First kisses and great advice

As a teenager growing up in the church, there were specific rules when it came to dating.  Firstly, he had to be a Christian, secondly he had to be part of a church and even better if he was part of our church.

My first ever date with a boy occurred at the grand old age of 15.  To this day, I can still remember all the nerves and excitement and the anxiety about perhaps being kissed (would I know what to do?). I even remember what I wore and the slightly gritted-teeth smile of my dad, as he watched his little girl disappear out the door into the care of a blushing young man from church (who furthermore was 18 and had a car).

To be honest, the whole thing was an unmitigated disaster. We had nothing in common and sat in McDonald’s, nursing melting milkshakes, grimly reading the menu boards or the side of our plastic cups. Anything to avoid looking at each other and acknowledging the awful chasm of non-chemistry silence which threatened to swallow us up.

In the days preceding, my best friend had recently successfully navigated her way through her first kiss.  She and I had talked this over a lot and her advice was simple, you don’t have to kiss him if you don’t want to. 

With this advice ringing soundly in my ears, I realised in the middle of my McDonalds date, that I really did not want any kind of lip-to-lip contact. But worryingly, despite the date’s awkwardness, my suitor seemed to be implying that’s how he wanted the evening to conclude.

As we eventually (HUGE sigh of relief), made our way to the car to head home, I studiously avoided any kind of inviting eye contact. And later as the car pulled up in front of my house, I was so keen to escape, I got my foot tangled up in the seatbelt and fell out of the car, flat on my chin, on the pavement.

You don’t have to kiss him if you don’t want to. You don’t have to kiss him if you don’t want to. 

Despite desperately trying to recover my dignity from my splayed position on the pavement, the  wise advice of my bestie was still whirling around in my head.

Advice. 

We all need it sometimes. Though we don’t always know we need it. And even when we get it, we don’t always listen.

Where do you get your advice from?

I usually go first of all, to family and then to friends, but I’m learning that the best advice doesn’t always come from the most obvious of sources.  Some of the most ‘obvious’ people (like ministers or trusted friends) have at times, given me the worst advice.  

And so now, any advice I’m given, has to stack up against what my Bible says.

Recently, while navigating my way through a bit of a crisis, I was given some advice which actually made me feel worse. Later, I couldn’t understand why I felt more upset, more negative, after the chat, than I did before.  

And then I realised that despite the giver’s best intentions, the advice came with a side order of all their own fear, negativity and bad experiences.  It was loaded and rooted in their own unhappy worldview.

But God’s word always says something different.  Oh, it doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, sometimes it’s words of correction or an instruction to change direction, but it’s always rooted in God’s overwhelming love for humanity.  

Even in the Old Testament when God gave instructions to the Israelites that must have seemed archaic and even at times, brutal, it was always for their own good. God has always loved his creation and every instruction, every bit of advice, every corrective word comes from a heart bursting with mercy and compassion.

Today, some people look at the Bible as a dusty book full of rules designed to oppress and limit progressive thinking. But in reality, the Bible is an inspired manual which understands human nature (and our tendency to self-destruct).  It offers a way of life which might sometimes seem difficult, but which is designed (just like the instruction booklet which comes with any new appliance) to help us get the most out of the life we’ve been given.

As far as advice goes, it doesn’t get any better than that. 

So I’m thankful for all the wonderfully wise people in my life who offer advice when I need it most. And I’m thankful too for God’s word which helps me to know which advice to take and which advice to discard. 

P.s You don’t have to kiss him, if you don’t want to. 



I got trolled…

I got trolled!

My last blog post on the subject of Joel Osteen generated some pretty negative online responses from strangers. 

Within an hour of posting, I’d sent several rather nasty comments straight to the Spam folder, which among other things, accused me of making up the story and oh, my particular favourite, the suggestion that I must be the product of ‘abusive, irresponsible parents’. 

For a moment, I thought, ‘what have I got myself into?  I just want to write a blog. I don’t want all this aggro’.

But then I remembered a situation a few years ago, when an (anonymous) neighbour took offence at my parking style and started to leave rather vicious notes on the windscreen. I couldn’t understand where all his (or her) rage was coming from. Surely, if they were unhapppy, they just needed to talk to me? There was no need to leave anonymous poisoned pen letters.  

But one particular morning, despite my best attempts at parking correctly, I found another note sticky taped to the windscreen.And this one made me mad.  It was just so unnecessary. So childish. 

Later, I was chatting to my dad and after listening to my tale of woe, he said, ‘why don’t you pray for him?’ (Assuming it was a ‘he’).  

What?? Pray for this IDIOT? This vicious, nasty, small-minded person who had nothing better to do with their time, than write spiteful letters???

But the stinger came when my dad said, ‘maybe no one’s ever prayed for him before? Maybe God let this happen so you would?’

As the words sunk in, later, through gritted teeth, I gave it a try. It took some practice, but oddly, as I reluctantly persevered, I could feel the aimless rage start to melt away. No longer was I angry at this faceless note-abuser, but I was curious as to why he was so angry in the first place? Was there something else going on in their life, which would explain it? Why would he want to upset people like that, with rage-filled words and insults?

There were no answers, but I could feel myself dealing with the situation in a healthier way. And then I started to have some fun, praying he’d somehow get to know Jesus, that everywhere he went, he’d (annoyingly) run into over-zealous Christians (the kind with flags and tambourines) until he had no choice but to submit and deal with the rage.   

So last night, as I was reading through the unpleasant messages again and for a moment, feeling stunned by how vicious some people can be, I suddenly remembered that I could pray for each of them. I only have their anonymous hide-online names, but God knows who they are and he’s more than capable of hunting them down with some totally undeserved grace and mercy.

It’s not nice to be trolled, but as it turns out, it’s quite good fun to pray for people you don’t know. 

A church we’ll never forget…

When I was eight years old, my parents packed up a comfortable life in Scotland, sold everything they owned (house, car, the lot) and as a family, we set off on a huge adventure as itinerant missionaries, travelling across the US.   

Times were tough. We drove across the States, pulling a caravan behind us and stopping at different churches and towns along the way. The parents were living by faith and sometimes didn’t even know where the next meal was coming from. But even all these years later, they will happily recall story after story of how God provided for them. He never once let them down. 

During one particularly lean patch, we were travelling through Houston, Texas and unknown to us kids, money was really tight.  Our parents were also tired and wearied by all the struggles of full time ministry life and decided pull up our caravan for a few days and take a rest.  So we parked up on a pitch owned by a local church. I say ‘local church’ but really, it was a campus. It had a congregation of thousands and was almost like a mini city, known for programmes and all the  amazing work it did in the nearby community.   

Those first few days were like a little slice of heaven. Everyone was so friendly, so warm. It felt like a refuge from the storm. My parents decided they’d like to meet the senior pastor.  They wanted to thank him for the great facilities on site, tell him how impressed they were at all the ministries the church was involved in. So, after making an appointment, the parents put on their Sunday best and off we went to the offices where my brother and I were deposited in the air-conditioned waiting room. 

It was a hot, hot day and I remember the receptionist calling us ‘sugar’ and asking us if we wanted some lemonade or iced tea. As we sat there, two shy British kids, blushing at the warmth of Southern hospitality,  the door fell open and in a rush of sweltering air, a tall teenager fell in, carrying a big stack of books.  

A few dropped to the floor, he reddened, apologised, picked them up and went into one of the back offices. Not long after, my parents emerged from the office and I could tell it had been a good meeting.  They were beaming.

Turns out they’d been able to meet with the senior pastor, a man called John. He’d listened to their story of being missionaries from England. They’d laughed, prayed and shared ministry tales.  

At the end, Pastor John asked them suddenly, ‘how’s your financial situation?’ Immediately jumping into British reserve mode, both parents were at pains to point out they were fine.  But Pastor John saw through it and the church wrote them a cheque, a ministry gift, which basically helped to fund the next few weeks of life on the road. That weekend, as a family, we were invited to sit in the family section of the huge arena they called their sanctuary and dad was invited up to close the service, (in front of thousands), in prayer.

It was those simple acts of gentleness and kindness to my weary parents, which recharged their emotional batteries and gave them the strength to go on.  

I was thinking about this today after reading an article, Megachurch closes its doors (and an onslaught of angry tweets).  It seemed person after person has lined up to attack this church for supposedly not doing enough, after the horror of Storm Harvey. 

There have been aerial shots of the property, reporters demanding answers and everyone (seemingly) overlooking the fact that for decades this church has opened its doors wholeheartedly to anyone who needed help.  A quick look at the ministries page on their website shows they do everything from helping with addiction issues to offering respite nights for families with disabled children.  In addition, during previous disasters, the church has been there, serving with food projects, clothing for people in need and for years, offered tireless generosity to probably hundreds of thousands of people who have passed through its sites.  

I know, because my family was the recipient of their incredible open-heartedness. The church that ministered to my weary parents all those years ago, was Lakewood church in Houston. The senior pastor was John Osteen (who has since passed away) and the young book-carrying teenager who swept through the office doors, was the boy who would one day become the pastor, Joel Osteen.

As soon as I read the story and the sadly predictable social media reaction, I knew something was ‘off’. It just didn’t fit what I knew to be true, both from that visit as a child and from visits I’ve made since as an adult.  And as soon as I started to dig into the facts, sure enough, it seems there was more to the tale.  As soon as news of the storm started to circulate, the church had offered to open its doors as a shelter but was told by the local authority they had enough shelter places.  The church had then cancelled its Sunday services, so that people didn’t try to battle through flood waters to get there. Somehow, that ended up as the headline, ‘church closes its doors to victims’.  

Bad story if you’re a church. Great story if you’re a headline writer, trying to sell newspapers.  

No church or church leader is perfect and I know Lakewood has had its controversies, but I know from experience that generosity and kindness run through the heart of this church like writing through a stick of rock (or, for the Americans, like frosting through a twinky).  And if that weren’t the case, it would have been a church our family quickly forgot.

So as Lakewood church faces its own storm, both the horrifying aftermath of Storm Harvey and a PR battle, there will always be a family in England who remain incredibly grateful for their kindness and generosity.  

And oh, if you’d like to read more about what really happened at Lakewood, here’s the details. 

When you’re surrounded by enemies…

In many big Hollywood blockbusters, there’s often a bad guy and a good guy. From pantomime villains to gun-toting psychopaths, loads of films are based on the idea of baddies versus goodies. 

In the Bible, the ‘baddies’ were a group known as the Amalekites.They pop up quite a lot and were known for their unrelenting brutality, for their fondness of killing children and for their tactic of picking off (and murdering) the weakest and most vulnerable, those who were struggling at the back of the line.The Amalekites were also descended from Esau. Remember him?  

He and his twin brother Jacob had a pretty difficult relationship.  Esau traded his birthright and inheritance to his brother, for a bowl of stew and later, Jacob tricked their father into giving him a blessing, which rightfully belonged to Esau.Genesis 27 says from that point on, ‘Esau hated Jacob’ and the two didn’t see each other for many years. Esau went on to become the grandfather of Amalek, from whom the Amalekites descended. 

And that’s when the trouble really got started. 

I was reading about them the other day in 1 Samuel 30. As it turns out, the evil Amalekites had attacked the camp of David and kidnapped not just his wife and children, but the wives and kids of all his men. 

The Amalekites were known for their blood lust but on this occasion, it seems as though they decided to delay the sadistic gratification. Instead of instantly killing their hostages, they decided instead to carry them off and (presumably) mentally torture David and his men just a bit more.

Can you imagine the anguish? 

The people you love most in the world have been kidnapped by people who love to torture and murder their victims?? What would you do?  How would you respond?

1 Samuel 30 says that the men around David ‘wept until they had no more strength to weep’ (know the feeling??) and David himself, full of desperation, threw himself at God’s feet and then it says, ‘he strengthened himself in the Lord’.

He was facing the worst thing in the world and yet before he drew a sword or devised a battle plan, he ‘strengthened himself in the Lord’?

I read that this week, in the middle of my own personal battle and I realised that no matter what the circumstances, I too can ‘strengthen myself in the Lord’.

Reading the text I was aware that it didn’t say that ‘God strengthened him’. Instead it said that he actively, had to choose to do it.

Sometimes in life, when it feels like there’s an Amalekite around every corner, we have to stick a stake in the ground and like David, get strengthened and then, refuse to budge.

How did David strengthen himself?  Was it through worship? Prayer? Something else?

We’re not told and to be honest, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is what God did through the circumstances.  And if he did it then,  he can do it now.  

Interestingly, some scholars have said that the current ISIS regime descended from the Amalekites.  Is that true? Some of the evidence seems to stack up, but it’s not really important. 

The bottom line is, if you’re facing your own Amalekite battle right now, where it seems as though there’s no way out and the only way forward, is negotiation with a (metaphorical) bloodthirty enemy, then take heart.  

Grab a Bible, a notebook, crank up the worship music, pray with a friend but do whatever it takes (like David) to strengthen yourself in God’s goodness and grace. Remind yourself of all he’s done in the past, how he’s saved you before, how he’s promised to look after you.  As you do, you’ll get strength, you’ll get courage and you’ll also get a battle plan, a way forward.

It worked for David. It can work for you.

When celebrities do good things…

I was watching a TV chat show the other night. You probably know the kind; celebrity interviewer deposits 3 or 4 other celebrities on a sofa, grills them lightly with safe, pre-arranged questions, all the while hoping there won’t be a monstrous clash of VIP egos.  

Usually, the celebs are wheeled in by eager-eyed publicists (I know, because I used to be one!) in order to promote a book, or a film.  And sometimes the celebs are there to just promote themselves.

The other night, I watched in a bit of transfixed horror as a well-known US comedian turned up for her sofa slot.  She was asked what motivated her and her reply was along the lines of, ‘I want to help people’ 

‘In fact…’ she continued, ‘I donated my entire salary from the last series to charity’.

This last phrase seemed to be carefully annunciated, almost as though she was giving a cue to the audience, so they would know precisely at what point they were expected to clap. They duly took their cue, the comedian nodded her approval at her own words and then blushed slightly, as though she was surprised by their well-scripted applause.  

It was a superb performance.  

I was torn. I mean, giving up your salary for a good cause is a great thing.  But when did it become socially acceptable to tell everyone? 

It’s quite a common thing at the moment. I’ve seen loads of online videos/posts from people who’ve filmed themselves giving their shoes to street children, handing out cash to people in need or some other charitable act.  Recently, a ministry leader set up a video and filmed himself giving burgers to homeless people and Facebook nearly exploded.   As more people commented on how kind and gracious and saint-like this person was, the further the videos travelled online. 

So, in reality, is a little self-promotion such a bad thing? After all, surely the fact that the good deed was done, is all that’s important?  A homeless person got shoes, some street children had a great meal.  Surely that’s what counts? And if the do’er happens to get some good publicity as a result, does it really matter?  

Well, from a Bible point of view, yes it does. In one of his well-known talks about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Jesus said in Matthew 6;

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

I think the last sentence clinches it; Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

In other words, they’ve received the short term praise and admiration of a human audience.  Al those likes and shares and comments of, ‘you’re an inspiration’ are really just brief, earthly moments of glory.  When people stop sharing the videos and move on to something else, the admiration is over. 

Everything Jesus said or did was designed to point people toward eternity, to the greater (more satisfying) goal of pleasing God, and living for a purpose beyond ourselves. He talked about storing up treasures in heaven, rather than on earth and he knew (long before the world was ruled by social media) that ‘earthly treasures’ and accolades can be destroyed or stolen.  Far better to focus on the rewards of eternity.  

And for Christians at least, we know that while human praise is lovely, (admit it, we all like it!) ultimately, it’s nothing compared to the eternal, private reward of knowing we did the right thing (without publicly announcing it).  


 

Saved by an angel?

Two weeks ago, I took my car for its MOT. The car was fine, passed the test but as I was leaving the shop, the mechanic mentioned that I’d need to replace my front brake pads and one of my tyres, ‘probably within a couple of months’. For some reason (unlike me, especially when it comes to spending a chunk of money), I decided I should just fork out the money and do it straight away, so I booked the car in and a few days later, the work was done.

Little did I know what would happen today.

This afternoon, my mum and I were on our way to a family gathering.The sun was shining and we were nipping down the country lanes at around 40 miles an hour.  Now lest you think this was a blissful Sunday afternoon jaunt through the countryside, I should mention that just minutes before, my mum and I had a disagreement. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t over anything very important, but there was a cross silence between us and as I nipped along, suddenly there was this inexplicable nudge in my ribs to ‘be alert, to be on the lookout’.  

No sooner had that thought formed in my head when a car shot over a give way/stop sign to my left, racing madly (without looking) at about 60 miles an hour.  

Everyone says that in a life and death situation, everything slows down, but that’s exactly what happened. It was as though I was watching an action replay of the situation in slow motion. I slammed my foot on the brake, watched as my mum stretched her hands out on to the dashboard and I vaguely remember us both sort of crying out/shouting.  

And then the inexplicable happened.  Remember that scene in The Matrix, where time slows down and Neo is able to deftly dodge bullets? Well, this afternoon, it was almost as though something or someone pushed my car back or slowed it down. I can’t describe it any other way, except to say it was like hitting a supernatural force field which stopped me from crashing at high speed into the side of the black Ford (the only details I registered).  

I must have come within less than a foot of having a major crash, the driver of the Ford screamed on forward, seemingly oblivious to what he/she had just done. We sat there for a second, dazed, thanking God for saving our lives and immediately grabbed hands and said, ‘I’m sorry’ for the disagreement we’d had earlier. There’s nothing like a brush with eternity to put your life and its problems into perspective. 

We carried on with our journey and as soon as we got onto the motorway, (before I’d said a word), my mum said to me, ‘it was like something stopped us…something pushed us back…’.  

We continued on our way, dazed, thankful, me wondering what might have happened if I’d  not had that strange feeling of needing to ‘be alert’ just seconds before, me also wondering what could have happened if I’d not changed my brake pads a few weeks ago.

Did something supernatural save us today? I am sure of it. 

 You shall not pass…

Last night, I arrived home, pumped up and full of faith after an amazing Cherish Conference. We and a group of 7,500 other women met  in Leeds Arena, to sing our hearts out in worship and get built up, ready to do life again.  And then just as I was about to sink gratefully into a waiting bed, a text pinged in.  It was a news report from a friend, with a note; ‘something’s going on in London’.

I grabbed my iPad, logged onto Sky News and watched in horror, as details began to slowly leak in. I shared the news on work’s Social Media accounts, urging people to pray and then I began to pray myself.  I was praying for all the chaos, for people who needed help, for the emergency services, and for the people who were about to be told the worst news in the world.  In moments like this, how else can you pray?

My mind flicked back to the victory cry of so many women in Leeds Arena just the night before, to various speakers I’ve heard recently, who have spoken of a coming revival. And I thought too, about the Lord of the Rings.

Yes, I realise that’s a strange thing to say, but bear with me here.  It’s fair to say that I’m not a fan of fantasy and the Lord of the Rings movies would have completely passed me by, had I not read an article about the Christian allegory embedded in the books.   After watching the first movie instalment with the family one Christmastime, I was hooked.   And one scene in particular has always stuck with me.  

To put it into context, Gandalf the wise wizard is helping the group to escape up a long stone precipice, hotly pursued by a fiery howling pit monster.  The evil beast is closing in on them, claiming territory, threatening to overtake and demolish everything around them.  

And yet, even though he’s just one man (one tired, quite old man at that!), he turns around to face this roaring phantom and he  stands his ground.  

In that moment, he knows exactly what he has to do. He calls upon the greatest power he has ever known and staring this howling, vicious monster in the face, he bellows; 

YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

He raises his sword as the monster towers over him, breathing volcanic flames, literally about to consume him.  He again roars;

YOU SHALL NOT PASS

And in a moment, as Gandalf calls upon a power beyond himself, the beast suddenly looks confused and startled, it starts to shrink back…and well, there’s a clip below if you want to know what happens next. 

And so that’s why today, in the middle of yet more horrific news, I was thinking about revival and the Holy Spirit and women gathering together in arenas and yes, also, the Lord of the Rings.  

Our country has been hit three times in three months, by a vicious, out-of-control beast that is, on the surface, way, way bigger than us. Lives have been destroyed, communities devastated.  This spiritual power is seeking to consume, to overtake and if you believe everything you read, it appears to be on a winning streak.  We have our weapons of defiance and British resolve, but there seems to be an unspoken acknowledgment that we can’t really stop it.

But oh, I beg to differ.

You see, though evil swaggers and boasts and mocks, it has never, ever been a match for The Cross.  It’s no coincidence (to me, at least) that this happened on the eve of Pentecost, the day that Christians thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

So, what would happen, if we really started to tap into the extraordinary, stone-rolling, death-defying power of the cross?  What if women (and men) started to gather in thousands (like we did this weekend) and start to pray for a breakthrough? What if we began to understand who we are in Christ and saw this evil for the spiritual battle that it is, and as a unified church, bellowed back; YOU SHALL NOT PASS. 

The enemy can really only succeed when it believes it has no challenging authority, when it thinks no one will fight back.  But imagine what would happen if the church grabbed its spiritual swords and began to push the evil beast back into the cavern it came from?  

Is it possible? Yes, it has to be. But perhaps as a church, we’ve never before had a reason to try.  

But now we do.  

And now is the time to call upon heaven’s power and say, ‘enough really is enough’.  

Who knows what could happen if we grabbed our spiritual weapons, claimed victory and freedom for our country, stared this enemy in the face, and just like Gandalf on a cliff edge declare;

You shall NOT pass. 


Listen to the little voices…

So I should admit up-front, that I’m not very good with cars. 

Forget fuel absorption or engine size, my last car was purchased on the basis that it had a decent stereo system and that its shiny Aqua blue would make it easier to find in car parks.  

Of course, I know the basics, you know, all the stuff about oil, water, tyre pressure, but if I’m honest, it gets serviced and MOT’d every year and I mostly rely on the warning lights to shout if there’s anything wrong.

So last week, I noticed that one of the tyres looked a little flat.  It wasn’t a puncture, but looked like it needed a top-up, so I filed a mental note to get it checked.  And then, due to busy’ness, completely forgot.  

One of the reasons this week has been so busy, is because we’ve been excitedly awaiting the birth of a new nephew or niece.  Knowing the call could come at any time, I had a bag packed and in the boot, petrol tank full, ready to race off and collect my young niece when things got started. 

On Wednesday night, I was driving home from work and as I passed a petrol station, there was a sudden little voice in my head; check your tyres.

On the basis that I dislike getting oily and wrestling with those ridiculous air machines, I ignored it and drove past. Up ahead, I could see another garage and there was the voice again, much more insistent this time; CHECK YOUR TYRES.

I reluctantly pulled into the garage and spent the next 20 minutes faffing about with a rebellious air machine. Tyres 1, 2 and 3 were all fine.  So much for ‘little voice being right’, I thought.  And then, it turns out that tyre number 4 was dangerously low (think 7psi, when it should have been 35psi).

Now, apparently, if I’d known anything about cars, I’d have known that such a big difference in tyre pressure, could be a warning sign of a slow puncture. But I don’t know anything about cars (I think I mentioned this) so I topped up the air, thought nothing of it and then that night at 3.30am, the much anticipated call came.  

Within 10 minutes, I was out of the house (in my PJs and a hoody) and whizzing up the motorway, heading to my brother’s house 40 miles away. A quick transfer of car seats and some whispered instructions about nappies and porridge and they were off, to begin the process of bringing a little one into the world.

As dawn broke and my niece woke up, we got ready to spend the day with the rest of the family and once again, found ourselves whizzing up the motorway.  Later in the day we got the wondrous, teary-eyed call, ‘It’s a boy!!’ and we were soon back in the car, driving another 30 miles, this time to the hospital. 

It was only as we were waiting at traffic lights, to turn into the car park that someone walking by, told me my tyre was very low. As I pulled into the hospital, sure enough, it was now almost completely flat.

And yet through 100+ miles of driving in the past 24 hours, there’d not been a single rattle, thump or wobble. We would never have known unless a passerby had pointed it out.  When I realised what had happened, I suddenly remembered that urgent, insistent voice; CHECK YOUR TYRES. 

Was it that last-minute air top-up which gave the tyre enough strength to do a wee-hours dash up the motorway? Did that help prevent a breakdown or damage to the car?

What if I’d not listened and driven past that second garage?  Lots of ifs and wonderings, but I believe I had that prompt for a reason. I think it was the gentle nudge of God, keeping us safe for the urgent hours which would follow.  And for that, I’m overwhelmingly thankful.

I’m aware that we often get those nudges and ‘voices’. Sometimes they’re silly and seem inconsequential but what if we started paying more attention?  What if this is one of the ways God speaks to us? 

Even if it’s inconvenient, it’s wise to listen.  

It might just save your life. 

Are you toxic? 

When I was a kid, I loved the Ghostbusters’ films; that bumbling team of misfits on a mission to destroy the toxic slime surging through the city’s sewers. 

The slime (a thick pink sludge) reacted to anger and negative emotions. The angrier people became, the faster the slime grew, until in the end it was bursting through drains, threatening to sweep away the whole city in one angry, sludgy slime-slide.

Because that’s what anger does.

We all get angry. Life’s circumstances can overwhelm us, we can be cheated on, stolen from or sometimes, we’re angry because of the thing that didn’t happen. Didn’t get the job. Didn’t get the man. Didn’t get the thing we thought we deserved. 

Sometimes, anger is a fairly normal reaction to the stuff that life throws at us. But when we stay angry, the anger becomes part of our identity. The angrier we feel, the more toxic we become and in time, the toxicity can sweep away relationships and everything we’ve ever known or loved.

Signs your anger might have gone toxic. 

You avoid people who are content.

You can’t bear to be around people who appear to have their lives in order.  Something about being around content/happy people, makes the rage inside bubble up. Why do THEY have the thing I want?? It’s NOT fair.

All your friends are angry too

As the saying goes, misery loves company, so you’re naturally drawn to people who are equally peed off at the world. You get together for drinks, you rehash the things that make you mad, you tell each other that you’re just ‘being real’, and you get energised by the collective sharing of misery. But then later, you mostly just feel empty. 

Happy news brings out the worst in you.  

Other people share great news; they got the job, the house, the partner, the baby. You’re able (for the sake of friendship) to smile and offer congratulations, but if your real thoughts could be projected onto the wall, you’d probably lose those friends pretty sharpish.  You don’t want other people to be happy.

You jump on the bandwagon.

You hitch yourself to every angry bandwagon/campaign/petition out there. To be fair, there’s a huge amount of injustice in the world and it’s important to speak out and sometimes campaigns/petitions/marches are totally necessary. But when your anger has turned toxic, you start to lose sight of what the campaign is actually about, it’s just about the shared anger, the collective rage. And even if the injustice is tackled and dealt with, it doesn’t really make you happy. You’re still angry.

It all starts to get a bit irrational.

You’re angry at inanimate objects (you regularly scream at a broken photocopiers or kick tires/walls, anything you can get your hands on.  Or you’re angry at God for a thing he did or didn’t do, so to get him back, you avoid all the stuff that (deep down), you know is good for you; church, Bible, prayer, other Christians. Maybe even reading a post about anger (written by someone you probably don’t even know) makes you feel irrationally angry. 

Reading this back, it all sounds pretty harsh, but it’s only because at different points in my life, I’ve walked through some of these feelings too.  I’ve been in situations where my anger has so clouded my vision, that I’ve nearly walked away from things that were really, really good for me.  But while anger can be a legitimate reaction to injustice, if we want to be healthy, it’s got to be something we walk through, not live in. 

I was once given some great advice;  It’s ok to be angry. Just don’t stay that way.

I’m a fan of Ephesians 4:26-27:  In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold. 

That last part, do not give the devil a foothold, is the crucial bit for me.   In other words, don’t allow anger to become so toxic that you end up destroying yourself.  

When we make a conscious, deliberate decision to not feed anger, to stop it from growing into toxic sludge, we’re set free. It can take time, perseverance and real courage.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. 

Because really, toxic anger is self-destructive.  Just like the Ghostbusters’ imaginary slime, the more you feed it, the more it grows.  And the more it grows, the closer you come to destroying yourself. 

The power of praying for strangers.  

I woke up a few mornings ago to the news that in Willesden, North London (a stone’s throw from where I used to live), a woman had been shot and several others arrested, as part of a police anti-terrorism campaign. There were mixed reports, some initially saying that the people arrested were 20, 23 and 16.

16??? 

How does a kid, aged 16 get arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences?

When I was 16, I was a little bit in love with an actor called Andrew McCarthy (‘Pretty in Pink’), didn’t know the difference between the Bros twins (which was Matt? Which was Luke?) and spent an awful lot of time worrying about boys. 

Terrorism? Destroying the people who lived in the community around me? Leaving roads in rubble? Hearts and lives broken? 

Well no, not really. Though the news that my favourite group was playing at the Manchester Empire made me fall melodramatically at the feet of my parents, begging to be allowed to go to a concert.

So, how, at 16 (or even younger) does a person end up with such rage and bitterness in their heart?  It’s no doubt related to their environment and the messages they’re indoctrinated with.  I’ve got no experience or knowledge of psychiatry or brain processes (unless you count my GCSE in Psychology, and really, you shouldn’t) but I DO know that I can pray.  

Admittedly, it’s quite hard to pray for people behind closed doors, who I don’t know or can’t picture, but lately, as I’ve been driving home from work, I’ve been praying for individual people that I drive past. 

Lest you think I’ve somehow got the intercessory life cracked and am outrageously super-holy, I’m definitely not.  But this is my way of fighting back against the statistics which say people are less interested in God than ever before.  What if we could change our country, with some ‘driveby prayer’ on a regular commute every day?  Silently praying blessing for the man opposite us on the tube? Or asking God to impact the life of the woman next to us on a plane?

At first, it feels incredibly silly. You don’t know who you’re praying for, or even if they’re already a believer (could be!), but after a while, it starts to become a bit of fun.  

Lord…see the bald man over there in the white trainers…could you bless him, give him a chance to hear about you?

God…the woman on the crossing with a stick..she looks like she’s in loads of pain. Could you heal her and let her know that you did it?

The world really is in turmoil at the moment and many of us feel powerless in the face of all this change, terror and seeming instability.  

But what if ‘Driveby Prayer’ has an impact in eternal ways we’ll probably never see?  

It’s worth a try…

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