I had a fairly rocky start to university; not only was I settling into a new, scary context but I was hit by a consuming wave of doubt. Compounded by a toxic friendship and some bad choices, it really felt like my whole world was caving in.
I know it sounds clichéd, but I find this phrase very interesting because, embedded in the symptom, is a clear answer as to why we sometimes feel this way.
First, the possessive determiner ‘my’ demonstrates how we claim the realm of our mess as ours and ours alone. Our trouble becomes all about us as individuals and we forget about Jesus’ church as a source of help, and about Jesus the counsellor himself.
Secondly, referring to our experience as the ‘whole world’ carries the danger of pulling us into a self-centric mindset. ‘Self’ is a very postmodern term which we often use interchangeably with ‘soul’. The ‘self’ is the product of an earthly introspection, but our ‘soul’ is our spiritual core. It’s the part of us that God wants to nourish.
Finally, ‘caving in’ is the metaphor of an inward-looking, restricted perspective. The reason we feel like our lives are caving in is because we lose sight of the world outside of our immediate context.
These were the mistakes I made during my messy season. When it feels like a bomb has gone off in our lives, our natural reaction is to recoil further into ourselves, but God created us to look outwards — both towards God and to community. Humankind recoiled in on itself is an ugly picture: there’s no connection, no progress, and no life. But we were made in the image of a triune God, a God in three persons, a God who is relationship. Relationship, requiring an outward action, is what makes us human.
One of the most exciting examples of the power that comes with maintaining this outward-looking, kingdom perspective is found in Acts 16:
“The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods […] they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully […] About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God […] Suddenly there was a violent earthquake […] The prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.”
Paul and Silas were literally ‘caved in’, imprisoned by the authorities, but they did not stop praying and worshipping God. This passage challenges how we react in the face of adversity. When we worship and pray we acknowledge that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.
How often in your day-to-day routine do you stop and see the world through God’s eyes? My prayer is that we can sacrifice our place in the rat-race of life and take time to spectate side by side with God. When we connect with God there is universal freedom — everyone’s chains can come loose.
After volunteering as an intern on the New Wine Discipleship Year, James is now in his first year of studying English and Russian at Oxford University, where he can usually be found running between library sessions and rehearsals. James is a member of the student community at St Aldates Church and is a Christian Union rep for his college. As an ardent performer, James is keen to see the arts expressing kingdom values like justice and community, and to see a widespread renewal of culture.
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