Monday, March 27, 2017

Progress or stagnancy

This is a topic very dear to my heart, due to the journey through life I have faced up till this point.

I believe that one of the most important words that defines Christianity is the word "progress". 2 Corinthians 4:16 states
 "though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day." But what defines a person who is in the process of being "renewed?"

One of the most powerful stories I heard as a new believer was from a young man who lived in Wellington, the city I spent most of my teenage years in. I can't remember that much about his testimony other than the fact that when he got saved, he had dropped out of school and was working for a greengrocer, stacking produce each day. He had been doing this job for some time - but once he got saved, things changed. He said that God led him to many other different jobs and cities around New Zealand, and throughout all of his experiences in these different places he got the courage to share his story. What struck me the most about his story was that the way he worded it seemed to say that he had no hope or ambitions for anything other than stacking fruit and vegetables in a grocer's shop - until the Holy Spirit got hold of him and challenged him to move on.

The book of Exodus in the Bible talks about the plight of God's chosen people - the Israelites. Suffering in slavery, they cried out for deliverance and breakthrough. God eventually answered them. But He did not answer them through making things better for them where they were. His answer was to lead them out of the place of slavery - and into the wilderness, where they had to learn to rely on God and God alone for their sustenance. Gone were the days of being planted in one location, and gone was the safety that they had experienced in the sense that although they were enslaved, they knew that they would always have enough to eat and a roof over their heads. Now they were lead into a constantly changing environment, where every location was temporary and nothing could be depended on other than God, who said that he
 "...led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands." (Deuteronomy 8:2). It was hard, and it forced them to face the truth about themselves, it got them out of their comfort zone, and challenged them. But it was necessary for their growth and was the proving ground that they had to walk through before entering into the promised land.

One thing that I have witnessed over the years which has frustrated me deeply is the amount of stagnancy in Christianity in the world today - especially in the Western world. There are so many people out there who call themselves "Christians" yet simply do not want to change and move forwards. I've experienced many people like this over my time and have even lived with the odd one on occasion. They find a bubble of comfort zone, where they don't have to be challenged about anything and receive constant enabling from those around them which gives them even less reason to change. When questioned or challenged by anything - or if something happens that threatens their little bubble of security - they react defensively and even aggressively, wishing to remain in an unteachable state, not wanting to hear the truth, wanting to remain in a place of complete ignorance so that they can hide from the truth about themselves and dream of a better future without doing the necessary character development and "soul work" to turn it from dream to reality.

The reality of this kind of living is that it is governed by fear and cowardice. It goes nowhere. Satan wants nothing more than to see God's people remain mediocre and ineffective, while watered down "truth" is given to them to help them feel good about being where they are instead of challenging them to move forwards and grow. I believe wholeheartedly that the Holy Spirit is deeply frustrated by all of these things. He calls His people to be overcomers and part of that means overcoming themselves. Living in a bubble of comfort zone, reacting in a hostile manner when challenged to get out of it and being constantly mollycoddled and enabled by those around them is not being an overcomer. No one who lives like this will ever see their dreams fulfilled. Chances are, they will also miss out on God's best for them because they do not have the character needed to be able to fulfill the destiny and the calling that God has for them, because during the time that they should be developing said character, they are simply sitting around making excuses and expecting everyone else to pander to them and "accept them the way that they are."

The reason this frustrates me so much is because I used to be exactly this person before I went to bible college for the first time. I was so full of fear that I didn't want to face or even know how to face, so I just stayed stagnant, living with my parents at home, not really wanting to move out, wanting all of my creature comforts around me at all times to help me feel better about where I was. When I left to go to bible college, I was a fragile mess for a long time. I constantly wanted to go home - even though it wasn't where I really wanted to be, it was easier than where I was. However as time went on I began to realize that it was really me who needed to do the changing. I began to turn my focus from building a little impenetrable safe bubble around me where I could live without ever being challenged on anything - to realizing that a better life resulted from a changed heart, so I set about changing myself. I began taking up the challenge of following God through the different locations He had assigned for me to go to and the lessons He had for me to learn at each one.

This journey lead me to different living environments and jobs all over the country, and even overseas at one point where I was called to live in California for 3 months. The hardest part was when I fell very ill in 2011 - this move required me to move back home with my parents for a time and begin the process of speaking the truth to some people I had once been close with, while focusing constantly on rebuilding myself and my own heart by clearing out the wrong thinking and replacing it with the truth. This was where I really began to embrace 2 Corinthians 4:16 and I began to really see the effects - by working on my soul and focusing on healing myself, I felt my soul becoming more and more renewed - which translated to better physical health and better relationships with others.

As time went on, however, this journey got easier and easier. I am now planted in a good city with a great job and I am happily married with a lovely living environment. I am in the healthiest place emotionally and spiritually that I have ever been and I become more and more healthy by the day. I also have a lot of wisdom to share about the journey that I have been on and I know that there will be many more adventures and challenges to come over the years. But I no longer face these with fear - I am excited as to where they might take me.

I believe the kind of freedom and wholeness that I am coming into is available to everyone. I believe it is what the Holy Spirit wants for everyone. But to those who are insistent on remaining unteachable and do not want to leave their comfort zones - mollycoddling and pandering to them and their "needs" is not going to work. I believe people like this need  - through much prayer and intercession of course - to be put in a position where they simply have no choice other than to make a change, to grow up, get over themselves and learn to take responsibility for becoming who God has created them to be. This is what had to happen to me. I had to leave behind a secure living environment with my parents and move hundreds of kilometers away to a bible college campus I had never even seen before with people I didn't know. It was hard. But I simply had no choice but to sink or swim. I'm not saying that moving forwards means to be constantly changing location, as that can also be a form of escapism and therefore destructive. I am saying that moving forwards involves being challenged by the Holy Spirit and to accept that challenge.

Throughout my recovery from having a nervous breakdown, God has been equally harsh with me on other things. He challenged me to speak the truth to someone and this challenge had me quaking in my boots. God saw my fear, and simply said to me - "Do you want to get better, or don't you?" I realized I had no choice other than to feel the fear and do it anyway. Once I did this and spoke the truth to this person I saw a definite change in myself and a definite sense of release of tension and improvement in my mental health. 

This is not optional. God cannot win the world to Himself through a cowardly, mollycoddled church, where all of their "needs" are waited on hand and foot and watered down truth is delivered to them to make them feel good about themselves, yet not give them any real motivation to change. He cannot use people who refuse to be taught the truth and just want to stay in their comfort zone forever, wasting away both internally and externally. God does not need leaders who will pander to people like this and not challenge them to better themselves. God needs a church of people who will deliver the truth in love and a church who will receive correction and instruction in love and will see it as a benefit to them rather than a hindrance. God needs a church who will follow Him even when it scares them and a church who can stand their ground and endure when the going gets tough. The Holy Spirit wants us to be overcomers through His power. He wants us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. He wants to test us and challenge us to make us stronger and more effective for His Kingdom.

In conclusion, I want you to ask yourself - where do I fit into this? Am I one of those unteachable people who calls themselves "Christian" but doesn't really want to let go of their sin, doesn't want to change and doesn't want to be challenged? Am I one of those leaders who neglects the speaking of truth out of a sense of wanting to be loyal to people and a fear of "ruffling any feathers"? Or am I on the right path, living by the Holy Spirit, obeying His commands and promptings, seeing and feeling the renewal of a changed heart through His healing touch and revelations?

Take care.

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