Thursday, 3 March 2011

Thinking Thursday: Adventures of a New Creature

I remember vividly when it happened. It was electric. The feeling was amazing, and maybe, looking back, that wasn't such a good thing after all. The newness is a written promise you can lay hold on. It doesn't depend on feelings. It happens, no matter how you feel. But it's hard to believe in if you don't feel anything, if there's no experience.

The trouble is, I had spent 18 years depending on feelings to tell me the truth. And my newness, in that respect, fitted the old pattern, even though so much of the rest had been broken and discarded. Bit by bit, it all got dealt with, but the feelings were always there. I knew God was listening to my prayers, because I felt it. I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and I felt moved to worship. So what about the promises when there are no feelings?

But now I am getting ahead of myself. Adventures have to have a beginning.

My adventures really began a long time before the newness, with a major wrong turning. All of us first become seekers when the need for God awakens. And I don't think we ever really stop. With God, there is always more to know. Unfortunately, when we begin we are usually ill-equipped. We know little or nothing about God and His ways, and often what we do know is inaccurate, distorted, or just wrong.

So how do we judge what we find in our seeking? It is easy to lay down criteria with hindsight, and some new creatures get quite arrogant when speaking to people, especially those who have gone astray, as if the answer is obvious.

So what do you do with the basic understanding that Christians pray to God, read the Bible, go to church, and live good lives? As an outsider how are you to know that these things are the fruit of something deeper, life changing? So when you find an answer to your seeking that fills all these and more, that teaches you faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and obedience, how are you to judge? You have found the answer, haven't you? I thought I had, but what I had found was allegiance to an organisation and a life of outward show of obedience. I was not a new creature, and didn't even know that I needed to be. A major wrong turning.

The eventual good that came out of this was a good knowledge of the Bible and enough understanding of what I was taught to recognise the flaws in it when I finally found the truth. The bad that came out of it was the reliance on feelings.

I was taught that God answers prayers by giving you a warm feeling inside. This personal revelation is stronger than any other evidence you may be presented with. We all know how unreliable feelings are, and how they can be manufactured by circumstances. But when you pray, and that feeling comes, just as you were promised, it is like your own personal miracle, and you're hooked. From there on, whatever people may say against your beliefs, whatever evidence they may present to you, you have your own personal witness - your testimony - which transcends it all. To you, your faith is unshakeable. To those in the light, the shutters are down.

My shutters finally crumbled after admitting that my faith wasn't working and that God would not condemn me for asking honest questions if my heart was towards Him. My renewed seeking led me to realise there was something missing in my life, and to recognise someone who had it. That someone was a new creature who showed me the way.

And so I became a new creature, and the real adventure began. But like the false adventure, it began with a feeling. God is wonderful, God is good, and He blesses us with His Spirit and touches our lives in ways we can sense, especially when we are very new creatures. But the Enemy is always there, seeking to twist and corrupt everything. And sometimes it only takes a very small lever to move a very big rock.

As time went by and I learned more of the truth, all the old teachings and ideas were recognised for what they were. I learned the truth of the promises in the Bible, and that they didn't depend on circumstances or feelings. But that theory was blunted in the practical application because the feelings were always there. And feelings are so deep, so hidden, that nobody realised the problem. Radical measures were needed.

My life encountered a crisis. Instinctively, I turned to God. 'Tell me what to do.' Nothing. 'Show me the way.' Nothing. 'At least give me some comfort.' No word, no sign, no feeling. Nothing. Instant despair. What about the promises in the Bible? No help - no feelings. I prayed every way I knew, tried to find ways to please God so that He would respond. I went through the whole spectrum of emotions: despair, guilt, frustration, anger, bitterness, desperation. Lots of feelings, but all the wrong ones.

Through it all, my life continued. The crisis had to be dealt with. Some things were resolved, some got worse, new problems arose. On several occasions, circumstances worked to my good, the right people appeared at the right time with the right answers. But this could not be God, because I felt nothing. One always had a good feeling when God touched your life. It all had to be coincidence.

The pain went deep. How could He desert me when I needed Him the most? He had promised never to leave me, but He had, because the feelings had gone. This was the darkest part of the adventure, and it seemed to last for ever.

Thankfully, it did come to an end. The crisis was resolved, much was learned, much growing done. Even the feelings came back. But it took a long time to understand why they had gone. And they only returned after I had laid hold of the written promises and believed them anyway, with no proof. With hindsight, I could see where God's hand had been at work during the dark times, but His methods had been new to me, and I had not recognised them.

The adventure continues, but on a much firmer footing. Feelings are undependable. But when a promise is in writing, it is unshakeable. It never occurred to me before that God's plan is always moving on, but He is under no obligation to explain it to us, or our part in it. He has said He will never leave us, and He never does, even when we can't feel it. It is a great strength to me now to look forward to the rest of the adventure on that basis.

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