RAW: God’s Next To You And Joy’s Just Around The Corner

Some people distance themselves from God or blame God when they are going through hard times.  I’m going to write about God intervening during low and chaotic points in my life. This RAW series uncovers personal accounts of when God has been the rock and the saviour in circumstances of vulnerability and emotional instability. I’m sure all Christians switch between relying on God to help them through and blaming God for the things that they go through.

Just as I had started secondary school my parents told me that they were splitting up. By year 8 (13 years old) we had sold the family home and I was living in a different smaller house without my dad. Although as far as divorce goes, this was a civil unaggressive divorce, I was extremely upset. My family had divided, my parents were feeling depressed, I no longer lived with my dad and I’d lost my family home which meant so much to me. I never blamed God for this or thought – how could you let this happen to me?! However, I did distance myself from church and I completely stopped thinking about God. I don’t think I was doing this deliberately or consciously. I was actually avoiding thinking about most things to protect myself from facing the reality of what was happening in my head. I would often drift into my imagination or I would listen to music and watch films to avoid what was going on inside my head. I avoided talking to my family and thinking about anything really. After a while I started to miss God. I had this deep longing for him. I missed him like a friend or a close family member. I cried to my mum and she contacted my old church and got me back in the youth group.

Despite ups and downs I began to feel happy again. After getting used to secondary school and with the support of friends, church and God I came out of a low point. Although I’ve had other low points especially in year 10 due to friend problems and missing my dad, believing and trusting in God has given me a positive perspective and a light at the end of the tunnel.  Not only was God there (and still is), comforting me, talking to me and loving me, there was the knowledge that this was a stage and part of a plan that would not last forever. This was comforting and helped me feel more positive as I felt like I wasn’t alone. Another way to describe it was as if there was a father figure always by your side, part of you, guiding you and giving you advice in your head. This may sound bizarre to people that have never experienced God or don’t believe in God but it’s as if speech pops into your head or you see a smiling face or you feel love, hope and assurance. It’s amazing.

Sometimes I’d gaze at the trees, or at a lake and think of God and his beautiful creation. Nature sometimes givens me a perspective on how big the world is in comparison to myself.  For me, when bad things are happening I gaze at God’s beautiful innocent landscapes that continue to exist regardless of the chaos. Although I’ve believed in God my whole life in year 9/10 I went to youth group event at church where God spoke to me during hard times. There were several weeks at this group where the talks were exactly relevant to how I felt at the time. I couldn’t deny it and it happened week after week. If I had an argument with someone, it was covered in the talk, the next week I’d have low self-confidence and the talk would directly address it. It was a weird sensation but I knew God was speaking directly to me. This spurred my faith, comforted me in hard times and erased any doubts I had in God.

Through hard times such as my parents’ divorce and teenage low points in year 10, I consider these bible verses and values:

Psalm 30:5 ‘Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.’

I often hear God say, ‘there will be joy again’ to me. As if this is a stage and joy is around the corner.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 – ‘For I know the plans I have for you,”

This makes me feel like everything will be alright because there is a careful path that you are on and God is looking after you every step of the way.

Romans 8:18 ‘Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.’

This gives me a larger perspective of the bigger picture. Your current suffering is nothing compared to eternal paradise in heaven, a place of nothing but love.

To finish, in hard times for me personally I have reached out to God, told him my issues, cried to him and felt comfort and support. Not only is he there with me but he has wisdom that gives me a wider perspective on life. He is the knower of all, he created everything I know and thus he knows there will be joy again. He also knows exactly what’s happening in my life and he feels and understands the pain that I feel. As he does for you too. So, whatever you are going though Jesus loves you and is guiding you through it, catching you as you fall.

I pray that you rely on God as a source of comfort and hope in times of suffering.  I pray that you realise that you are never alone.  Amen

By Anonymous

RAW: Stolen Identity

Identity points to who we are as individuals. Whether it’s ethnic origin, occupation or academic performance, we each have something that shapes what we do and how we perceive ourselves. Personally, as a Christian and someone who believes that my identity comes from God, I’ve recently been challenged.

A couple of months ago, I went through mild anxiety with depression. After an amazing year of volunteering at church, I grew. When the time came for me to start a new job, I felt confident and excited. I finally had a writing job, and in came feelings of fulfilment. I’m embarrassed to say that my job made me feel more special than my identity as a precious child of God. This job revealed insecurities that I thought I had dealt with. Anxiety kicked in, because deep-down I felt inexperienced and afraid of people’s opinions. Criticism, constructive or otherwise, become personal. In the end, I quit my job for several reasons, and I do believe that I made the right decision. Did things get better? Not at all. More bad circumstances followed, and I began to doubt God and my identity. Most things became pointless, and I felt far from loved. I found it difficult to go to church because I couldn’t face the questions. I wasn’t my best self and I hated it. No one wants to be the depressed one especially when everyone else seems happy. But anxiety is not an indicator of weakness neither is sharing it for the benefit of others; it is an opportunity for us to rely on God’s strength and renew our mind with His word. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you see your experience as something that God can use for good (Romans 8:28), wonderful changes take place in your perspective of life and relationship with God. Through this experience, I know that God stripped away unhealthy thoughts which had turned into truths, and He’s still working within me.

I think it’s natural to search for who we are, to try and find our purpose, and to fit ourselves into a linear category. But what if all the things or people which we cling onto, shaping a seemingly secure identity, disappears? What if that relationship which made you fill complete ends? What if you lose the dream job which made you walk with unshakable confidence?  What if no one sings your praises? Could you truly say that you know who you are without these things? If our identity is not rooted in Jesus, we will always seek something to fill the void in our soul.

Jobs, possessions, relationships: these are not bad things. But God wants us to understand that our identity goes far beyond the things on this earth. Everything on this earth will fade away. However, our identity in Christ will never change. My friends and family reminded me how important it is to remember this truth. We were made for a relationship with Christ, and it is only in knowing him that you will be satisfied and certain of who you are. A friend of mine told me that he spoke biblical phrases over himself during a season of mental health issues. One of the phrases was, ‘I am a loved child of God.’ Above everything else we are sons and daughters of Jesus, and He loves us. We’ve been etched into the palms of His hands. Our feelings towards God change; but His love never fells.

When you feel worthless, anxious or lost, remember that Jesus loves you so much that He went upon the cross and died for you. You are so treasured and wonderfully made that He couldn’t think of anything worse than being separated from you forever. I pray for peace of mind and a deep understanding of God’s love for you. Amen.

By Chermaine Sowah

RAW: An Introduction

ForeverLoved was created to share the love of Jesus with those who do not know Him and to encourage those who do, as they go through life. Our aim is to meet our readers wherever they are in life and support them. But what is the best way to support someone that you’ll never meet? How can you stand by someone and impact their life through a computer screen?

Well, this month, ForeverLoved is going to try to do this by being completely honest, by being RAW.

‘Raw’ may seem like a strange word to use, because we’re not going to undercook our blog posts; we are going to be sensitive, strong, undisguised, frank and realistic as we talk about situations that we have been through.

We exist in a society that encourages individuals to suffer in silence, that fosters feelings of isolation and it makes us wary of speaking out when we are struggling. And the result of this, is everyone thinking that no one else has gone through a similar situation. So ForeverLoved is going to talk in the hope that someone listens and is encouraged, or challenged, or healed.

The purpose of a testimony is to equip others with tools to defeat a problem that you overcame, and to learn from the mistakes that you have made, so that they can have peace a lot sooner than you did.

The beauty of testimony is that it reminds us that God is constantly at work, that He is not blind to our needs and that no situation is out of His jurisdiction. He reigns sovereign overall and nothing can hide from His power. The aim of this series is to remind you that all that comes against you cannot last in the presence of the ever-living God.

We don’t believe this just because it sounds nice. We believe it because it has shown itself to be true, throughout the ages. In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul (1:3-6) said, “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ…. For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you.”

To echo Paul, as a team we have individually struggled and battled hard things, but we have all been comforted by Christ, and we want to share that same comfort with you. We do this, not because we have the power to heal – only God can do that – but because we want to direct you to the one who can, believing that He can, because He has for so many of us.

Lord, I thank you for holding us in the palm of your hand, for surrounding us amid our suffering and loving us, even when we are so blinded by our pain that we can’t see it. I pray that this series will begin a process of healing in those who need it, encourage those who feel like they are standing still, and above all, remind us of your awesome power.

By Rhesa Ojomoh

God Notices You. Have You Noticed Him?

Human history is marked by individuals who implemented change. People such as Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King dedicated their time to helping vulnerable people of society. Games-changers always gather a crowd; they grab the attention of anyone willing to listen and even from those who show little support.  In our world of digital progress, anyone can gain a following by the simple click of a button.

During His time on earth Jesus had many followers as well as opposition. Some men and women were offended by Jesus; others were astounded and encouraged by His compassion for the sick and poor. In Matthew 4, Jesus begins His ministry ‘proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people’ (V 23). It’s no surprise that Jesus was known throughout Syria and that crowds followed Him. One could say that Jesus was a type of celebrity, who stirred up curiosity and wonder in the hearts of those willing to listen and believe that He is God.

Jesus had disciples who believed in His message of the gospel. They followed His lead and learned from His example of how to spread God’s word, and had first-hand experience in feeding the hungry and healing many. When found and given an invitation to follow Jesus, Philip sought out Nathanael, who posed this question: ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1:46). Naturally, Nathanael was doubtful. Can you imagine being told that God, some guy from Nazareth, was just around the corner and He could change your life for the better? Philip’s response was ‘come and see’. When in the presence of Jesus, Nathanael was surprised that He already knew him and ‘saw him underneath the fig tree’ (V 48). This exchange seems insignificant at first. But God, in His loving nature, sees into the depths of our being. You might not know God; however, He has always known you.

I’ve often heard in church that God is a perfect gentleman. He patiently waits for you. All you have to do is except His invitation, step out and see what life could look like as you follow Him. Many voices compete for our attention; however, in life’s business, are we willing to pause for a moment to discern which voice belongs to Jesus? Like Nathanael, are we willing to acknowledge Jesus as Lord?

When we follow Jesus, we witness ‘great(er) things’ (John 14:12) done in His name, and we enjoy a full life. However, drawing from my small experience and hearing about the circumstances of others, a life lived for Christ isn’t easy, and the cost is sometimes small as well as large. But Jesus promises to be with us, and our life is better with than without Him.

John 16:33: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ 

So, maybe you’ve noticed the beauty of nature or the intricacy of the human body.  I pray that through all this and even in your uncertainties about God, you would be like Nathanael and follow Christ as you meet His real presence. Amen.

By Chermaine Sowah

 

Backsliding

Backsliding: a process by which a Christian reverts to pre-conversion habits and/or lapses or falls into sin. Basically, when a person turns from God to pursue their own desires.

Hold on to your hats guys because I’m about to say something I never thought I would – this summer, I was a backslider. Let me explain.

Backsliding is probably one of the dirtiest words in Christian circles. It’s said in hushed tones, loaded with disapproval, and the person they’re talking about probably slept with their boyfriend or had drunk pictures of themselves all over Facebook. But for me, it wasn’t like that – I didn’t lose my values and I didn’t lose my faith – I lost my proximity to God.

How? Why? It started with me just needing a break. I served a lot in church (I pretty much lived in the building) and when I came home, one Sunday away from church became a month. However, a break from church doesn’t equate to a break from God. But in my head, they were the same thing. I failed to make time for God because I was “busy”, it wasn’t convenient and most importantly, I wasn’t surrounded by my church friends so there was no pressure.

But let me tell you the dangerous thing about backsliding – on the surface, your life feels no different. You know what you should be doing – you should be going to church, you should be reading your bible, you should be praying – yet when you don’t, nothing happens. Thunder doesn’t come from the sky and smite you; you still have your friends and your health. On the surface things are going well, but spiritually, you’re falling apart.

In God’s presence, you are receiving healing and breakthrough, and you become ‘fixed’ and everything is better. But that ‘better’ remains only because of your closeness to God and when you fall away that breakthrough, that healing, those miracles, recede. Suddenly you’re regressing and not progressing. But why? It’s because Jesus is the cement that holds you together and that cement strengthens over time through prayer. When you stop praying and when you stop pressing in, everything falls apart.

And it was only when I forced myself back into a state of worship and repentance before God that I realised the damage two months away from Him had caused. That inner strength I had spent a year forming, the healing I received, the pain that was taken away and all the vision I had been blessed with, had weakened.

Spiritually I wasn’t the same person that I was before. But here’s the amazing thing about God. I wasn’t too far gone that He wouldn’t welcome me home. I went home this summer knowing that I would be tested, and I didn’t think that I was going to fail. But I’m glad I did, because until you know that you will never be the best version of yourself without God, you’re never really going to appreciate Him.

Without the protection of God in my life, I felt attacked at every turn and sin looked more appealing. But I was strong, and I didn’t go back to how I used to live life. However, not everybody does, and that’s why I’m sharing this. I could keep this to myself and play the devout Christian who never once faltered. However, as the Bible says, through testimony we overcome (Rev 12:11).

Take my testimony as a prompt to pick up your Bible more, to pray more and to take God into your life completely. We live in a world focused on excess, but only God can give us abundance.

Lord I thank you for your grace, and that you are a God of mercy and forgiveness. God, shine through my words. Take the focus away from what I’ve just shared and put the spotlight on your heavenly nature, and on the undeniable fact that there is no life without you, and that you are all that we need.

By Rhesa Ojomoh

A Woman and Her Alabaster Jar

I’ve heard stories about acts of kindness where people offer free hugs or leave encouraging notes in public. Stormzy, a British Grime artist, recently donated a generous sum of money to a university student’s crowd fund. Imagine not having to worry about paying tuition fees? This act of kindness is on the large scale, but if we zoom in on various communities there are people who constantly give-up their time to help and show love to others. Whether it’s a word of encouragement to a friend or the use of our resources, time and money, we give a piece of ourselves away every time we engage in selflessness. The Bible is full of generous moments; Jesus’ crucifixion is probably the most incredibly selfless sacrifice, and the God of the Bible is forever generous. Today, I want to look at a woman remembered for extravagant giving.

A gospel singer called Cece Winans released a song titled Alabaster Box. This song is about a woman in the Bible, and the account of her story can be found in Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:7-13 and Luke 7:36-50. This woman is identified as a sinner who, in the eyes of society, had no right to place herself near Jesus and the disciples. However, she goes out of her way to buy the most expensive oil in an alabaster jar for Jesus. The story doesn’t there: she was so overcome with emotion that she wept on Jesus’ feet and proceeded to wipe ‘them with the hair on her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment’ (Luke). I believe this woman didn’t have a large income for two reasons: gender and status. Yet, she stood in the presence of holiness and didn’t consider her status or the opinions of others. I am inspired by her remarkable courage. The heart of this woman and the depth of her generosity is beautiful. All that mattered to her was Jesus, and she was brave enough to step out in faith with complete vulnerability, knowing that the Lord would never turn her away. Her act of generosity was more than simply ‘giving’; it was sincere worship, and it may have cost plenty of money and the risk of embarrassment; however, she lost nothing and gained everything. Forgiveness is lavished on her, she received love and an eternal treasure worth more than the alabaster jar. In the presence of God, this woman experienced total freedom.

When this story is retold, I doubt that people remember this brilliant lady as a sinner. She was an individual who fully understood the identity of Jesus. This woman understood that giving time, money or even emotions to God is an act of worship. The state of her position in society demonstrates that life may be difficult at times, but we can always find an opportunity to give of ourselves to God and others. God doesn’t look at our material status and, in fact, He doesn’t need everything of that sort. She came to God, a weeping, mess and worshiped him. God wants the same from us, an open heart with an attitude of thanksgiving. What matters is the condition of your heart, and when you decide to immerse yourself in the presence of God every day, it’s hard not to kneel in awe at His extravagant generosity and in turn pour it out to others.

God, stir our hearts with generosity. Show us where there is a need. Equip us and help us to step out in faith. I pray that this story encourages us to worship you with thanksgiving and praise. Amen.

An Ordinary Woman

The theme for this month is ‘Women For Christ’, and I want to focus on the story of two women who received extraordinary blessings by doing the ordinary. This article is for women who are disheartened because they feel like they are not doing spectacular things for God, and so won’t receive blessings – God sees all that you do, He sees you and is pleased.

There is no blueprint on how to receive the blessings of God, but I do believe that there are three things that we can do which invite blessings into our lives – we need to love like Jesus, be faithful and be obedient. The journey one takes to do these things are subjective. Some show the love of Jesus by giving up their possessions and dedicating their life to the poor, and some just buy a coffee for the homeless guy around the corner every now and again. But please, hear me when I say that no one’s journey is more important than another’s. The person who buys coffee for the homeless is no less godly than the person who dedicates their life to the poor – they will both be blessed because God called us to love one another in a variety of ways. Let’s not forget, the greatest giver in the Bible was a poor woman who gave her last two copper coins!

The story of Ruth and Naomi shows us that if we love each other the way God loves us, if we are faithful and obedient, God will change our lives for the better and give us countless blessings.

Ruth was an ordinary woman who loved her mother-in-law so much that she left her home to live as a foreigner in a different country, and decided that “your people will be my people and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth had nothing: all the men in her family had died and she lived during a time of famine. But instead of becoming disheartened and going back home to her parents, she stuck with her mother-in-law (Naomi) and followed her back home. Ruth chose to follow Naomi’s people and her God because of how Naomi treated her – Naomi’s behaviour was a guideline to how Ruth expected God to treat her. By loving Ruth the way the Father loved her, Naomi was blessed by God, because through love Ruth gave her life to God.

Even though Naomi only brought one person to faith during her life, she’s still carried out the instructions of God. Luke 14:23 says “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled”. Naomi used love, kindness and affection to fill the Father’s house. What are you going to use?

Ruth’s life speaks so strongly to me because it shows me that if I remain faithful to God and am good and loyal to others, He will provide for my every need. Psalm 23 starts “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” and ends with “Surely goodness and mercy, shall follow me all of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. This is so true of Ruth’s life. Before she knew God she was a starving widow, but once she became part of the shepherd’s flock, God gave her a husband to provide for her, food to fill her belly and a son who became the father of King David, an ancestor of Jesus. But surely, Ruth must have done something pretty amazing to receive such a blessing from God, right? Well, not really – all Ruth did was treat people well. She was loyal to those who had been good to her and worked hard. In fact, it was her hard work that caught the attention of Boaz, her husband, in the first place – and for God this was enough.

God takes delight in the simple things we do. We just need to have the desire to honour Him. Proverbs 31 honours the woman who brings her husband good and not harm, who looks after the poor and needy and who works hard and is industrious. We all can do these things. Doing our best to serve others is not beyond our capabilities, because God wants us to succeed so He can bless us.   

What ties this all together is obedience. God surrounds us with blessings but we must obey Him to access them. Exodus 19:5 says: “Now if you will obey, and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure”. God loves us regardless of whether we’re obedient or not, but showing honour through obedience endears God to us. Naomi showered Ruth with blessings before Ruth even said she would go back with her, and once she did Naomi committed herself to finding Ruth a husband. Naomi was an old woman and she gave Ruth another chance at life – just imagine what the creator of Heaven and Earth can give to you.

Lord, I thank you that you see us as enough. There is no need for competition, because you have abundant love for each one of us. Lord, come and change our perspective and show us what it really means to feel blessed and bless others, regardless of what we do to serve you. Amen.

By Rhesa Ojomoh