Welcome to the Patchwork Blog! I hope you enjoy reading my random thoughts about life, Jesus and the freedom he offers.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Barriers to intimacy with God

477x477-blue dribble prodigalThis post is a follow on from my post called Drinking from the Well of Living Water, a couple of weeks ago and is based on a sermon I preached at Coastlands Church on Sunday 25th May 2014. We have been in thinking in our church a lot about what it means to drink from the well of Living Water, about  how we can deepen our relationship with Jesus and with God as Father. This is a subject dear to my heart as seeking that deeper intimacy with Father God is what set me free from food addiction. It was seeking Him alone, and putting everything else to one side that led me to experience the healing from my addiction.
In my chats with people leading up to my sermon last week I began to ask myself what are the barriers to intimacy with God. These thoughts are the start of my thinking in this area. I started by reading about the woman at the well from John 4:1-26 ( Clicking that link will take you to the Biblegateway site where you can read the relevant passage.)
Looking at my own life I saw 3 areas of my life that were barriers to intimacy with God, two of which I see in the woman at the well’s story too.

The barrier of our beliefs
False beliefs about ourselves
The Samaritan woman came to the well when others were not around. Most women would have come earlier in the day. She was hiding from others. I was also hiding. I was hiding from God. When I was ashamed about my faults, my addictive overeating and my other many sins, I tended to take a step away from Him. Why did I do this? Was I scared?
I think I was fearful of being told off by God, of Him being harsh with me. Deep down, I wrongly thought I had to earn the right to have that deep intimate relationship with Him. Oh, I knew the truth on the surface of my thinking, but the more honest I was with what I was really thinking deep down, the more I realised I was hiding from Him in shame at my sin. This is the opposite of what the Gospel tells us to do.

False beliefs about God
As a Samaritan the woman at the well had slightly ‘wrong’ theology. Samaritans were Jews, who some generations before, had intermarried with gentiles and over the years had started changing their beliefs away from true Judaism. Jesus challenged her about her beliefs in John 4:21-24.
What about our theology, our own beliefs about God? What I said I believed with my mouth, and on the surface of my mind was so different from what I really thought deep down. Deep down there was something else going on.
Not only did I think I had to earn the right to have intimacy with Father but I also didn’t really know that He truly loved me.I understood it as a concept but not as a deep life-affirming, life-changing truth.
Do we know He loves us no matter what? Do we truly know the depth of His love for us. He sent His Son to die for us. That is how much He loves us.

The barrier of our sin
Sin is a barrier between God and us. Jesus challenged the woman at the well very gently about her sin. He was not harsh or judgemental with her. She acknowledged it to Him, so it was no longer a barrier.
1 John 1:9-10 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us”
Christ we share 17When God challenges us on our behaviour and our sin, it isn't because He wants to be harsh with us. It is because He wants us to draw closer to Him. He loves us and wants us close to Him.
This goes back to how we see ourselves, what we believe about ourselves. Do we think we are not good enough for intimacy with God? If so we have not truly grasped the truth of the Gospel at a deeper heart level. Jesus died to save us from our sin. He has already died, and risen again to life. His resurrection is the proof that God accepted his sacrifice for our sin. Our sin is no longer a problem if we confess it and take it to God.

Sin is only a barrier to intimacy with God if we don’t acknowledge or confess it

Satan is a barrier
Satan does not want you to be close to God and will distract you in any way he can. He will lie, cheat and deceive in any way he can to stop you truly believing the truth of the Gospel.

1 Peter 5:6-9So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honour. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.
The devil knows your weak areas and will exploit them to get you away from God. But God has already defeated the devil through the cross of Christ.
I have found that looking to God is the best way to resist the devil. If I try to fight sin and satan in my own strength I often fail. The best way for me is to turn to God and come to him in honesty. To say “Lord, I am weak, I am tempted. Please help me”. I look into His face of love and find strength. When I think I have to beat the sin before looking at Jesus I am much more likely to fail as I am trying to do it in my own strength.
If we come to Father God in honesty about who we are, we will find His love welcoming us. He loves us and longs to show us His love.
1 John 4:18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
He doesn't want to punish us. He already did that to Jesus. He wants to love us, to remove our sin and cleanse us. Trust Him. He loves you so much.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Good News!!

Psalm 113
This is the view from the clifftops near my home! 
When I wrote my post about Trusting God in difficult times at the beginning of this week, I didn't expect the hoped-for change in my circumstances to happen so soon.

But today at lunch time I was offered a regular 20 hours at my locum/part time job. I was delighted as it would give me an income equal to that of jobseekers amount. I was so pleased.
But the good news didn’t end there. A couple of hours later due to a change that work had not entirely predicted, they offered me a full time post for at least 3 months, and hopefully longer! So I started this week feeling down about my prospect and I end it on a high with a full time job that I have already been doing part time and which I love.

It is such a weight off my shoulders. I didn't like being on jobseekers at all. Although through my part time work (which I declare to the jobcentre) I was earning a good deal of what I received it still was unpleasant having to go to the jobcentre to sign on. I wanted to work and support myself.
I praise God that He has now enabled me to stay in this job. I am working as a receptionist at a GP surgery near to my home – I have a 3 minute walk to work in the morning!
Mind you, I have learned so much about myself and about God in the last year that I can’t really regret it. I am a far more content person that I was and that is despite difficult circumstances. Maybe I am just beginning (I have a long long way to go) to understand what Paul meant in these verses from Philippians.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13
And it feels good, very good.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Trusting God in difficult times

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about trusting in God. Now a couple of weeks later I am even more aware  how hard it can be to trust Him in difficult times. I am having a battle to trust God at the moment. I know I trust Him more than I have done before but at the same time I am still anxious at times about the future.
I am still without a full time job, and have to depend on state hand-outs to help me make ends meet. I want to support myself fully not rely on others. I find myself worrying at times about the situation. At other times I trust God and know totally that He will look after me. I have wonderful friends and family who would not see me in desperate want and I am so grateful for them. But still at times I worry and get anxious.  I obviously don’t trust God as much as I could.

Sketch hand God 2This has led me to think through why I don’t trust Him. I believe it all stems from not really knowing Him. Oh, I like to think I know Him. And indeed I know a lot about Him on an intellectual level. I’ve read His Word, repeatedly over the years. But there is a part of my heart that does not believe what I have read. I find myself wondering if God really will help me with getting the right job. Does He really have a plan for my life?  Does He really love me as much as I think He does? I have a lot of ‘what if’ questions flying around my head.

Sketch hand God 6At times like this I have to make a choice. I can choose to believe what I read and what I know as an act of my will. I read back over things I have learned before. I look at things that inspire me. I look in my prayer journal and see again what I said about how God has spoken to me before. The first two pictures on this page are examples of when I started doodling in a previous time of difficulty. God spoke powerfully to me through both pictures. It is a little like what Joshua did in Joshua 4. They built a memorial with stones.
“When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 ‘Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.’
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, ‘Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel for ever.’
8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.” Joshua 4:1-9

Silhouette of young womanMy pictures are like those stones. They help me remember how God helped me before and give me hope that He will help me once more. And then I remember that when God helped me before I stood and looked at Him. I didn’t look to the problem. I looked to His light and His love and gradually I see again with the eyes of my heart that God is in full control.

For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Drinking from the Well of Living Water

We've been thinking about Living Water at our church recently. We've been seeking God's presence with us as a Church, and worship has been amazing. We're drawing closer together and close to God. But also we are starting to think about how we can drink the living water at home, at work and every minute of our lives, not just when we are in church.

I am preaching on this subject on May 25th so it has been especially on my mind. It is also a subject I have thought a lot about over the years. During my training for Church Army I spent a summer reading about prayer. Gradually, I had realised that it was a subject about which I was not taught much after I became a Christian. I was reading around the subject to try to learn more for myself but also I wanted to learn more about how to pass on what I know to others.

You see, I didn't realise for ages after coming to faith that other Christians often had what they called a 'Quiet Time', a time of spending time in prayer and Bible reading. No-one spent time teaching me about private prayer and it started to bother me. What bothers me most is that we are not discipling people on how to spend time with God in private when they come to faith. We teach them doctrine, we show them how to worship in Church, we teach them standards of living that are appropriate for a Christian but do we ever teach them how to sit in God's presence when alone at home in their rooms?

For me it is the times with God on my own that refresh me as much as those in a group setting. being a Christian isn't about learning rules about how to do this or that. It is a relationship with a living person, with a God who is longing for intimacy with us. Jesus spoke of living water when speaking to the woman at the well in John 4.

"Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’...Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’  " John 4:10, 13-14

Sometimes I still feel as if I thirst for this living water. I am only now after 30 years of faith learning to surrender to Father God and develop a truly intimate relationship with Him. I am learning to drink this living water and am aware of it welling up within me.

We are all different and relate to God in different ways. I now want to explore how we express our personality in prayer, in our alone times with God. I want to explore different ways of praying and also learn more about how we can disciple those who come to faith more effectively in developing a relationship with God rather than a set of rules to follow.

I welcome any input or ideas about this subject. We can all learn so much from each other.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Trusting in God

It's been a long while since I blogged anything. Two of my last three blog post were about how Father God was asking me to let go of pride, expectations and independance (Emotionally Blackmailing God and Letting Go). In the time I have been quiet here on the blog, God has really been teaching me this a lot.

Going it alone
I sunk into depression and anxiety over my future rather than trusting my heavenly Father. I think it was also a reaction to the difficulties of the previous two years. A lot of really tough stuff happened and I got emotionally exhausted, added to which I am in a time of long term unemployment so worries about the future got mixed in with it all.

 I got to the point where I couldn't do it myself anymore. My mind and body were shutting down almost, crying out for rest. I was trying to be strong, trying to sort out my future, trying to serve Him in my own strength. The more I tried to do it alone, the more I failed and the more exhausted I became. As I failed my pride took a battering. I felt ashamed that I wasn't strong enough to cope. I expected huge amounts from myself and hated myself when I failed.

Learning from our mistakes
But God has really used this to teach me as I work through it. So often God will use our hard times if we let Him. God was trying to teach me to
lay down my independence, my pride and expectations of Him and expectations of myself. I am now learning to let go of this, rather than just thinking about letting go. And the difference is amazing.

My whole outlook is changing. I am looking to God to tell me when to move forward and when to rest. At the moment He is saying rest, so I am resting in Him. In day to day life this means, trying to be aware of His presence all the time (I recommend Practising the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence to study more about this, which can be found to download for free on the internet), and every time I start berating myself to do better I stop those thoughts and remind myself that God loves me and has told me to wait and rest, to learn to simply be, not do.

Letting Go for real

Surrender pride, independence & false expectations.
Jump into Father God's  arms.
It is the way to peace and freedom. 
It also means not getting cross with myself when I fail to let go. It means learning to forgive myself for not being perfect, and for failing. It is all a part of letting go of pride and realising that I am still loved by God if I admit to being a sinner. In fact I am learning that the times I am closest to Father are when I am being truly honest about who and what I am. Coming to Him and saying 'Father God, have mercy on me, I am a sinner' and acknowledging all my faults to Him pleases Him. I am forgiven and can experience His touch once more.

In fact the more I lay down the pride, expectations and independence the more close to God I am and the more freedom I experience. The more I try to go it alone the more captive I become. Surrendering all to Father, through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit really does bring freedom, not just in name, but in experience too.