5 Benefits of Small Town Living [Guest Post]

Sabryna Anstey: From City to Community

When I applied for the Children’s Pastor position in Glenwood, Newfoundland, I didn’t even know where Glenwood was. I just knew that there was a need in this community and I felt a call to fill that need.

Small Town Benefits

Moving from Paradise (20,000 people) to Glenwood (800 people) was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Not just for me but for my husband as well. I was fresh out of university, newly married, and had just started to get settled into my first apartment and new friendships. We are all called to something, but when God calls you to a place you’ve never been, a place with a population of 800 people, I can guarantee there is a struggle in your spirit.

During this time of struggle I couldn’t help but remember the part of 1 Samuel 15:22 that says “…obedience is better than sacrifice.” I was obeying a call that was completely out of my comfort zone and I was being thrown into the deep end.

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Faith and Doubt [Guest Post]

Kathy Stock Shares Her Journey of Faith

I’d like to thank Andrew for inviting me to participate on his blog. Andrew is a great writer and a passionate leader. I’ve read his interesting thoughts and teachings and have personally benefited from the discussions I’ve seen afterward between people on different sides of many different issues.

Faith and Doubt - Kathy Stock

I am a lover of conversation. As a flaming extrovert, I thrive off of the company of others. Drop me in a room full of strangers and I’ll leave with a long list of new friends.

This temperament of mine has served me well, especially as a musician and public speaker but it has its downside. I share a bit too easily, I care a bit too recklessly and I am dramatically affected by the thoughts and feelings of others.

Wearing my hungry heart on the outside of my sleeve has served me both well and negatively in ministry. I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I am told I came to know Jesus at the ripe ol’ age of two when I knelt beside my mother and wanted to do what my five-year-old sister did at church that day. So, at five and two, we surrendered our sin-laden lives to the Lord, knowing full well the gravity of that decision and went forth, sinning no more.

Just kidding.

We had no idea what we were doing!

Yet, I remained ingrained in Christ, and He in me, from then until now…sometimes fervently on fire for the gospel, sometimes gripping tightly with white knuckles while doubt all but swallows me whole.

Faith is a rough and beautiful sea of bluish, grayish waves that toss and stir and ebb and flow. Click To TweetWhat I have learned is that faith isn’t a black and white issue. Faith is a rough and beautiful sea of bluish, grayish waves that toss and stir and ebb and flow. It’s complicated and beautiful and terrifying and filled with unknowns.

I’ve done a lot of living for a thirty-three year old woman. I was married at twenty, a mother at twenty-two and again at twenty-six. I’m a published author. I have lived in two countries, three states, two provinces, and have changed addresses thirteen times in the last thirteen years.

I’m a musician who performs (unapologetically) secular music during the week and joyfully leads worship in a congregation I love on Sunday mornings (Spruce Hills).

I had cancer while my children were two and six years old and have been in remission for three and a half years.

I recently went back to school, where I sit in classrooms surrounded by other students who are closer to my son’s age than my own.

What has stayed consistent (outside of the love of my family) is my belief in Jesus. Click To TweetLife has been more interesting than I can properly articulate in one blog post and I have had some high highs and some low lows along the way but what has stayed consistent (outside of the love of my family) is my belief in Jesus.

Ironically, (and perhaps I’m over sharing here, in true Kathy form) I am writing this during an intense season of doubt.

Some do not believe that faith and doubt can co-exist but I am living, breathing evidence that they indeed can. I embody both. The disciples embodied both. John the Baptist embodied both, and he saw the sky open up and watched a dove appear out of nowhere, landing on Jesus and then heard God audibly say, “This is MY SON” and he STILL questioned who Jesus was from the darkness of his prison cell. If John the Baptist can doubt, and still be labeled by Jesus as one of the greatest human beings ever, certainly we can too (Luke 3:21-22; 7:18f).

This truth has brought an enormous amount of comfort to me as I navigate life, especially in my thirties. For the majority of my twenties, I lived in the Southern USA or the ‘Bible belt’ as it is sometimes referred.

I was so entrenched in church and church culture that I didn’t have one friend that wasn’t a Christian. I worked at church, sang at church, socialized at church…and the energy that I should have spent going out into the world and being Jesus to people was instead spent arguing about theology with other Christians.

My faith was very, very strong during that season but I wasn’t fulfilling the great commission. I wasn’t being Jesus.

When I was twenty-eight, my little family of four immigrated back to Newfoundland with nothing but the clothes on our backs and six suitcases in our hands. We settled swiftly and I quickly realized that I wasn’t in the ‘Bible belt’ anymore…and I was quite honestly relieved… so I set out to meet as many different people in as many different places as I could.

I began playing music at events and restaurants, eventually landing a permanent gig at a piano bar in downtown St. John’s (The Fifth Ticket).

After I finished chemotherapy and began my remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I set out to meet as many young adult cancer survivors as I could, and pour into their lives in a way I so desperately needed when I was sick. No hidden agenda, no bait and switch to evangelize…just living out love in the way that Jesus has asked us to and seeing what happens. Faith, usually, naturally comes up in conversation.

Through all of this, I have met so many different kinds of friends. People from varying spiritual, religious, socio-economic backgrounds, same sex couples, single parents, transgendered men and women…I’ve met ex-cons and CEOS, reconnected with people I knew from high school and been blown away by how we have all developed and evolved throughout the years.

There isn’t anyone you couldn’t have empathy for if you took the time to learn their story. Click To TweetAnd through all of these encounters I have learned one very valuable lesson: There isn’t anyone you couldn’t have empathy for if you took the time to learn their story.

Breaking through the Christian bubble that I had created for myself has opened my heart and mind up to a world of doubt and questions that challenge me on a daily basis.

They challenge how I raise my children and the words I speak behind the microphone on Sunday mornings…but it has also allowed me the powerful opportunity to be Christ to people who haven’t experienced Him in a real way. Not by preaching at or fighting with or segregating myself from them, but by doing life shoulder to shoulder with them and seeing what God does through relationship.

I’m finding the older I get, the less I can claim to know for sure but the more O.K. I am with not knowing.  As exhausting as it is, doubt is worth wrestling with.

There are many days when I wonder whether any of this is legitimate at all, but I rest in the words of John 6:68, when Jesus asked Peter if he was going to leave and Peter responded, “Lord, to what person could we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

When doubt creeps in...I choose Jesus with my head and my heart eventually follows. Click To TweetWhen doubt creeps in, or bursts the door down, I choose Jesus with my head and my heart eventually follows. When I am challenged by the non-sense that is grace, the arrogance that is self-sufficiency, the ridiculousness that is child-like faith, I cling with both hands to Jesus!

I recently heard someone say that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt.  The opposite of faith is certainty…because what do the certain need with faith? The Bible says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” and my hope is in Jesus (Hebrews 11:1).

There is no one else for me. None but Jesus.

Prayer: The Sincere and Authentic Heart

Even though religion is slowly being dismantled, the acceptance of spirituality is at an all-time high.  Prayer and faith, for example, are both rising in popularity and accepted by many, for numerous reasons.  While people are not “religious,” they are highly “spiritual.”  I simply celebrate the very notion that unbelievers are open to a “spiritual realm.”

prayer

Unfortunately, in this conversation of spiritual piety, the Church may be in threat of diluting our special fellowship with God.  We may mean well, but I believe our piety has become more about the right “activity” and “vocabulary,” than about “sincerity” and “authenticity.”

It’s a struggle today, and it was a struggle in Jesus’ day.  Jesus calls us to have a prayer life that is sincere and authentic so we can completely focus on God.

Jesus’ Message (Matthew 6:5-8)

In an effort to explain what authentic piety looks like, Jesus gave us three examples.  The first, was giving money (Giving Money: The Quiet Generous Heart), and the second is prayer:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.1

At first glance, it appears that “private prayer” is the only authentic form of prayer.  It doesn’t take long, however, before we understand that Jesus is clearly trying to make a point – our prayer life should be sincere and authentic.

Prayer in the New Testament

Prayer for the devote Jew occurred three times every day (Daniel 6:10).2  Prayer was also encouraged in both private and public life in an effort to break down religious segregation and to live out private faith in public spaces.3  What’s interesting, however, is that prayer itself wasn’t unique to the Jews.  The pagans thought if they spoke more words, mentioned more gods, and repeated themselves enough, they would have a better chance of their prayers being answered.4  Jesus clearly witnessed the Jews acting in their spirituality, but also adopting a hypocritical view of prayer.

“Hypocritical” Prayer

When Jesus spoke of being a “hypocrite” in this context, he pointed to a “self-deceit” – when we fool ourselves to thinking our prayer life is directed towards God, when in reality, we are looking for the praise of those around us, and using “empty phrases.”5  Jews during this time, were praying so that others could see and hear their piety.

If we desire for others to view us as “spiritual,” we will receive their praise and forfeit God’s fellowship.  As a result, our prayer becomes hypocritical because it doesn’t draw us into fellowship with God, rather ourselves.  John Stott called it “a mean kind of self-service.”6  In the end, hypocritical prayer only hurts our spirituality and pushes us away from our relationship with God.

This also extends to the words we use when we pray.  The pagans believed “that they [would] be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).  In reality, there is no need to repeat ourselves with empty phrases, unnecessary repetition, or filling silence with religious quotes because God already knows what we need (6:8).

This might be a difficult one to swallow.  I grew up in the Church and I learned all of the proper prayer lingo.  Everything from phrases like “we pray a hedge of protection,” to bible verses, songs, and repeating “Oh, God…” between every thought.  It has become our way of prayer, and in and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with it.  But there is a point to be made here. The ESV translated the Greek word battaloge as “heap up empty phrases,” but the rare word is understood to mean “babbling” or “speaking without thinking.”7

The question is, do we, as believers, use words and phrases just for the sake of using them or to show others our spirituality, or do we sincerely speak and authentically think about what we are praying?  Our intentions may be good, but we may not be as sincere and as authentic as we may think.  After all, these verses serve as a “warning” for us so that we aren’t naively practicing our righteousness (6:1).

I guess the best question to ask ourselves is this: when I pray, does God hear my words and knowledge, or does God hear the sincerity and authenticity of my heart?

“Righteous” Prayer

We rightfully connect our prayer lives with our faith and spirituality and often take this topic personally.  So before I attempt to define righteous prayer, it might be helpful to state what righteous prayer is not.

  • It’s not avoiding pubic prayer. We can’t be quick to make Jesus’ words here an absolute. The issue is about the heart, not about the place of prayer. The early church devoted themselves to the unity of prayer, and so should we (Acts 2:42).
  • It’s not avoiding quoting scripture and other spiritual phrases. For centuries, the Church has used scripture and traditional sayings in prayer. Again, the issue is not what is said, but the authenticity behind what is said.  In fact, I believe the Church would do well in praying more Psalms.
  • It’s not assuming short prayers are best. Jesus used examples to illustrate a principle. As a result, His examples are often specific to the time and place.  For example, in Luke 18, Jesus actually acknowledged the purpose of persistent prayer.

Righteous prayer is all about the HEART.  Prayer is about putting away the selfish appeal of our old-self, and putting on the selfless withdrawal of new life.  Our prayer life should cause us to withdraw ourselves and sincerely connect with God by using thoughtful and meaningful words.8

Prayer for today

Prayer has to be the guiding force in every believer.  In order to do that, our prayer life has to start in the “private prayer room.”  That space doesn’t have to be a physical room, rather a space where you can withdraw and connect with God.  From that sincere and authentic place of prayer, our “public prayer space” will naturally bring glory to God and not to ourselves or others because our attention is already pointed in the right direction.  I believe we fall into the trap of hypocritical prayer because our “private prayer room” is often lacking.  Martin Luther challenged believers to live out a continuous authentic prayer life:

“In the morning and in the evening, at table and whenever he [or she] has time, every individual should speak a benediction or the Our Father or the Creed or a psalm.”9

To help, Jesus gave us a model of prayer (6:9-13).  We call it The Lord’s Prayer.  How do we pray?  In daily fellowship (“daily bread”), we direct our attention to the Father, pray for His glory, the establishment of His kingdom and His will, and have a spirit of forgiveness because He forgave us.  It’s a selfless prayer focused on God the Father.

Your turn…

  1. How can you guard yourself against hypocritical prayer?
  2. How is God calling you to PRAY today?

God wants to connect with us.  He doesn’t want us to draw attention to ourselves or fill our prayers with thoughtless words.  God wants to hear the sincere and authentic prayers of our hearts, and sometimes that means we have to stop and wait before God.

Our sincere and authentic prayer is the kind of faithful prayer that God rewards.

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