Overcoming fear-induced paralysis, through faith, to step into your potential
For Gideon it was a process too. He didn’t suddenly change from a fearful man to a brave warrior overnight. He had to hear some truth poured into his life first. Not only did God do that, but He did it abundantly. God said that He was with Gideon. He saw Gideon, not just now but He saw what Gideon could be in the future with God’s power behind him. God had a task and a purpose for Gideon; He would make the impossible possible through Gideon. Then after all the truths, God proved He was God.
God also sought to build Gideon’s confidence too. The first task had been relatively small, to tear down the altar. A huge step of faith for Gideon, but a relatively small task. God had been checking Gideon’s willingness to move and listen before He gave the mighty task. God was slowly building Gideon’s trust in Him, growing his faith one step at a time, overcoming Gideon’s insecurities and fears stage by stage.
What happened to Gideon after all that? Gideon chose to overcome his fear by stepping out in faith. He did as the Lord asked and led the people into battle. God knew the people would forget Him as quickly as they had remembered Him, pretending the victory had been theirs alone, accomplished by their might. Consequently, God decided the people needed another proof that He was God, that He was in control. To prove that only He had the power to change their fate and perform such a miracle.
God had to reduce the size of the army. Thirty-two thousand men had turned up to fight following the call of the battle horn but only three hundred men would be taken into battle to defeat the massive army encamped in the valley. God sent home all those who were afraid, and those who lapped at the water when they went to drink, taking only those who were not afraid and who cupped their hands to drink water from the stream. God took less that one per cent of the number Gideon thought would be the minimum number necessary to go into battle.
God knew implicitly that Gideon still had fears, so He sent Gideon into the enemy camp at night to listen. What Gideon overheard was the encouragement he needed to hear. He overheard a man explain a dream where a loaf of bread tumbled down into the Midianite camp and knocked the tents flat. Another man interpreted it saying, ‘This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands’ (Judges 7:14 NIV).
Gideon knew they were talking about him, there could be no mistaking what he had overheard. Not only had they mentioned him by name, but they had also mentioned his father and his community. The enemy knew who Gideon was even if he didn’t know it himself. The Lord had it all in hand, and God intended to use Gideon to defeat not only the Midianites but all those who allied themselves with them. He suddenly felt braver hearing those words and thanked the Lord.
He returned to the camp ready. He drew up a strategy. He led the army to the edge of the enemy camp where they all blew their horns, smashed their torches and shouted, “for the Lord and for Gideon” (Judges 7:18 NIV). The enemy, having heard the dream interpretation followed by the Israelite voices bellowing and their horns blaring, ran around in disorganisation, chaos and panic. God caused the Midianites in the camp to become confused and to turn and fight against each other. Those that did not die fled. Gideon sent messengers and groups of men to attack and kill any that fled but also those who had not come to the valley to fight.
The battle was won by the Lord. God’s plan had been carried out by the mighty warrior He had chosen. God’s mighty hero might have been the most unlikely choice; but he was someone who was prepared to listen and carry out the task even when it went against his community, but more significantly, even though it seemed completely impossible for one man.
I cannot pretend the people permanently changed their ways because of Gideon or the events in this story, it was short-lived. The land was at peace for the remainder of Gideon’s life. I also would love to be able to save that the remainder of Gideon’s life reflected the faith and relationship with God which he learned in this story, but simply put Gideon’s life went off track as he allowed pride in. And the people, while thankful for the relief from oppression, soon bowed in worship before something that was not God. Perhaps that is a story for another day!
However, Gideon’s story reminds us that if God has a plan, He will bring it into fruition, no matter how impossible it may appear to us. It reminds us that He sees our potential and our future.
God has been faithful in the past and will continue to be faithful in the future, therefore I can trust in Him. The dare then, is are you willing to step out in faith into what He has called you to? Are you ready to be challenged in every way possible? Are you willing to step into the potential God sees for you, to be the mighty warrior He sees? And are you ready to see God move powerfully to achieve His plan?
Overcoming fear-induced paralysis, through faith, to step into your potential
When I feel afraid and insecure in myself, it is so easy to question everything God has asked of me, to question my ability for the task, to even to question God and repeatedly ask for proof. I have never asked God to prove himself by wetting a fleece while not wetting the ground around it, and then asking for the complete opposite, as Gideon did, but I have asked God for other things. I have asked for God to repeat His instructions in another way, so I could confirm I had heard correctly, or so I could back out when the confirmation didn’t come in the way I expected it to. Instead, I should have stood obediently in faith for what I believed God was saying. Of course, it is important to confirm God’s words rather than leap at every idea that comes to mind or do every verse that we randomly flick our Bible open on to. However, there also comes a point where obedience and risking failure is more important than asking God to confirm and repeat His instructions again and again.
After I completed school, I started praying about where God wanted me, and what I should do with my life. Over the summer I had been away on Christian camps and still not felt any direction. Once home, as I went through the leaflets and information I had collected, one stood out as a distinct possibility. So, I prayed, “God if this is the right one, open doors and make it happen, and if it’s not the right one, close the door.” It’s not a fleece prayer but I still expected God to prove the direction I was to take. He answered the prayer just as miraculously though. Within ten days of praying that prayer, I had spoken to the organisation offering the year out scheme, visited my potential placement church, stayed with a friend for a few days, had my placement accepted, moved to a new house and started work. Only God’s provision and timing could have allowed all that to have taken place in such a short space of time. It is not something I could have organised; I am disorganised and indecisive, even at the best of times! God had definitely opened the door, just as I had asked Him to.
There have been other times when I have heard God tell me something and been sure it was Him but then, like Gideon, been afraid of what the task meant and looked like, intimidated by its sheer size and insurmountable challenges. One such call was to study at Bible college, and while I loved the idea, I felt inadequate for the task, so I made excuses not to go. I simply walked away. (Over the years God has continued to invite me to Bible college – which is where I find myself now, following His call.)
Sometimes I look back over those decisions and wonder how my life would have turned out, how different it would have been had I stepped into the things God had planned for my life then, had I been brave enough to step up and say, “okay God, if you’re coming with me, then I’ll do as you ask.” I know my faith would have been tested but I also know I would have come out the other side a stronger Christian because of it. As much as anything though, I was refusing to accept the ‘mighty warrior’ potential God was declaring over my life, the potential He saw in me. Instead, I chose to continue to believe my insecurities were bigger than the potential laid out by the Creator of the universe, laid out by the God who sees the past, present and future, laid out by the God who knows my every thought and deed.
I am discovering that despite what I believe about myself, my Father still sees my potential. He still has an amazing plan for my life. He sees through my fear. He sacrificed His Son, so I could be free from sin, free from fear and free from insecurity. It can be hard to continually stand on that truth, that I am free. Hard to retrain my brain to believe His truth over the lies I’ve heard elsewhere, to accept the potential He sees rather than the insecurity I feel. It is a work in progress that He continues to perform.
Craig Groeshel writes, ‘As God reveals your fears, He will build your faith’ (Dangerous Prayers, p.43). My fear was an insecurity over the gifts and resources God had placed in my life, and my ability to use them. God is building my faith, He has already provided everything I need for the next part of the journey that He has set before me. I therefore need to continue to step out in faith on that journey.
Overcoming fear-induced paralysis, through faith, to step into your potential
Amidst all that was going on in Gideon’s life, God was waiting for the moment when he would take a step of faith and do as he was asked. The questions and arguments were only just the beginning, Gideon had more fears and doubts yet to come.
God continued his message, “I will be with you, and you will strike down the Midianites, leaving none alive” (Judges 6:16 NIV). Or “as if fighting one man” (Judges 6:16 NLT).
Gideon was a man of fear. He couldn’t possibly believe the messenger and follow the instructions. He had to be sure the message was really from God; He needed proof. He rushed home and cooked a meal as a sacrifice, placed the food on a rock and poured the liquid on top, just as the messenger instructed. The messenger touched the rock with his staff, fire came out of the rock, consumed the offering and the messenger disappeared.
By this point, Gideon realised something significant had happened, this was a defining moment. He freaked out, suddenly petrified because he had just seen the face of the Lord, so now he would die. God reassured him. Everything would be okay, Gideon would not die, and there was nothing to be afraid of. So, Gideon built an altar to the Lord and named it Yahweh Shalom, meaning The Lord is Peace. Gideon discovered something important in this exchange, God was not out to destroy him, but to use him to help bring peace to his people and nation. The peace that had been shown to Gideon was a sign of the relationship God wanted with His people.
Later that night, before Gideon had a chance to forget all that had happened and before his fears got the better of him again, God spoke to him. God asked him to pull down the altar his dad had built to Baal – a god we encounter many times in the Old Testament – and to build an altar to the Lord there instead. Not only that, He asked Gideon to sacrifice one of his father’s prize bulls on the altar.
Gideon was afraid, very afraid. He was afraid of what his father, family and community would say. Afraid of what they might think. And especially afraid of what they would do. He was also afraid of what God would do if he didn’t obey. He had a problem, and while he hadn’t openly questioned the message this time, he had clearly questioned it in is head. How could he accomplish such a task?
The answer came to Gideon in the way it always did, to follow his fears. That meant working in secret and hiding, so that he would not be discovered. Gideon carried out the task under the cover of darkness, alongside a few of his servants. No one would know it was him, no one would see.
Morning arrived. The family and tribe saw their altar and idol had been destroyed. Not only that though, it had been switched for another. They angrily demanded the blood of whoever had carried out the terrible deed. Eventually, the finger fell on Gideon, his secret plan had not been so secret, he had been found out. Gideon grew fearful once more. The people chanted for Joash, Gideon’s father, to hand him over so they could kill him. Joash did not hand him straight over, he was not among the crowd demanding punishment, he simply said, “If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who knocked down the altar” (Judges 6:31 NLT).
We don’t know a lot about Joash, but I wonder if he was also a fearful man, if Gideon had learnt many of his behaviours from his father. I have no doubt Joash loved his son but was he truly brave enough to stand up to the entire community, the whole angry mob, as they demanded the blood of his son. I suspect Joash’s conscience had been plaguing him since the moment he had built the altar but really was too scared to take it down again; God was prompting him to do the right thing. After all, if the God their ancestors had told stories of, the one who had performed miracles, was the One true God, then surely, He was a God to be feared. If God had asked Gideon to destroy an altar, then who was Joash to argue with that plan. And if Baal was the true god, then Joash would be okay, he had built the altar, he could always build another. He created a backup plan, one that would allow him to talk his way out of divine punishment, whichever way it fell. Joash sat firmly on the fence, with a foot in God’s camp and a foot in Baal’s camp, not convinced enough to stake his life on either side out of fear of the people and the gods. This story may not be about Joash, but you can see just how easily fear can take hold, and how similar Gideon’s response is to that of his father.
Gideon lived to tell the tale. That’s not the end of his story though, there’s so much more. God had a much larger plan for Gideon in mind, one far beyond just destroying a family altar.
Shortly after the altar event, various of the surrounding nations’ people formed an alliance to control the valley, its farming and its grazing land. Their army formed a camp on one side of the valley, their battle lines were drawn and ready. The Israelites were left with no choice, they would have to go to battle if they were to ensure their survival.
Gideon, suddenly spurred by the Holy Spirit that came upon him, grabbed the battle horn and blew it to call his tribe to war. He sent messengers to surrounding tribes for them to join him. Many Israelites came, the people were ready to fight. The enemy still vastly outnumbered the Israelite army, but they had at least changed the odds. The battle might even be won.
Gideon was suddenly struck by fear, yet again. Unsure of who he was or what he was doing, he began to worry. He was not a commander. Who was he to lead an army into battle? And how could they win again such a vast army?
He called on God to provide proof. Proof that God really was asking him to do this task. Proof in the form of a wet sheep fleece on dry ground (Judges 6:36). God provided the proof as demanded. Unsatisfied with God’s first answer, Gideon asked Him to perform the miracle again, but this time the ground wet and the fleece dry. Both times, God answered exactly as Gideon had requested. Gideon now knew, without a doubt, he was being instructed to do this impossible task. Gideon’s human mind only saw human solutions, logical conclusions, and none of them figured a weak nobody like himself leading an army to victory against the current world champions stationed in the valley.
God wanted to save Israel using Gideon’s hands.
Overcoming fear-induced paralysis, through faith, to step into your potential
When we are going through tough times, it is easy to believe that God must have forgotten about us. That He has left us to fend for ourselves, left us to become dog’s meat or to be used as a doormat for someone more important. It can be hard to see anything beyond the immediacy of our own suffering, to feel beyond the injustice we experience.
The messenger didn’t justify anything that had happened, instead he ignored the questions and got right down to business, to deliver the heart of God’s message, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14 NIV)
Like Esther (another story which will be coming soon), Gideon replied with a few but’s of his own. ‘But Lord, how can I? I’m the weakest man around, weaker than all the other members of my family and tribe.’ Gideon could only see from his own perspective. He was totally unable to see what God saw, to see from the heavenly point of view. Gideon saw and felt, ‘I can’t, I’m not strong enough, I’m not good enough, I’m not brave enough. I just can’t.’
I admit, I often feel like that too. I feel I am not enough for the task ahead of me, to meet the expectations of others, to just make it through the day. I feel less than, inadequate, weak, useless, not good enough. I feel paralysed by the fear of what lies ahead, that I will not be able to complete the task God has for me, and so do nothing rather than brave possible failure.
Those are perhaps some of the easiest lies to believe and repeat. It is especially easy when others have actively encouraged you to believe the lies by saying you can’t do something, saying you’re not good at something, or simply not encouraging you to pick yourself up and try again. We come to believe that because we couldn’t do it last time or because we became discouraged last time, that we won’t be able to do it this time either.
When I was at school, I was led to believe and told repeatedly that I was stupid, both by my peers and on occasions by my teachers. The problem wasn’t particularly that they told the lies, it was that I believed them. I exaggerated their lies in my head, mulling them over again and again. I stopped working as hard, convinced I was too stupid to achieve anything significant.
It took many years before I felt I could face education again, to believe anything other than the inevitability of failure if I tried, to believe I wasn’t stupid. More significantly, it also required God’s gentle reminders to show me that He had a plan and purpose for my life.
It can become the easy response when faced with a difficult task or situation, to just give up. Sometimes, rather than thinking about the task and what it might entail, we give the immediate no thought required response of ‘I can’t, it’s just not me, I’m sure someone else would be better for the job’. The thing is though, if God picked you, there is a reason for that. With God there is no ‘he’ll do’ or ‘she’ll do’. His plan is carefully thought through, deliberate and brought into being over countless years. He has put people and experiences into place in your life to make you, not only the most obvious choice but also, the perfect choice. That can feel like a hard pill to swallow when you feel inadequate and ill-equipped for the job.
When I ask my children to try something new, the instant fear fuelled response is ‘I can’t’ or ‘no.’ I notice it when you offer them food they have never tried before. The standard response is, ‘I don’t like it,’ even before it has got near their mouths, let alone reached their taste buds. The saying in our house goes, ‘I don’t like it because I’ve never tried it before.’ The children’s first, and often only response, is the one of fear, the ‘no’ with umpteen excuses as to why they couldn’t possibly. Usually, looking as an outsider or even back on the excuses with hindsight, you know their excuses are terrible. Even as you yourself stand giving these same excuses, you often know that’s what you are doing, you find it is the only response that falls from your mouth readily.
Fear is hard to shake, overcome, and break once it takes hold of your heart. Fear slips out in the way you behave, your attitude, and your choice of words. It permeates through all that you do and all that you are. Obviously, fear of trying something new when it comes to food isn’t particularly a big deal but what about when it comes to fear of doing things outside your comfort zone at work? If we respond with fear to small things, the chances are we will respond in fear to all the bigger things too. We will take the path of least resistance, step backwards and simply claim we couldn’t possibly, just as Gideon did. I will be the first to admit, this is one I really struggle with. I choose not to take the spotlight because I feel afraid of stepping outside of where I am comfortable, stepping out into something new. God has slowly been building my confidence, and I know it will come. But at the same time, I also know that there will come a point where I must take a step of faith and say, ‘okay Lord, here I am, I will do as you ask.’
Overcoming fear-induced paralysis, through faith, to step into your potential
Gideon is an interesting character, one no book on overcoming would be complete without; he is someone I continue to learn from. His story is found in the book of Judges; he was one of the twelve judges. We open the chapter with, “Again the Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (Judges 6:1 NLT). That is not a good place to be, but one we often find the people of God in.
God had brought the people out of Egypt and into the promised land some years before, but it was not flowing with milk and honey any more. The land had become overrun with Midianites. God allowed them to move in. They depleted the land to nothing, stole the cattle, destroyed or took the crops. They reduced the people of God to a minimum of existences, hiding out in caves starving to death. These people are described as being like swarms of locusts, impossible to count, invading and ravaging the land.
Eventually, they cried out to the Lord for help.
An angel, or the Lord, appeared to Gideon while he was in the bottom of a winepress. This pit was the location he had chosen to separate the wheat grains from the husks and stalks. Normally people would do this on the hillside, using the wind to blow away the superfluous parts. Gideon, however, was hiding. He was concealing himself and the food in an unlikely place.
The angel said to Gideon, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12 NIV).
Let’s just pause there a moment. How many mighty warriors or heroes do you know? Or rather, how many of warriors hang out in a winepress to thresh wheat? How many heroes carry out their everyday tasks in complete secrecy?
Gideon was a mere farmer. He was not a brave man at all. He threshed wheat where no one would think to look. He was afraid the enemy would come and attack him. So, why would God call Gideon a mighty hero? He wasn’t doing anything heroic, in fact, you might say he was being cowardly. Gideon, like the rest of the Israelite people, had become paralysed by fear. They were unable and unwilling to take a risk and retake their own land. Instead, they allowed the enemy to overrun them and take all that they had been given by God.
God chose to look beyond these actions, and instead saw Gideon’s potential. Even when he was hiding, even when he was afraid, even when everything looked lost for the Israelites, God still saw what Gideon could be. God saw beyond Gideon’s fear and saw a man who was being clever with the resources he had. Gideon had carefully chosen a spot out of the enemy’s line of sight. It was a deserted spot. There had been no grapes for some time, the vineyards had long since been stripped bare and reduced to dust, and the winepresses had remained empty. Gideon, however, was carefully ensuring his family’s survival by farming in an unlikely place.
Gideon had so many questions for the messenger in response to being called a mighty warrior, but none of them were, ‘What can I do for the Lord?’ Instead he asked why God was letting all this happen to the Israelites, where the miracles of old were, and why God had abandoned the people.
Gideon asked the questions we all ask at times. His mind whirled through all that he had seen and all that he knew, processing as he went along and coming to seemingly logical conclusions. Why is bad stuff happening? God, why are you letting this happen to me? Why now? What have I done to deserve all this? God, why haven’t you stopped it already? Why aren’t you altering my circumstances, right here, right now? Is it because you’ve left me here all alone? Have you abandoned me forever?
For those who know me, they will perhaps know I’ve been writing stories for a while now in the the hope of creating a book. It’s not happened as fast as I had hoped… I’ve been a little preoccupied this year with studying!
I’ve decided to post them here a bit at a time. They’ll appear in the order I edit them, rather than any other more organised order! I think we’ll start out with Gideon… so watch this space.
Bible criticism is not an excuse to say the Bible’s rubbish and criticise everything contained within it, it’s about looking at it as a text and learning from it! This is some of the bits we thought about in unit one. Although, I haven’t yet said what the first module is – it’s an overview of the Old Testament!
Literary criticism in high speed…
Historical criticism asks questions of the source, the who, when and how. Form criticism asks the why and what of the text, looking at background setting, sometimes considering aural background too. Redaction criticism considers how the text has changed and the significance of the author input. Textual criticism is the differences between texts/copies. Rhetorical criticism is the resonance today of the author’s technique/artistry. Reader response is how we interpret to create meaning. Feminist criticism (or other marginalised group) is thinking from a different perspective, that of a traditionally marginalised group. Narrative criticism considers how the text works as a story – plot, point of view, characters, setting.
I can see how it would be easy to get caught up in one type of criticism, and to find views from another distracting or even to be asking the wrong questions, particularly when one area floats your boat and another doesn’t.
However, for me the who and how, is always accompanied by the why questions. Careful examination of a text at word level would be incomplete without examination at book level. To see something from meters away is vastly different than under a microscope, both are beautiful and unique but together provide a picture that is something else altogether. I love the play between these in the sense that what one highlights another ignores, and vice versa. Together though, they go a long way to providing a deep, rich, telling of God’s Word.
Reader response is the one that felt a little out of place with all the others, mostly because it is so subjective, difficult to critique, and varies from one reader to the next. But this is perhaps the one we automatically revert to, when not engaging in any of the others.
And for anyone with absolutely no clue what I’m talking about, I know exactly where you’re coming from, before doing this unit I didn’t have much clue either!
These types of criticism are ways of looking at a text, anyone who’s studied English literature may have come across some of these before, questions you ask, ways of investigating. The idea is that by looking at the texts in greater detail you can get a better understanding of what is being said. Understanding what was happening historically at the time a text was written can give you some clues as to why certain things are discussed. Looking at the language can help you understand the age of the text but can also give you some clues about differences that happen when you translate and how some ideas are somehow lost in translation.
Understanding where the reader is coming from in terms of their prior learning and experience can affect what a person is expecting to read, and what perspective slant they will put on what the text says. Asking questions helps understanding, even if that means asking more questions and looking for more answers, it all helps build a bigger, rounder, fuller picture!
It’s been something that’s been sitting on the back burner in my mind for a long, long time. I felt God was calling me when I was a teenager but I wasn’t convinced about it, or rather about my ability to do; I was pushing back saying no, or maybe later. Roll on a number of years and God brought it back to the front again. And I reached a point where I figured there was only so long I could say no to God, especially in light of a no could be classed as disobedience and therefore sin!
So, I’ve done the first block of 5 weeks now. Each section of my course requires a bit of writing (and then an assignment at the end), and so I’m wondering about posting the thoughts up here as well! First I need to do a little bit of work on the website… so the first of the posts may not happen just yet!
I think through what I am going to say before I say it, what I am going to write before I write it. I retype texts messages. If you read anything in my notebooks you will find lines through lots of parts. My mind has an almost constant stream of verbal dialogue running. I have days where I can’t keep up with it all. No, I am not insane! It’s just the way I am wired. I think through things I have said, things I should have said, things I wish I had not said. Some conversations and thoughts run through my head for days.
In an argument I can never find the words to say, I stand there like a gawping fish, my mouth opening and shutting with nothing coming out. After the argument every possible excellent comeback comes to mind, everything I should have said is there waiting for me, taunting me. When someone verbally attacks me it’s even worse, and the only response is the one to fight away tears.
Why do I do it? As I say, part of it is who I am, but not all of it by any means.
Have you ever said something to someone that you wish you could take back the moment it slips from your lips? Have you had a conversation with someone and part way through the conversation they suddenly turn silent and you have no idea even slightly what you just said to cause it? Have you ever had someone walk out of your life permanently because you said ‘what’ when you genuinely didn’t hear what they said? Have you said and thought something that turned out to be untrue and it offended them so much they refused to talk to you no matter how many times you apologised?
It amazing what affects words can have, both good and bad, what damage you can inflict with them.
I realised that I cannot change what comes out of my mouth, once it has been said, there’s no taking it back. Once out in the open people can, and do, make judgements of it. I can’t replay time and have the conversation all over again with all the things retrospectively I wish I had said. I can’t have both sides of the conversation and have it turn out exactly as I want it to.
I came to the conclusion, wrongly, that it was better just not to talk, not to let people so close that I would be able to hurt them, that they wouldn’t then be able to walk out on me. Saying nothing, leads to not hurting people. So that’s the way it became. I didn’t share my life, I didn’t enter into deep conversations. I hid in the background hoping no one would notice me or be hurt by me.
I used various Bible verses in my mind to justify the decision. Verses about how it’s better to remain silent than be thought a fool, how reckless words piece like swords. I felt that my voice in the crowd was not a valuable or helpful one, so I stopped using it.
The self-editing became worse because there was so much more that remained unsaid, so many more unstated arguments, so many conversations I wish I had had. I almost began to loathe the things I thought, not because they are bad but simply because I heard them so often without an other side to the conversation, without outside input. I know I don’t think the way everyone else does and I had an underlying feeling that because others don’t think the way i do, so maybe I was wrong.
In spite of how lonely I became, I still thought the world would be better without my input. Apparently God has other ideas!
I figured that remaining silent was a good thing. But that’s simply not true. The Bible talks about the value of speaking up for those who don’t have a voice, of declaring the goodness of God, of sharing the irrefutable testimony of what God has done in our lives. If I stay silent none of those happen. And beyond all that, what if God has a specific purpose for my voice, in saying nothing I am preventing that from happening, and being disobedient.
God challenged me a while back to find some new friends, ones I could open up to and be honest with. Slowly He is bringing people into my path for that purpose, and for that I am incredibly thankful.
Editing for me though is unavoidable, I can’t stop the train of unending mental yabber from happening but I can choose to use my voice and how I do that. I can chose to still be careful about what I say, to say the best and most encouraging of things rather than be negative and critical, but to say something. So that is what I am doing. I am opening my mouth (well not always my physical mouth, as I have not yet worked out how to blog verbally and make it translate to words on the page!!) to share my life and experience. I am declaring what God has done in my life and who He is. And I am letting people know me, to hear me. It’s tough changing the habits of a lifetime, and certainly not something I could do without God’s help, but I am slowly beginning to see a side of myself that I hadn’t expected, one that wants to speak!
Having sat for a little over two hours yesterday doing a piece of work on a website that simply would not cooperate under any circumstances, while I got more and more furious with it, and as I contemplated smashing my laptop, I realised it was simply time to stop and walk away. It’s not my computer’s fault, it was more an incompatibility between what I wanted the website to be able to do and what it could actually do, what it had been programmed to do.
Two questions came to mind, why were my expectations so high? And why did I get so riled up by it, allowing it to get under my skin and frustrate me completely?
Expectations is easier to answer. My expectations are always high, I expect far more of people and myself than is possible the majority of the time. And because of that I often feel disappointed that reality did not match up to my expectations. The expectation that people will be all that God wants them to be, the perfect version of themselves. The expectation that they will know what I am thinking and act accordingly. The expectation that they will be genuine. The expectation that they have enough time to act in the most appropriate way. Obviously, I know that isn’t all possible, and certainly not all of the time, when I sit and think about it, but in the moment of disappointment it is not the first thought to go through my head. I should allow them, and myself, the grace to be a work in progress, to still be on the journey to becoming all that God wants but somehow, I rarely remember that, I rarely offer people the grace to make mistakes, to be having a bad day, to be rushing, to be themselves instead of what I think they ought to be.
In terms of the frustration, the work was not the root of the problem. There had been something nagging at me all day. It took some thought to pinpoint it. I had not achieved what I had planned to do. I had not lived up to the expectations I had for myself and my day.
I returned from my dog walk early, and knew I couldn’t go to work until late, so I thought it would be great to get an hour of writing and editing done on Moses, and to get an hour of work out of the way. Instead time disappeared, evaporated, vanished. I’d love to say it was in an alternate productive manner, but it wasn’t. I surfed Facebook and Instagram and opened an enormous Birthday parcel that had been delivered. And there you have it, that one word makes all the difference to my day, Facebook. Facebook is my personal poison, one I willingly and repeatedly ingest. After scrolling for a short while I feel worn out, exhausted, overwhelmed, depressed, inexplicably fed up, and I feel like something is crushing my chest. I need to escape it but am completely unable to leave. This is now the point where many people turn around, look at me blankly and decide I am out of my mind. It’s okay, I get that response a lot, I am used to it, and I know Facebook does not have this effect on most other people. The feeling is clearly not entirely physical, as I have not used enough muscles or brain power to suffer any of those symptoms. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it is something else. I’ll come onto that!
Probably eighteen months ago I made the decision to change the way I used FB, initially I tried to just ignore it, then I hid the app and turned off all the notifications, but neither made any difference. So, I told my friends I wasn’t going to be on FB much and if they needed me to contact me directly, then I deleted the app from my phone. It was tough the first few days, but after that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was incredibly liberating. I was only checking in once every two months to read my notifications, and I refused to read the feed at all. The “I’ll just have a quick look and see what’s happening mentality” is finally being kept under control. But not this time. I ‘needed’ to check my Birthday messages for the forth time, only the quick look and only reading my wall and notifications rule no longer applied apparently and I read the feed. I probably only read twenty posts in the feed, but it was more than enough to bring on all the feelings, only because it had been a while I didn’t instantly recognise or acknowledge them. I logged out and flicked without even thinking about it onto Instagram, flicking in a manner that can only be described as mindless. Normally I only read or look at a few messages at a time, this was way beyond that.
By the time I got to work, had sat in my empty office for three lonely hours, I’d had enough of the world. All I wanted was to go and hide in bed.
So, what is it that makes social media so poisonous to me? I get sucked in, I then don’t know when to stop, I see things that encourage me to feel depressed about my own life, and I lose track of time. My time is sucking into a black hole and never returned to me – that is part of the annoyance with it. It always seems to take, and never give anything I want or need back. It takes my time, my joy, my energy, and in return offers unpleasant feelings, discouragement, rose tinted images of others’ lives, a view of all the things I don’t have, and on some days offers something I genuinely wish I had never seen. Rarely do I feel thankful and enriched by something I have seen or found.
Completely separately, and not on social media, I watched a video and took an online quiz about how you hear God. It was by Havilah Cunnington – if you don’t know her, she is an amazing Christian lady at Truth to Table, someone I discovered a few months ago. I thought it sounded interesting, and a bit of fun, and was surprised by the results, but then thought nothing of it. Now having processed through all the things of the day and why I felt the way I did, I am beginning to wonder if I’ve just overlooked something hugely important! The result was that I hear God through my feelings.
I wonder if the feelings I get when I sit on social media are God’s promptings, to make me get off it, to clue me into how detrimental it is to me, to point out how it is altering my focus and thinking in a way that is not what He intends. I can glance over Bible verses by the dozen on social media in my flicking, barely reading, let alone absorbing them before I launch onto the next post. The verse I’ve seen before rarely holds the same appeal as something new and interesting that I haven’t seen before. But it is only in reading or hearing, and then absorbing, chewing over, that it becomes knowledge, a part of who we are, something we can rely on and remember. Only in pausing and consciously taking something on board can the very fabric of my soul be changed. And the sad truth is that what we take on board most is often not the things of God! I’m still chewing this one over.
I would like to challenge you this week to consider: how much time you spend on social media, what you do on there, how it affects you, and whether you spend as much time absorbing God’s Word as you do the contents of those social media pages, images and videos.
I am contemplating if I need to take a break from Instagram as well for a while…
Edit: having typed this up a few days ago and mulled over what I wrote, I’m not sure I’ve explained adequately! I don’t particularly mean that God makes me depressed, I mean that God uses the feels I am naturally prone to as a way of speaking into my life. If you enjoy something you are more likely to repeat it, if you find something unpleasant you are more inclined not to do it again. Social media isn’t as cut and dry as that. God knows what I absorb and take on board, He knows where my thoughts lead. So, the quicker the uneasy feeling, the faster I stop. I simply wonder if He is trying to discourage me from staying there. I’m not sure my edit has really improved what I am saying… let’s perhaps deem this post as incomprehensible drivel for now!