Testimony Tuesday - Simon
Why do people do youth work at church? Well, the answer for me comes from my own story, which is not at all extreme, but is probably one many young Christians can relate to, at least on some level.
I was lucky to have a nice upbringing with a loving and supportive Christian family. I liked the fact that my Dad was a uni lecturer who was well respected in church circles, but he was also a Reverend, which I found embarrassing in other settings. So, as a teenager, I did my best to try to avoid discussion about religion and I tried to blend in with everyone else as much as possible. In fact, I was massively concerned about what other people thought of me. Even though I seemed very out-going, I was pretty self-conscious. I even developed an extreme phobia of public speaking, which was linked with my concern about how I looked to others, as well as talking myself down.
In terms of my Christian faith, although I came across as a nice church-going boy, I just went through the motions and wasn’t very engaged with it. I could clearly see the transformation in the eyes of others – I used to jokingly call this having the ‘Christian eyes’ – but it just wasn’t anything I felt or had experienced. I was in my own world, where I didn’t really take anything very seriously, although I enjoyed spending a lot of time playing (and watching) most sports and trying to chase girls! Christianity was something for later in life, when I was closer to death!
I used to think the culture around me was fairly neutral, but it slowly ate away at my Christianity. Although I was more restrained than my friends, I pursued a hedonistic lifestyle (at school and then university) and slowly drifted from my faith, almost without noticing. In C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters it talks about the ‘safest road to hell’ being ‘…the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts’. I also undermined Christianity in the eyes of others, as I was known to be a church-goer – although not very often at that time(!) – but I wasn’t that different from anyone else.
I was pretty lucky not to end up in more of a mess, as I had some school friends who had major life-changing issues from that kind of a lifestyle, but I never found it fulfilling. I was sure God was not happy with me, but after hitting some inevitable lows, I started going back to church again. For the first time I discovered a real living faith, which included feeling a strong and tangible sense of peace during prayer in some of the difficult times. Working through some amazing people I met along the way, God helped me overcome various issues in my life, even my deep-seated fear of public speaking – through prayer ministry and cognitive therapy – and I now enjoy it!
Given my experiences, I would really encourage you as teenagers to ask yourelves questions about where you want to head in life. What is it that really motivates you? What things do you spend the most time thinking about or doing? What are your priorities in life and where does God come in those? This is not intended to be a guilt trip, but it’s just a way of understanding more about our own mixed thoughts and motivations, as well as seeing what can come between us and God. If we think we’ve messed up badly, for example, it’s important to understand that this is more normal than we might think and yet God still loves us unconditionally and offers us both forgiveness and peace. A danger in the church is that we can think that others have perfect lives and a perfect faith. There is no such thing, as everyone struggles with something. If there are aspects of Christianity we find hard to believe or agree with, then it’s important we try to find answers for them. If there are things in our lives that are a major distraction or more important to us than God, then we should try to get our priorities right.
Whatever situation you are in, I really recommend trying to work on deepening your relationship with God, even if it’s just putting in a little bit more effort. It is always worth it, and it is never too late. We understand the importance of studying for exams or training for sport, but it is so easy to neglect the most important thing in life. Distractions are everywhere, but I firmly believe that God not only helps us in the difficult times, but he can give us a much deeper sense of peace and joy than we can find in the many other things we chase after.
I encourage you as young people to stand up for what is right and to help bring some light into the world. We really need you! Some claim that Christianity is boring, but a relationship with God is a far more radical existence than simply following the herd. What’s more, he not only offers us a new life, but he is able to do amazing things through every one of us, if we are open to it. We may not think that we have much to offer, but that’s completely false. We are reminded that God’s grace is not only sufficient for us, but his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). What a promise and a hope! As it says in Romans 8, ‘if God is with us, who can be against us’, as we are made ‘more than conquerors in him who loved us’. In that sense, you could say that the gospel message is the ultimate challenge. It is my prayer that every member of Reality will experience a life-transforming relationship with Jesus and use their God-given gifts in ways that make an eternal difference in the lives of those around them.
If you want some inspiring reading, I would really recommend Simon Guillebaud’s More than Conquerors, Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution and Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor.