Living in obedience to Christ each day presents us with constant challenges. When the going gets tough, how can we maintain our spirituality? How does God guide? How should we handle our career, money, and sexuality? This section offers practical advice to help us apply God’s word to our lives.
Everyone agrees that schizophrenia is very serious disorder. Splitting one’s thoughts, emotions and actions is bad for you. The end result can be confusion, emotional blunting and apathy. Yet the world encourages us to show spiritual schizophrenia. It’s fine to be a Christian as long as you keep it in its place. It’s okay in the church or the privacy of your own home but certainly not at work. Often we try to maintain this separation – being completely different at home and church to what we are at work. How can we do it? How can we believe that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and yet act as if he has nothing to do with work, the place we spend so much time and energy? We do it and it makes us spiritually ill. If we let it continue we will eventually become spiritually apathetic, blunted and confused. I want to suggest four practical ways of combating spiritual schizophrenia:
- Develop an accountable relationship. We need another Christian who we can trust and develop a close and honest relationship with. They need to know us and the pressures that we are under. We need to give them permission to ask searching questions about our behaviour and attitudes at work.
- Develop prayer partnerships. If our work in medicine is part of God’s work then we should be praying for it. Pray for our service, institution, patients, colleagues, and ourselves. Prayer works!
- Seek Christian career guidance. Romans 12:3 exhorts us to have a right view of ourselves. Think about taking up jobs locally where you can keep in contact with church and Christian friends. Have a realistic view of your skills, response to stress and ability to withstand sleep deprivation. Do not take a job that is going to stretch you beyond your limits unless God tells you very clearly to do so!
- Spend time with God in Bible study, prayer, worship and meditation. Work is an integral part of our Christian life but it must not take the place of building our relationship with God. Our work will fade and die but our relationship with God will last for all eternity.
A life closer to God
Jesus said, ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Mt 6:33). It is not easy to live such a life because it means denying yourself and some of the things that you enjoy. But how many times have we made new resolutions against sin and for a closer walk with God? How do we get into such a relationship? I believe it involves an initial, and then daily, point of total surrender to him. Repentance has to be more than ‘saying sorry’. It involves dying to ourselves (Gal 2:20). Such a response to the call and command of God leads us into a life of ‘brokenness’, as we allow God to break our selfish will and lead us into a life of greater closeness to his will and purpose. This is true revival as his life is poured into ours. Once we have tasted of how good his life is, we will be much more reluctant to ever let it go or, in other words, allow our faith to slip. (Lyttle T. Medical School. Nucleus 1998; 28-31, October)
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!
When we are too preoccupied or too tired, there is little chance of deepening a relationship with our heavenly Father. As Bill Hybels asks in his book Too busy not to pray, ‘Where does the still, small voice of God fit into our hectic lives? When do we allow him to lead and guide and correct and affirm? And if this seldom or never happens, how can we lead truly authentic Christian lives?’ Jesus provides us with an example to follow. Despite the huge pressures on his time, not least from physically and spiritually needy people, he frequently withdrew from the crowds in order to pray (Lk 5:15-16). Time with his Father was his first priority. (Ashby C. Editorial. Nucleus 1999; 1, April)
Press on towards the goal
We must pray and make priorities, remembering to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’. God is faithful and can be trusted. One of my personal aims for my pre-registration house officer year is to trust God more and it seems that I am being faced with a number of relevant life-situations! To maintain eternal perspectives is the best way of approaching our medical careers as we press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called (us) heavenwards in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14). (Nerurkar J. Housejobs – a year of drought? Nucleus 1994; 9-13, April)
A house job is no holiday!
Apparently, a large number of Christian medics fall away from their faith during house jobs. I certainly found the going more difficult and concluded that the difficulties came because of a lack of ‘practice’ of being a Christian; it is easy, for example, to let quiet times and Bible reading slip. Standards fall and church attendance becomes infrequent or stops. Of course, these activities do not make us Christians but they are integral parts of a healthy relationship with God. Tiredness is a real problem and so quiet times are sometimes the first activity to go when the alternative is a lie-in. Only discipline and a love for God can overcome this. (Cleaver B. Words from the wards. Nucleus 1996; 26-27, October)
We serve a God of truth in whom there is no falsehood. If we will strive to reflect his character and to serve him on earth, we must also be truthful. We should take care to give a truthful portrayal of ourselves to others. It is so easy to put across an image which is false or at the very least rose-tinted. We need to be able to admit our faults and failings, not trying to maintain a misleading aura of super-spirituality even when we feel like swearing inside. (Pickering M. Editorial. Nucleus 1997;1, July)
Commitment, accountability and encouragement
Perhaps the best human source of strength has been my church. I think that it is essential quickly to find a good church to which you can be committed and accountable as well as encouraged by. (Cleaver B. Words from the wards. Nucleus 1996; 26-27, October)
Tuning in to God
How does God guide us? Firstly, he does so through Scripture – not just isolated texts that startle us into action (though that can happen: in my case 1 Cor 15:34 was one such) but the whole tenor of Scripture; the ‘form of teaching’ (Rom 6:17) that moulds our thinking so that ‘we have the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16). This is impossible without disciplined daily reading of the Scriptures with time to meditate upon them. In my case, the whole of Matthew 12, with each of its separate parts answering my doubts and directing my priorities, became the framework of my call to overseas missions. It had come in the course of my regular morning readings. If we neglect this discipline we deprive ourselves of our chief opportunity to hear the voice of God. (Pattison P. Surrender or suffocate. Nucleus 1995; 15-18, October)
Medicine is not the be all and end all
Despite what our professors teach us, medicine is not the be all and end all of life. I don’t think that it’s God’s number one priority either. There are more important things! Our relationships with other people and above all with our heavenly Father should have more priority than our careers (Mt 6:33). Paul J. Stressbusters. Nucleus 1999; 26-31, April)
God equips those he sends
It is difficult to envisage anyone believing God has called them to a given sphere of work if they did not feel a natural aptitude towards it. Thirty years in general practice would be a very heavy cross to carry if you did not enjoy it. Indeed, you would not survive in it for long. (May P. Faith in practice: being a GP. Nucleus 1999; 32-35, April)
Medicine and family- oil and water?
Traditionally hospital medicine and normal family life have not mixed. Job insecurity during the training years combined with strenuous on-call duties take up around ten years of your life, mid-twenties to mid-thirties. It used to be said that a woman needed to be that bit better than the men to get the jobs and succeed. That is less true today. All the Colleges are making efforts to recruit women into their respective specialties. There are now opportunities for part-time training and part-time consultant posts. (Sims P. Faith in Practice: Obs and Gynae. Nucleus 1999; 23-27, January)
Student days are not only for gaining medical knowledge and expertise, but for learning the art of helping people, the art of patient listening, of wise and tactful counselling and expressing the love of Jesus in action as well as word. (Crouch M. Telling the truth to patients. Nucleus 1993; 2-9, July)
If we abstain from alcohol, how will it be perceived? Some people may respect us, while others may feel we are being self-righteous and disapproving of them. We must not distance ourselves so far from our peers that we make our witness ineffective. However, having had a few drinks are we true witnesses to our Saviour? How easy is it to say no to the third drink? Would it be easier just to say no to the first? Should we be hanging out in pubs and clubs anyway? Do these places and situations expose us to spiritually and morally unhealthy influences, or do they provide ideal opportunities for outreach? If alcohol causes us to sin or makes us more vulnerable to certain temptations, then we should avoid it. As Jesus said, we should cut off the hand to save the rest of the body from hell (Mt 5:30). As with most things in life, the effects of alcohol depend on ourselves and our motives. Self-control is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit living in us and is therefore something to be desired, not something we should try to lose (Gal 5:23). We should not aspire to fit in with the world’s (or society’s) mould by drinking (Rom 12:2). In difficulties we would be better to turn to our Father, who loves us and will help us, rather than seeking solace or oblivion in alcohol. (Ross S. Dilemmas. Nucleus 1995; 17-19, April)
The international debt crisis
The international debt crisis has resulted at least in part from the failure of Western banks, governments and multi-lateral finance institutions to follow the straightforward biblical principles of no-interest loans to the poor, periodic debt forgiveness and reasonable, proportionate charitable giving. This is having profound adverse effects on health world-wide through the social and economic consequences of austerity measures imposed on developing countries by creditors. However, the Western Christian church, which should be leading by example, remains largely silent, having itself neglected these same principles. In Scripture we read that judgment begins with the house of God (1 Pet 4:17) and that righteousness exalts a nation (Pr 14:34). Perhaps then, it is time for us to repent, as individuals and as a church, and to put our house in order before we point the finger at others. (Paul J, Saunders P. Taking an interest in debt? Nucleus 1998; 12-20, October)
Medical student debt
Debt is a real problem for medical students that shows every indication of worsening in the near future. Although serious, we must see it in the context of the vast majority of the world’s population whose debt problems make ours pale into insignificance. Having said that, we have a responsibility to protest against unjust proposals for our own sake and for future students. The Bible gives sensible advice on lending and borrowing for us now as borrowers and in the future as potential lenders. Taking a responsible view to our financial situation can make a real difference to the amount that we end up owing when we qualify. Finally, even in our current position, we have a responsibility to be generous with what God has blessed us with. Our money needs to be seen as it is: a gift from God in our care. (Pickering M. Medical Student Debt. Nucleus 1998; 26-30, January)
Who should I give to?
Give to extend God’s Kingdom (Lk 16:9). Give to those serving God without an income. Give to those who teach you (1 Cor 9:7,12; 1 Tim 6:17,18). Give to those in need in the church both here and abroad (2 Cor 8:13-15). Give to the poor (Lk 12:33) Give secretly (Mt 6:1-4). Give openly (Mt 5:14-16). Just give. It’s one of the greatest privileges we have as God’s children. (Dionysius Dialogues. Nucleus 1995; 27-33, July)
What is God’s view of sex?
God loves sex. It is his design. In fact, we’re told that marriage is symbolic of the union between Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32). The Song of Solomon is an erotic love poem. Sexual pleasure is something to celebrate. ‘Rejoice in the wife of your youth’ says the writer of Proverbs. ‘May her breasts satisfy you always, may you be ever captivated by her love’ (Pr 5:19). The Bible is full of sex, of all kinds. But you’ll notice that it’s only sex within marriage which is promoted. God’s ideal is one man, one woman, for life (1 Tim 3:2,12; Tit 1:6). To God, any sex outside marriage is a disaster (Gn 34,38,39; 2 Sa 11,13). The Bible defines marriage as a lifelong, publicly recognised, monogamous, heterosexual relationship (Mt 19:4-6; Gn 2:24; Mk 10:6-9). (Dionysius Dialogues. Nucleus 1993; 29-34, April)
How far is too far?
God sees everything we do both in public and in private (Heb 4:13). With this whole question of ‘going too far’ perhaps we need to ask ourselves the following questions: Would I like younger Christians to follow my example in doing this? (Eph 5:1) Would my brothers and sisters in Christ be happy if they knew what I was doing? (Mt 18:6; 1 Cor 11:1; Rom 14:15) If my non-Christian friends knew I was doing this would it increase the chance of them coming to Christ?(1 Cor 9:12) Would I like news of what I’m doing or thinking to be shouted from the rooftops?(Lk 12:2,3) Most importantly of all, am I treating this other person in the way I myself would like to be treated, or in the way I would like my future wife or husband to be treated by someone else? Is what I am doing protecting, building up and honouring this other person? (Mt 7:12; 22:39; 1 Jn 4:21) If the answer to any of these questions is no then surely we are ‘going too far’. (Dionysius Dialogues. Nucleus 1993; 24-30, July)
Controlling wrong thoughts and actions
We must have the courage to be tough on wrong thoughts or actions in our own lives. First we must call sin sin (Ps 51:3,4). Second, we must confess our sin to God asking for his forgiveness (1 Jn 1:9). Third, we must turn from it, that is stop doing it, asking for his help (1 Cor 15:34; Col 3:5-8) Fourth, we must walk in obedience to him (Jn 14:14, 1 Jn 5:3), according to his Spirit (Gal 5:16) and resist further temptation (Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9). This is possible because God has promised that we will never be tempted beyond our power to resist (1 Cor 10:13) (although it may feel like it at times) and that he who successfully resisted all temptation lives in us to help us (Gal 2:20; Heb 2:18, 4:15). And if we love God, and truly seek to do his will, this is exactly what we will do. If we fall, then we just start all over again. But the best way of dealing with wrong thoughts and actions is by replacing them with thoughts and actions which please God (Phil 4:8,9; Col 3:12-17). (Dionysius Dialogues. Nucleus 1993; 24-30, July)
Even if both partners consent, even if they feel a strong emotional bond, even if they feel no attraction at all for those of the opposite sex – homosexual sex is out (Gn 19:1-13; Jdg 19; Lv 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9,10; 1 Tim 1:8-11). Of course there’s no problem with deep friendship (Jn 13:1, 34-35; 1 Sa 18:1-3; 2 Sa 1:26), but no sex. (Dionysius Dialogues. Nucleus 1993; 29-34, April)
Christians and homosexuality
Christians do not have a good track record in terms of their treatment of people with homosexual feelings. A lot of fear and prejudice has been experienced, rather than Christ’s understanding and love. Certainly many GP’s and psychiatrists, faced with a Christian struggling with homosexuality, see Christianity or religion as the major problem rather than the homosexuality. I would have believed this myself just over twenty years ago I was happily involved in a homosexual lifestyle and didn’t have a problem with this. It seemed perfectly natural for me to express my homosexual feelings in casual and some long term relationships. However, once I decided to follow the Lord Jesus Christ my feelings and ideas changed quite dramatically. (Hallett M. Homosexuality. Nucleus 1994; 14-19, January)
How much should feelings determine behaviour?
There is often an unstated assumption that strong feelings should determine behaviour; in fact, this is not accepted in almost any other area of life. We don’t believe that envy sanctions stealing or that lust legitimises adultery. Proverbs 14:12 says, ‘There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death’. The Gay Rights lobby presupposes that what comes naturally is good. By contrast, the Bible’s view is that the whole world and human beings themselves are polluted by sin which has affected our bodies (genes included), minds, wills and feelings. Consequently, our biology, thoughts, choices and desires are not what they were intended to be. In the biblical scheme, ‘natural’ (as in Romans 1:27) means not ‘what comes naturally’ but rather ‘what God intended (and intends) us to be’. (Saunders P, Pickering R. The Causes of Homosexuality. Nucleus 1997; 19-28, October)