31 March 2015

Overthinking - and Dealing With It

My name is Colin and I like to think.

I'm told this is increasingly rare nowadays. There's definitely a bit of a social taboo prevalent in modern society about thinking too deeply about anything.

I'm different, because I'm not made that way. For me, the problem is simply knowing when to stop. The best way that I can describe it is with the attached picture, found on the 'net.

I'll come in of an evening and I'll find it incredibly difficult to stop thinking through the things that have happened in my day. I might be mulling over something that happened; a new place I have been to; someone new I have met, some interesting fact that I've picked up; a conversation shared. Something or other will dominate my thinking.

My mind refuses to rest until I've processed whatever it is. If I come in too late in the evening, I find it very hard to slow down enough to sleep. I'll toss and turn, listening to my own internal dialogue reviewing my day over and over. Until it's all neatly in place. Until I've closed that last tab and shut down for the night.

I have read up a little on this. The human brain is created with the capacity to make billions of neural connections every minute and to soak up information like a sponge. Sir Kenneth Robinson claimed in a recent talk that children start to lose this ability once they enter the formal education system. He concludes that it's we teach them to fear being wrong. Eventually, children slowly stop offering their own creative, out-of-the-box ideas. True creativity is removed from the agenda.

Nevertheless, the adult mind is constantly gathering information in all sorts of ways - formal, informal, gossip, hearsay. If we have too much information at hand (and let's face it, in modern society information overload is easy!), our minds get overwhelmed. Add to that the fear of being wrong, is it any wonder that people choose either:
  • to limit their choices (not to think too deeply)
  • to explore their choices (ending up with a tendency to overthink)
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Slartibartfast: Perhaps I'm old and tired, but I think that the chances of finding out what's actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, "Hang the sense of it," and keep yourself busy. I'd much rather be happy than right any day. 
Arthur Dent: And are you? 
Slartibartfast: Ah, no. [laughs] Well, that's where it all falls down, of course. 
(lines from 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy)
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A lot of friends are aware of my tendency to overthink and suggest ways to help me, I'm keen to work on this too - not to stop thinking, but to discipline my thinking, and particularly to ensure that I can still hear God's voice and encouragement rather that my own internal dialogue.

More in part two, later this week

26 March 2015

It's A Wonderful Life - Really (part two)

Last time, I explored a little about how life can often get more than a little uncomfortable for a Christian. However, we are comforted by the fact that we don't face these things on our own...

Whoever said that following Jesus was going to be easy? Well, they were wrong. Those of us who follow the teachings of Jesus are called to be disciples. The term 'disciple' is derived from the Greek word mathetes, which means a pupil (of a teacher) or an apprentice (to a craftsman), And by necessity, a disciple undergoes discipline (it's from the same Latin word). That means commitment, and that means training.

This discipline doesn't mean that God is angry with you. Quite the opposite. Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), so that we are no longer condemned (Romans 8:1).

No, this is more like military basic training. Combat situations are difficult to handle, so training has to be tough. You need to be prepared for all situations, Troops need to be ready to follow orders instantly -  it could save their life and that of their comrades.

Jesus can be just as relentless in his training. As mentioned last time, we may even be tempted to think that He is cruel because of the amount of pain He puts us through. Training can be hard - because life can be hard. He wants you to trust Him - in all things - at all times.

Think of a couple of experiences in your own life - the ones you learnt from most. How many of those experiences were comfortable? None, probably.  How often did you want to give up? How often did you wonder if it was worth it? How often did you get mad at your instructor for pushing you beyond what you thought necessary?

Some teachers give up on their students if they don’t get it after one or two attempts. In military basic training, those who can't hack it are forced to quit or are 'washed out'.

God isn't like that – He perseveres with us, no matter how long it takes us to understand his message. "They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness." (Hebrews 12:10).

He really does care for us. He wants us to be comfortable. He wants your ultimate comfort so much, that He will make you very uncomfortable in order to give it to you.

Does that make sense?

23 March 2015

It's A Wonderful Life - Really

Yes, I know. As we go through life, stuff happens. Some of it is good. Some of it isn't. And that's often an understatement.

I'm encouraged by Christian friends and colleagues around me to "get used to it". And to go through life with Jesus as my constant companion. Didn't He say, "I will be with you, always"? (Matthew 28:20)

Yes, He is there with me. However, the bad stuff still happens. Why? Perhaps it's understandable that folks like me soon around to questioning: if Jesus truly cares for me, why does this sort of thing still happen? Why do I hurt?

Now, as I started reflecting on this, I kept thinking about "It's A Wonderful Life". A former corps officer of mine introduced me to this film classic a few years ago; since then it has become a firm favourite of mine. The picture above is from the film, depicting George Bailey (James Stewart) and Clarence the angel (Henry Travers). A wonderful, "what if" story...

The film is all about George's discovery that a life well lived can make a tremendous difference to our world. Even if, sometimes, we can't see it ourselves. It's only when we get a glimpse of how things could have been without such an influence that you realise what this can do.

Can you imagine what a difference that knowing Christ has made to your own life? Sure, you might say. But can anyone truly know? Can they point to evidence that living your life with Christ protects you from harm? I must admit, I believe that it does. However, it's rare that any of us can ever make a list detailing the bad things that never happened to you - because the Almighty made sure that they never happened!

If only we could glimpse that other life; the one where you took that other path, made that different decision - just briefly - perhaps it would make things so much clearer...

I had that brief glimpse into my own life, recently. What life could have been like if I hadn't chosen Christ... and it really wasn't very pleasant. A wake-up call.

Dear reader, I have had my fair share of low moments. Trust me, I've been right down there in that pit of despair, right down in that mire, that 'slough of despond'. And He was there with me, in the blackness, Sure, He knows that I would prefer an easier life. We all would - but Jesus wants us to have the best. And He knows that He can use us, both you and I, to encourage and to help others...

He said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

And still He urges me on. "Trust me, it can be so much better..."

More next week...

15 March 2015

Fire Extinguishers

(I had a blog entry ready to go for publication tonight - but I've pushed it back to next week. Something I experienced this morning bumped it completely off my agenda!)

I had written some notes in my notebook from the Chubb fire extinguisher training that I went to on Friday. These notes were at the top of the page of my notebook as I went into today's prayer meeting at the Corps. The words whirled inside my head as I prayed. And then, something happened.
  • I realised that our churches need to be properly equipped to face the challenges of each day. So, they need to have the extinguishers that sit in our buildings. Some of these items of equipment are multipurpose, some perform one specialist task. All are needed. Every one of them. Just like each one of us who make up the membership of the church.
  • The extinguishers need to be checked regularly (at least once a week, said the man from Chubb) to ensure they are at peak efficiency. So do we. If we are low on pressure, we need to do something about it, to fix it. Unlike the extinguishers, we can (and should) check ourselves.
  • And just like the extinguishers, we should realise that we are fulfilling a vital need just by being there, ready to serve. We don't get rid of the extinguishers just because they aren't used. They are doing an essential job just by standing ready.

What was God telling me today, through this? I felt surrounded by His love. It was truly awesome.

11 March 2015

Heart to Heart

"Follow your heart" is a phrase that we hear regularly proclaimed in our popular culture. It’s a belief that your own heart (that is, your inner self, your feelings, your emotions) will be a reliable compass that will direct you to your own true "north" - if you only possess the courage to follow it.

It's a simple phrase, and many find it liberating.

But is it true? Isn't your heart simply telling you what you want to hear?

I did some reading this week to see what scripture says on the subject. Here's a selection of verses (all readings NIV):

Jeremiah 17:9 - "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"

Proverbs 28:26 - "Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe."

Matthew 15:19 - "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."

There are a whole lot of other examples, however the gist of this is to underline that our hearts were never meant to be followed. If you follow your own guidance, you're bound to end up in the wrong place.

Understandably, we are told not to believe our hearts; instead, to direct our hearts to believe in God. Simply put - Don’t follow your heart; follow Jesus. 

Now, as a person who possesses quite deep feelings, it's tough - input comes at you all the time. On busy days it can get overwhelming. So, it's nice to know your heart does have an important part to play in the proceedings.
  • It makes it quite clear what you want. Your inner self, your emotions. Are you feeling angry? Your heart is telling you something is wrong. However, that's not enough. It also needs your head (your reason) to analyse this input, and then wisdom to decide how to act... and I have always found God's teachings to be sound. Check them out - before you act rashly... James 3:17 - "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."
  • Repentance needs to come from the heart... and is always accompanied by a change of behaviour. True repentance says and means, “If I had this to do over again, I would do it differently.”
  • Belief comes from the heart. Romans 10:9-11 states If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
  • Obedience comes from the heart. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commands." (John 14:15). 
Can you do that today?

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

8 March 2015

Go And Mingle...

I thought I was doing quite well. Our little Singers' group had an engagement at a local venue, and during the afternoon we were giving them a taste of our 'Messy Church' activities. All went well, and everyone seemed to join in with the group activities, in what we were doing. Great.

And the activities came to an end. And then we had to...

"Go and mingle..."

Oh.

Possibly the hardest part of the proceedings. Unstructured small talk.

However, I still went out and did my bit. Well, you have to, don't you...

"Let’s clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people." - Laurie A. Helgoe

4 March 2015

Whom Do You Serve?

It's not a trick question. It's actually a very important one that we all need to ask ourselves every once in a while. I found myself having to ask myself the very same question today. And it wasn't easy to listen to the answer!

Plus, it's a tough one - particularly if you consider yourself to be selfless. If you'd like to think that helping others is right at the centre of what you do.

Because the selfless person runs the risk of pleasing people more than pleasing God.

I'm not just saying this to be self-deprecating. It's simply a case of clear vision. And of trying to be content with God’s own assurance of me, of us.

It's all tied up with the concept of working out how you are shaped.  It's in knowing that God has wired each of us in a certain way, and you can use it for good.

If God has gifted you with uplifting words, then use it to build up others, by encouraging. If you are good with your hands, then use it to build things, to repair things.

However, central to everything must be your relationship with God. If not, then you're only trying to please people. And, trust me, only a small minority will ever be grateful, will ever respond.

If you have "people-pleasing" as your goal, you're not really thinking of serving other people. Instead, you’re thinking of how to get them to like you. And you'll be let down.

So, turn this around. Don't think about pleasing others, think about serving others.

Joshua 24:15 (The Message)
“If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve — and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshipped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you’re now living. As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”