Category Archives: Faith

Modern, white church building on housing estate

Is church relevant anymore?

My faith is of central importance to my life and it always has been; I don’t know what it’s like not to believe in an all loving God I can turn to at anytime and to be part of a community of fellow believers.

Pew ends with stacks of bibles

Not many years ago, going to church was the thing everyone did on a Sunday, on the day of rest, whole families would attend church together as part of their weekly routine. Society has changed a lot, with shops opening on Sunday and many sporting activities happening on Sundays, there are many reasons why the habitual practice of going to church has changed. But does that mean that church no longer has any relevance?

British culture has changed such that people are encouraged to express their individuality, instead of following what their family has done for generations. People, now more than ever, think about what’s right for them personally, rather than fitting in with what everyone else does.

I see many people for whom religion just isn’t on their agenda, they live their life quite happily and don’t see any reason to show any interest in the church or what they have to offer.

Many people have actively been put off church by the things people do “in the name of religion”. Interpreting the Bible in an unhelpful manner has made people think Christians are judgmental do-gooders who do not welcome difference or anyone who’s struggling.

So we have people who have been hurt by the church and we have people who are indifferent – how is the church relevant to either of these groups of people?

When I was young, I went with my family to church, I thought I was an ok Christian – I didn’t think I was anything special but I moved through life being as good-a-person as I could be and I thought that was ok. I knew I sometimes did things that weren’t great, I might have told a fib here and there but I wasn’t a terrible person.

When I went away to uni, I continued going to church, it was what I’d always done, I saw no reason to stop. But it was here that I woke up to what being a Christian really meant. It suddenly hit me was that I was a serial sinner, I committed sins daily even hourly, but I also learnt that that’s ok, God forgives me even before I sin and when I ask for forgiveness, God’s grace is abundant.

But, why am I talking about is sin?! I hear you ask. I’m not that terrible am I?! I’ve not murdered anyone or stolen anything?! The sorts of sins I commit include being quick to anger, being slow to say sorry, letting my emotions dictate how I react to situations, not being compassionate towards people and judging people before I know their story. At the moment something I’m struggling with is that I’m being quite negative at work, I try not to be, I’m generally a positive person, trying to see silver-linings etc but just now I’m letting a negative situation get the better of me – this is not how God made me to be. Maybe other people wouldn’t call these sins but for me, I find it easier to lump everything together otherwise I get unnecessarily caught in grading or rating the level of “not great” I’m being.

God’s grace through Christ is greater than our sin, even on our worst days - white quote on grey background by Jerry Bridges

For me, it is these things that brings me closer to God, they remind me I am human, they humble me, they remind me I can’t do anything without God’s strength and being mindful of my shortfalls keep me striving to be a better person. Yes, I’m sure there are non-Christians out there who try to be good people but I strive to be more Christ like, the bar is high – I will fail but this does not stop me trying.

Jesus loved the sick, he prioritised spending time with criminals – no matter what sin people had committed, Jesus wanted to love them, to accept them and to bring them into his fold. Absolute unconditional love and compassion is not something many people experience – this is what Jesus has on offer.

I’m not one for writing hard hitting challenging blogs as I’m naturally a people pleaser, I don’t like upsetting people, I like to gently present a idea for people to think about but I feel this subject needs a more direct approach. I ask you this – why do you do anything?

Why do you get up in the morning? To go to work? To put breakfast on the table for your family? Because you feel you should?

So why do you do that? Why do you go to work? Why do you prepare meals for your family? Why do feel you should?

Cup of coffee and a pen on a pile of papers with the question “Why am I here”.

Keep asking “why” until you strip your life back to find what you fundamentally believe the point of your life is. Why are you on this earth? What, ultimately, gives you meaning and purpose?

I believe God has put me on this earth to serve him and other people, I believe I am meant to use the skills God has given me to care for other people, to show them love and compassion, and to improve the quality of their lives.

Most of my blogs are about mental health because illness has dominated my life and I believe by sharing my experience and the things I’ve learnt I might help other people, whether it’s by helping people feel less alone or by educating and raising awareness in order to decrease stigma and discrimination.

The connection between my faith and my mental health recovery is simple – I could not have recovered without my faith. There was a point in my recovery where I had to make a conscious decision to take my illness out of the centre of my life. I decided I did not want it to define me. By removing my illness from the centre, I had to replace it with something, for me, this something was God. Other people may want to fill that hole with family, friends or work but in my experience (as fantastic as they are) these things cannot be as rock solid and reliable as God.

While going through trialing times, such as illness, bereavement or relationship breakdown, we all need people we can rely on. As an introvert, I struggle to make friends and it takes me a long time to open up to people. Some people are fortunate enough to have strong groups of friends either purely socially or via a hobby who they can rely on to be there through thick and thin. But for me, it’s my Church community who offer love and acceptance no matter what I’m going through. I don’t need to blurt out my deepest darkest secrets for people to care, to offer words of comfort or to pray with me.

I have been really fortunate that various music groups that I’ve belonged to have been understanding when I’ve been unwell. For example, for a period of time I could only manage half rehearsals but I was still accepted and my participation (no matter how little or unreliable it was) and my talent was appreciated. But with a social group or hobby, there’s an expectation, some condition on you belonging. This situation here was great but there was some expectation that if I was to come along, I would play the saxophone, at least some of the time!

But church goes the extra mile; there are absolutely no conditions placed on being part of a church. There have been times I’ve gone to church, week after week, sat at the back and not spoken to anyone – this was what I wanted and needed at the time. It’s totally up to the individual how much you take part in the church community.

Looking across rolling hills with mountains in the background and trees and hedges in the foreground

People find God in different place, for example, within themselves or in nature and although I agree God is everywhere and people will feel nourished by different environments, God has designed us to be in community and for me, church is not about some old (or new) building, it’s about a community of people, a loving, accepting community of people.

Unfortunately, there are groups of people who call themselves Christians who are judgmental and expect people to conform to a set of rules in order to be accepted into a church but this is not what Christianity is about. My church is a safe and supportive environment where my relationships with Jesus Christ can grow.

So, if you’ve made it to the end of the blog…

If you’ve been hurt by people acting “in the name of religion”, I’m really sorry. Please remember humans get it wrong. The God I know is not judgmental, he is infinitely gracious and longs to have a relationship with you.

If you’re “meh” about religion, might it be worth giving it a go? What have you got to lose?!

Dark background, open hands

How to pray

This is my 3rd blog on prayer inspired by a recent trip to Spring Harvest. This is a Christian Conference in the UK where thousands of Christians get together for worship, learning and fellowship.

This year, I went to Minehead week 1 which means I was treated to bible teaching from Pete Greig – “best-selling author, pastor and bewildered instigator of the 24-7 prayer movement which has reached more than half the nations on earth.” I hope he won’t mind I am basing this blog on some simple tips he gave us because I think they’re so brilliant I want more people to know!

Keep it simple

I often struggle when speaking to my Lord and Saviour, I worry I’m not using the right language, that what I’m saying or how I’m saying it is good enough. We all use different language in different circumstances, for example at home with the kids verses out with the lads, that’s normal and natural. But the truth is, God knows me better than I know myself, he knows what language I use an he’s cool with it. If using fancy words is your bag, go for it; but for most people, it’s helpful to be clear and simple about what you want to say. Say sorry, say thank you and ask honestly for your prayers to be answered.

The prayer reads “Dear God, If I’m wrong, correct me. If I’m lost, guide me. If I start to give up, keep me going.” Set against a blue mountain background.

Keep it real

God knows what you’re going to say before you say it. That’s not a reason not to pray but I’m just saying we can’t keep secrets from him. But if he knows everything before we pray, why pray? God knows when you’re angry, when you’re grieving and when you’re worried but it’s up to you to enter into relationship with him, through prayer. If you’re angry, shout and scream; if you’re grieving cry, rant confusion, say what you need to say; if you’re worried tell God about it. There’s no point in pretending everything’s fine if it’s not.

Woman with mouth open wide, eyes tight shut, hands gripping the top of her head. She looks in agony, crying out to God.

Of course, if you’re experiencing joy, sing about that too!

Keep it up

This has always been the hardest one for me but developing a regular prayer life can be just like any habit. My prayer life has tended to be fairly informal and this has worked for me. If someone I know has needed specific prayer I’ve set time aside to do that but otherwise I’ve tended to chat to God while I’m driving or in the shower. This is fine but I think my relationship with God will benefit from regular prayer. Steve (my husband) and I have promised to pray with each other before bed every night. We have been wanting to do this for a long time but have found reasons not to – now is the season.

Quote read “When we put our problem in God’s hands, He puts His Peace in our hearts.” Against a pinky purple mountain backdrop

If you’re struggling to find a form of prayer that suits you, perhaps check out 10 radical ways to pray.Even if one of these isn’t for you, this might spark some ideas for something you might like to do!

Close up of two hands reaching each other with fingers

10 radical ways to pray

Has your prayer life gone a bit stale? Are you struggling to find a way to pray that suits you? Perhaps the hands-together-eyes-closed method fills you with dread?

Prayer is about developing your relationship with God. We are all unique and, as such, will all have a unique relationship with God. Each of us needs to find a method of prayer that suits us. Here are a few things you could try:

  1. Sing or dance along to your favourite music – allow yourself to enjoy the music and the lyrics. You might be pulled towards using worship music but you don’t have to! I heard a story about a couple of ladies praying while dancing to ABBA! In-between lines, call out your prayers, they don’t have to be complicated, just 1 or 2 words is enough. Maybe just name the people that are on your heart at the moment.
  2. Close up of shoes walkingWhile you’re walking – getting out into nature is a great way to clear the mind and focus it on God but if you don’t have time to go for a specific “prayer walk”, use anytime you’re walking. How often do you walk along looking at your phone, it’s become quite a hazard! Instead, whether it’s picking up the children from school or walking to the bus stop, look around you, use these few minutes to talk to God.
  3. Chant – if focusing is particularly difficult for you, pick a phrase that you can repeat, either in your head or out loud, examples include: “Hallelujah”, “Lord have mercy” and “Lord, take me as I am”. You can spend just 1 minute or many minutes repeating a single phrase, allowing it to wash over you. You could use this as your prayer time or as a lead into another form of prayer.
  4. Pull up a chair – are you struggling to know what to say to God or how to start? Pull up an empty chair and talk to God as if talking to your best friend. Literally chat to him, tell him about your day, about your worries and your desires.
  5. Open bible with painted rose and handwritten script “Let the words of my mouth & the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight”Paint, colour or craft – being creative is a wonderful way to praise God. Whether you’re ‘gifted’ or not, whether you create something display worthy or not, that’s not the point. You may want to create something with a specific purpose, for example, a prayer shawl . Or being creative may simply be a way of keeping your hands busy so that you find it easier to keep your mind focused on God.
  6. Use a newspaper – open up the paper, read the headlines (try not to get drawn into the sensationalism). Spend time meditating on each headline, allow your thoughts to move from topic to topic naturally either closer to home or internationally. If you find it helpful to do something active, you could cut out the headlines, or cut of specific words and lay them out, perhaps stick them in a notebook or onto a pin board for use in a later prayer session.
  7. Surfing the internet – use your preferred search engine, you can literally type in anything you want and use the results to guide your prayer, after all, pretty much everything in the world needs prayer! A couple of ideas: ‘What charities are in my local area?’ or ‘what countries need prayer?’. Use what you find to direct your prayers.
  8. Sitting in a coffee shop – purchase your favourite beverage and do some people watching. You don’t need to stare or judge people, just allow your thoughts to wonder. You don’t know anyone’s story but everyone has needs, pray that each person you see will feel God’s love in their life. Listen to anything God moves you to do – he may prompt you to speak to a stranger so be prepared! You may be prompted to pray for yourself and that’s ok or the things you see may prompt you to pray for people you know, consider this an open dialogue with God, the coffee shop is simple the backdrop.
  9. Close up of an open bibleLet your Bible fall open at a random point – close your eyes and point to a verse. Read this verse; it might not mean anything immediately but consider each word carefully and let it guide the direction of your prayers. If you feel a completely random verse isn’t leading you anywhere a good place to start is the Psalms, these are pre-written prayers and there’s a lot of variety And they speak of the difficulties we face today.
  10. Pick a word – any word, maybe ‘broken’, ‘starlight’ or ‘triggering’, write it down, think about what it means to you – use word association to direct your prayers. As you focus on a new word, write it down. If you find your mind wondering fast onto unassociated things, try using the original word as an acrostic, e.g. if you’re using broken, think of a work beginning with ‘b’ (balancing), then think of a word beginning with ‘r’ (radical), write them down and focus on each word in turn, see if specific people come to mind when you think of each word, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know why, just focus on them as you pray.

None of these are drastically radical, I know, but it’s just a case of trying something a bit different. If you’re struggling to pray or feeling a bit stagnant, sometimes we need a shake up. It doesn’t matter if you stick with one of these activities for a period of time or if you try each one of them once, the idea is that these will help you think outside the box and that you will find a form of prayer that suits you.

Lady sitting under a tree at dusk with outstretched arms