Sat by the Kebar River, feeling the warmth of my Saviour for the first time properly in months, and let me tell you – it. feels. reaaaaal. good.
Rewind to this time last year, I had entered a new season in my spiritual life that I simply could not get accustomed to. The best way I can describe it is “The Still Waters”. Bear with me here and we’ll paint a picture together.
My spiritual journey first began in the summer of 2012 on my first missionary trip to Kenya; a time in my life that I frequently reminisce on – the first couple of days I met my First Love, my Jesus. A chapter of great emotion; The Beginning. Bucketfuls of joyful tears from being introduced to the One who stole my heart and learning that I am a consecrated temple for Him (1 Kings 9:3). A season where I began to discover the difference between the Truth and my many ever-changing truths. I’m sure many of you can relate to a similar period in your life; when you first actively decided to make the shift from a “Sunday church-goer” to an “I want a real relationship with God” Christian.
That chapter lasted all of two pages, before the next, twenty paged, chapter – one that did not seem to ever want to end – came and really tested me; The Storm. A season of many questions and many tears (this time, not so joyful). A time that I begged the Lord to take away from me, nonetheless a time that showed me the real, practical side of God. The loving Father, the supporting Son and the comforting Holy Spirit. The Storm taught me the power of Hope; what it means to hope in Him and trust that I will not be put to shame (Psalm 25:3) even when darkness seems to prevail. God didn’t just use The Storm to open my eyes to His real, practical love for me, but also utilised it to convict me to serve others in the same way that He was ministering to me.
As quickly as it had come, The Storm had passed with the grace of God. I had grown accustomed to dreaming about what “could be” during that period of my life, that when I reached the other side, I couldn’t quite believe it.
The Still Waters; a season in your life where external circumstances are very comfortable, so that no intense emotions are evoked in your everyday living.
I had been liberated from what felt like the harshest storm, now finally making it into the still waters of a vast ocean. Freedom! Joy! Thankfulness! Gratitude! Relief! Excitement! I could do whatever I pleased and go wherever I wanted.
Except that I couldn’t…
I wandered in The Still Waters for an entire year, literally. I got lost; I circled around myself month after month finding myself right at the same spot where The Lord had originally delivered me to, after The Storm. The plethora of emotions I had experienced once delivered, faded away as fast as daylight on a cold November’s day. What was interesting was though I was completely lost at sea, I felt a comfort in knowing that “at least I was no longer in The Storm”.
And this is where it all went south…
Lesson 1: Still Waters Do Not Stir Emotion
What I hadn’t realised as I sailed into The Still Waters, was that up until this point in my life, my spirituality was entirely based on emotions (even though I genuinely didn’t think it was).
You see, Kenya to me was almost like the “honeymoon” stage of a relationship for The Lord and I; He outpoured His grace onto me and I gladly soaked it in. My relationship with Him at that time was heavily based on the stirring of my emotions – oh how the Spirit would move me in all circumstances! I began to know His heart but had placed Him in this nice ‘airy-fairy’ Christian bubble in my mind. And though The Lord impacted my everyday life choices, it almost felt like a daze – far away from reality.
I believe that is why He permitted The Storm to hit when it did – to wake me up! So I could be overwhelmed by “real life” and choose to integrate Him into it. So I could encounter His love and despite the pain of the world, would learn to take heart, for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
What I hadn’t accounted for, was though I was growing in faith because of the trial, I was still completely dependent on emotions. Negative ones albeit, but emotions nonetheless. Despair would have completely overtaken me had I not run to Him, but it was that same despair that drove me to His arms in the first place.
“St. Diadochos of Photiki says that the Introductory Joy is one thing and the Perfecting Joy is another. The first one, being strongly emotional, is mixed with fantasy, “is not devoid of fantasy”, while Perfecting Joy is associated with humility. Between Emotional Joy and Perfecting Joy there is “god-loving sorrow and painless tears”. Emotional Joy, which is called Introductory, is not entirely rejected, yet we must be led to the Perfecting Joy. This perfection and cure is achieved through the cross.”
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
When you’re smooth sailing in life though, there are absolutely no intense emotions being evoked. You’re neither ecstatic nor are you devastated, so coming to the Lord becomes an active choice. Your external circumstances do not push or force you to hold onto Him – it all becomes a choice. A true freedom bestowed on us from The Father; the freedom to completely abandon Him when life is neither healing nor hurting. A freedom I am not accustomed to and still figuring out how to handle.
Becoming dependant on your emotions in your walk with God can only lead to darkness. Emotions are fickle, ever-changing and temporal. They’re a great side dish to a main course, but they can never satisfy your innermost hunger.
What I have only come to realise now, is that emotions can only take us so far because of their nature; being passive. A relationship with our Creator, and consequently with our fellow men, has to be based on Love to succeed, and Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Love is an action; an action that we deliberately perform. We have a Saviour who initiated that Love towards us, and that is how we are able to live Love, speak Love and think Love (1 John 4:19). While Love is an active decision to do, emotions are a passive result of receiving. Because you can Love with no emotions, but you cannot feel emotions without Love (or lack thereof).
We must train our spiritual muscles to rest on Truth in our relationships with the Lord, not on emotions; for the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6), and knowing these things, blessed are we if we do them (John 13:17). We are new creations; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17); therefore we have the power to not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Lesson 2: Still Waters Can Lead To Death
I have a pet bunny called Joel (cutest little guy) who lives in my room (don’t worry, before you start saying ‘eww’; – I’m very clean and my room is usually very tidy), and I often think about what little visual stimulation he receives on an average day compared to me. As I walk the streets of London daily, my eyes are exposed to colours and shapes, while he stays loafing around in my room eagerly awaiting the moment when dad comes home so he can eat and play (mostly eat).
Sailing the Still Waters – as tranquil and peaceful as it is, does the same to us as Joel staying in my room all day; we are not stimulated – whether by sight, sound, smell or touch. Before long, the sight of the blue ocean and blue sky becomes repetitive, and we can develop a numbness to the season we’re in.
If we do not choose to involve God in our everyday lives during that season, Idleness can creep in; an ungodly lifestyle that the Lord condemns.
“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” Proverbs 6:6-11
In my case, it crawled ever so sneakily, reintroducing me to an old abusive friend; Lust, and Lust as is her nature, suffocated me (James 1:15).
For some of us, shame is not enough to help gear us back into the arms of the Father when we have succumbed to an ungodly life, numbing us from the neck down. We choose to believe the enemy’s guilt over the Holy Spirit’s conviction. It took a moment of complete helplessness, realising that though I had given myself to the world, the world would never be loyal to me, for me to comprehend what Jimmy Needham is saying in the clip below;
“Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.“
1 Timothy 2:22
“I have seen impure souls crazed for physical love; but when these same souls have made this grounds for repentance, as a result of their experience of sexual love they have transferred the same eros to the Lord, They have immediately gone beyond all fear and been spurred to insatiable love for God. This is why the Lord said to the chaste harlot not that she had feared, but that she had loved much, and was readily able to repel eros through eros…
Let them take courage who are humbled by their passions. For even if they fall into every pit and are caught in every snare, when they attain health they will become healers, luminaries, beacons and guides to all, teaching about the forms of every sickness and through their own experience saving those who are about to fall.”
St. John Climacus
Lesson 3: Still Waters Lead To New Rivers
When you give the Lord authority to lead the way, to set sail, you feel immense peace and assurance in His will, even if you have not yet reached your destination.
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3-4
It’s the casting of the net, when there is surely no fish in the sea. (Luke 5:4)
It’s purposely going into battle with 300 men, instead of 32,000. (Judges 7:7)
It’s the sacrificing of your only son, because God told you so. (Genesis 22:10)
Only now am I beginning to understand lyrics of a song I had heard so often; “‘Cause learning how to love, is learning how to lose”. How true it is, the mystery of losing oneself in Christ, to find oneself.
Chris August sings “I gotta find You, if I wanna find me”… the same melody the Psalmist had long spoken of when he wrote “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever ” Psalm 52:8, finding himself in His Saviour and Creator.
The beauty of submission, is though I do not know what is beyond The Still Waters, I remain hopeful and unshaken as I am rooted in Him.
The Still Waters are a blessing; a season to enjoy a pure, undefiled, real Love with my King. A chance to grow and to practice putting on the armour of God in preparation for my next trial; whether it be another storm, an earthquake or a fire. A season of open dialogue with The Word, to be corrected and refined.
It is the recognition that I can grow in love with Jesus on the journey, not just at the destination.
May you see The Lord in your Still Waters.