I am pretending to walk in another direction but I know where I’m going. It’s dark as I mingle with the crowds sauntering over the footbridges across the canals of Amsterdam. Earlier I had checked into a Christian hostel. Ticked that box. Did the right thing. And now I am setting out to ‘explore’.
My life, at this time, has slidden and I am not really walking with God. I am alone in this city. No one knows me – my nearest relative is hundreds of miles away. I tell myself I am unaccountable and now, at last, is the perfect opportunity to indulge my flesh. No one is watching me. The garish lights of the Red Light District beckon as I walk quickly past the bars offering drugs menus and then I am in the heart of the prostitute zone. I see the women, scantily clad, pressed against the windows of the buildings. One of these ladies beckons to me, with a very friendly smile. Another, who seems tired, nods her black curly head at me. I am distracted by the sound of a discussion down the street. Two men are loudly negotiating with a weary woman. They look like respectable businessmen.
I am uneasy. Why? I’ve been here before. How? It makes no sense but this aura of familiarity grows on me. The garish lights. The erotic doll-like women in the windows. The darkness around me. Then a pang of horror hits me as I realise why I feel I’ve been here before – it’s the atmosphere. My mind rolls back to a memory of standing in a funeral undertaker’s office, after my father died. That’s it! The atmosphere in the red light zone is the same. It’s the spirit of death. There is an almost-smell of decay in this place, despite the pretence at life. I’m frightened and I feel nauseous. This is a hell. I make my way fast away from those streets and soon find myself in another part of the city, where I perch myself on a chair outside a cafe, and rest my mind. I sit there for a long time.
A few days later, alone in a tent on a campsite near Arnhem, a town in the middle of The Netherlands – I pick up my Bible one night and begin reading it properly again. I pray. I confess. I listen. I start walking with God once more. ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ You can find that verse in Romans 6:23. I experienced the truth of it; that night in Holland. Walking to please the flesh means death. Walking to please the Creator means life.
‘Father God, thank you that you alone are life. Thank you for taking all my corruption into your own flesh. To give me freedom – freedom to love, and not use others. I am so thankful for the many times you’ve helped me turn back to you, and for your grace shown when I haven’t. You are my real father and I belong to you. By grace, I breathe. Amen.’
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