February 2012

Panic would probably be too strong a description, but for some it was close. Breathing quickened, heart rate raised, eyes desperately darting for a distraction to gain time as the 11-year-old interviewer patiently waited for a response to their homework survey question. Others simply smiled calmly and inwardly groped around their grey-matter to grab something that didn't sound shallow or stupid – for the mini-interrogator was writing down every word spoken. For others though, they were ready.

The RE homework was a gift to pupils who were part of a church community - ask ten people “What is a miracle?” and “Have they ever experienced one?.” – sure two easy questions Christians could easily answer. Izzy (my daughter) went straight for a minister (who happened to be her dad), then an Elder (who happened to be a doctor), next a worship leader, followed by a list of family friends. On Sunday morning I spotted other Year 7 students enthusiastically cornering church members and requesting immediate responses to their questions. I’ll confess – it was fun to overhear and watch people panic/pause and then endeavour to give the “right” answer to this straightforward question. But it was the pause between the question and answer that really caught my attention – not just in others but also in me.

Some subjects rarely encounter pauses. How was your holiday, your family, what did you do on the weekend – find swift responses. Interestingly, if you’ve been encountering particular frustrations with work, family, neighbours, etc., these tend to flow with even greater ease. But when it comes to faith?

In 1 Peter 3:15 it says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have.”

The Bible calls us to ensure the gap between the question and answer about our hope – faith - is short.

So why do we find speaking about our frustrations easier than our faith?

The answer: Training. The better we are trained, the shorter the pause.

The verse in Peter is not a call to try harder, but a call to train ourselves to know and be able to explain our faith. So when someone asks “How do I become a Christian?” we can give a simple and personal explanation in 2 minutes. When we are asked “Why do you pray? When was the last time you saw an answer to prayer?” or “What is a miracle and can you tell me when you last encountered one?” – our first response is not panic or a long pause, but we are ready.

Being a Christian is about being a disciple of Jesus, a learner, an apprentice. It doesn’t mean we always get things right – we are an apprentice after all – but we are training to be more like the Master, Jesus.

Are you still training?

During Sunday mornings and in our church’s small groups we are looking again at the subject of spiritual discipline – ‘Essentials Revisited’ (check out the sermon podcasts).

Are you training?

A prayer: Jesus grant me a heart that is open to more of you, eyes that see what you are doing around me, ears that hear the changes you are making in people’s lives, a mind that keeps learning and doesn’t allow you to slip into the background and a mouth that is always prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks me the reason for my hope in You. God help me to keep you first.

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