Blessings and Guardrails

In November 2013 I attended my third JCF Retreat. When I first came to Japan in August 2012, I was really excited about practicing my Christian faith in Japan. My relationship with God was the most important thing in my life and I intended to take every opportunity to share His love with others.

Over time, my zeal cooled a bit, especially as the novelty and challenge of living in Japan wore off. More and more, I became busily occupied with an exhausting social schedule. I found that my interest in prayer waned as I became increasingly tired and distracted by “fun”.

A few times throughout the year, I vaguely realized that my lifestyle had become imbalanced, unhealthy, and unsustainable. I could see that my heart had grown distant from God. Even so, I felt helpless to check the progression. I simply didn’t have the motivation to sacrifice any of my entertainment activities for the sake of refocussing on God.

I almost didn’t register for the JCF retreat in November because of travel expenses. However, I felt convicted that, if I still cared about my relationship with God, I should invest in it in some way. Uncomfortably, I considered how much money I spend on eating out, enkais, and tourist travel. I knew I needed to go to that retreat.

Boy am I glad I did.

One week before the retreat, I came face to face with the extent to which I had traded my relationship with God for temporary entertainment. My spirituality no longer seemed to impact my life at all. I was painfully aware that I was setting a very “lukewarm” example of what it looked like to be a Christian to my non-Christian friends.

At last, I was ready to repent. For the week leading up to the November retreat, I “fasted” from entertainment and social events in order to refocus on God. By the time I arrived at the Megumi Chalet in Nagano for the retreat, my heart was open and ready to listen to the teaching, ready to worship, ready to encourage others.

The retreat itself was wonderful, certainly the most personally meaningful of the three retreats I have attended. I really appreciated the chance to spend concentrated time with other Christians who are also encountering similar challenges and joys. It was also wonderful to have a structured time to pray and worship together. Though I have Christian friends and attend a Japanese church in my Japanese town, there is something special about meeting together with Christian family for a whole weekend, especially when the meeting is for the express purpose of seeking God together and encouraging one another.

For me personally, the teaching at this retreat was very relevant and helpful. For those of you who missed it, here is a general overview of what I learned:

  1. Good things in your life are gifts from God. If you become possessive or controlling of those gifts, however, they will be spoiled and need to be removed.  Also, if you put the full weight of your identity, or your desire for happiness, on any given blessing, that blessing will be crushed. Blessings are not designed to provide our happiness or our identity. Only God is strong enough to do that.
  2. Bad things in our life (losses, sorrow s, frustrations, disappointments) are“Guardrails” that force us to look to God for help rather than careen off some sort of “cliff” in our lives. Pain in your life has a lesson to teach. And the lesson is a mercy, rescuing you from future disaster. Be grateful for the bad things, turn to God for help, and learn their lessons well.
  3. Lasting change is not made through human effort. It is made through calling sin “sin”, repenting with godly sorrow, and asking the Holy Spirit to help you live in a way that is pleasing to God. B y trusting in our own strength to reform our lives, we actually block the changing power of the Holy Spirit’s forgiveness and transformation.

Since the November JCF Retreat, I have placed several “guardrails” of my own into my daily life to protect me from drifting away from God again. In my case, I am consistently tempted to let God become low priority, valuing fun activities and sleep over my relationship with God. In order to prevent the blessings of entertainment and friends from becoming idols in my life, I must actively make my relationship with God the priority, by setting aside time with God. Another Christian from my prefecture and I now meet on skype for an hour each week to discuss our (spiritual) goals for the week and pray together. With my new accountability partner’s encouragement, I am attempting to have a focused quiet time with God each morning before work and a short prayer time before bed each night.

In all my spiritual disciplines, it is important to remember that the action is a logical response to the existence of a loving, personal God. If I forget this fact, the discipline may become an empty ritual. We read the Bible because we believe it is God’s living word. We pray because we believe God hears and responds. We love because He first loved us.

~ Michelle Noyes

Kochi

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Comments

  1. Michelle,

    Thanks so much for sharing! I’m a college student completing part of my student teaching in Japan and am currently in the middle of the application process for JET. Throughout my time in college, it’s been a nearly constant battle just like you outlined; in Japan, it’s been much the same, but I’ve found it even more difficult here, since I don’t have a Christian friend-base here to spur me on in the very present way that the girls in my dorm did.

    May God grant you the energy and discipline and joy to continue to draw ever closer to Him!
    God bless!
    ~Jess

    • Michelle Noyes says:

      Hey there Jess!

      Sorry for my slow reply. I actually didnt know there was a comment till about a week ago!!

      Id love to talk with you further about being a Christian in Japan. Did you decide to go with JET? Where will you be stationed? Feel free to find me on Facebook (Michellenoyes89) or email me.

      God bless!

      Michelle

  2. I cannot find any Christian friends in Japan 🙁 I only have a few friends who are non-Christian who are Japanese. I tried several times to talk to Christian foreigners in Japan but they won`t give me the time of day. The local Japanese church nearby does not provide English or welcome foreigners either. Your blessed to have a group of Christian friends and activity retreat like that.

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