Saturday, 29 October 2011

Somebody Has Got to Do Something!

I have written on this topic before, but I feel I need to write about it again; whilst the majority of people in the Western world are not particularly wealthy, we find again and again that prices of this, that and the other are going up, whilst wages are being frozen, people are losing their jobs and there is real uncertainty in many people’s lives in just how they are going to make ends meet and what plans they are to take in life.

The people who helped cause the financial meltdown and the subsequent economic chaos we find ourselves in are living privileged lives, sheltered from the very mess they helped to create.  When the banks messed up, we bailed them out.  So, in effect, they failed but didn’t fail!  Nice for some.  Many millions of people in the United Kingdom are feeling the serious consequences of this economic mess, and are having to make all sorts of budget cuts to all sorts of things they were used to, and we are seeing that things like gas and electricity, the price of petrol, the price of food, transport and many other things are going up month after month, whilst wages and benefits remain the same, or in some cases are being cut.

Shouldn’t a Christian stay out of politics and economics, you might say?  Well, I believe we must speak out where there is injustice, and I believe we have the right to challenge, in a lawful way, the way our country is run.  It is not being run well at this time, but no matter how hard the ordinary person is squeezed, the wealthy and powerful and those who rule and make laws seem to live well beyond the means of the ordinary person.  And whilst many of us are dreading the next round of price rises, the people at the top seem not to care, primarily because those at the top have wealth and high-paying careers to shelter them from the worst of it.

All over the world people are campaigning against sharp practises by the wealthy, corporations and governments that don’t care or who seem impotent to do anything really radical, like tackle the high prices of goods and services, the price of utilities, and the rising tide of unemployment.  The ordinary person has no real say in how their countries are run, if they ever did, but at this time the gulf between the wealthy and powerful and the person at or near the bottom is very wide indeed.

There is a moral dimension to all of this, and if we are to be honest we need to look at and explore the moral dimension.  From one angle, price rises are wonderful; if you are benefitting from them, that is!  From another angle, the price rises are something that many millions of people around the world are dreading.  I refer specifically to the UK: it wouldn’t be so bad if it was just food and household goods that were increasing, but it is so many other things as well, like the cost of petrol, the cost of public travel especially train travel, the ever-rising cost of utilities like gas and electricity prices; there seems no end in sight, and yet our politicians, of whatever political persuasion, and the people who run and own these companies seem unable to do anything about it, and seem less to care, perhaps because they are all wealthy and well-provided for.  It’s the same old story, it seems.  So let’s come back to the moral issue at stake.  The moral issue is that these price rises are, when it boils down to it, an issue of greed.  And I believe implicitly that God does not countenance injustice and does not turn a blind eye to injustice for ever.  Some people may get away with their sin this side of Heaven, but will certainly not on the other.  There is immorality, greed and injustice woven into these price rises and they are at worst making some people’s lives worse than they really need to be.  There will be an answer to this injustice; mark my words.  

It seems that, as ever, we in Britain have the highest prices for food, general goods and services, train travel, petrol and gas and electricity prices; why is this?  Will we ever get a real answer from any politician about why we are always paying more for almost everything than any other Western European country, without the usual bluster and waffle and patronising tone all around?  We can but hope.  But deep down, if we are honest, we know that we are being ripped off and taken for a ride, often by the very people who are supposed to be fighting our corner.  If we can’t get rid of capitalism and I personally don’t want to, then it needs changing.  Firstly, if you have and make lots of money, you can pay more tax; if you are poor or make little, you pay less tax.  It’s that simple really.  We need to redistribute wealth fairly this way, unless we want anarchy on the streets; not in a ‘hippy-dippy’ or Communist way or anything that has links to any political ideology, just a fair and simple redistribution that makes sense and is easy to administer.  Secondly, we need to truly work together, governments, bosses, corporations, businesses and the regular person on the street in making our finances work, and perhaps we all need to stop living beyond our means and stop living on borrowed credit.  Thirdly, we all need to find a purpose in life; I believe that goes beyond normal concerns but is very much the most important consideration in being human.  

There is another problem I feel with Britain too; it seems that too much power and wealth and influence is concentrated in the hands of a relatively few people and also especially in the South East of England.  This reflects history and tradition, but isn’t it time we began to live in a modern nation, one that is based on genuine equality and fairness, as opposed to privileged status and unfairness?

When people give to charity, people from the Western nations to countries like India, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America, no one questions the fact that richer people are giving to poorer people; why should they?  But why, when people are talking about redistributing wealth from the richest to the poorest within wealthy Western nations, is there a complete reluctance?  Why are many wealthy people in the West so greedy and selfish?  The only aim of charity, in any circumstance, is to redistribute wealth and resources from those who have to those who don’t have.

What is the Christian answer?  Well, as I wrote, I believe Christians need a purpose in life, even if at first that is just being obedient to God and walking in His ways.  We also need to ask why there needs to be, in some circles, absolute unlimited wealth, and for others near-wretched poverty. Just what is the purpose of such wealth creation if it only benefits a handful of people?  If a person is living in poverty, or struggling financially in any way, then maybe, and for the first time, they need to pray and ask God for help; He really can help!  I’m not being religious here or anything like that, I’m just telling you the truth; God can, and does, work in the real world.  For Christians, we need to lean hard on Jesus and to ask in prayer that we can satisfy our need before our greed and we need to be honest about ambitions and understand quite simply that if we make a lot, we need to put a lot back, and if we don’t make a lot or if we are struggling and poor we can as I said ask God to make our lives better without the need necessarily to have millions and millions of pounds, even though I believe there is nothing fundamentally wrong with being wealthy provided you use some of that wealth  wisely and to help others and you are prepared to pay a fair rate of tax.

Finally, I don’t believe it’s necessary to be wealthy to be happy, and it’s not necessarily a prime requisite for being a Christian either.  True happiness, and contentment, go beyond wealth creation and is a spiritual kind of wealth, one which lasts and no one can steal from you.  I’m not suggesting either that being poor or wretchedly poor makes you super-spiritual in some way either; who wants to live in poverty after all?  It’s beyond that too.  God will provide, and is able to provide all your needs, regardless of whether you are rich or poor.  It’s having faith in God that enables us to see the bigger picture, and will teach us that money is not the most important thing in the world.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Struggling with Addiction

Trying to combat what a person is addicted to is one thing, perhaps more importantly tackling the reason, or reasons, why a person is addicted is another.  Lack of self-worth, a fear of being seen as boring so they do what they think is exciting, or what other people may see as exciting and interesting; drinking too much, taking drugs or whatever else it is a person can be addicted to.  Addiction might seem to be the antidote to a person’s empty life, but any addiction at worst can be empty and unfulfilling in itself.

If we are honest, an addiction, and even an obsession, with something is not normal behaviour.  Being addicted to something will not make any other problem go away, it will just exacerbate that problem; you will still have the same problem, and now you might have an addiction as well.  God has the answer for the addicted person.  Someone might ask God: “Change me, and I’ll stop!”, and God might reply: “Stop, and I’ll change you!”  Like with depression and any other serious illness, addiction can be healed by God, but I believe we must want to stop before we do stop.  It’s that simple; and that hard.  I don’t believe God wants anyone addicted to anything, but if we are we can certainly seek help from Him.

I had my own form of addiction; but I prayed for help, and I leant on God, and I was corrected by Him, until I learnt to change.  It wasn’t an easy process, but I think I had to go through it to understand just how God does work with people who are afflicted by addiction.    

Why are some days better than others?  Why are some times in our lives happy, and others seemingly filled with worry and anxiety?

Saul, the Religious Zealot
We can even be addicted to religion, when I think as Christians we should be temperate and moderate in most everything we do, except in revering and loving God, having a genuine zeal for His purpose and of course caring about other people; that is vital in a fallen world.  God has the knack of shaping us for better purposes, and can turn our lives around.

Saul was a religious zealot; he was so zealous in his wrongdoing, that we might say he seemed almost addicted to it.  But he was ignorant of his wrong standing with God.  Before I really turned the mess that was my life over to God, I can claim ignorance too; and I was a mess, a mess of contradictions.  I think almost every Christian who gives themselves wholeheartedly over to God has lived in ignorance of God, whether that was just because they didn’t believe there was a loving God there, or because they were caught up so tightly in something that God to them was an irrelevance.  Saul, the zealot and murderer, the religious ‘addict’, became Paul, the wise and chastened Christian, who moved into a new phase with God, and never looked back.  As Saul, he was addicted to religion, as Paul, he became a Christian whose best expression was talking about Jesus, writing about Jesus and wholeheartedly serving Him for the rest of his life.  Even the most chronic addict can learn to leave the addiction behind, and simply walk with God. 

Boring? Yes, but Happy
Once upon a time, a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, I was a different person.  I enjoyed drinking to excess, especially with my mates on a Friday and Saturday night, and not worrying about anything.  I led the life that so many young people do, in fact.  But, having a calling from God on my life quite simply meant that I was misbehaving, and not being obedient to Him.  This disobedience led me to living a dissolute life, and not really being a Christian at all.  That type of life, that lifestyle, does not last for ever; what we can readily take and put up with in our early 20’s, we can’t really take as we reach our 30’s.  That’s how it was for me anyway.  And then, for some reason, I also started to develop what I would later know to be depression.  Living a fast life with no cares or worries, may seem exciting at first, but in the end I think it always catches up with you; it did for me.

After my riotous living, and as I ‘discovered’ God again in my early 30’s, I learnt to cut down my drinking, and tried, not always successfully, to see God’s point of view.  In some ways, I have had a very bad relationship with God, frankly because I was such a fool and never seemed to learn anything!  Looking back, I cringe at my mistakes but at least I try not to make the same mistakes again; that’s a start.  As for addiction, well that’s a thing of the past.  I have to work at my relationship with God, and like most everyone else I have other things I need to do, so I don’t have time for riotous living of any kind anymore.  Boring?  Perhaps, but definitely happy!

Feelings, Just Feelings
Anyone who has suffered with depression, anyone who has struggled with feelings of worthlessness, or felt that they weren’t particularly cared for and loved, will tell you that those feelings can be so powerful and overwhelming that they can, and will, affect your life to a very great degree.  How we feel about ourselves can affect our whole outlook.  With depression, this can be to an extreme level.

I now believe that most, if not all, people struggle with issues such as these but that with God’s grace, guidance and help, we can overcome the worst of troubles.  When God enters our lives, however He does it, He will want to change us; from a sinner to a repentant Christian; from a sick person to a healed person; from someone without purpose to someone who has a divine purpose; from a loser into a winner, and from someone without help to having the best help in the universe.  He will make a difference!  He has taught me to live beyond my feelings; that just because I am down doesn’t mean it has to affect my life and not even my whole day.  We all feel down at times, but instead of reaching for the bottle or wallowing in self-pity, we should reach out for God and His grace and help.  It is tackling those emotional issues and coming to terms with them and asking God into that suffering, that might very well see an end to addiction and the reasons for addiction.  We must learn to ask God for help in every area of our lives.  In the end, some people might be addicted to something to shield them from the sometimes harsh reality of the world; I have found in my experience that God is all we need to face the world.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Struggling with Depression

 I have struggled with depression, on and off, for over half my life now; however, it hasn’t been a serious problem for a number of years, and with God’s grace, I don’t think it will ever be a serious problem again quite frankly.  Of course, I still have moments where I am down, but they are rare now and they don’t last, and I have learned not to take every setback or problem, or personality clash or just a bad day for whatever reason, as a serious problem anymore. 

I have understood that depression is no mere run-of-the-mill illness; it’s not like a cold or a sprained ankle; you can’t just take a tablet and then all is well.  It is something that seems part and parcel of human experience, or is for some people anyway.  I believe that depression at its worst is a kind of spiritual malaise that often doesn’t have a physical cause, or a cause that anyone can really put their finger on or adequately explain.

At the same time as struggling privately with depression, I have found in my experience that anything new coming along, whether it’s a job or a course you are embarking on, or a stressful situation of any kind, or just anything which changes your routine, feels as if you are being pulled in a number of different ways; this is how it has been for me, and how sometimes it still is too.  Trying to explain depression to someone who has never had depression is like trying to describe a foreign country to someone who has never been there; we can do it as best we can but it’s at best second-hand knowledge; only when you have been there can you then fully understand.

I was lucky to get professional help when I suffered extremely with severe bouts of depression; but sometimes with the best will and the best help in the world, all I could do was ‘ride out the storm’ so to speak.  It’s often something that just happened, and all I could do was buckle myself in and wait for it to pass.  Today, I haven’t suffered a severe bout for many years, and I attribute this to God and His grace and mercy in my life.  Also, I have a slower pace of life, and I take each thing that happens very much in my stride.  If it’s something bad or in some way negative, I deal with it as needs must, if it’s something good, I simply accept it and am grateful.  I have developed a philosophical outlook to life, which holds me in good stead now, whether I feel down or not.

Part of my healing has come because I at last understood that depression in part can come from turning your back on God, and refusing to live obediently to Him.  Yes, I know, that sounds strange.  I am not saying that God strikes someone with depression for disobedience but simply that refusing to live in God’s ways can just bring this illness on, and perhaps for many reasons.

Jeremiah, the Reluctant Prophet
It has been said that Jeremiah, that quite famous prophet of Israel’s ancient past, was a reluctant prophet; it seems that he wasn’t particularly comfortable with God’s calling on his life, but at least tried to live out that calling.  It didn’t help matters that what he was preaching was not what the Israelites wanted to hear.  The more he preached, the more miserable he became, and the more unpleasantly aggressive reactions he got from those not wanting to hear his message too.  So, in some cases he was preaching a miserable message and making himself more miserable in the process!  But it was God’s will for him to preach unpopular warnings to a largely backsliding Israel.  So, it was Hobson’s choice for him really; if he didn’t preach, he would be in trouble with God, if he did preach he would be in trouble with his kith and kin the Israelites.  Maybe Jeremiah suffered with depression of one kind or another.

I have been a reluctant Christian; for a number of reasons.  Like Jeremiah I have God’s calling on my life, and like him I have been reluctant many times in my life to live out my calling.  As a result, I have had a half-hearted relationship and walk with God; also living in sin at times didn’t help matters either.  Partially because of this, I think I developed depression as a result of my chaotic inner and spiritual life.  I don’t come from a Christian background at all, and none of my family are Christian in any way; I don’t really go to church but am now in the process of finding a place where I can fellowship with other Christians; I am a dyed-in-the-wool Christian and try to live my life by godly principles and ideals but I am also in many respects an ordinary bloke and not particularly a ‘holy Joe’ of any kind.  I have struggled with depression, both when I wasn’t really living as a Christian and when I was.  I find that now the worst aspects of the illness have gone, and occasionally I feel a bit down or a bit stressed but that’s about as far as it goes.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men May Oft Go Astray
Like many people, I have dreams and ambitions, and I have had dreams and ambitions in the past too.  And like many people, I didn’t fulfil or achieve some of those dreams and ambitions.  Some of them were big, and others less so.  It is never good to see our dreams vanish, or disappear when harsh reality bites or just pop like a soap bubble; it can be depressing.  But, like most things that happen to us whether good or bad, we can learn something even from this bitter type of failure.  We can learn to get real, for a start; real with our ambitions, and real with God too. 

Failing at something we wanted to achieve can actually open doors to other things, even if it might be at first a better reliance on God and a more philosophical outlook.  It can also cause us to reflect on what we truly want out of life, and also what God wants for our life too.  These things can be at odds with each other, or they can be in harmony with each other.  There’s no reason why a Christian cannot have ambitions to own a business or succeed in getting a job or being an accomplished writer or athlete or musician, or whatever else it might be.  Sometimes, whatever we desire can somehow fail, or we change our goals or we just don’t want a thing anymore; such is life.  Sometimes, we do fail at something, and whatever it is sets us back.  Again, such is life.  It’s at these moments that faith can be tested.  I now believe that God is the best source for giving us, shaping and holding onto any ambitions we might have.  I might add, it also seems sometimes that life itself can get in the way of our dreams and ambitions; such is life it seems.

God’s Healing
A big part of God’s provision in any believer’s life is healing; healing in all senses of the word; healing illness, healing emotional troubles and past hurts, and healing in the sense of cleansing a person from sin, from sinful lifestyles and forgiving sin so that we can move on to a better life free from the mistakes of the past.  But in the correct sense of the word, God has the power to heal us and free us from illness so that we can be healthy both spiritually and physically.

Through His healing process, He draws us slowly towards to Him so that we rely solely on Him; as we get healed little by little we also learn to trust Him little by little too.  And if He can heal us, from maybe long-standing health issues, what else has He the power to do?  Well, if God had the power to create the whole universe, and everything in it, from scratch, then most everything else will be a doddle for Him.  God has the power to heal us, and He has the power to change us, from a sinner to a repentant sinner, from a repentant sinner to someone who actively wants to serve Him on a daily and on-going basis.  God can heal us of the worst things; He can and will, if we let Him and trust Him, heal us from the worst depressive states.  If we trust Him with everything else, why not our health too?  He has healed me, and He has taken what was bad and shaped it into what is good.  No, my life isn’t perfect, whose is, but I go forward now in the assurance that God is with me, and Jesus is just a prayer away.