I have a confession to make, several confessions in fact. I am a Christian, and have really tried to live as a Christian for about fifteen years even though God entered my life in my early teens. We look around us and we think everyone else is doing better than us, has a better grip on life than us, are better Christians than us; and we feel less than perfect.
I am occasionally an angry person; I boil up with rage over the slightest and silliest things and I get stressed out because of it. I don’t act on my anger but it still affects me; I expect many people are the same. Yet at the same time, I am generally quite a happy-go-lucky hail-fellow-well-met kind of bloke. In some ways I am what the Americans would call a ‘regular guy’, and in other ways I feel I am not particularly normal; I’m sort of unique; but then, aren’t we all?! I find myself filled with all kinds of fears and all kinds of dread, and sometimes I don’t know why; at other times, it might be because of this or that, and usually, not always, it’s something trivial or not that important. I often carry a sense of loss, a black cloud over me that makes my life less than it could be. I have been told now and again that I’m not a bad looking sort of bloke and yet all I seem to recall is a long list of failures with women; I either didn’t speak up when I should have, or I said the wrong thing at the wrong time it seems. I could write a hefty book on all my past failures with women. If I’m honest, some of it was my fault and some of it was probably theirs. I have been unemployed for large chunks of my life; I’m not proud of this and I often feel guilty because of it. Much of it was to do with depression, serious depression that blighted my life for a long time. For a long time, I have endured periods of inner emotional turmoil, a cheery face accompanied by emotional pain that would sometimes recede and then come back again.
I’m a Christian, a full-on believer, a dyed-in-the-wool Christian, and yet I’ve never been to church to worship, don’t really know other Christians in the flesh, as all of my friends are not really believers, and have no real desire to sing hymns on Sunday in some suburban church somewhere; it just doesn’t feel like me. What’s the answer? I wish I knew. As for sharing the Gospel and talking about Jesus, well that happens occasionally, but average Working class blokes like me don’t seem or appear to be the sort of people to be Christians or to talk about Jesus to family, friends and strangers. Inside, I am on fire with zeal for my faith, outside I look and dress just like most other blokes my age. But no one said a Christian couldn’t dress smartly or dress ‘street style’ either did they?
All the Worries of the World
Often in my life, and certainly in the past, I seemed to carry all the worries of the world on my shoulders, broad as they are. No one in this world needs to take on troubles as there’s enough trouble it seems to go round for everyone, whether they want to suffer or not. It’s certain that all humans at some time will suffer for one reason or another. And Christians I think will suffer in a world that is often hostile to them and a world that in virtually every way opposes Christian justice and mercy, fair play and a sense of equality. The world is one thing, and living as a Christian is something else. I don’t believe anyone should willingly take on all the worries of the world as a Christian, but that if we do find ourselves suffering in some way because we are simply living out our faith as best we can, we should pray to God for the strength to endure and persevere in our faith, whatever happens to us good or bad.
For some reason, I do find myself worrying, even when I don’t appear to have anything particular to worry about. It’s a pain, it really is, and I sometimes find myself wishing for the moment when I can just relax and basically stop worrying. Sometimes I do indeed stop worrying. Now I pray for peace, inner peace as well as peace with other people around me and a general sense of well-being. I notice that as I draw closer to God, God puts everything in perspective and shines a light on what can be darkness, or what can seem inexplicable. Why do we suffer? What is suffering all about? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world without any kind of suffering, any kind of pain? It would be wonderful wouldn’t it! Sadly, we live in a fallen world, and it seems the whole of creation groans under the weight of sin and simply because so many humans abandon the ways of God and choose to ‘do their own thing’ regardless of the impact on other people; we’re all hurting in effect. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.'’ (Matthew 6:34 NJB)
Carrying a Sense of Loss
I have carried a sense of loss with me for a long time; it is it seems just another part of me, a part of my personality that is like any other part of me. I think it is true to say that many people carry a sense of loss, for whatever reason, or maybe a number of reasons, and they accept it. It could be because a person has failed at a number of things or been unlucky with the opposite sex or been unemployed for a long time, and so on and on. It is in many cases, and certainly in my life, an acceptance of a third-rate life and a life lived in the full knowledge that we are only existing rather than living a full and happy life. When we have lived in sin for a long time, God will straighten us out eventually, and one of the ways God punishes us is by letting us understand what life is like without His blessing and guidance in our lives. In short, He keeps us at arm’s length for a time, whilst filling us with a desire to serve Him again. We are between Him and the deep blue sea. I found that at these times, God spoke to my heart and taught me valuable lessons. We desire a perfect relationship with God; and yet most of the time what we have is imperfect and full of holes, a half-cocked friendship that stops and starts, boils over occasionally and often seems to be going nowhere. We are impatient, hoping for the next phase, and yet God seems in no particular hurry. We live in a fast-paced want-it-yesterday sort of world, where we are bombarded everyday with all kinds of desires, desires for a bigger house, a new TV, the best holiday experiences, the newest most expensive gadgets, the wonderful life we all seem to be missing and we become dissatisfied or think we are unfulfilled if we don’t get what we think we want. We are meant to be unsatisfied, it’s almost beaten into us, unless we get what we think is our heart’s desire; then we wonder why we feel unhappy. Sometimes the best thing we can do is stand back from every situation and just be grateful for all the good things God has blessed us with, and stop worrying about what we haven’t got.
Hope Springs Eternal
Hope is one of the messages of the Bible, it is one of the most important messages of the Gospel and hope is God’s gift to a world that often for many people seems lost and completely hopeless. It isn’t just people living in shanty towns dressed in rags and lucky to eat one meal a day that seem without hope, even millions of people in wealthy countries seem to be without even a modicum of hope in their lives. When we in the wealthier parts of the world begin to understand the great blessings God has already gifted us in so many ways, we might stop being so selfish and so ungrateful and might begin to thank God for the plenty we already have. We might also begin to think about all those people in the world who aren’t so fortunate, who suffer malnutrition, who suffer great hardships as a normal part of their lives and who don’t have access to good food, healthcare and medicines and often can’t read or write so living with very limited chances to advance in life. Even for these people, where there is life there is always hope.
Hope springs eternal, and a gift of hope from God, injected into hopeless lives is a gift that will revive us and renew all of us to go on to do better things with our lives. ‘I was completely surrounded, there was no one to help me; I looked for someone to help me, there was no one. Then I remembered your mercy, Lord, and your deeds from earliest times, how you deliver those who wait for you patiently, and save them from the clutches of their enemies. And I sent up my plea from the earth, I begged to be delivered from death. I called on the Lord, the father of my Lord, 'Do not desert me in the days of ordeal, in the days of the proud, when we are helpless. I shall praise your name unceasingly and gratefully sing its praises.' And my plea was heard, for you saved me from destruction, you delivered me from that time of evil. And therefore I shall thank you and praise you, and bless the name of the Lord.’ (Ecclesiasticus / Sirach 51:7-12 NJB)