Tag: faith

Peter says he doesn't know Jesus

Peter says he doesn't know Jesus

Luke 22:54-62

I am sure you will know this passage already so I am just going to give a quick summary before getting into the questions for today:

Jesus is arrested, Peter follows, people around question Peter about his connection with Jesus, he denies knowing Jesus, once, twice, three times, then the roaster crows and Peter remembers that he told Jesus he would never deny him but Jesus told him he would do so three times before the roaster crowed….. and breathe!

  1. Why is Jesus taken straight to the high priest after being arrested?
  2. Why does Peter deny knowing Jesus?
  3. Why does Peter cry when he denies Jesus for the third time? What is he remembering?
  4. Previously, Jesus used the Greek word agape for love the first two times, while Peter used a different word, phileoAgape carries the meaning of intense, complete, devoted, sacrificial love, while phileo refers to love as in friendship. Why do you think they used different words?
  5. What can we learn from this and apply to our lives today?
Don't lose your faith!

Don't lose your faith!

Luke 22:31-34

I have heard stories of people whose faith was so strong that they were able to do incredible things and even believed enough that they were willing to become martyrs, losing their lives for God. One of these people that always inspired me is Mother Teresa who just upped and left the comfort of home for the dirty, dangerous streets of Calcutta because she believed so strongly in the vision she had been given.

I have recently found out that although her faith was strong at the start, Mother Teresa experienced many years of doubting despite the work she was doing and her strong faith initially.

I can honestly say that I have always had some faith from as long as I can remember but there are definitely moments I can recall when I have struggled and doubted. Just like Mother Teresa, I didn’t tell many people at all, and most people I know will know nothing about those times. This is mostly because I felt ashamed to say that my faith lacked when I was in a role of responsibility or authority and known to others as ‘the Christian girl’, but also because I didn’t want non-Christians to believe that we struggled because I thought it would make them think I wasn’t a good Christian.

In Luke 22:31-34, we find Peter promising Jesus he will always be with Him, even in death but Jesus tells him that isn’t true and that within the day, he will be denying he knows Jesus more than once.

Faith is hard. It isn’t easy to have it all the time at a great level and God knows that isn’t how it works because we will face questions and challenges that force us to consider what we believe, why we believe it and how it impacts us day to day. Without doing this, our faith would be weak because at the smallest hurdle, we will fall and our faith will be gone.

Although Peter fell at this hurdle, Peter instantly realised what he had done and would have regretted it greatly, and when Jesus rose from the dead, Peter was there by His side and was a key figure in the creation of the Church and spreading the message all over.

A lack of faith does not mean your relationship with God is over. It may just be a blip or a learning curve. if you stick with Jesus,continue talking with Him, thanking and praising Him and reading your bible, He will come back to life in your life again and your faith will grow!

Jerusalem will be destroyed

Jerusalem will be destroyed

Study of Luke 21:20-24

The passage prior to this one is a prediction of the end of time and warns us, as Christians, to expect conflict and harm from others. This passage that follows is yet another prediction of times to come but where the previous one ends by telling us faith will save us, this one seems to end as darkly as it begins.

  1. What is different about the way in which Jesus talks about the destruction of Jerusalem here versus in Matthew 24:15-22 and Mark 13:14-20?
  2. At the end of this passage the statement “until the times of the Gentiles” is given – what does this mean?
  3. How do these prophecies of Jesus reinforce your faith in Him?
The silent killer – loneliness

The silent killer – loneliness

When I was in my teens, I heard stories about the older generations who find themselves at home, alone, for the majority, if not all of the week, without ever seeing or speaking to anyone else. More recently, I read a statistic which stated that more teens and young adults have identified as ‘lonely’ than the older generations. Then, 5 years ago, I became part of another loneliness statistic – the chronically ill. As it is for many people, I wasn’t aware about this missing group of people for exactly that reason. Chronically ill people are mising from society. We are in too much pain or too tired or too symptomatic to be able to mix with society for too long, if at all, each week, and this makes for a lonely existence.

I am very thankful that when I became ill, my closest friends stayed with me and checked in on me and continue to do so, but when I am having a particularly bad week due to higher pain or fatigue levels than usual, I have been known to not leave my bed or house for days at a time. I am blessed to have my family who live with and help me but without them, my days would be very quiet and empty and even more lonely than they are otherwise and this is the case for many chronically ill people.

This extract from Premier Christianity reveals the seriousness of loneliness:
Social psychologist John Cacioppo, at the University of Chicago is a world leader in the biomedical effects of loneliness. In January this year he presented some of his latest research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology meeting in San Diego.  His findings confirmed a growing body of science showing that loneliness is more damaging than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or being obese, or not taking exercise.  
(https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Chronic-feelings-of-loneliness-can-be-deadly.-Here-s-how-the-Church-can-help)

Did you know loneliness could kill people? It isn’t just a feeling we have when we spend more time alone than we would like – it affects us physically too which, when you are lonely predominantly due to a chronic illness, means you can end up in a catch 22 circle of pain.

We are made to be together, spending time with friends and family and being part of a bigger unit. As Christians, the Church should be a part of that, but very rarely is that the case. 1 in 5 people identify as being disabled yet a much smaller than that number of church congregations have a disability. Why is this? Well, I think there are many reasons but one of the major ones is that more churches are focusing on the number of people in their churches and not on how they look after those people. Sometimes, people cannot attend a church service for weeks on end and feel sad and frustrated that they have to do so but when they finally get back to church to find no one has missed them, or if they never show up again and don’t receive a phone call, letter or check in by a member of the pastoral team, the loneliness they felt from being out of church for so long is exasperated and they may feel inclined to leave as they don’t feel wanted or cared about. This in turn causes them to stop going to church, decreasing their social activities and increasing the amount of time they spend alone annd ultimately, their loneliness too.

In the first three centuries, the early Church was one known for its love and compassion. Justin Martyr described Christian love as, ‘We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.’

Can we honestly say today that we are more interested in the people in the centre and on the outskirts of the church, and even the wider community, more than increasing the number of people who come into the church? Are we genuinely more passionate about spending our money to help those who need it than bringing in and saving as much as we can for our own benefit? Would we be willing to go out of our way, miss out on catching up with friends, skip a party or record our favourite TV show to visit or call someone who has been unwell or has not been at church for a while and help them in someway? Having a visitor could be enough, or perhaps they need a few bits of shopping? A small thing can go a long way and as we know, anything that reduces or stops loneliness completely is a potential life saver!

The importance of faith deconstruction in chronic illness

The importance of faith deconstruction in chronic illness

You may recently have been aware of Marty Sampson, Hillsong song writer and worship leader, who recently posted on his Instagram account that he was struggling with his faith and had even come to the point where it was easier not to have a faith at all than to battle with the ongoing questions and doubts that arose in his mind. The majority of the responses were sadness and disappointment and others simply shared their prayers of hope for a new found faith for Marty and wished him the best on his journey.

I have to be honest that my first thoughts were ones of shock and sadness as I found out that the person who wrote one of my favourite and most impacting worship songs, ‘O Praise the Name’, was no longer identifying as a Christian. I couldn’t work out how someone who once wrote such powerful words, seemingly from a place of strong faith, could end up disowning the God he once sung lovingly about.

Then I remembered my journey. When I started my degree, my faith felt foundational – despite what has happened so far in my life, my faith has never left me. I have overcome some very big challenges so was sure I would never lose my faith now! Then my illness progressed to the point I couldn’t work or fulfil the full criteria of my degree or even do the thing I thought God wanted me to do – be a Youth Pastor. My faith wobbled.

“Why would the God who made me and loves me cause me to be unable to do the thing I not only love to do but also that would help spread the good news and bring others to know and love Him?” This was just the beginning. From here, I found myself questioning everything I ever knew, even those things that I once would have argued were unarguable and parts of my faith that simply couldn’t be wrong such as, God made me and God loves me and even, that God exists! I was terrified. Despite feeling like I was losing my faith, I was desperate not to do so!

Around this time, we covered faith development at uni (what amazing timing!), and I realised that these periods of seemingly, losing faith, were actually periods of rediscovering and affirming it. A faith established in childhood (such as mine) which isn’t challenged or questioned, cannot and will not grow. I don’t know Marty’s life situation but I would not be surprised if something has recently occured that has caused him some distress or grief and has kicked off this period of faith deconstruction. My questioning started because I was chronically ill and had taken the time to reflect on my situation more deeply than I would usually because the issue was affecting my entire life in one way or another so I had no choice to wonder why and attempt to make sense of the situation.

As you might have guessed by now, I am very much FOR faith deconstruction. Although its a hard time, its also a time where I have learnt not only more about God but also more about me and what I really want in life. The trick, I have found, for getting beyond the ‘lost’ phase, is to find those key things that ground your faith and to recall the faith moments – the ones which have anchored your faith, and gradually work through the questions you have one by one with no pressure to get the ‘right answer’ or arrive at one by a particular deadline.

From here comes the reconciliation stage. Now you have unlearned everything you believed about God and Christianity, you can relearn it in relation to your situation and experiences. It is going to be hard but in the end it is worth it.

There is so much more I could say but the key point is that without being willing to embrace the deconstruction phase of my life with chronic illness, I could never have got to where I am now and have a strong established faith once again (yet always ready to be broken down and question everything over again!). If I had not have allowed myself to question and be challenged, I would not be in this same place. The greatest piece of advice I would give to anyone watching someone else going through this is to give them space and time. Be open to conversation but don’t push it or hurry them. Pray and let them rediscover God through your simple acts of love and patience.

The Painphone

The Painphone

Over the last week when my pain has been too bad to do anything else, I have watched films. One such film is ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, originally a book written by John Green, which I have seen before but for the first time, a certain line really spoke to me – “Pain demands to be felt”. As I heard those words, I was squirming around my bed trying to get comfortable and it suddenly resonated with me on a new level. The more I mulled the words over in my head, I realised I had read something similar elsewhere. C.S Lewis once said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We are taught that pain is our body’s way of notifying us that something is not quite right and that a continuous or worsening pain is something worth getting checked out. I learnt this lesson the hard way by trusting an expert opinion for over 10 years which said ‘it’s just acid reflux’ only to finally be told years later after falling into the arms of a receptionist in tears due to the severity of pain I was experiencing that I actually had a rare condition which causes severe pain and dysphagia. Pain demands to be felt. We can sometimes ignore it for a while, but if its important, our bodies will keep alerting us to it until steps are taken to fix the problem.

I am guilty of being a desperate pray-er. I am not good at praying thank you and praise prayers to God, but I sure do pray desperation, ‘I can’t do this anymore, take this pain away now’ sort of prayers. Pain causes me to take notice of God again and turn to Him when sometimes, I have not done so for some time. In an article about C.S.Lewis, Jana Harmon wrote, ‘Pain takes away our false sense of happiness, draws our attention to God and our need for Him. Even in “good, decent people,” the illusion of self-sufficiency must be shattered. And, like a good and loving Father, God is willing to accept whatever surrender and sacrifice we have to offer.’

We can so easily be distracted by the earthly things, and by our desire for control, that we lose track of God, particularly on days when life is good and we don’t have issues with our health, the trains run on time, we don’t get into arguments with our loved ones, money isn’t a problem and the sun is shining. But God isn’t just a HELP button. He is there all the time and wants to be part of our lives and recognised for who He is. If quiet whispers in the night don’t work, nor conversation in the coffee shop, God won’t put off using the megaphone.

I have read stories about people who have great lives, great friends, great health, great jobs, lots of money and they die happy and healthy, but never know Jesus because they don’t feel the need for Him in their perfect lives. Then there are those who struggle through life and find that they NEED Jesus to get through it. but when they die, they spend eternity in Heaven with Him. Some people accuse Christians of using God as a crutch, as if pain causes someone to conjure up an imaginary friend who if you believe is there, will create a placebo effect, making you think you are better when really, you just believe you are, therefore, the symptoms lessen or go away completely.

My calling out in desperation to God could look like using God as a crutch but I know He’s there in my pain so when it ‘demands to be felt’, I know God might be calling out to me butt He is there for me to lean on when I need Him. Sometimes its just a sense of peace, sometimes He sends someone else to keep me company or to bring pain relief in tablet form, and sometimes He makes the pain miraculously go away. Whatever people call it, a crutch, a miracle, I believe God uses our pain to help us keep focused on Him and if that is what it takes to bring me back to Him, I am okay with that because I know He will respond. Now I just need to work on listening to Him without the use of the megaphone…. I don’t want to wear it out too soon!

Praying when it is physically and spiritually challenging

Praying when it is physically and spiritually challenging

As Christians, we are taught to pray. When we are young, we might be taught a simple rhyming prayer to say before eating or before going to bed and as we get older, the style of our prayers changes as we do. First the Lord’s prayer then something deeper, longer and more frequent but nevertheless, we pray. We do it not just because the bible tells us to, but because it is how we communicate with God.

When I was in primary school, I used to pray all the time – a constant, ongoing conversation with God, thanking Him for my food, asking for protection from bullies or help with homework or asking for forgiveness when I hurt someone. Then I grew up into adulthood and became too busy to pray and lost my connection with God. Everything was going good, why did I need to? Then things started going very much downhill within my family, church, work and health but I had lost my relationship with God and forgotten how to pray. In the same way that friends have drifted away whilst I have spent my days alone inside the house due to chronic illness, when I drift away from God and don’t talk to Him, I lose that closeness we once had when I was praying to Him everyday.

So prayer is important but how do we keep praying when barriers appear? Even before I became unwell, I would struggle sometimes to pray in the evenings or mornings because I was too tired, I would struggle to pray at work because my mind was too distracted by other things to think about listening or talking to God and I even struggled when I was by myself on a day off as I would find other things I thought I should or needed to get done.

I would have to say that at this point in my life, prayer is difficult. I am always tired, busy or asleep so never feel that I am able to focus solely on God so instead of trying and failing, I often don’t start in the first place. This is the first big error. Don’t let your mind slipping away to other things put you off. We are human, it happens and God knows – He made us this way, just how He wanted us, and knows how our minds work. When we become distracted, all we need to do is write that thing down to remove it from our minds if it is important to remember. If not, allow your mind to wander there, and then come back to God. He is loving and patient and will wait for us. Although we are not of the world, we are still in and therefore, affected by it so we cannot expect to be perfect before God.

I know some of you might be thinking, ‘That’s great for people who can pray but struggle sometimes, but what about me? I can’t even bring myself to pray in the first place!’. Don’t worry, you are not alone. I have experienced this and still do so at times, and I am sure many others can also relate. There are many reasons for feeling this way and each has a different method of starting to change:

  1. Distance
  2. Fear
  3. Pressure

Firstly, distance. Like I have already said, when we get distracted long term, we move away from God. God never moves away from us, but we can, and do, move away from God. Sometimes that is intentional but I have found that it is more common for me to suddenly find myself away from God without realising it has happened. This can happen when we get upset or angry at God or when we start to lose faith which brings us on to point 2 – fear.

This is an experience I can relate to in a big way. I struggle to pray due to being fearful. Not fearful of God or of others but that God won’t answer my prayer and then I will lose my faith which is something I fear. I love God. I was raised in a Christian family and have always been open about my faith, no matter the outcome, but I have never needed God to respond to my prayer as much as when I am crying out in pain or starvation, or extreme fatigue or frustration at my situation. I have prayed many times for healing, as have my family and friends from church, yet I have not been healed in the way I wanted and that has caused me to lose faith in God’s being, His abilities or even whether He really loves me.

Finally, pressure. As someone raised in a Christian family, there is pressure to pray about everything. Not because my parents stand beside me with a whip, but because it is a discipline, in exactly the same way as tidying your room or brushing your teeth. This is great and I am really happy my parents have raised me this way, but it can lose it’s ‘magic’ so to speak. Praying because you are told to rather than because you want to can crate a forced conversation and build a fake relationship with God. It’s like talking to a brick wall – pointless.

So how can we overcome each of these problems in our prayer life?

  1. if it is a physical barrier (i.e. you are tired, in pain or distracted), remember we are weak and God knows that. But also remember a prayer does not need to be complicated or long. If you are about to go to bed but feel too tired to pray simply thank God for the day and ask for protection for tomorrow. Easy. God does not see these prayers as lesser, in fact, we are even told that God prefers the prayers of His people who pray to Him from a human point of view than the prayers of someone who stands out on street corners so everyone can see and hear them saying their clever, ‘proper’ language prayers that go on and on. God wants to hear from you, however, whenever, wherever you can but He doesn’t want to pressurise you into feeling bad for not being able to do so.
  2. When it comes to spiritual barriers, it is always us rather than God that needs to change. That doesn’t mean we have to do it alone because He wants to walk alongside us in everything, but it is in our control if, or how, we talk to Him. If you haven’t spoken to a friend in a long time, and they haven’t tried to communicate with you, you can either reach out to them again or ignore them forever and risk never speaking to your best friend ever again. It’s the same with God. We can either ignore Him completely or get ‘back in touch’ and pray. It might feel strange initially but if you keep praying, even if it doesn’t feel right, it won’t be long before it feels natural again and you can hear from God too.
  3. Similarly, when it comes to feeling pressured to pray, forget the pressures you have had in the past. Move away from routine and towards relationship by praying to God when you want to talk to someone. Maybe you want to ask Him for something, maybe you want to thank Him, or maybe you just want to tell Him about your plans for the day, some music you are loving or food you are enjoying eating. Make prayer relational again and it won’t feel so forced anymore.
  4. As fear is something I experience personally, I wanted to do some research so had a look at various resources and I have been able to find literature on praying about being fearful, not about fear related to prayer so I am going to have to talk from my own experiences. In some ways, I think this is very similar to feeling distant – you just have to pray. I was at Spring Harvest a few weeks back and had the pleasure of hearing Pete Grieg (founder of the 24/7 prayer movement) talking about prayer and one thing he said stood out to me over everything else (paraphrased as I cannot remember the exact wording) – ‘Don’t pray to God because He answered your prayer the way you wanted, but pray to God because He is faithful so we know that even when we don’t hear His answer or see Him act in the way we wanted, He is responding/ acting just in His time and way. Our faithful God.’ Just because God doesn’t seem to answering you once doesn’t mean He isn’t or won’t next time. He is listening and will respond in His time and in His way – the best way for you as His child. He knows the situation and He knows you and what is best for you. So we must keep praying, knowing our God is listening and is faithful and will respond and act and therefore, we should not fear His silence for He won’t always be that way and perhaps, He is already doing something. It’s just too big or incomprehensible for the human mind to imagine. God is good ALL the time!