The next lesson God taught me as I struggled to be a “good” Christian was this — not everyone who claims to speak for God is actually hearing him themselves.
After the rush of egotism about being “saved” wore off I settled down to try and be a “good” Christian. I tried to obey God’s commands not to lie or steal or work on the Sabbath. I worked on being humble and tried to go to church every Sunday.
It was not long before I became the charity of choice for one of the women in my church. She found out we had a love of reading in common but I was a poor single mother who could only afford to read books from a library or second hand book shop. Christian books are pretty scarce on second hand and library shelves and this lady was concerned that I was not able to nurture my faith with appropriate reading.
She was a married woman with a lot of money and a very large collection of Christian books so she took it upon herself to become my personal lending library. Every week after church she would take me home to her place and mind my son while I browsed her bookshelves. Her only restriction was that I not choose a book she was reading, or had not yet read, herself. Once she realised how fast I read she even started letting me borrow books she had not had a chance to read herself.
In time I stopped going to church. I had a lot of excuses but the main one was I felt I didn’t belong there and I did not enjoy going. To this day I still don’t know if it was me or “them” but I felt inferior and patronised despite knowing the people there were all good people who wanted the best for me.
The book lady did not give up on me though. She took to stopping by after church with a box of books she thought might, or should, be of interest to me and I would exchange the books she lent me the week before for new ones.
She would drink a cup of tea while I browsed through the box and she watched over my son and her daughter as they played. She tried to talk me into coming back to the church but I resisted so she took to repeating the gist of each Sunday’s sermon to me.
After some months of this she took it upon herself to challenge me about my failure to go to church and my failure to give up smoking. She said I was in grave danger of losing my salvation because I was choosing my own will over my faith, my God and Jesus himself.
She said I was moving so far away from salvation she was having to think about not coming to see me any more and quoted the bible about believers not mixing with the ungodly lest they be tainted by them. She pointed out that, as an ex-smoker herself, I was subjecting her to temptation every time I smoked in front of her.
As she left she said I needed to stop and think about whether I really wanted to choose cigarettes over Jesus, over salvation, over my place in heaven. She said I should be careful about my choice because there is an unpardonable sin and rejecting salvation once you have accepted it is a sin you can’t change your mind about.
I was devastated! I felt myself sliding into the abyss of eternal damnation and there was nothing I could do about it. After I put my son to bed that night I cried and cried and cried because I could not give up smoking — not even to save my soul. I loved Jesus with all my heart but not enough to stop smoking for him.
Once I had cried myself into a state of exhaustion and began to calm down I faced my future as one of the damned with stoic acceptance. It was then that a still, small voice inside me began to speak.
The voice asked me to think about the person from whom this message had come. I was to consider if she looked like someone who had conquered all her own faults.
I knew immediately what the voice was hinting at. This woman had made a lot of excuses to me about her appearance. She had informed me she was genetically not able to lose weight and had been liberated from social expectations about the way she should dress. I had seen her eat far more than was advisable in one sitting and I had seen her husbands dismay at her appearance — she always wore socks with her pretty high heeled sandals and her clothes often carried stains from the food she ate.
The voice inside me said: “She will not give up chocolate for me, for her salvation, for Jesus and I will still accept her into heaven. Why do you think your sin is worse than hers?”
I said everyone has to eat but nobody has to smoke. I said she probably would give up chocolate if someone told her she had to choose between chocolate and Jesus. I said eating chocolate is not harmful to her husband or child where smoke is harmful to my child.
The voice said the human frame was not designed to carry the amount of weight she was carrying. It said her internal organs, particularly her heart, are suffering under the stress of carrying all that weight. It said her family will be just as much harmed if she has a heart attack and dies as mine will be if I get cancer.
The voice then asked me to think about her daughter. I pictured the child and she was already showing signs of taking after her mother. The voice said you let your son inhale tobacco smoke — she lets her daughter eat too much. The health of both of your children is being jeopardised so why are you the only one who will go to hell for your sins? The voice said Jesus died for ALL my sins not just the ones in my past.
I said this sin is not in my past — she is right — it is a sin I am choosing to continue to commit.
The voice asked me if I was willing to let him change me — make me become willing to give up smoking. I said yes. The voice said that’s all I am asking of you in that area of your life for now. He said there were other things I did that were much worse than a smoking addiction and those were the things I needed to change first. The voice said my smoking was way down on His list of things He wanted me to work on.
I was feeling comforted by then so I dared to ask the voice to give me an example of something more important than the smoking and the voice reminded me of how I had felt when I read an article about a woman being raped the day before.
The article had triggered so much anger and hatred for men in me that my poor little son copped the overflow when I lost my temper over some trivial thing he did wrong.
The voice said those were numbers one and two on His list of things He wanted me to change about myself — hate and anger. He said those two things were far more of a threat to my son’s well being than any amount of cigarette smoke!
It’s been about 25 years since I had that conversation with God.
I don’t hate anyone any more and I don’t get angry very easily any more either. I am actually able to counsel rapists now. I can care about them as human beings and I felt no hatred at all for the last one I counselled.
I still smoke but I can feel the habit is getting closer and closer to the top of God’s list of things he wants me to work on.
In my heart I know that, when God is ready for me to give up smoking, he will make me be ready too. I don’t know how he will choose to give me the message that it is time but I do know not everyone who claims to speak on His behalf is actually saying what He wants said!
If you have read all of this and you think I am saying God says it’s OK to smoke then you may want to have a chat with God yourself to see what, if anything, He wants this article to say to you!
In closing I would like to state, quite emphatically, that I am NOT speaking on God’s behalf — I am just telling my personal story.