A Guide To Attaining Christmas Joy

By the end of this article you will be rich, popular and perfect in every way just in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, that was a very funny joke and not in fact true.  My point in this article is that there’s a peculiar contentment or joy that you can experience. It’s not to do with how you look or how much money you’ve earned but a fulfilling feeling of having a loving God to fall back on, a future of eternal paradise in heaven and a purpose on earth. I’m not saying Christians feel content all the time.  Like all people, followers of Christ have doubts, insecurities, crave unlimited money and fail to love. However, God tells us to have joy because of Jesus’ birth (Christmas). But why is this such joyful news and how can we experience this ‘joy’ that they talk of?

What is joy? If its happy and being content than what earthly thing can really make you feel content? You always want a bit more money and a bigger house. People get obsessed with how many likes they get on their Instagram photo. It’s additive and there’s never enough. Whether its material things or experiences like receiving 50 likes on a photo or sex it only satisfies you temporarily. Moreover, at your funeral what do you want people to say? ‘Oh Ella had a really nice kitchen and remember that time she got 60 likes on her holiday photo?’. No. you want people to remember your values, beliefs and how you changed people’s lives.  

Joy cannot be 100% attained but experienced. Not through temporary pleasure but through the thought that God, who is all-powerful, specifically knows you and cares for you. In Matthew 10:31 it says, ‘So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. And even the very hairs of your head are counted’.

Secondly, selflessness is strangely fulfilling, and it will be greatly rewarded by God. ‘Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked’ (Luke 6:35). He smiles on you for giving to the poor and being kind, and these actions give purpose and joy.

Finally, Jesus’ birth made it possible for everyone that asked for forgiveness from Jesus to enter heaven. The big deal about Jesus’ arrival is that instead of paying for your own sins Jesus pays it for you, so you’re sin free, guilt free and enter heaven – a place of love and paradise. This is the joy and good news of Jesus coming to earth. God: the creator of all came to earth, and he was born in a hay-covered stable to die for us. Christmas is ‘ news of great joy that will be for all the people’ Luke 2:10. That’s why God calls us to have a feast, invite people into our home and celebrate the good news that Jesus has been born. That’s joy! Having faith and joy in Jesus is fulfilling; it lasts for eternity and it changes people’s lives.

I pray that you have a wonderful Christmas.  I pray that you remember the reason for the season and invite the excluded into your home, and give to the needy.

By Ella Johnson

Existing in The Present

From emails and instant messaging to transport and social media, life has never moved so fast. The fact that I can order an eBook- and receive it within minutes- is brilliant. Uploading articles like this one doesn’t take long. Waiting, in whatever shape or form, is never easy. Sometimes, in the mist of our agitated patience, God feels far away. I certainly know what it feels like to assume that God has gone on vacation.

When we can’t wait anymore, and the season that we’re in seems unbearable, what happens?  Sometimes, we make our own plans without acknowledging God, and instead of allowing Him to lead us, we create our own path which seems to lead to happiness. In Genesis, God promised Abraham he would have a son called Isaac. But through the encourage of his wife Sarah, who couldn’t have children, Abraham had a son with their maid. Sarah, and I don’t blame her, couldn’t quite believe that she would have a child because of her old age. She believed that her problems were too big for God to solve; she could believe God’s promise. Maybe, like Sarah, you feel that you can’t trust God with your hopes and dreams. So, you want to follow your own way with the hope of entering a new, beautiful season. You focus on the future. Planning ahead isn’t a bad thing. But what if shifting our gaze to the future means that we miss the small and special moments of the present? When we fix our eyes on Jesus, He makes us strong and He gives us fresh sight to see the treasures of life.

We don’t have to worry about the future and we can have peace in the present because Jesus holds the blue-print. He has the power to reveal your future to you. Yet, He doesn’t because He wants you to trust in Him and enjoy your current walk of life. He wants to prepare you for the next step, and that’s why He’s in no hurry. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast our cares onto God, because he cares for us. Peace that transcends everything else (Proverbs 3:5-6) begins to iron-out all the creases of uncertainty once we choose to believe, and keep believing, that God holds the future in his hands.

God’s timing is absolutely perfect. He knows exactly what you need and when you need it. The season that you’re in right now-whether it’s a happy one or not- is vital. It is part of the bigger picture. As it says in the book of Job, there’s a season for everything, and so we can either enjoy where we are with an attitude of hope and expectancy. Or, we can worry our life away. I understand what it feels like to worry about things, and I know when I’m being impatient with God. However, life is a lot better when I choose to exist in the present and prayerfully trust that God has a greater plan for me. I believe that His plan is better than anything you and I can imagine.

Whatever season you’re in, I pray for joy and peace of mind. May God teach you new things, and may He give you strength for the next stage of your life. Amen.

Life-Long Friendships

Some of us relish the time we spend with our families, and there are others who live miles away from loved-ones. Some individuals have never been part of a family unit. Whatever the situation, having family members or people to share dreams with, make memories and go through life together, is a special blessing.

Within the last couple of months, many of us have moved to a new city or country for a number of reasons. It could be to start a new job or attend university. Whatever the reason, living away from home for a period of time can be a mixed experience of excitement, nerves, uncertainty and loneliness. When I started uni, the first few days were great, and I didn’t think much about home. As time went on I remember feeling so home-sick that I called home almost everyday.

This may not have been everyone’s experience. But if you feel out of your depth and afraid about your new environment, you don’t have to remain that way. Finding a church is a great way to meet new people, serve God and grow in your walk with Christ at the same time. Being part of a church definitely helped my faith and I’ve made some great friendships. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for you to feel comfortable talking to people at church. Ask for God’s boldness, and he’ll give it to you. Join a small group, because it’s in these intimate gatherings that you share life experiences and learn more about God. God created us for community, and when we fellowship with other believers the *Holy Spirit is present.

In the book of Acts the disciples worshiped and served together, and they even went their separate ways. But they had mutual support and friendships that went deeper than everyday conversations. Friendships come in many shapes and sizes, and each one has its own quality. Of course church isn’t the only place for building friendships . But, when you join a church, aside from the countless pros , your friends become family. These family members in Christ won’t be perfect and neither will you; you’ll share moments of laughter, encouragement and sometimes pain. Most importantly, the friends who know your vulnerabilities and still love you; the deep conversation friends and the wise friends; these are people who do and share life with you. They bear with you and forgive you (Colossians 3:13).These are the friends ‘who stick closer than a brother’ (Proverbs 18:24)

We’re influenced by who we spend time with, and I’m not saying that we should live in a Christian bubble- I have some very kind and good unbelieving friends, who offer sound advice when needed. I’ve made great memories with these people. However, there are moments when you can’t call home and you need some biblical advice. Jesus is the ultimate source of guidance and joy. But He does place certain friends in our lives who can give biblical counsel in times of need and add to our joy.

Some of us may have had a bad experience with church, and the last thing we want to do is step into one again. The pain is raw. It’s gone deep beyond the surface. But God is greater than your pain, and He can heal it if you give it to Him. Not some, but all of it. Life seems easier when we choose to keep to ourselves. However, when you willingly step out unashamed of your weaknesses, you begin to make life-long connections with people.
I pray that God surrounds you with wonderful friends from your church. I pray that He leads and directs you on your journey of finding a church. Amen.

*The Holy Spirit is God’s presence and it is part of the Trinity. People experience different reactions to the Holy Spirit (e.g. crying, shaking, feeling a warm sensation).

By Chermaine Sowah

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