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Life on the sine wave

This is the third guest post on this blog! The author, Jen, is currently studying mathematics at Warwick University, and is involved in many Christian societies on campus.

Spiritual highs and lows. We all experience them at some point in our Christian walk. There are days when God seems extremely close, our desire to pray and read his word very strong, and when we long to tell others about him.  And then there are the days when ours prayers seem mere words, reading the Bible is a chore, and we commit that sin again. CS Lewis reminds us that no spiritual high or low will last forever. And they don’t. But what results is almost as frustrating as being stuck in a low, as we oscillate between highs and lows, but feel like there’s no overall progress. Life on the sine-wave. Not drifting from God but not drawing closer, saved but not growing. But there are 3 important things to remember about the sine-wave experience.


Photo: Brandon Daniel, reused under CC License

Ups and downs are inevitable

Justified but not yet fully sanctified, redeemed but not yet transformed, call it what you like. We still live in a broken world and we still struggle with sin. We are God’s, and he is in our hearts, but the clean-up operation is taking longer than we would like and so we oscillate; we win the battle with one sin but then it comes back to life, or another rises to battle. We are all in a daily struggle with sin. Oscillating on the sine-wave is not a sign that we are weak, but on the contrary, shows that we are truly in Christ.

God doesn’t change

The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

The Bible constantly reminds us that God is unchanging. He does not oscillate but remains loving, merciful, just and good. His love for us never changes, only our perception of it. There is nothing we can do, nothing we can be, nothing that will separate us from his love. He chose us when we were sinners and rebels; he will remain there in the oscillations. So we can praise him regardless of where we are on the sine-wave, because he still loves us and is with us, working for his plan and for good.

There can be progress alongside the ups and downs

Our life is not quite following the sine wave. It’s really more like the graph of x+sin(2x):


Though we may not feel it, through the ups and downs, God is constantly transforming us to be more like him.  We are definitely not a finished work, but that means that there’s space for us to grow closer to God, day by day. Try this; next time you are in a spiritual dip, think back to the last time you were in one, or one you were in last year, and see if you can find any changes or ways God has brought you closer to him. More often than not, you will find something, or someone else will point it out for you. So although it feels like you are going nowhere, take heart. Because you’re not the one doing the sanctifying work – God is; and that means you are making progress. And one day you will be a finished work of God, made perfect like his Son.

So take heart, and, with our all-powerful, all-loving God at your side, keep on going on the x+sin(2x) wave!

Self-worth, hospitality and evangelism

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Today, when hearing about church action and church hospitality in the student context, something along those lines came up:

“When they come to a Christian circle, students find people who are genuinely interested in who they are”

My first reaction was “that’s great!” And true enough, without that, there can be no real relationship. No connection – and therefore no discipleship. I even blogged about the importance of relationship over argument-based evangelism some time ago.

In the context of today’s talk, though, it got me thinking that we’re considering “genuine interest” as something others are looking for – a magnet for lonely students*. But what if you have low self-esteem and feel your life is basically a succession of failures? Would you want people to be interested in that?
For instance: I’m a PhD student. People sometimes ask me what I’m working on. It is a question I dreaded – and yet people were only trying to be nice by asking it. The reason I dreaded that was that I felt my research was (a) boring (but that can be overcome by people who show genuine interest) and (b) completely worthless (methodological nitpicking). It is the famous impostor syndrome. This happened to me, and yet I don’t see myself as a particularly insecure person. It can genuinely happen to anyone, and not just about worklife. To people in that situation, regardless of how genuine interest is, it is scary.

In other words, the question I’m asking is where does genuine interest turn into scrutiny – not in your own eyes, but in the eyes of the person you’re trying to welcome?

Self-worth issues within Christianity can be seen as “covered by grace”: we’re not worthy anyway, but then, none of us are, not even “to gather the crumbs under God’s table”. No, we’re not deserving of God’s love – and it’s quite healthy to remember that. But it does not mean we are not worthy of each other’s love. Yet I would assume (and I’m saying that without any qualification on the topic, so please do correct me if I’m wrong) that for people already struggling with self-worth, that particular message will echo in a very strong way, and ultimately be harmful both to the person’s health and to their access to the Gospel.

So how do we make sure that, when we’re trying to build up a relationship, it stops short of unwelcome scrutiny or does not bring about undesirable feelings of worthlessness?

*ok, that’s a caricature, and the interest is genuine. But there’s a reason why we mention it when we talk about outreach…