Apprentice Lesson 8: Evangelism isn’t dependent on events

Happy New Year!  If you’re reading this and you don’t call yourself a follower of Jesus, that’s really cool.  You’ll probably find this post a bit strange, as it’s really aimed at those who already follow Jesus.  Evangelism is essentially telling people about Jesus and what He’s done for humanity.  Here’s a nifty summary of this message called Two Ways To Live, if you’ve never heard it explained before.  Please let me know what you think (this post could be seen as a bit controversial!).  The last two posts will be on their way in the next couple of days. 

The problem with my evangelism

Evangelism is something which Jesus followers are often encouraged to do.

It’s something I can easily feel guilty about.  Often other brothers and sisters have amazing stories about opportunities they’ve had with colleagues, course-mates, friends and families.   Continue reading Apprentice Lesson 8: Evangelism isn’t dependent on events

Apprentice Lesson 7: Prayer is a wonderful privilege

Tied up in knots

I love my Dad.  There’s no one quite like him.  He’s someone I can be totally honest with.  He listens to me, comforts me, makes me laugh.  I love talking to him, especially about what I’m learning from God’s word.

I wish I could talk to my Heavenly Father as easily.  But somehow, it’s harder, isn’t it?

For a start, I can see my earthly father.  In person, on Skype… if we’re on the phone I can visualize him.  At home, wearing a holey M&S jumper with navy cotton trousers and a pale blue cotton shirt.

I can’t even tell you what God looks like, without committing some sort of heresy.

Dad is Dad – we have our own banter.  But God runs the universe! Where do you even start?

And usually when you talk to someone, you don’t fall asleep mid-conversation.  Or tell them your spiritual shopping list.  Or suddenly start to think about all the things you have to do.  Five minutes later – oh, I’m so so sorry God.  Now where was I?

I can’t just say one sentence to Him.  Especially not out loud in prayer meetings.  What will people think?  They’ll think I’m being irreverent.  

And speaking of prayer meetings, I feel so stupid praying out loud.  I’m not as eloquent as so and so sitting next to me.  What if people judge me, because I can’t really get my words out right?  I feel like I’m constantly thinking about how to impress other people I’m there with, rather than speaking to my Creator.  He sees into my entire heart and knows all my thoughts!

And what’s the point anyway?  If God is sovereign and has planned what’ll happen, then surely prayer makes no difference!

These are all thoughts I thought last year.  There were months when I would pour my heart out continually, and see God answer me.  There were months when I prayed regularly but not so fervently.  And there was a period when I struggled to talk to God at all.  (Two books really helped me in this time.)

Why it’s great to pray

My supervisor advised me to write a list of reasons why it’s great to pray.  And as I flicked through the pages of my Bible, it was so helpful to look back at what God says about speaking to Him.  I had a rummage through all my notes from last year to share it with you, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

But here are the verses I remember, which debunked a lot of my doubts about prayer, and make me joyful that we can speak to God.

a) We have incredible access to God

’14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons[e]of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.’ Romans 8:14-17 ESV

Everyone who has trusted in Jesus has God’s Spirit living in them.  God has brought them into His family.  I’ve come across a couple of brothers and sisters who refer to God as ‘Daddy God’.  And it makes me cringe.  But it shouldn’t.  We CAN call God ‘Abba!’  Daddy.  Because we are His children, His heirs.

It’s like we’re little Prince George in the British Royal Family.  He’s not barred from the Queen, his great-grandmother. He’s allowed full access to her.  He has every right to stand before her, and converse with her, as one of her heirs.

Likewise, if we’ve put our trust in Jesus, we can speak to God.  We can stand, head held high, in His throne room.  We have full access to the Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings, and our Loving Father.

b) The Spirit helps us talk to God.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[f] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27 ESV

Sometimes I dislike prayer meetings, because I want to speak to God, but can’t speak eloquently on the spot.  I speak before I think.  And run out of things to say.  And then end up repeating myself.  And saying ‘Errr’.  And then sheepishly saying ‘Amen’.  And then if I don’t hear anyone else echoing ‘Amen’, I always think Oh no! What have I done? Did I say something wrong?  Or heretical? Oh, that was probably a totally rubbish prayer and that’s why they didn’t say Amen.  Humph. Oh well. Phew that we’re saved by grace and not by works.

Well Paul continues on to say that all the earth is waiting, groaning, for Jesus’ return, and it’s tricky to wait.  And the Spirit helps believers to pray when we can’t get the words out.  He intercedes for the saints (i.e. all Christians) – He takes our prayers, and conveys how we’re feeling to God.

So when we don’t know what to say to God, we don’t need to worry about it.  Not that we shouldn’t make the effort to speak coherently in corporate prayer.  But if we can’t find the words, it’s okay.  The Holy Spirit gets across the message to God the Father.

c) Prayers of the righteous are powerful

’13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.[b] 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.’ James 5:13-18 ESV

I used to misunderstand these verses.  I thought that because Elijah prayed lots, that made him righteous before God, and that’s why his prayers were powerful.  But I went back to what is recorded about Elijah in 1 Kings.  It was all in my head.  God chose Elijah to be His mouthpiece to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (the end of 1 Kings is a cracking read), because that’s just what God does.  There’s no mention of Elijah meriting this task.  He is like anyone who’s trusted in Jesus.  He is like us.  He truly was a man with the same nature as us.  God made Him righteous because of His grace, not because of His works.

And God listened to Elijah’s prayers, and answered them powerfully.

I’m not saying that God will answer ALL our prayers.  But we can have confidence of our standing before God, if we trust in Jesus.  We are righteous before God in Christ – God cannot ignore our requests.  In fact, He wants to answer those who have been brought back into right relationship with Him.  He wants to help them, and draw them close to Him.

So we should go for it, and pray boldly.  I often give up praying for things which seem too out there, or I don’t even try.  But we can! As Christians, God is our Father, in Heaven.  We have this restored relationship with God as our Father.  He’s listening to us right now!

Let’s not worry or feel guilty about all the thoughts and distractions which prevent us from praying.  God knows our weaknesses, and wants us to talk to Him regardless.  Let’s not hold back!

Apprentice Lesson 6: What spiritual gifts are for…

A Gifts Complex

‘Imogen, what are your gifts?’

It was a Sunday afternoon in September.  I was sitting in the Rector’s living room with his wife, his daughter, and a handful of apprentices and associates, whiling away time before the evening service.

We had just been hearing from one of the other apprentices about his musical gifts (and having known him for over a year, I think he is very gifted musically.  But anyway).

Now the Rector’s wife’s attention passed to me.  Half a dozen pairs of eyes swiveled towards me expectantly.

It surely wasn’t a question asked to put me on the spot, but I felt the warmth go to my cheeks and my mind falter as I tried to work out my answer.

‘Erm,’ I fumbled.  ‘I really don’t know.  I applied to this scheme to find out what my gifts are.’

I wasn’t fishing for compliments.  It’s so hard to list strengths – far easier to reel off my weaknesses.

And that conversation gave me a bit of a complex for the next few months.  I constantly compared myself to others and felt so rubbish and ungifted.

A couple of times I asked people I was closest to what they thought my gifts were.  These were their answers:

Empathy.  Encouragement.  Joy.  Singing (apparently I sang a lot whilst cleaning the church).  Taking a genuine interest in others.  Also, (apparently) Bible teaching.

My convictions about spiritual gifts have fluctuated over the years.  In my first year at university, I grappled with people’s different interpretations of prophecy, speaking in tongues and healing.  This was because I was a Cessationist before starting university (I thought that spiritual gifts had ceased to exist).  And then when someone prayed in tongues over me at a CU prayer meeting, I was properly freaked out, but changed my mind.  Spiritual gifts existed, no doubt about it.

But what were my spiritual gifts?  What made me different from others?  What made me special?  What made me more important than others?

Our time in 1 Corinthians later on in the year taught me something I desperately needed to hear.

Spiritual gifts?

In chapter 12, Paul goes to great lengths to enforce that there are many different spiritual gifts, but they are ALL from God.

‘Now there are VARIETIES of gifts, but the SAME SPIRIT; and there are VARIETIES of service, but THE SAME SPIRIT; and there are VARIETIES of activities, but it is the SAME GOD who empowers them ALL in EVERYONE.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good […] ALL these are empowered by ONE AND THE SAME SPIRIT, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (12:4-7, 11)

Every believer has been given spiritual gifts, and regardless of what they are, they are all equally valid, as they have all been given by the same Trinitarian God.

Then Paul uses a picture of a human body to explain how the church functions, in verses 12 to 31.  Every body part is part of this body, belongs to the body (vv 12-13).  No matter who they are, or their function.  They are part of their body (vv 14-20).  And all the parts are dependent on each other (vv 21-26), even the parts which seem weak (vv 23-24).  They are to care for each other (vv 25-26) – if one part is in pain, they all feel the pain (v 26), and if one part is made much of, all the other parts are honoured as well.

Then Paul emphasizes that all Christians are part of Christ’s body, are all members (v 27).  Not everyone has the same spiritual gifts (vv 29-30) – there is meant to be diversity.

Then Paul goes onto argue in chapter 13 that using spiritual gifts without love nullifies them:

‘IF I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have NOT LOVE, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And IF I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and IF I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but HAVE NOT LOVE, I am nothing’ (13 vv 1-2).

Because spiritual gifts will pass away (v 8), but love (as well as faith and hope) will abide (v13) – will last forever!  They won’t matter in the New Creation.

Therefore, the Corinthians must pursue love (v 1).

And what does that look like in practice?

Body Building

In the rest of chapter 14, there’s a repeated phrase which brings the last two chapters together.  Here are some excerpts, but I recommend you read the whole chapter to get the bigger picture…

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. […] 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. […] 26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

Gifts definitely aren’t about the recipient.  They shouldn’t be used to say, ‘Look at me, look at me!’.  Spiritual gifts are for building up others in the body of Christ. They’re to be used to point people to Jesus and His truths (that’s the most loving thing one can ever do – to be pointed back into the arms of our Heavenly Father).

And you may be thinking, ‘Well, how obvious! Of course gifts are to be used for the good of others!’

Well, this was news to me!

There’s always been a desire within me to be made much of, to be praised for my achievements.  I want people to think well of me, and strive to be in the limelight, as if I somehow I gave myself these gifts, not God.

I’ve rarely thought that gifts are for building up the church, serving my brothers and sisters in love.

It’s drastically changed how I view myself in the grand scheme of church.  Instead of fretting about what my giftings are, I’m now eager to serve, get stuck in however I can.  Even if I’m just speaking the truth in love to someone else after the sermon or a Bible study, that’s playing my part in body building – serving the other parts of Christ’s church.

And this ‘body building’ angle really helps when tackling the issue of spiritual gifts in the church today.  Whatever prophesying or speaking in tongues looks like today (I still am undecided).  When someone shares a word, or utters something in tongues, or shares a vision they’ve had, is it going to build up the brothers and sisters gathered there?  Does it point us to God, what He’s already revealed about Himself, or does it speculate about something which isn’t clear and vague?  Is it for show, or is it genuinely from God?

Let’s not prohibit people from practising their spiritual gifts, out of fear of what may happen.  But let’s be wise about what we share in public gatherings, or with other believers.  If in doubt about how helpful it is, best to keep silent.  But if it would build up, talk to someone about it who is on the leadership team at church.  There may be an opportunity for it to be shared at some point.

And let’s not get carried away with it, and neglect to focus on what’s already been revealed to us through the Word.  Let’s love other believers first and foremost, regardless of anything which moves us, focusing primarily on what has already been revealed to us by God through His word.  Let’s Body Build.

Apprentice Lesson 5: Focus on someone’s worldview to change their behaviour

Have felt so tired for the last couple of weeks of term that I’ve not had time to write.  I’m planning on getting the next five posts out before 31st January, and will post them up on my Facebook and Twitter account so keep your eyes peeled for more.  Please let me know what you think!  

Actions speak louder than words.

I don’t know about you, but it’s frustrating when people say they will do something, but don’t.  It happens in the public sphere.  It happens at work quite a lot.  It happens in church.  It happens with friends and acquaintances.

This hypocrisy doesn’t stop at me. If I’m overwhelmed by a statistic, for a couple of days, I can’t stop going on and on about it to anyone who will listen.  And then a week passes, and it’s completely forgotten.  I forget to buy Fairtrade bananas.  I forget about the thousands of people younger than me who are trafficked in this country.  I block out what happens in the news.

I used to say a lot to brothers and sisters, ‘I’ll pray for you’.  Now, I try not to do that, because I know that I’ll probably forget.  Where possible, I try and pray for them there and then after they’ve told me about something.  And when I proclaim I love others more than I used to, I conveniently forget that actually I don’t love people a lot of the time.  There are times in the week when I’m unkind and impatient towards them.  Even if it’s just pavement rage, tube rage, bus rage, queue rage, phone rage, Facebook rage…

It’s easy to focus on people’s behaviour and actions, because that’s what we see, and what can be visibly rectified.  We’re used to being told to change the way we act.  Charities do it by telling us to change our giving habits.  Schools did it by rebuking us when we broke the rules.  If anyone sees us break the law in this country, whether they know or care for us, one misdemeanour is enough to bring about some serious consequences.  Magazines, television programmes, celebrities and Youtubers constantly give us top tips on how to become better versions of ourselves.  And even preachers and pastors often tell us to change the way we live.  We are naturally legalistic and action-focused.

Behaviour-focused ministry?

Throughout the scheme, I was very aware that there were students who were happy to meet up with me, who said they were Christians but didn’t go to church or CU or a small group.  And there were students I met once at church and whom I never saw at church again. It was baffling.  What they said didn’t match up with their actions.  If they really loved Jesus, why didn’t they get stuck into church?  If they really cared about the non-Christians in their lives, why didn’t they take full advantage of their university Christian Union, one of the missionary arms of the church?

As it’s not natural for me to be confrontational with other adults, I didn’t berate them (at least, not to my memory).  But I remember pleading with them, opening Ephesians 4 with them, and asking what was holding them back.  And after we parted ways, I felt so frustrated at how spiritually short-sighted they were, and that I was powerless to help them.

It didn’t occur to me until towards the end of the scheme, that my attitude towards tackling change wasn’t right.  Throughout the year, we had sessions on worldviews, and student workers would frequently talk about how they were really important.

Worldview?

I assumed a worldview was a world faith, but I gradually learnt that it just means what someone thinks about the world, life and God.  It varies from person to person.  And even within different types of people groups, there is great diversity.  So if someone calls themselves a Christian, it doesn’t automatically mean that they think church is important.  It doesn’t mean they automatically value the Bible as God’s word. Sometimes, it doesn’t even mean that they understand the good news in the first place.

And when it comes to knowing God’s truth, it is God’s word working in us which changes our attitudes.  There’s a bit in the first section of Colossians, which explains this really well:

‘9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks[d] to the Father, who has qualified you[e] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.’ (Colossians 1:3-12)

world view diagram

Here’s a very basic diagram illustrating my understanding of how a worldview affects someone’s behaviour i.e. how one is filled with knowledge of God’s will, and how that knowledge causes them to be more godly (Colossians 1:9-10).

It starts with God’s word being taught. God is actively at work through His word, and what we hear goes into our heads.  Then God’s power is at work within us – sometimes on a head level, so we can be struck by a sermon immediately afterwards, but not think about it much after that.  And sometimes on a heart level.  It’s like there are buttons in our souls where, if pressed, our understanding can be utterly changed.

And by dwelling on God’s word, hearing God speak to us changes our attitudes – it aligns our hearts with His heart.  And this means that God changes the way we act, feel and speak.  And as we look back over the years, we can see God’s word at work in our lives, bearing fruit – real lasting change in godliness.

The right approach to change

With those students, I should have taken time to understand their worldview. I often came to those one-to-ones full of assumptions about what they told me based on my own experience of church and university life.  I wasn’t even aware that I was doing this.  And though there is nothing I can do about it now, and God loves to use us in our weaknesses, it makes me wish I had gone about it in a more mindful way.  Instead of focusing on their actions (or lack of), it should have been a process of examining their thought processes.  Asking those questions which I thought I couldn’t ask, and constantly thinking – what does this unique individual think of God, and the Bible and life, and what can I use in God’s word to guide them to the truth?

As one heavily involved in church since understanding the gospel, it can be so easy to dismiss people I see who attend but don’t get involved as selfish, ignorant and disobedient to God’s word.  I know that there are other Christians who do the same thing, especially ones in the generation above, who get grumpy about people not serving on rotas and the like.  I need to constantly remind myself that the reason why people don’t get involved in church often runs deeper than being ‘too busy’.  It stems from spiritual misunderstandings and perhaps real difficulties, which needs to be addressed sensitively, perhaps over coffee or a cup of tea , with an open Bible.

Equally, just because I regularly go to church, have got stuck into a small group and persevere to pray and read my Bible every day, I definitely don’t always have the right attitude.  Very often I catch myself thinking that I’m doing it because I have to, and not because I’m pursuing a relationship with the loving and patient God who made me.  Often I’m like Martha, Jesus’s friend, who is so preoccupied with serving that she doesn’t see her relationship with the Lord as the most important thing which should spur on her serving. (Luke 10:38-42)

Let’s not be too quick to judge, to write people off, to only focus on attendees who are keen and hungry for more – let’s not stop loving those on the fringes. We must constantly pray for them, be aware of them in meetings, invite them to things outside church, introduce them to other believers, befriend them, bear with them.  Let’s always remember to look beyond what we can observe, and care more about what God is capable of within all people.

Apprentice Lesson 4: We often go about emotions the wrong way.

If you were hanging on for the next blog, sorry about the delay.  Contrary to the tricky situation in my last blog, I’ve been kept very busy for the last few weeks.  I found this quite a hard thing to write, but I still think it’s very important.  Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

The Emotional One.

Another apprentice dubbed me this a few months into the year.  And I don’t disagree with this title.  Out of the ten apprentices that year, I am the most emotionally volatile.  I cried a lot last year, and literally jumped up and down, gesticulated wildly and beamed at good news.  I am probably one of the least restrained when it comes to expressing how I feel.  I’ve known that I am a ‘feelings’ person for a long long time.  Since I was a young child, feeling things deeply, and mulling over many things I heard.  As a teenager, writing lots of poetry about how I was feeling about virtually anything.  And still now, feeling things deeply. Tearing up in films, influenced into a certain mood lasting for hours from just listening to one song… You get the idea.

And I noticed early on that I was different compared to the others.   Whether there was something wrong with me.  I often felt like I hurtled through the day, like a comet with rapidly varying energy levels.  The slightest thing, like a remark or a song on Spotify, would either make me so gloriously happy, or so hopelessly sad.

And I thought that I had no control over this whatsoever.  That I couldn’t help how I felt.  And this became particularly apparent when being given feedback on Bible studies and talks.  Even if they went fine, I’d still take the criticism to heart – which were pointers to help me improve – and cry about it.

And it took me about six months to realize (with the help of one of the female student workers) that there were many lies (which I readily believed) floating around in my head.  Because I didn’t evaluate these thoughts in the first place, I let these lies become like truths.  And these fake truths provoked feelings which had little or no foundation in truth:

I was only accepted onto the scheme because the student ministers felt sorry for me.

I was only accepted onto the  scheme because I was a token person from outside the church who hadn’t been a student there.

That study I just led was rubbish – God, you must have made a mistake in putting me here.

[Insert name]’s talk on the same passage was so much better than mine.  I should just throw in the towel now.

The church don’t want me to stay here after the year’s done – why would they want me to stay?  I’m of no use to them!

I’m rubbish – how can God ever use me for Your work?

People must think I’m so weak, because of my tendency to cry.  No one understands how I feel.  How will I ever be taken seriously… ever!?

And it’s not like I’ve stopped thinking these things now.

During the last Bible study I led, I literally had to push aside really negative thoughts and preach to myself silently in my head that it was helpful for my co-leader to interject, that God is at work through His word DESPITE my weaknesses, and members of my group are supportive.

When I spend long periods of time without speaking to friends, I start to think that they aren’t really my friends, they’re tired of listening to me and want to distance themselves.  Especially if I send them texts or messages or write letters.  And there’s no response.

When I’m worried or anxious, it still takes me a while to turn to God in prayer.  Before I do, there’s often a deluge of negative thoughts and anxiousness which drown my mind in panic, which I feel like I push my way through to gain perspective.

Naturally, my feelings dictate how I think.  They influence my thought processes and actions without even realizing it.

When I realized this was an issue, I started to be vocal about this struggle I was having.  A handful of people recommended reading Emotions by Graham Beynon.  I hesitated for a while.  Then, when I realized I needed to do something about it, I went home to my parents’ house, and read a chapter a day as part of my quiet times.

Before I started reading, I thought it would tell me that emotions and being emotional was bad (For a long time, I assumed all conservative Christians deemed all feelings as unimportant, unecessary, and even BAD, and not to be trusted).  I thought I’d have to change who I was and pretend to be someone I wasn’t.  I thought the book was for people who struggled to express their emotions, rather than those who constantly feel propelled by them.  But I was wrong.  I wrote a review after reading it, and was blown away by how helpful and Biblical it was.

God created our feelings.  They are part of our design and make-up.  And therefore, our feelings matter to God as much as our thoughts and our actions.  But like our thoughts and actions, our feelings can be sinful.  And our attitudes are ultimately shaped by our worldviews.  What we think about life, our world and God.

Because feelings are a natural outworking of our attitudes, they can be sinful or pleasing to God.  So if we have a sinful attitude about something, then our feelings which stem from it will therefore be sinful.  Or equally, if we have the right attitude, our feelings which stem from that right attitude are good and right feelings.  And our feelings help us decipher what we think of ideas we hear. They indicate how much we believe something we hear, or whether we have heard it properly at all.  Especially when it comes to God’s truth.

So when I cried after being critiqued for a talk, bible study or just generally, it was often for the wrong reasons.  Usually it was because I was proud, and it hurt being told that I needed to improve.  Or I was being self-pitying: despairing that I’d messed up and, oh I’m so sinful, and wondering how God could ever use me.

And I realized that I never cried for the right reasons.  Reasons springing from God’s glorious truths.  Yes, I’ve felt elated because of God’s grace and love, but only a few times in my Christian life have I ever shed tears over my rebellion against God, and how all of us are in great trouble because of this rejection.

And gradually, because of these new ideas, I changed the way I handled my feelings.

I didn’t stop being expressive.  I still am.  And I revel in being more emotional than others – which is probably not a good thing when every human being is emotional.  I still cry, but far less.  I’ve managed to control the tears a lot better.

Now, when I feel like I want to cry, my mind blunders through the following process:

1) Oh no, [insert sad thing] has happened.  I feel sad.

2) Stop.

3) Why do I want to cry?  Is it for a good godly reason?  Or am I being self-pitying, feeling frustrated or that my pride has been wounded?  Oh yeah, actually, I want to cry because of a sinful reason.

4) Ok, woah.  Swallow, sniff.  Hold back the tears.  Yep, especially as there are men in the room, and women who feel awkward around crying people.

5) Breathe.  God, please help me not to cry.  Thank you that You care, and please help me see things in perspective!  Preach the truth to myself.  Preach it sister etc!

You may have noticed that at the end of the last three posts, I’ve applied what I’ve learnt to the church today, particularly in this country.  And I’m going to do the same thing here.

I don’t think I’m generalizing when most Christians don’t have a similar melancholic temperament to mine.  And I’ve felt that keenly over the years.  I remember bursting into tears when I was around at someone’s house from church at university, because I was worried about my dissertation.  There were no men there, but only one out of five women there tried to comfort me.  How outrageous! I’m so relieved that one of them sat with me and reassured me for about three hours and passed me tissues.

But it often makes me question if this British stiff-upper lip attitude is godly and good.  Yes, it’s not good to force people to be overly emotional, or act in a way not consistent with their personality.  But still.

I reckon there’s a tendency among Christians who have such an emphasis on examining God’s word, to value those who are more rational, rather than those who are more emotional.  And also to typecast people into either rational or emotional.  But that’s wrong! We’re all rational and emotional.  We all think and feel.  There are extremities, but God thinks this spectrum is beautiful.  He created us to be different from each other, but in his image.  We are made and designed to feel.

If you’re scared of your emotions, or feel uncomfortable about them, don’t be!  Ask for wisdom, and remember that God is sovereign over what we feel.  And if you think like you should feel more, don’t feel pressured to.  Speak to another more mature Jesus follower about it.

And as hearing God’s word is the most important thing, and the bedrock of our relationship with Jesus, let that shape how you feel.  Feast on God’s truths.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always be happy.  On the contrary, it can mean you’ll feel sad.  And let’s not eschew watching films, or listening to sad music or enjoying culture and art.  Mediums with messages contrary to God’s, and which can often evoke ungodly feelings.

But God speaking to us should be the voice rising above our culture’s clamour for our affections.  We must let His voice shape our worldview, thus allowing Him to be Lord of our feelings.