Archive for May, 2011

What about prayer?

Posted: May 25, 2011 by Nathan in What About...
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For Christians prayer is a big issue. Not just in the fact that it is a wonderful, God given, tool for our use but also in that it is misunderstood, hard to come to terms with and something that almost all Christians struggle with. Some people seem to have it sorted, they speak and God answers, God speaks and they hear. I must admit this is not the case for the vast majority of people. Prayer is something that most Christians struggle with and wish that they could have a better understanding of. So with that in mind you can understand that I could write several long and very boring books about prayer, so here you will just get the very tip of the ice-berg.

Prayer is part of us building a relationship with God. Just with building a relationship with another humans prayer follows similar lines. We talk to God, but we also listen to Him. That is the part many people miss out. How annoying is it for us when people talk and talk and talk and never listen? God feels the same way. Think about how you talk to friends and then try and relate that to God. If you only spoke to your friends when you wanted something it would put a huge strain on your relationship. Yet so many people only talk to God when they want Him to do something for them. How many people only talk to God when they are in a major crisis or have come to the end of their tether? Yet the best evenings spent with friends never involve the continual asking of favours but consist of sharing stories, passing on our joys, making each other laugh and maybe sharing a trouble or two. Sometimes there are evenings when you need just to talk and have a good friend listen, God is a great listener but he also wants the opportunity to talk and have you listen. As with most things there is a balance that needs to be achieved.

So, how do I even start to pray? Or the Quick Bluffers and Idiots Guide to Praying!!

Practical stuff

Find somewhere quiet.

Remove as many distractions as possible (take the phone of the hook, turn off the computer etc.)

Make yourself comfortable – this may be sitting at a desk, lying on a bed, sitting on the sofa or kneeling – basically however you feel most comfortable (without falling asleep!!)

Preparation

Are you sitting comfortably then we’ll begin!!

Now you’ve found your quiet place it is time to become quiet yourself. Your surroundings maybe quiet but you may still have a hundred and one things racing through your mind. What are you going to cook for tea? Did you lock the front door? As soon as we become quiet our brain seems to go into overload. Everyone has their own way of quietening themselves down. These ways include breathing techniques, focusing on something specific like a candle or cross or even diving straight in to talking to God.

Your first few steps into prayer.

Prayer may be something very new for you. It is bound to feel a bit weird and maybe a little out of your comfort zone. However, you are in control, if it feels too weird stop and maybe try again another day. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to praying but one thing I would start with is honesty. If things feel weird tell God.

“God, this all feels very strange and I don’t even know if I’m just talking to myself…”

“God the only reason I’m praying is that I’m angry with you, I hate want has happened and fell it is your fault!”

“God I have no idea if you exist or not but I’d like you to show me if you do!”

“God I’m desperate, let’s face it I wouldn’t be praying if I weren’t!”

God loves it when people come to him in honesty. He can take you being angry with Him, blaming Him and having a good old rant!. Just tell Him what you’re feeling. Tell Him if you’re angry, sad, thankful, worried, bored or happy. As I said before talk to him as you would to your best friend. As I also said before spend some time listening to Him as well. If you expect to hear a booming voice you will almost certainly be disappointed. The Bible tells us that God speaks in a small still voice. However he also talks in different ways. He speaks to people through the words in the Bible – in reading the Bible you may find the answer to a question you have or He may make something stand out or you may just find some comfort in the words. God may answer your prayers through circumstances or through someone else. When we become open to god speaking to us he can speak through all sorts of different things.

You may find it difficult to to know what to say at first. Next week we will have a look at some prayers that you can pray just by reading them.

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Faith is always a difficult thing to understand. Many people believe that faith in God is a blind faith i.e. believing against all the evidence. However, it is far from that. Blind faith is throwing yourself out of an aeroplane at 20 000ft and hoping to land safely. Faith is throwing yourself out of an aeroplane at 20 000ft with a parachute which you’ve packed yourself, checked and double checked and hoping to land safely.

I’ve talked about faith and belief using the analogy of the chair. You may test out the chair before you have faith enough to sit in it. The same is true with belief in God. You don’t just blindly decide one day that you’re going to move from a place of vague belief to a strong faith in God. As with the chair you test it, look at it from all angles and assess it in every way possible. Faith in God is not something you blindly walk into – if it is going to be a real, genuine, living faith you have to go into it with your eyes well and truly wide open.

So, how can I test this belief to see if it will hold my weight? There are many ways that a belief in God can be explored, tested, challenged and built upon. Here are just a handful of ideas…

Find a friend

Do you have a friend who is a faithful Christian? If so I’m sure they will help you explore the whole area of faith. They may not have all the answers but I’m sure they’d be willing to help you find them. Talk to them about their faith – how they made the move from not believing to believing or from a belief to a stronger faith. Ask them about things to do with faith that you don’t understand. Ask them what it means for them to be a Christian. Some Christians love to be asked about their faith, some however don’t like it as they are worried about giving the wrong answer or worried that they might not have an answer at all. If your friend is worried about answering your questions ask them if there is someone in their church who you can ask.

You may want to ask your friend to pray for you as you explore the whole area of faith. Get them to pray that god would help you understand and reveal Himself to you.


Read all about it!

Some people love to read and some hate it. If you like to read there are so many good books out there to help you think through the whole area of faith. Your local Christian Bookshop manager should be able to direct you to the right book or books for you. It is very difficult to recommend books generally as there are so many out there, some not internationally available and you all have differing preferences. However, I would consider suggesting most books by Nicky Gumbel, Lee Strobel and Ralph O. Muncaster. They are writers with well thought out arguments to help you build a foundation of faith.

What better place to start than with the Bible

The Bible may seem like a very daunting place to start, but it needed be. Whatever you don’t sit down and start reading the Bible from the beginning with the idea of reading it like a novel. You’ll find it as difficult as reading a dictionary!!! What I would suggest is starting with the book of Mark, it can be found near the back of the Bible and is the second book in the New Testament. It tells the story of the life of Jesus and is an excellent place to start. As you’re reading it you may want to make notes. Especially of things that you don’t understand. If you do have things you don’t understand you can ask a Christian friend or you are more than welcome to contact us here using the contact tab above. We are always happy to answer questions and receive people’s feedback.

A Short course in Christianity

Many churches offer short courses in exploring the Christian faith. These are relaxed times of learning where you can ask questions and explore with others in a similar position about the Christian faith. There are courses such as ALPHA, Christianity Explored and many others run by individual churches. Many churches have posters outside advertising these courses or you could give your local church a ring and even if they are not running one they would be able to find out your nearest venue.

Attend a church service

Any church would love to see you. If you have a Christian friend why not ask if you can go along with them one Sunday to a service – they’d be delighted to take you. You may find the service a bit strange, especially if you’ve never been to church before. Don’t worry they’re not going to get you to do anything you don’t want to do but a bit like going to a bookmakers or Royal Garden party you won;t know exactly what is going on or what to do – if in doubt just follow what everyone else is doing!! You should find the church very welcoming and friendly – after all they’re just a bunch of fairly normal people meeting together to give their thanks to God and draw encouragement from each other – in its most basic sense that is what church is all about.

Finally how about speaking to God?

Praying – basically having a conversation with God – can seem pretty weird to start with. However, let’s face it – if God does exist then it’s the most natural thing in the world to do – if god doesn’t exist all we’re going is talking to ourselves which is good therapy anyway!!! I jest a little but you get my point. If God created you, loves you and wants the best for you there is nothing He like better than to communicate with you, to hear your worries and concerns and to help out. The whole subject of prayer is a huge subject, especially when talking about faith and belief. Next week we’ll take a further look at the subject and delve a little deeper.

What If… Belief is not enough?

Posted: May 11, 2011 by Nathan in What If...
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I believe in God! You may well believe in God. If we did a survey of people around the world a huge percentage of people would say that they believed in God. Now, I wouldn’t want, in any way, to belittle that belief – but what does belief in God really mean?

I believe in God! However, I also believe in a lot of other things. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow, I believe that Australia exists, I believe that fish finger sandwiches are great and I also believe that grass is normally green. However, what good do these beliefs do me? Whether I believe that Australia exists or not has no bearing on my life. Until, that is, I decide to put my belief into action and go there. Then my belief changes into faith and trust.

Now belief, faith and trust may all sound like the same thing. I guess in some ways we are just talking about semantics. However, the idea behind the semantics belies a very important difference. I like to use the analogy of a chair to try and show the difference. Being a bigger than average person it probably resonates with me more than most but I hope you’ll understand what I’m talking about. When you come across a less than sturdy chair and need to sit on it you sub-consciously may do an assessment on it. Will this chair take my weight? Will it be comfortable? We can look at the chair, wobble it, press down on it and check it’s joints. We may come to a decision that we believe that it will take our weight. It is not, however, until we sit on the chair that our belief that it will take our weight is transformed into trust that it will or faith that it will. Trust and faith are active, involving, doing words. A drowning man may believe that the lifebelt thrown to him from the riverbank will save his life but it is not until he puts his faith in it and reaches out for it that it does him any good at all.

So it is with God. Just believing in God is not enough! Our belief needs to become active, it needs to turn into faith and trust. I used to have a strong belief in God. I even went to church. However, this belief that I had that God existed, that He created the world, that He sent His son to earth in the form of Jesus and the whole host of other things I believed about God had no real connection with my life. I believed in God, but had no trust in Him, put no faith in Him. It took me years to connect this belief to a real faith. I must have walked round and round that chair for years and tested it in every conceivable way before I finally decided that I could trust it to hold my weight and finally sit down. I now see that if you believe in God, if you believe in the God of the Bible it’s an all or nothing situation.

Now, how do I explain this? Most of us believe ( I hope) that in order to keep living we need to eat and drink. The amount that we eat and drink will vary a lot depending on who we are, what kind of week it is and so on. However, we firmly embrace the belief that unless we eat and drink regularly we will make ourselves ill and eventually die. We can’t believe that this is true and then go off and decide not to eat for a month or two – it just doesn’t work that way. Unless we put the belief that we need to eat and drink in order to continue living into action pretty much every day of our lives we will eventually die and the belief would mean nothing. The same is true with a belief in God. If we believe in Him but do nothing about it, it makes our belief meaningless. If we believe that the Bible is God’s tool for revealing himself to us but ignore what it means to our everyday life it makes our belief meaningless. It would be like believing in the rules of the road as laid out by our governments and then completely ignoring them when getting into our car. Not only is it meaningless but also dangerous.

If God exists, if He created this universe and everything in it, doesn’t that deserve more than a notional belief in Him. In many ways believing in God makes no sense unless you are going to take that belief further. If you believe God exists, that He created you and the world you live in, if He is a God of love and not of hate, isn’t it logical to try and learn all you can about Him. If you discover you have a long lost Uncle who wants to share his vast riches with you and so much more besides are you saying that you would believe that he exists but do nothing about it. Either God exists as outlined in the Bible or He doesn’t! There are no other options. Either the Bible is true or it is not! If God exists and the Bible is true God has not only created us but given us a revelation of Himself and what He knows is the best for us. Isn’t that worth looking into? Unless we put our belief into action we are still drowning, still standing up when we could be sitting in comfort or even worse we could be starving ourselves when the solution is at hand.

Next week we’ll take a look at What If… I put my belief into action?

What About Suffering?

Posted: May 4, 2011 by Nathan in What About...
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People ask about suffering all the time. How can a God of love, a God who cares allow people to suffer? Either God doesn’t care and therefore allows suffering or God is not all powerful and therefore can’t do anything about it. I believe there is a third way!! Now, before we get too far into this let’s remember that people have been struggling with this question for thousands of years. So, let’s face it, no answer that I come up with is going to satisfy you. You’re not suddenly going to discover the complete answer and tick the box having dealt with the problem of suffering. However, hopefully I can give you a few things to think about.

When I consider suffering I look at it in three ways…

1. Suffering isn’t all bad.

OK it’s easy for me, who is not in pain, to say that. However, I believe it’s true in two areas. Firstly suffering can bring out the best in people, you refine who you are through suffering, it brings you to a better understanding of the human experience, it helps you understand others better, it is a major learning process and on a spiritual level it helps us to identify with the sufferings of Christ (not that I claim to really understand that – answers on a postcard please!).

Secondly, some areas of suffering are preserving and informing. When I lay my hand on the fully on hotplate and I experience suffering it informs me to remove my hand. When I fall and break something it is the suffering that tells me to go and get it treated. So, suffering plays a part in preserving our lives by informing us of potential dangers. The sufferings of others, for example hunger or war, informs us that all is not right with our world. It reminds us of our greed and our anger and our selfishness.

2. Would we allow it?

If you are, or were, a parent would you allow your child to play football? I’m assuming the vast majority of people would say yes. Does that make you a bad parent ? I imagine the vast majority of parents would answer resolutely NO! So as a parent you are happy for, if not encouraging, your child to participate in an activity that may cause him fairly serious injury? A sport where broken bones are not unheard of. Where dead legs, bruised arms, pulled muscles, strains, cuts and concussion are commonplace. An activity where not only they may get hurt they may also cause serious hurt to others. Yet with all that considered we would still say that as parents we are happy for our children to participate in it and hundreds of similar, if not more dangerous, activities. We even allow our children to partake in things that could result in major injury or death. For we know that with enjoyment comes risk and with some risk comes enjoyment. We can’t let our children live a full life without exposing them to some suffering. We would of course prefer them not to suffer but we understand the risk. We can’t smother our kids in cotton wool, after all they may choke on it!!

3. What causes suffering?

Well, in short, our wrongdoing!! Suffering is a result of men and women doing wrong things, making wrong choices or making mistakes. Our wrongdoings cause suffering to ourselves and others. Some of this is plain to see. If my anger overspills and I punch you the result of my wrongdoing is your blooded nose. However, that is just one side to it, the seen result of my wrongdoing. What is not seen usually has more far reaching consequences. The bloody nose that we can see may hide a broken bone or other internal injuries. You may have suffered a twist in your neck. In hitting you I may have strained a muscle or broken my hand. There is the fear I may have instilled in you or others that hear about my actions. There is the guilt that I may feel and your bitterness, hatred or a struggle with forgiveness. There’s the breakdown in relationship between us and so it goes on. The bloody nose is the observable, immediate consequence but the unseen ripples, perhaps, cause more suffering. So it is with much of people’s wrongdoing. The consequences of our actions ripple underneath the surface in the created seen world and the spiritual realm. We don’t know how it works but we understand that our wrongdoings cause suffering, directly and indirectly. The ripple from our actions continue to grow and have effects on those throughout this world. When Adam and Eve committed the very first act of wrongdoing something in the natural world broke as well. Man’s wrongdoing had a huge effect on the created world and our continuing sin now also has a huge effect.

Much of the suffering we see in the world today is a direct consequence of the wrongdoing of others. The hunger we see in the world is due to greed and selfishness of those that have plenty. There is more than enough food to go around, but billions of us choose to have far more of our fair share. God, in giving us freewill, in not creating us as robots, allows this. It doesn’t mean He likes the wrong doings that we do but just as we allow our children to make their own decisions so does God allow us to make our own choices and inevitably our own mistakes.

So, when we ask of God why he allows suffering we can also ask ourselves the very same question. In fact we not only allow suffering we are the cause of suffering. In some ways we need to take more responsibility for our actions. It is easy to point the finger at God when in reality it us us as individuals, communities, counties and indeed as a world who cause suffering and have the power to stop so much of it. Wars, famine, floods, deforestation, loneliness, alienation, racism, abuse, pollution, murder, rape, fear and the list goes on, are all man-made sufferings that we have the power to stop.

So, as you can see it’s nowhere near a complete answer but hopefully it may help us see that there is a third way. I believe in a God that does care and is all-powerful. However, I also believe in a God who allows in His wisdom that which he could prevent by His power.