a pioneer. Pioneering is an adventure, but it’s a type of adventure that involves hard work & discomfort, & can be messy, lonely & frustrating. It may appear unfruitful & unfulfilling for a long time, but it can be really worthwhile. This got me thinking about what it means to be adventurous, & I realised there’s a difference between those seeking adventure for instant gratification or an adrenaline rush, & those who pursue an adventure that requires tenacious determination to see the rewards. I believe the truly adventurous people are the pioneers; they find fulfilment in the journey & in giving their all just as much as the end result. I fall into both categories though; I am willing to persevere for my passions, but I also am addicted to instant gratification. I think this prevents me from finding fulfillment in my work, as the rewards are not instant, & only come through perseverence & ‘luck’. Being a pioneering researcher has been very tough, but it has been training me for future pioneering. & I hope I can use what I learn to teach others to find breakthrough & to raise up more pioneers. I believe we’re are called to be pioneers to an extent, as we’re called to make a unique contribution in our lives & our legacy.

I went to a retreat called Hope Fest over Easter, & I knew that it would be a significant time for me. It was very fitting for me that it was being held in an adventure centre called Pioneer Centre! The theme was ‘Thy will be done’, so I knew it would be challenging! God really did some big things in my heart during Hope Fest, & I believe my life is now changed.

During some of the worship times I was crying a lot, as God was doing some inner healing in me. The main thing He was revealing to me was that I had let fears & a mindset of inadequacy hold me back from what He had for me. Though I’ve come a long way in overcoming my fears, I still was gripped by fears of rejection, criticism, failure, etc. These have inhibited me from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit & hearing from Him, particularly concerning things way out of my comfort zone. They have also held me back from dreaming big & from being intentional about sharing my faith. The interviews with Jerry & Marcus struck me ’cause they both mentioned being criticised, yet they chose to persevere, as their passion for God’s call was so strong. & it’s through their perseverence that they were able to overcome & be fruitful in their ministries. So God challenged me, asking me whether I was willing to be uncomfortable, put down, criticised, rejected or make mistakes for Him. He wanted me to come out of my comfort zone, so that I could grow into new giftings, rather than just stick with what I’m comfortable with.

During the last evening of Hope Fest, I experienced a fresh freedom in worshipping God with dancing. One of the songs we sang was ‘Christ is enough’ by Hillsong, & when we were singing the bridge, I felt led to change the words ‘no turning back’ to ‘no holding back’. This was my declaration that I wouldn’t let fear or anything else hold me back in living for God anymore. It wasn’t until after Hope Fest when I discovered that the bridge is actually from a hymn (‘I have decided to follow Jesus’), & the story behind the hymn is quite dramatic (you can read about it here: http://www.hymnary.org/text/i_have_decided_to_follow_jesus). It was the last words of a convert to Christianity in India who was martyred along with his family for his faith. The crowd were so struck by how strong their faith was that the whole village accepted Christ! So knowing this story gives extra meaning to the song; it’s a declaration that we are giving our lives to follow Christ all the way, even if it leads to suffering or death. ‘Christ is enough’ is inspired by the hymn & conveys why we’re willing to live this way- ’cause Jesus is the only one who can satisfy us; He is everything we need. He is more precious than life itself to us. & we seek to say ‘not my will but Yours be done’ no matter what, because we know that ‘it’s only in surrender that we’re free’ (All that I am, Rend Collective).

Later people who felt called to pioneer new outreach/church planting were asked to come to the front. When I heard this, something just clicked in my mind. When God told me He’s called me to be a pioneer, at the time I was just thinking about science, since the PhD was occupying most of my thinking. But I knew there was something more God wanted me to pioneer too, but I didn’t quite know what that was until Hope Fest. So then I went for prayer, & pastor Vincent prayed for me. His first words were something like ‘I think God is saying not to procrastinate!’ I panicked slightly & cheekily thought ‘can’t I wait until I finish my PhD first?!’ But I knew that God would want me to start small, & I didn’t wanna delay God’s plans for me any longer. Later Jerry was asking me about this call to pioneer, & he said that for him pioneering is very fulfilling & where he gets his biggest joy. So that really encouraged me, ’cause my experience so far in pioneering in science has not been fulfilling. I guess some people find scientific research fulfilling, & I hope I will soon. But I realised that pioneering for Christ’s kingdom is the most fulfilling thing, as it leaves a legacy with eternal implications. Even if it’s unfruitful for a long while, I can be assured that I’m doing something that’s really worthwhile.

At the end of Hope Fest I went up to give testimony of what God has done in me over Hope Fest. I knew that overcoming my fears would still be a process, but I was now committed to not letting them hold me back anymore. Hope Fest was awesome but I wasn’t sad about leaving, ’cause I knew the real adventure & challenge starts when I go back to normal life as a changed person! Both me & my brother were buzzing on the journey back from Hope Fest, & I was so happy at how God was working in his life too. When I started back at work after Hope Fest, my mind was buzzing with ideas about my calling. It seems that now I’ve committed to not let fear hold me back, that my dreams that were buried were starting to be re-awakened. Though I’m not so excited about my work at the moment, I’m excited about what God has in store for me both now & in the near future.

“He’s awakening the hope in me
By calling forth my destiny,
He’s breathing life into my soul
I will thirst for Him, and Him alone,
He has come like the rain
That showers on the barren plain,
So my heart and tongue confess
Jesus Christ, the hope of man.”
- Hope’s Anthem, Bethel.
 

Fighting against injustice: thoughts for lent

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Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly

For most of my life, I’ve not done anything for lent, as I’m not keen on depriving myself of things I like just for the sake of tradition. I think there’s little point doing lent unless it brings you closer to God. There are a lot of benefits to fasting, but much more so when you teem it up with prayer. I’ve done some fasting before, particularly last year, & I found that the feeling of intentional physical hunger somehow releases a deeper spiritual hunger for God. It also increases the power of our prayers & our ability to hear from God, as it shows God that we mean business! It’s a declaration that God is more important to us than our cravings & needs! But generally lent has not been too helpful for me, probably because it’s difficult to keep the focus on God for that length of time, & the focus becomes the thing I’m giving up instead. But this year, I hope things will be different.

In the bible, there’s a challenging passage about true fasting, which is basically about getting the focus right. Fasting is useless when our hearts are not right, & it should go hand in hand with fighting against injustice:

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift your voice like a trumpet; declare to My people their transgression…Yet they seek Me daily & delight to know My ways, as if they…did righteousness & did not forsake the judgement of their God…they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, & You see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, & You take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, & oppress…quarrel & fight. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?…Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, & to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry & bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, & not to hide yourself from your own flesh (& blood)?” Isaiah 58:1-7.

I think this is quite a fitting wake up call for the church. Many Christians can make themselves look very holy & pious; they may seek God daily, even delighting to draw near to Him. But that doesn’t mean much to God if they’re fighting amongst themselves & oppressing others. A lot of people who call themselves Christians anger me, as they are judgmental & intolerant, & just generally self-centred & arrogant. This goes against the overriding message of the bible, which calls us to love others as much as ourselves. Later the passage calls us to take away pointing fingers (verse 9), which is the opposite to what many people do. I know many so-called Christians have done a lot of harm to people, & it really saddens me. This passage challenges us to not only refrain from contributing to injustice, but to actively fight against it. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by all the injustice in the world & feel that we can do nothing, but the little that we can do can make such a difference.

One reason that fasting could be linked with fighting injustice is because it allows us to have some empathy with those who are hungry, as those of us who are privileged may have no idea what it’s like to hunger. But I think the main reason is the link with prayer: in order to fight injustice effectively, we need God’s power backing us & His leading & insight for how to go about doing it. It is mainly through the power of prayer that we can break yokes & set people free. Fasting also can be an opportunity to get closer to God, so God can use times of fasting to expand our hearts for the oppressed. Though prayer & fasting has a lot more power than we realise, it is still important to take action as well. We’re called to ‘pour ourselves out’ to satisfy the desires of the hungry & afflicted (verse 10), so God wants us to get serious about fighting injustice. The passage gives some examples of practical things we can do to help those suffering, & goes on to give the great benefits that will come when we commit to this. It says that we’ll experience light instead of darkness, speedy healing, righteousness going before us, God’s glory following us, answered prayers, continual guidance, strength & continually satisfied desires (verses 8-11).

Recently I read a book called ‘Broken by beauty’ by Joy Farrington, which I highly recommend. This book has set me off thinking about injustice, & has moved my heart to do what I can to fight for justice. The book is the autobiography of a young women who has a heart particularly for the prostitutes & sexually trafficked, & it talks about her experiences & struggles. A lot of the experiences described in this book really broke my heart, but it also describes how God can redeem our brokenness. She mentions that restoration can be a long, messy & painful process, but through it God creates a beauty that far exceeds that which we previously carried.

I found the book difficult to read at times, as I get quite affected by the suffering of the world, so I have a tendency to avoid thinking about it. But one quote that really spoke to me was one from William Wilberforce, which said ‘you may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know’. So I realised that God was wanting me to stop looking away from injustice but to face it head on, so that He could expand my heart for justice. I’m currently reading Ecclesiastes, & finding that it hits quite close to home, as Solomon is describing how he’d become cynical when seeing so much injustice in the world. The more he sought knowledge, the more weary he became, as he saw more of the dark side of human nature. I’m in a similar place at the moment, as I’m getting lots of insight, but also more questions, & my pursuit of answers can be wearying at times. But Ecclesiastes is a warning to me to not become cynical, but to keep holding onto God, as I believe He’s the only hope for our broken, suffering world.

So how can we go about fighting injustice? I’m currently feeling quite overwhelmed with my increased desire for justice, as I don’t know what I can do when I’m *meant* to be fully focused on my PhD at this time. I seem to be losing my passion for my PhD again, & I’m finding it quite a restriction on my time & energy. I feel I’m not making as much of a difference as I would like to. So I was encouraged to read in Broken by Beauty that ‘sometimes our presence is more powerful than words; it impacts beyond knowledge & speaks to the soul’. Joy also mentioned that our mission can be to simply affect the atmosphere of the environments we go to, i.e. to be a light in the darkness. So this gives me hope that I’m making more of a difference in people’s lives than I realise. Another thing that spoke to me was the importance of affirming people; to ‘call out the gold’ that they can’t see in themselves. I’m good at seeing good in people & loving them the way they are, but I’m not very good at articulating the good I see in them. But this is something I wanna work on, & over lent I wanna start to develop a habit of affirming people more.

“I pray that when I look at people I would see Jesus in them. I pray that I would then tell them what I see.”- Joy Farrington, Broken by Beauty.

Joy also talks about the vital importance of prayer & seeking God’s presence when fighting for justice. She says that “prayer needs to be at the foundation of every step that we make & is the bow from which our arrows of justice should be released.” Taking time to value God’s presence allows His fire to burn hotter within us, & this brings purity of heart & mind, & increased vision, insight & boldness. Prayer is the way to partner with God to see justice rule on the earth; it is the fuel behind our outreach, enabling us to keep pouring into others without running dry. Prayer also is the means of gaining protection from spiritual powers, dispelling our fears & releasing God’s supernatural power to back us up & bring breakthrough.

So now I feel inspired over lent to commit to pray against injustice in the world. My plan is to pray against a different aspect of injustice every day during lent: to pray for the church’s response, cry out for justice & to seek God about what I can do practically. I also plan to fast from meat in order to intensify my prayers. This year my church is encouraging us to do lent together, which I think is very exciting. I believe unity, especially when it comes to praying & fasting together, is very powerful. I anticipate that this will be a time when God starts to move more powerfully in us & through us to bring change in Sheffield & beyond.

“Seek first His kingdom & His righteousness, & all these things will be added onto you.”

Give me love?

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For the past few years, the run up to Valentine’s Day would be a time of painful anticipation, with the day itself filled with a desperate yearning for a man. It’s a tough day to be a single when it feels like the whole world is rubbing it in our faces! But now it’s 2 days away, & I can’t speak for how I’ll feel on the day, but at the moment I’m feeling completely ok about it! Which makes a massive change!! I no longer buy into the lie of our culture that single means lonely, & I no longer believe what our culture tells us about love. Valentine’s Day is no big deal for me now, ’cause I now know that I don’t need to have a boyfriend to be happy or to feel loved.

Take the world, but give me Jesus

This blog entry was partly inspired by hearing a beautiful bilingual rendition of ‘Give me Jesus’ (see link below). This song was stuck in my head for 2 days, & it has been an important reminder of what is most important to me. I’ve been quite stressed & frustrated with the PhD lately, & it’s so easy to let that take up all my focus. I’ve been stuck in this PhD bubble, & it’s hard to break out & see beyond that. This song challenges me to lay down my ambitions & desires to pursue Jesus above all else.

“Give me Jesus, give me Jesus, you can have all this world, just give me Jesus.”

I’ve been told that the Mandarin lyrics aren’t a direct translation, & this is the translation of the chorus back to English:

“I only want Jesus, I only want Jesus, take away my world, I only want Jesus.”

When searching for this song on youtube, it struck me that when typing in ‘give me’ the top choice is ‘Give me love’ by Ed Sheeran. I do love that song, but I thought it was such a contrast! Give me love describes a desperation for love that I am very familiar with, & which many others also experience. I think it shows how little love is understood in our culture, & that the way in which we pursue love is selfish. It’s so often the case that we think we really love someone, when actually we just love how they make us feel or what they do for us. Us Christians can have a tendency to love God in the same way; to ‘love’ Him when He blesses us & when things are going well, but turn away from Him when we are hurting or we don’t get what we want. ‘Give me Jesus’ reminds us to not want what God can give, but just Him. This is the kind of love that God has for us- He doesn’t love us for what we do, but He loves us for who we are, unconditionally, & desires simply for intimacy with us.

Chorus of “Give me love”.

I used to be desperate for intimacy & love, but my search always left me empty, as my focus was to have my needs met. I’ve learned that you can only truly receive love if your focus is on giving it, not receiving it. I found that it’s only through receiving God’s love that my needs can be met, & His love empowered & transformed me in many ways; ways beyond my expectations. His love enabled me to receive the love of others & find a sense of belonging & ‘family’ like I’ve never experienced before. This sense of belonging has changed me in many ways- it brought inner healing from past experiences & dashed hopes, which had such a hold on me. Through that, I gained a new passion for my work, a new strength to overcome & a new sense of contentment. The fact that I no longer was so desperate for a man was a big thing for me- I had finally learned to be content as a single. The secret was finding belonging, & this I found not in one person but in a group of people who became like family to me.

So what does family look like?

One of the most striking characteristics of this particular ‘family’ were that we loved spending time together. Singaporeans tend to be very busy people, yet we’d hang out together every Friday & Saturday night, often into the early hours. & we also talk to each other on a WhatsApp group chat throughout the day, & I’m still in touch with them this way. I realise that family won’t always look this way, but I do think it’s important to make time for each other & to be involved in each other’s lives. But I think the most important aspects that brings a sense of family are one-ness & commitment to each other, which are incorporated in the term ‘covenant’. In my quest to learn what love is, I’ve realised that true love is described best by the word covenant. A covenant basically means becoming one, & each individual no longer lives for themselves but for the other(s) in the covenant. God’s relationship with us is a covenant, & so is marriage, but I also believe that us Christians are also in covenant with one another to a lesser extent. 1 John 3v16 says that we should be willing to lay down our lives for one another, which clearly speaks of covenant. I believe that this is the best way to love, as the commitment to one another creates a safe environment for people to be themselves, & this therefore cultivates intimacy. I believe intimacy is the means by which belonging can be found.

So what does covenant look like practically? For this group, I found that from the first time I met them, I not only felt welcomed by them, but felt included, like I was already one of them. It’s hard to explain it, but I think it was their genuine-ness, their concern for me, their generosity & just them being themselves. It wasn’t long before this inclusion grew to belonging, & looking back it seemed to come so easily considering how I never managed to find belonging before this, despite my desperation. I think part of the reason was that God had opened my heart, so I was finally ready to receive this. But I think it was also because of the way they invested in me & sought to bless & help me in any way they could. This really inspired me to invest in them & keep looking for ways to bless them. Though I’ve always had a big, compassionate heart, I’m not always very good at showing my love & appreciation for people. People usually do notice the genuine appreciation I have for them, but I wanted to do more to express this love & show people their worth. So experiencing belonging inspired me to take more initiative in finding ways to express love in more tangible & creative ways. I also sought to be myself with the group, which is not easy for me as I struggle to express myself verbally. Verbal communication has always been difficult for me, & I often struggle to articulate what’s on my heart & mind. This has made it very hard for me to be truly known, & this made me very lonely in the past. But God challenged me to be willing to be vulnerable, which meant that He wanted me to persevere in expressing myself, even though the words may not always come out right. But I found this group was a place where I was safe to be me, a place where I wasn’t judged but was accepted, valued & noticed. Being noticed was a big thing for me, because as a very shy person I’ve felt that I have needed to make a big effort for people to even notice me! But in this group I didn’t feel I had to strive to be noticed. I was no longer so uncomfortable being the shy girl but felt comfortable being me both in my speaking & listening.

When I was preparing to leave Singapore, I worried that I’d lose the joy & belonging I experienced there once I go back to England. But God wanted to show me more fully the breakthrough that had taken place in my life, & that I wouldn’t revert back to the same person I was before leaving England. It was only since coming back to England that I’ve realised how much my confidence has grown. Considering my history of shy-ness, this is a huge thing for me. Part of this is because being in a new country forces you out of your comfort zone, & you therefore find that your comfort zone expands! But I also realised that I’m no longer looking for praise or approval from others so much, which means that I’m not as fearful of what people think of me. I’ve always felt the need to prove myself to people, & my ambition to achieve was linked with that. I struggled in the first 2 years of my PhD as I wasn’t achieving & I couldn’t win the favour of my supervisor, & this made me very frustrated & insecure. But once God helped me to find my security, identity & value in Him, I found a new boldness to be me. Knowing that I am loved the way I am, both by God & others, enabled me to stop striving to be noticed & valued by everyone. The paradox is that once I stopped trying to prove myself, that’s when I’ve started gaining greater favour with people! I’ve realised that when we quit striving to prove ourselves, then that’s when God loves to ‘prove’ us.

So this is how I found love, & how it changed me. I believe that this love brings much more hope than what our culture offers us. It offers so much more than the short-lived pleasure of shallow relationships based on sex & attraction. This is why I’m so passionate about what I believe, & why I wish to cry out ‘take away my world- give me Jesus!’. I can’t say my desire for God is that strong that I desire nothing else, but I want it to be, ’cause ‘my world’, my bubble, my selfish desires get in the way of loving Him. It’s only through knowing Him that I find my true identity, my full capabilities, complete freedom to be me & fullness of joy.

“& with every fading fear, there is healing in my tears,
Now I belong, now I belong, now I am strong.” (Chris Eaton).

Link:

Charis Chua’s version of ‘Give me Jesus’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_71-nlwJtM.

Coming out of the cave

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Looking at my blog stats, it appears my blog has been attracting a steady trickle of Mumford & sons fans :). Another one of their songs I love is ‘The Cave’, & I feel that it describes quite well part of my journey of inner healing. From what I’ve read, the song make references to Homer’s ‘Ulysses’, GK Chesterson’s ‘St Francis of Assisi’ & potentially Plato’s ‘The Cave’, none of which I’ve read. But this is just my own interpretation & what the song means to me.

A cave

The inspiration for this blog entry came when I was exploring the Lower & Upper Peirce Reservoirs when I was still in Singapore. My future career plans have been on my mind a lot, as I’d been feeling very frustrated with my PhD, & wondering whether I really want to stay in scientific research after graduating. I’d come to the conclusion that I’m not sick of science in itself, & I do still like research, but what I was struggling with was the lack of progress. I’d finally learned not to find my sense of worth in achieving, but what still got me is that I was not discovering anything new, which meant I was missing the biggest joy I got from research. I love exploring & discovering, & this is what drew me to science & research in the first place. But my PhD has felt like I’m attempting to explore a dark cave with no map or light. I once described my PhD as a maze where I keep coming against walls, & there are no doors but only holes in the wall ’cause I was banging at them for so long! So as I was thinking about this ‘cave’, I started thinking about this song. I believe all of us have ‘caves’ that we go through in life; these can be attitudes, lifestyles &/or circumstances that trap us. When we come to Christ, He sets us free from all this, but we often do not realise our freedom, or we find security in our caves & can’t imagine coming out of them. So freedom is often a process, & I think this is what the song is about.

“It’s empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears & all the faults
You’ve left behind.

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat.”

I think the beginning of the song talks about someone trying to walk away from their past life, & it’s not easy. Though things are slowly getting better (the sun is rising) yet their heart is still empty & heavy- they don’t feel very free yet. The second part talks about this person’s past life, which they are ashamed of. I’m not entirely sure what the cannibal/meat eater bit is about, but my interpretation is that this could be referring to a selfish lifestyle. Our culture is now very consumeristic & individualistic, so people often strive to get & do anything they want, no matter who gets hurt along the way. Galatians 5 v 15 refers to people biting & devouring one another when they do not love each other. When life gets tough, it can be very easy to take it out on others, but living this way keeps us trapped in a cave. Living out of true love is the only way we can find freedom.

& I'll find strength in pain & I will change my ways

“But I will hold on hope
& I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

& I’ll find strength in pain
& I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again.”

The chorus shows a determination to walk from the cave into full freedom, & to also free others from their suffocating bondage. We need to keep hoping, seek to become stronger in the midst of pain, & to become who we were meant to be.

” ‘Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours & I’ll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind.

So tie me to a post & block my ears
I can see widows & orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
& despite my growing fears.”

The first part of this verse sounds like a relationship break up. But this could refer not only to relationships, but perhaps to other areas of life that we need to break away & move on from. Some people (especially me!) find it hard to let go & move on, but we should only hold onto what is ours to keep. Holding onto things that we don’t need will only burden us & drain us, & they won’t really be ours anyway. ‘Let me at the truth’ expresses a desire to find out what is really true so that we can avoid holding onto things that are not meant for us (& so living a lie). The second part talks about the author trying to come into his calling but feeling scared & inadequate. Yet he is compelled to reach out to the ‘widows & orphans’, & wants to stay true to what he is called to do. I think he wants to be tied up so that he can’t run away from his calling, & his ears blocked so he can’t hear anything that would dissuade him from it!

I need freedom now & I need to know how to live my life as it's meant to be

“So come out of your cave walking on your hands
& see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s hand.

So make your siren’s call
& sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now
& I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be.”

I’ve read that this part about coming out of the cave is a reference to GK Chesterson’s St Francis of Assisi, which has this quote about the time St Francis came out of captivity: “The man who went into the cave was not the man who came out again; in that sense he was almost as different as if he were dead, as if he were a ghost or a blessed spirit…He looked at the world as differently from other men as if he had come out of that dark hole walking on his hands.” In order to find true freedom, we need to depend on God, & this can be a humbling experience. Often it feels like we’re crawling forward so slowly in life, & we wonder if we’ll ever be free. But we can only know God’s hand in bringing us break through if we depend on Him, rather than on our own abilities or strengths. & when we come into our freedom, we see the world around us in a new & fresh way, because of what God has done for us. ‘The siren’s call’ could refer to the lies of the powers of darkness, which lure us into a destructive path. So the author is declaring that he won’t listen to these lies, no matter how appealing they sound, as he is committed to becoming free & being who he was meant to be.

It seems I’ve finally come out of this cave relating to my PhD :). It took a while, but now I have a new passion for my PhD project again, even though progress is still very slow. The song describes a lot of the main steps that enabled me to break free:

  • Starting an on-going process of learning to live out of love instead of for my own desires (verse 1).
  • Letting God’s truth get through to me & no longer listening to the lies of the evil one (verse 2 & chorus 2).
  • A growing determination to be free, become stronger & be who I was made to be (choruses).
  • Becoming compelled to live out my calling (verse 2).
  • Learning to let go of many things (verse 2).
  • Learning to be humble & depend on Him, which has given me new perspectives on life (verse 3).

I’ve grown & overcome so much in the past year or so, & am experiencing freedom & fullness of life like never before :D. I hope that as I share how I’ve overcome, that other people may learn from it & find breakthrough in their own lives.

Beauty in brokenness

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Shattered heart

Whether or not we like to admit it, we all have areas of our heart that are broken. We all go through suffering, & we’re only human, so sometimes life breaks & damages us. This damage can remain long after the experiences that caused it, & will affect the way we live life, whether we realise it or not. The long-term effects of our brokenness very much depend on how we perceive it & deal with it. Some people try to pretend they’re ok; try to numb themselves to the pain, as they do not know how else to cope. But this causes their hearts to harden, which ‘protects’ their hearts, but also prevents them from truly giving or receiving love, or from being able to experience life fully. & though they are protecting their hearts from further pain, their hearts are unable to heal, as healing can only come when they receive unconditional love.

C.S. Lewis said in the Four Loves, ‘There is no safe investment in love. To love at all is to be vulnerable. If you avoid all entanglements & lock your heart in a coffin of your selfishness, it won’t be broken but it’ll become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.’ Throughout my childhood, I did not know how to deal with my inner pain, & so I isolated myself & withdrew from people. But this didn’t protect my heart, & the pain just built up until I couldn’t keep it in anymore.

I’ve realised that emotional numbness doesn’t actually protect your heart from damage, but it can allow your heart to become more damaged than you realise. It’s like my tooth that needed a root canal this year- its nerve died in response to trauma, so the tooth became numb. Eventually the tooth became infected, but I didn’t realise, as there was no pain. I had a recurring abscess above the tooth for a while, but I didn’t think it was a serious problem, as it didn’t hurt. I could have lost the tooth had I delayed going to the dentist for much longer. In a similar way, emotional numbness is a sign that part of your heart has died, & though it gives the illusion of being invulnerable, it actually makes your heart more vulnerable. It becomes much harder to notice when bitterness & other negative feelings infect your heart, & this will slowly kill you inside, perhaps without you even realising.

‘To love at all is to be vulnerable’. I’ve found this to be very true. Being vulnerable is a prerequisite for experiencing true intimacy. Recently God has been challenging me to be willing to be vulnerable, & this has been very tough. But it has been so worthwhile- it has allowed God to be able to touch me & connect with me in deep, meaningful ways. It has allowed Him to do His work of healing in my heart, & I’ve now experienced so much change & growth in my personal life. I’m also more able to give & receive love, be myself with people & have confidence, which has made me a lot happier. Our hearts are like clay; once they’re hard they will only remain broken & shattered, but when they are soft they can be re-moulded & put back together (Jeremiah 18 & 19). In the bible, God says that He will replace our hearts of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11 v 19, 36 v 26). The process of inner healing can take a long time, as God first needs to deal with things that cause our hearts to be closed & hardened before He can reach into the areas of deep hurt. Sometimes He needs to break us before He can remake us. But the beauty of grace brings wholeness & redeems brokenness. Even our mistakes, weaknesses & limitations are turned around for our good, & made beautiful through His love.

Ezekial 36 v 26

“Fragments of brokenness
Salvaged by the art of grace
You craft life from our mistakes.”

(Second Chance, Rend Collective Experiment).

The story of my life is that in the midst of many struggles, mistakes & brokenness, God has been faithful & used it all for my good & for His glory (Romans 8 v 28). My struggles have taught me a lot & brought so much growth to my character. & I believe that my pain & the way in which I overcome is enabling me to help others to persevere & find breakthrough in the midst of pain. In any case, it has given me empathy for many people, & inspired me to share what I’ve learned with as many people as I can. Joseph in the bible was sold into slavery, & later unjustly put in prison. He probably will have wondered why God had allowed all this to happen to him. But later he was made ruler over Egypt, & his insight saved the lives of many people (45v5-8, 50v20-21). I believe that though God doesn’t cause suffering, He has a purpose in whatever we go through (despite what it seems!) & is able to bring good out of it all.

Heart jigsaw

I believe our hearts are like an intricate jigsaw, & sometimes the pieces are scattered everywhere. When we try to put the pieces back together, we may put pieces in places they’re not meant to be, have pieces we don’t know what to do with, & have ‘missing pieces’. We can feel incomplete, & so we try to look for our missing pieces in relationships, in our career/studies, in our hobbies, in material things, etc. But wherever we look, we can’t seem to find them. When we put the pieces of our heart into God’s hands, He may need to shake us & break us first in order to re-position pieces that were not in the right places. But God only breaks us so that He can remake us. He carefully puts the pieces back together again, sometimes in places we don’t expect & that don’t appear to make sense at the time. He picks up pieces we forgot about, the pieces we never knew were there, & even the pieces we wish we didn’t have, & He carefully clicks them into place, one by one. Gradually we start to see patterns forming that have a beauty to them. As more pieces are added, it becomes more & more beautiful, & the different patterns start to connect & ‘make sense’. Eventually you realise that the jigsaw is now complete, & that you had all the pieces all along; they just needed to be put in the right places. But then the jigsaw is still not over; God continues to expand the jigsaw. Therefore it is only when we put our hearts into God’s hands that we become complete & come to our fullest potential.

So my challenge is to be willing to be vulnerable & to be willing to be broken before God. Allow Him to reach into every part of your heart, so that He bring healing & restore you to fullness of life. If you are broken, be like the Alabaster jar of precious perfume that a woman broke before Jesus (Mark 14 v 3-9). In a similar way, our broken hearts can release a fragrance of God’s beauty that changes the atmosphere around us & touches others. God’s love doesn’t just fix us, it creates beauty in our brokenness, & as He brings us to wholeness, He gradually recreates His beauty in us.

“My future hangs on this
You make preciousness from dust
Please don’t stop creating me.”

(Second Chance, Rend Collective Experiment).

God can heal a broken heart, but He has to have all the pieces

My year in Singapore

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Sorry I’ve not posted any blog entries in ages! My head’s been buzzing & my heart’s been bursting with ideas & revelations to write about, but I’ve been struggling to find time to express it in writing. This will probably continue for the foreseeable future, since I’ve now come into the final year of my PhD, so I’m likely to be manically busy for the whole year. But I’m sure I will keep blogging as & when I am able.

So those who know me will know that I’ve just spent a year in Singapore as part of my PhD, which was such an amazing experience for me :D. It is well known that having experience of living abroad often broadens your mind & develops your transferable skills, such as adaptability. But living in Singapore has changed me beyond what I expected. I’ve learned that God loves to work in ways that surpass our expectations :D.

View at Marina Bay.

View at Marina Bay.

Last year I had been feeling depressed about my PhD for a long while, & I didn’t know how much more I could take. The main thing that stopped me from quitting was knowing that I would soon be coming to Singapore. I was excited about going but very nervous too, as I was worried that I’d be pressured into working ridiculous hours, as this is normal in Singapore. But when I got there, I found that my new supervisor was really nice & approachable, & I’ve been so blessed to have such a great boss :D. The lab was also quite friendly, & it was a great place to work :).

My first few weeks in Singapore were not easy, as I didn’t know many people. I really missed my family & friends at this time, & with the time difference & distance, I felt that my life was out of sync with the people who I cared most about. But being in this new, unsettling environment was very good for me, as it forced me out of my comfort zone & I made an effort to make new friends. I also had a sense of urgency to make the most of the year, as time was short. I was desperate to start settling in quickly, so I was very keen to find a church to commit to. I tried a few churches that weren’t quite right for me, but it only took 2 weeks to discover the church that I would soon call my own. When I first arrived, I felt intimidated by how many people there were, as I’m used to small churches. I never imagined myself feeling at home in a big church, but God knew better! I could sense God’s presence there during the service, which brought peace to me in the midst of feeling unsettled in Singapore. & then after the service, a few people in front of me turned around, introduced themselves & invited me out for dinner :D. They took me to a lovely Peranakan restaurant, & later we hung out at Gardens by the Bay. I had so much fun with them, & what struck me is that I not only felt welcomed, but I also felt included, like I was already one of them. I wanted to be sure this was the right church for me, & confirmation of this came during one church service, where I felt God say to me ‘this is your family’. This was significant for me, as I had a prophecy before going to Singapore that I would feel part of a family there, & experience acceptance like never before. & in case I needed more confirmation, the sermon turned out to be about ‘church as a family’!

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay.

Since I first came to Hope Church, I started to feel much more settled into Singapore, & it quickly felt like my second home. The friends in my church ‘life group’ became like family to me, & I experienced a sense of belonging there that I had never experienced before. Their love for me inspired me to look for ways to bless & invest in them, just as they had done for me. We loved to spend time together, & we’d spend many hours together eating, going out, karaokeing, watching movies or musicals, going to parks, laughing, bantering, sharing our hearts, & just generally having a blast together. Finding this sense of belonging brought healing from the pain of loneliness & rejection that had plagued me for so long. I eventually realised that my desperation for a man had gone, & that what I was really looking for was somewhere to belong. I would still very much love to have a boyfriend, but I’m in no rush now- I’ve finally found contentment as a single. I’ve realised that I’m not missing out while I’m single, & can still really live life fully. God knew what my real need was, so though He hasn’t given me a lover yet, He’s given me something better- a family. Family is what I actually needed, but God had to spend years opening up my heart, so that I am now able to receive the love of a family.

It was very difficult for me to leave Singapore. I was so happy there, & I didn’t want to leave that behind. But God assured me that I am different now, & that His blessings will follow me as I stay faithful to Him. It was also hard because I’ve invested myself & poured out my heart into the people I’ve known here. So it felt like my heart was being torn apart, & pieces of my heart were left here in Singapore, & in the hearts of many people. God’s purpose is for His heart to become my own, & I believe His will is for me to impart pieces of His heart into the hearts of many. My experience is that a piece of His heart has transformed my life, & this piece keeps expanding & growing & spilling over into the lives of others. This love compels me to spread this love as far as I can; into as many hearts as I can; to show the world what love truly is & the power it has.

Singapore Botanical Gardens.

The power of love is so contrary to what the world considers power. The power of love is an inward power; a power that perseveres against all odds, empowers us to do the impossible, & that chooses to be outwardly weak so that others can find inward strength. True love is vulnerable; true love is sacrificial; true love breaks you, but also re-makes you. So though my heart is broken now, God will make it whole again. Though my heart is scattered in pieces across the world, God will ensure that not one piece is missing, no matter where I am. Geographical distances are nothing to Him, so wherever He sends me, no matter what my circumstances are, my heart is complete in Him <3.

Without spot or wrinkle

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Recently I’ve been reading Ephesians, & when I was reading the ‘wives & husbands’ section, a phrase just jumped out at me. It was ‘without spot or wrinkle’ (5 v 27), & it was referring to the Bride of Christ (i.e. Christians). I’ve mentioned before that I believe marriage is a metaphor for the kind of relationship Jesus desires to have with us, that we ‘become one spirit’ with Him. This is probably the most well known part of the bible that makes the comparison between marriage & a relationship with God.

This section of the bible is quite controversial, as a lot of people take offense at the part that says that wives should submit to their husbands. I’ll go into that a bit later. But it also says that husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the Church. If you have experienced much of Jesus’ love, you’ll probably realise that is a very tall order! How many men would seriously be willing to die for their other half? & how many would care for their wives’ needs as much as their own? My experience is that it’s very easy to think you really love someone, but when push comes to shove, you find that your own selfish desires still come first.

In verses 25-27, it says that Christ gave Himself up for the Church, so that He could sanctify (set apart) & cleanse us, & present us in splendour, without spot or wrinkle, & holy & blameless. As I read that, I felt God tell me that the reason I’m still single for now is so that He can prepare me, so that He can present me to my future husband without spot or wrinkle! So then I was asking, so what does it actually mean to be without spot or wrinkle? Here is the revelation I had:

In the physical sense, both spots & wrinkles are imperfections of the skin. Spots are usually caused by over-production of the skin’s oil (sebum), which causes the dead skin cells to clump together & block up the skin pores. This over-production of sebum tends to be due to hormones being out of balance. Wrinkles are caused by skin damage- as skin ages it becomes less elastic, drier, thinner & more susceptible to damage. I believe in the spiritual, our skin represents our heart & emotions, since the skin is the part of the body that ‘feels’ the physical world, & can directly experience both pain & pleasure. So in a similar way, our hearts are the part of our soul that is able to sense the world around us, & can feel the whole spectrum of emotions. So Jesus is seeking to make us a people who have beautiful emotions that are flowing from a heart of love! 2 types of imperfections can marr the beauty of our emotions.  A lot of people say that here spots represent sin, but I wanted to know why. Now I realise that sin often is caused by a lack of self-control, which is similar to how hormones in our body control many things, but can easily go out of sync, causing problems. Just as spots are a sign of out of control hormones, so living sinfully marrs our inner beauty. I think inner wrinkles are signs of damage by experiences that we’ve had. Sometimes painful experiences can change us long after the incident; perhaps we become bitter, cynical, less open, less trusting, etc. But God wishes to heal us, renew us & restore us, so that our emotions flow out of love, not brokenness, no matter what we go through. Spots are associated with youth & wrinkles are associated with old age. So God is molding us to be mature yet child-like in our souls & spirits.

So from that I can conclude that God is working to heal my emotions & to make me pure & self-controlled. This is what He wishes to do in all of us, & as we submit to Him, He gradually uncovers our inner beauty, so that we shine with His splendour & holiness.  So what is holiness? Holiness is different to perfection; there are similarities but we can be holy without being anywhere near perfect. We should seek holiness, not perfection, & there is a difference in how we pursue these traits. The focus of perfection is what you do, but the focus of holiness is your heart & character. If you work on your heart & character, good actions will gradually follow, but focusing on your deeds alone won’t necessarily change your heart. Holiness is a big word, but I would describe it as a real desire to reflect God & His love; it’s the art of loving radically; it’s doing what’s right & loving no matter what the cost, without compromise. It’s loving good & hating evil; it’s fighting against injustice; it’s inner beauty.

So now I’ll tackle submission.  There are a lot of mis-conceptions about submission, partly because historically women have been treated very badly by men, & partly because true submission is a rare trait. Interestingly, the verse immediately before this asks everyone (i.e. males too!) to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (5 v 21). So just because men are not specifically asked to submit to their wives, that doesn’t mean they are exempt. Men are told to love their wives but women are not specifically told that- does that mean women don’t need to love their husbands? I believe love & submission go hand in hand; they’re not quite the same thing but submission is an expression of love.

I believe true submission is not obeying someone blindly; it’s not letting someone walk over you; it’s not staying silent when you have concerns. I do believe it’s possible to be both feisty yet submissive! To me, true submission is living for another; it’s being willing to lay down your own will & desires out of love. It’s going the extra mile; it’s constantly looking for ways to serve; it’s pouring yourself out without holding back; it’s being humble. It’s all about love, not about being controlled. Men & women are equal in God’s eyes, but humility is choosing to value someone above yourself, without valuing yourself any less. Ultimately, submission is putting your life in the hands of another, letting them lead & mold you. So there is an aspect of obedience, but it’s a choice, & the only motive is love. & the only one we should fully submit to is God, as He’s the only one worthy of our full submission. Our submission to others should flow out of our submission to God.

The Shack

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I re-read The Shack earlier this year, & it’s soo good!  This book has been quite controversial, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing per se.  For those who have never heard of it, it’s a fiction book that tackles the very common question: why does God allow suffering?  The main character Mack is struggling with the loss of his young daughter, who was brutally murdered.  He has some very unusual encounters with God, which turn his world upside down.  I highly recommend you read the book for yourself, preferably before reading this, in case I give too many spoilers away :P.  It’s a very well written, enjoyable read, so you shouldn’t get bored!  There are lots of gems of wisdom found in this book, & so I’ve decided to summarise some of these in this blog entry.

This book has been controversial partly because a lot of people have issues with some of the theology contained in it.  My opinion is that yes there are a few things that I’m not sure I agree with, but there is so much good stuff in there too.  I don’t think the author would claim that everything he wrote is completely right; it’s fiction after all.  Admittedly the way it’s told makes it appear as though it’s based on a true experience, but it is actually all fictional.  So I would suggest reading it with an open mind & taking it with a pinch of salt (which I’d suggest for any book really).  Some people take offense at its representation of God, but surely it’s not possible to fully represent God in a way that does Him justice!  I think this book has a really good bash at representing the God I know & love, & though it may not be completely accurate, I think it’s effective at helping people connect with the real God.  This is a book that covers a lot of ground, challenges our preconceptions & really makes us think.

One of the central themes of The Shack is the nature of God.  It gives a good explanation for the Trinity (one God yet 3 persons- Father God, Jesus & the Holy Spirit), which is a concept of our faith that many people find hard to understand.  Basically the reason for God to be 3 persons is so that love & relationship would be possible- unless God had someone to love, He would not be capable of love.  The bible said that ‘God is love’, so for that to be true, He needed someone to love from the very beginning.  The love between the 3 members of the Trinity is very much evident in this book; they are so close to each other that they are one.  Their love for every human They created is also just as strong, & They created us to also share this kind of relationship with Them & with one another.  But mankind has strayed so far from what God created us for.

The book explains that when Jesus became human, He embraced all our limitations.  He was like a bird who could fly but chose to remain grounded.  He never drew from His nature as God to do anything, even miracles, but relied on His Father’s power to work through Him as He stayed connected to Him.  By doing this, He showed us how we can also live in God’s supernatural strength & power.  The book goes on to say that ‘humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that (He has) for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in (His) image’.

The question of why a loving God allows suffering doesn’t have an easy or simple answer, & attempting to find one usually doesn’t bring much comfort to those who are hurting.  I think the book deals with this question very well; it not only gives some ‘answers’, but also shows some ways in which God brings healing to the hurting.   Basically, the book explains that God doesn’t stop evil because that would take away our independence.  This would destroy the possibility of love, as ‘love that is forced is not love at all’.  He thinks we are ‘wonderful beyond imagination’ & that ‘just because (we) make horrendous & destructive choices does not mean (we) deserve less respect for what (we) inherently are- the pinnacle of (His) Creation & the centre of (His) affection’.  However, God has the ability to turn all circumstances around for our good, & it’s often through times of suffering that we learn to connect with God.  But that doesn’t mean He causes the suffering, or that it was His will for us to suffer.  In the book God says this: ‘Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies.  Don’t ever assume that My using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes.  That will only lead you to false notions about Me.  Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets & colours’.

The main focus of The Shack is God’s love, & the power it has to change a life.  God is ‘especially fond’ of everyone, in a similar way that a parent can love each of his/her children equally.  Our ‘uniqueness & special personhood calls out a unique response’ from God, which means that we’re all God’s favourites!  Some people think that all roads lead to God, but the book explains that ‘most roads don’t lead to anywhere’ but God ‘will travel any road to find you’.  In my experience that is very true; God meets with us where we’re at, & connects with us in ways that are unique to us.  At first Mack couldn’t receive God’s love, as he had a lot of anger towards Him.  But God just kept on loving him & persistently tried to get that through to him.  As it said in the book, ‘you have to take the time to prepare the soil if you want it to embrace the seed’.  Eventually Mack decided to let go of his judgement of God, & choose to trust Him.  This is the turning point that allowed God to do a deep work of healing in his life, which the book describes beautifully.  The book gives the analogy of someone drowning to explain that it’s very hard for God to rescue you if you don’t trust Him.  All God wants us to do is to trust Him & seek to grow in love, & He’ll do the work of healing & transforming our hearts.  The book describes our hearts as a garden that is a beautiful mess.  This garden is a fractal from above, which means it is a pattern that seems simple but is extremely complex, as the pattern is repeated at every magnification.  This is a good metaphor for our hearts; we may feel that we’re a mess & our life is chaos, but God sees its beauty & complexity, & loves it.

Fractal garden

It seems the author is passionate about inspiring people to live out of love, as I am :).  He explains that the only way we can find true freedom is inside a relationship with Jesus, who is the Truth that sets us free.  In this relationship, we need to trust Him & obey Him in order to become truly free.  Following God isn’t about following rules, but it’s about laying down our independence & letting Jesus live His life through us.  God doesn’t just want to be our priority; He wants to be at the very centre of our lives, with everything else connected & moving with the Spirit.  He explains that the commandments in the bible are a mirror to show us how dirty we get from living independently.  Because Jesus fulfilled the law for us, this law that was once demanding the impossible is now a promise He fulfils in us as we live out of His love.  But now if we try to live by a set of rules, we are declaring independence from God & trying to be in control of our lives, & this can make us feel superior to others.  Therefore living by rules is not the way of love & so is not what pleases God.

The author is clearly opposed to institutions, hierarchies & any way in which people try to control others.  He believes humans created hierarchy, not God, & that this destroys relationships by imposing laws.  He argues that if we truly regarded others as ourselves,we wouldn’t need hierarchy.  He views the institutions of religion, politics & economics as man-made ways to control & to gain security, which cannot bring true security as that comes from God alone.  He explains that love does not control but submits, & ‘submission is not about authority & it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love & respect’.  He goes on to say that people often put responsibilities & expectations on their loved ones, but this turns a relationship into ‘a dead thing with rules & requirements’.  God doesn’t give us responsibility, but instead gives us the ability to respond in love & service.  & He has an expectancy for us, not expectations.  This quote gives a beautiful description of the expectancy He has for us:

“Because you are important, everything you do is important.  Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out & touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness & service, seen or unseen, My purposes are accomplished & nothing will ever be the same again.”

Delighting in weaknesses

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2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Recently God has been revealing to me a deeper knowledge of myself, particularly my weaknesses & limitations.  This has made me feel really vulnerable at times.  I’m very much an advocate for embracing who you are, as this has been very liberating for me.  But sometimes it’s hard to determine whether certain traits are part of who I am, or whether they are holding me back or crippling me from being who I really am.  & also, whether certain weaknesses are things God will change, or whether they are my ‘thorn in the flesh’ that I just have to learn to live with.  I soon realised that I won’t find these answers by trying to figure it out by myself, but only by waiting on God & giving the revelations time to unfold.

I believe that personality traits aren’t intrinsically good or bad, but each trait can be both a strength & weakness.  The example I usually give is my emotional nature.  I am very emotional, & can really struggle to manage my emotions at times.  This can be very bad for my emotional health, & this can then have detrimental effects on all the other areas of my life.  But I’ve found ways of dealing with my emotions, not by suppressing them but by re-channeling them in positive ways.  I embrace my emotional nature & can see the positive aspects of it- it allows me to be able to relate to & empathize with others better.  It also means that I am very passionate & can experience life more fully.

I’ve mentioned before that fear still holds me back in many ways, & I’m seeking to overcome this.  But now I’ve realised that fear is not the only thing holding me back, & there’s a deeper underlying issue too.  You see, I’m very much an introvert, & I’ve always had problems with socialising.  This has meant that I spent much of my life feeling very lonely, & was desperate to be truly known.  I did not know how to show the ‘real me’ to others, as I struggled to express or articulate what was on my mind or my heart.  Thankfully God has helped me improve in my ability to socialise & communicate verbally, & I’ve also found other ways to express who I am- through writing, the way I dress, music, crafts, climbing, crazy dancing, etc.  But still, the most effective way to connect & communicate with people is often through conversation.  So my difficulties with communication are a cause of much frustration, as they hold me back from developing relationships more fully.  This limitation of mine fuels the fears I have, which hold me back even more.

So is my inability to express myself freely a part of who I am, or a crippling of who I am?  Perhaps a bit of both??

"We need to first be limited in order to become limitless."

Recently I listened to a brilliant TED talk called ‘Embrace the shake’.  I highly recommend that you listen to it; it really blew my mind!  The speaker is an artist who discovered that embracing a limitation can drive creativity.  What he was saying seems very counter-intuitive & goes against most of what I’ve heard or presumed about creativity.  His thinking was pretty much the ultimate in thinking outside the box- he suggested to get in the box in order to think outside it!  What he found was that having too much choice paralyzed him, making him unable to gain inspiration.  But when he had a limitation, it forced him to think creatively to find a way round it.  But he had a choice- either let the limitation hold him back, or use it to gain creative inspiration.

This guy said that we need to first be limited in order to become limitless.  Wow!  & then it gets even better- what he thought would be the ultimate limitation turned out to be the ultimate liberation!  This reminds me so much of the verses I started this blog entry with.  Paul said that ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’, which is a similar paradox to what the artist discovered.  So we should embrace & even ‘delight’ in our limitations & weaknesses, ’cause when we do, we find that God works them for our good.  When we acknowledge how weak & limited we are, & rely on His strength, we find such power & ability to achieve great things, & such liberation.  Limitations don’t have to hold us back; God has given us the capacity to turn them into springboards!

So I’ve been slowly learning to love & accept myself the way I am, & to stop beating myself up about my weaknesses.  It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve become a lot better at it :).  I’ve experienced how destructive & crippling feelings of guilt & worthlessness are, so it breaks my heart when I think about others who still struggle with these feelings.  So I want to give my life to showing people just how precious they are & how much they are so loved by God.  I want people to stop being held back by their insecurities & the belief that they’re not good enough, but that they’ll see the huge potential in themselves & what they are capable of, & that this will empower them to pursue big dreams & overcome great challenges.  I’ve found that if our sense of worth is based on achievement, the pain of failure can be so crippling that we barely have the strength to keep trying. But I believe that if you can grasp that your worth is based on who you are, not what you do, then this frees you to achieve all that you are capable of.  & I’ve found that we start to find true fulfillment when we quit trying to prove ourselves to others, but we simply be ourselves, embracing all who we are.

‘Embrace the shake’ talk: http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=YrZTho_o_is.