2 people holding hands over scripture

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers | Spiritual Meditations

Fear, suffering, hope and empathy are some of the reasons we turn to God in prayer for ourselves or for others.  We’ve done all we can without the results we hoped for.  So we turn to God, usually as our last resort, and ask Him to do what we couldn’t….wondering if He has even heard us or will do what we’ve asked.  Some times we hear nothing.

The most unfortunate thing about “unanswered prayer” is that since you don’t know God’s mind, you may turn away from God because He didn’t do what you asked Him to do.

After I went away to college, I came home to visit friends and family when possible. During one visit, I stopped to see my friend, Tammy, with whom I had attended high school (secondary school).  Tammy was also a regular at my church.  Tammy’s mother had recently died and Tammy was mad at God for not stepping in to prevent it….she turned her back on Him.  I never saw her again, but would get occasional updates from mutual acquaintances.  Tammy became the president of an agency for handicapped individuals but then died in a car accident when she was in her 30s.  I’ve always wondered if she reconciled with God.

Even if many people pray for something, it doesn’t mean that God is going to respond in the way that seems obvious to us.  Jesus said “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I also”.  But He doesn’t say He will answer prayer as we outline it.

Hyperbole, the Art of Exaggeration

Part of our misunderstanding about God’s response to prayer is because of our literal interpretation of Biblical scripture.

 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, …. even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21-22)

We read this and are confused when our prayers aren’t answered.  Some will say that the failure lies with you.  You were not trying to please the Lord, or you had unconfessed sins, or you didn’t have enough faith.  Read the miracles that Jesus performed and you will see that those who received those miracles had not always asked for them or confessed their sins.

Adam Hamilton says, in his book Why, that he doesn’t suggest that living for God and seeking to please God is not important. But to explain that God does not answer our prayers because we are not holy enough seems odd for a faith built on Grace, whose Savior gave his life for us “while we were still sinners“ (Romans 5:8), and which teachers that we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works.

Jesus said, “truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain “move from here to there “, and it will move. “A mustard seed is smaller than a grain of salt, Jesus’ point was that the smallest impulse of faith would touch the heart of God.”

So lack of response to your prayers isn’t because you have unconfessed sins or lack of faith.  But what is the reason?  Adam Hamilton suggests that the answer lies not in how we pray but how we understand what Jesus said.  When Jesus spoke, he frequently used hyperbole, an overstatement or exaggeration, used by prophets and first-century teachers, to make a point.  However, when we read the Bible, we take it too literally.

In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus said that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  Jesus wasn’t encouraging self-mutilation, he was saying that we should do everything we can to avoid sin.

In Luke 18:25, Jesus said ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God’.  Taken literally, compared to the world at large, anyone with a roof over their head and adequate food for the day isn’t going to get in.  That isn’t what he meant.  What Jesus was saying is that wealth can have a destructive impact on your soul, so handle I carefully.

We use hyperbole in some of our modern expressions and we all know not to take them literally.

  •               It’s raining cats and dogs
  •               It’s hotter than hell
  •               I have a million things to do today

And we can’t take some of Jesus’ word literally either.  We want to ask God to do something, we ask in Jesus’ name in faith (we “claim” it) and then it should happen. Right?  What if we prayed for something that would hurt someone else, even though we may not know it?  Perhaps what we prayed for limited another person’s choices.  Would God force them to do as we asked?  God will not suspend another person’s free will to satisfy our request.

If we take these words of Jesus literally, we human beings don’t have to work, do research or do anything.  We pray for food and it appears.  We pray for money and our pocket is filled. We pray for health and we are instantly well.  We have no need for other people, there is no opportunity to build character,  we don’t need to exercise or eat healthily, and initiative is pointless.

God Works Through People….Miracles are Rare

God knows far more than we do and what we pray for may not be the best for us or for others.

Rather than suspending the laws of nature, that God created, and bypassing the human beings that God created to do God’s work, God typically works through natural law and through people. In the Bible this is how God most often worked, and it is how God typically works today. I believe that miracles can happen but by definition a miracle is rare. The miraculous is not God’s ordinary way. Miracles occur for reasons we cannot always see at the time, and they are the exception, not the rule. Most often God works through people, calling us and nudging us into action, working in our hearts and lives to be the instruments God uses to answer the prayers of others.

I have also learned over the years of that, in the face of suffering or adversity, Gods answer to my prayers is often not to deliver me or others from the suffering, but to walk with me or them through it, and then to transform it and use it to change my life, their lives, or the world.

Adam Hamilton

Here are a couple of examples of how God is using people to change the lives of abused women and children in Malawi and the lives of abandoned and orphaned children.

Pray With Your Heart….Quality is Better Than Quantity

“But when you pray, don’t use vain repetitions like the pagans do, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7)

No one experiences answered prayer when he prays merely with his mind, relying fully on words and thoughts, because there is no opportunity for the spirit to break through into our consciousness. The absence of the fruitage in prayer merely bears witness to our failure to go deep enough into our inner being to make contact with God’s presence which is always there and available.

The prayers that are answered are those deep within a person. No words or thoughts are needed, but the hunger, desire, or longing for God makes the connection.  Here is more detail about how to talk to God.

Prayer must be a desire for spiritual fulfillment. Through seeking first the kingdom of God, giving up hope of gaining anything, and being satisfied to let God provide for us, we open ourselves to fulfillment. In prayer, it is important that we leave behind all our preconceive notions or ideas of what we want -our hopes and ambitions and desires -because there is no assurance that God will fulfill them on our terms.  He is not our servant.

As long as we are advising, suggesting, or outlining to God, or even hoping that God will act according to our personal wishes, we are not praying or going to God, but to our own limited mind.

God Can be Trusted to Provide for Us

It is not the nature of God to withhold from you and then give you things when you pray for them because you have been good. The more you realize that God is not a rewarding God or a punishing God, but that the nature of God is infinite love and infinite wisdom, the clearer you will see that there is no need to tell God of your needs or ask Him to for fulfill them.  Joel Goldsmith

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9).  In other words, those who love God cannot even imagine the great things that He has in mind for them.

Let us go to God as if we really trust Him as the divine Love and the divine Wisdom of this world, which in truth He is.

“Not my will, but Thy will be done”.  God is the all-knowing intelligence of the universe. When we pray, we must surrender ourselves – our hopes and desires, our fears, our aims and ambitions– into His hands.

If we hope to see the fruitage of answered prayer, let our prayers be an inner stillness in which God‘s words flow into us reminding us “Son, all that I have is thine”.

We need to learn how to release the whole situation to God, willingly admitting, “I certainly have messed up my life so far. Let me give it to You and You take over.“ Then we may be amazed at how the miracle begins to work in us and how quickly what, we have thought of as our destiny, changes.

Conclusion

If we interpret scripture literally, we are confused when God doesn’t answer our prayer in the way we ask Him to.  We tend to tell God what to do when it comes to the things we care about the most.  But is God NOT our servant.  He knows everything about us and loves us anyway.  And because God loves us, we can trust Him to take care of us without telling him how to do it. After all, He is all-knowing.  God may not give you the answer you are hoping for, but He will be with you through bad times and good times.

 

 

 

 

boy in sleeveless T with hand at mouth brick background

A Shocking Number of Children are Vulnerable | Spiritual Meditations

“It takes a village to raise a child”. This African proverb means that an entire community of people must interact with children for them to experience and grow in a safe environment.  My friends, Amanda and Nathan, took this to heart….then didn’t think it was enough.

Convicted by Their Faith in Jesus

My wife, Amanda, and I have been reading, learning, thinking, and praying about the great need that children have for a loving home, a stable environment, security, and support. Our hearts break when we see children enter into our “spheres of existence” who lack these things.

After getting to know a number of people, in very personal ways, who became foster parents, we found ourselves naturally reading about it. All of this noticing, learning, and reading led us directly to praying about it. Praying, “Lord, please raise up enough stable families for these children. Please call people who are willing and able to love those who need to be loved…”.

We started moving in directions that would lead us to a more direct influence on the lives of the children we know. Through our participation in youth sports leagues, Amanda’s job move to pediatrics, kids we know through the church, and mentoring at the high school, we noticed even more need. We had started to do something about it.

Yet in our reading, learning, thinking, and praying, we still felt this wasn’t enough. After doing everything we could think of to be involved and give back to the lives of the children who need it, we were finally convinced and convicted that we were called to do something more.  We then arrived at the decision to become foster parents and are nearing the end of the process of certification now.

When I talk about active discipleship, I like to think I’m talking about something I’m endeavoring to live out. I’ll be honest, there are times I preach something and it is born more out of self-examination than experience. Yet this is a time when I see a clear parallel in my life, because my wife and I both view this calling to fostering as being connected to our journey as disciples of Jesus.

Following Jesus, to us, means caring for the most vulnerable, feeding others, providing clothing for those who cannot clothe themselves, and so on. Is there a more tangible sign that we believe these things to be true, than fostering children….the children who Jesus cares for a great deal?

Active discipleship, to me, means putting the beliefs and faith I have (about who Jesus is, who Jesus loves, and what the church should believe) into action in my life at home. I don’t always get it right (just the other day I apologized to someone for not being gracious), but sometimes I hope I do. And I believe this might be one of those times.

Fostering isn’t for everyone. Heck, after we care for a few children it might not even be for us. But we all have ways in which we can be more intentional about putting our faith into action, about living out our faith while “on mission” in the world. I encourage you to examine yourself and ask how you are living your life on mission or how you might start in some area.

What would it look like to put some component of what you’ve learned and believe about Jesus into action? You might be surprised where it leads you, and you might just change a little part of the world to look more like heaven.

Pastor Nathan

Orphans – a Worldwide Crisis

This is one busy family making a difference in the lives of several vulnerable children. “It takes a village to raise a child”, so there is room for all of us to contribute and our village has become worldwide.  The IHH Humanitarian and Social Research Center produced a lengthy report in June 2018 that is overwhelming in its scope and implication.  Here are a few excerpts:

Wars, invasions, conflicts etc. are all crises which lead to an increase in the number of orphans. Currently, the crises prevailing in Eastern Turkistan, Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Somali, Mali, Sudan, Palestine, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Arakan, and Pattani leads to ever increasing numbers of orphans in these areas. Natural disasters also leave behind many orphans. The tsunami that hit South Asia, the earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan, and the drought in East Africa, have all left millions of children orphans.

11 countries with most orphans

Children account for one of every three asylum seekers in Europe. In 2016, more than 63,000 unaccompanied children reached Europe.  Since the outbreak of the refugee crisis following the war in Syria, 480,000 children have crossed the border into Greece. 5,174 of these were not accompanied by any adults.  During these exhausting journeys, the children are exposed to many problems such as violence and sexual abuse, whereas the greatest danger is that posed by human traffickers. According to studies, tens of thousands of the children, who had arrived in Europe after overcoming such major obstacles, were lost.  96,465 of all the children who filed asylum applications in European countries in 2015 are now unaccounted for.

Approximately 33% of the people in question in Germany, the country hit hardest by the flow of refugees towards Europe, are children.  According to a report published in 2017, more than 350,000 children who applied for asylum in Germany are housed at unsafe locations while reviews are pending, and many may be exposed to physical, psychological and sexual violence during that uncertain period.

In the first half of 2016, approximately 26,000 children, who reached the border of the US, were found to be unaccompanied by any adults.  In the US, approximately 3 million children strive to maintain a life without parents. Each year approximately 22,000 babies in the US are abandoned in hospitals, while 2,000 to 3,000 kids are left as orphans due one of the parents killing the other. 60% of these kids are assigned to foster families as a result of exposure to domestic violence and abuse, while a further 17% are assigned to foster parents due to the death, imprisonment, disability or illness of the parents. These studies reveal that the children living under such conditions have difficulties in adapting to the society, and often face violence, abuse, and ill treatment sometimes at the hands of foster families. As with the case of any orphan, these children also have difficulties in many areas of life, such as education.

Today, 153 million orphans are registered around the globe. Yet, estimates of the actual figure range above 400 million. This is because it is impossible to get an accurate count of the children who live on the streets or who have been kidnapped or conscripted.

street traffick soldiers graph

The Magnitude of Child Abuse

A UN report published in 2014 on global child abuse states that one out of every 10 girls suffer sexual abuse.  (See also Generations of Women Endure Abuse)  The report is based on data from 190 countries, and notes that in 2012, 95,000 children and teenagers were murdered.

This is the leading reason of death of boys aged 10-19 in Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela.

Reports produced by the UN again reveal that in 58 countries, 17% of children face severe physical punishments. Another noteworthy point raised in the report is the fact that three out of every 10 adults consider such punishment as a necessary element in raising a child.

child abuse stats

Conclusion

The numbers are overwhelming and make us feel helpless to make any improvement.  However, we are many and like the Butterfly Effect if we each make an effort to enhance the life of one child, it can result in a large difference overall.

The impact of child poverty, which is an alarming development for any country,  unfortunately, is usually permanent.  Consider the impact of many permanently damaged children, now adults, on our communities.  Like Nathan and Amanda, we can all do something to help grow healthy people.  If you are interested and unable to find a volunteer opportunity to make an impact in your community, please consider UNICEF.

Relevant Scripture:

1 John 3:18
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

2 Esdras 2:20
“Guard the rights of the widow, secure justice for the ward, give to the needy, defend the orphan, clothe the naked,

Matthew 10:42
“And if, as my representatives, you give even a cup of cold water to a little child, you will surely be rewarded.”

Matthew 18:10
“Beware that you don’t look down upon a single one of these little children. For I tell you that in heaven their angels have constant access to my Father.

Mark 9:37
“Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming my Father who sent me!”

statues of Christian Apostles on Roan building

15 Elusive Apostles Unlocked|Spiritual Meditations

More than historical names, the Apostles were real people with strengths and weaknesses, like you and me.

We often lump the first followers of Jesus into a group with few distinguishing characteristics. The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles present the facts and it takes some deduction to find the story behind the faces. These were real people, who made up a tiny, vulnerable group, often persecuted, and on fire with the Holy Spirit, making missionary efforts in major city centers. “The Apostles were the cutting edge, spreading the message across the vast trade networks of the ancient world and leaving small Christian communities in their path. The reach of science is limited, so much remains inconclusive. We must rely largely on legend and historical accounts” (National Geographic March 2012).

Jesus chose 12 Apostles, possibly paying homage to the 12 tribes of Israel. On this list of great original evangelists, I am including Mark, Paul and Luke, who, although not part of the 12, made huge contributions to spreading Christ’s good news to all parts of the world.

Theologians, Bible scholars and historians can tell us a little about them as people. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation available about some of these inspired men. We must assume that those who are not fully represented had similar experiences to those whose activities are better documented.

Inquisitive Andrew

Andrew was the first disciple. Because he had an enquiring mind, he was actively looking for the truth.

He was a fisherman, like his brother Peter, with whom he lived in the area of Bethsaida and Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. The two brothers were followers of John the Baptist and it was Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus. They became Jesus’ first followers.

Andrew had a very different personality from his brother. He was less impulsive, more approachable, a man who thought quite deeply. He had educated Greek friends who respected his opinion. Some of them asked to meet Jesus, and Andrew introduced them to Jesus and his ideas. He may have been something of a quiet intellectual among the group of people who formed Jesus’ core supporters. Every time Andrew is mentioned as an individual, it is because he is bringing someone to Jesus.

After the events described in the book of Acts, he is never mentioned again. According to tradition, Andrew spread the teachings of Jesus Christ in Greece and perhaps the area adjacent to the Red Sea, now Georgia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. He suffered martyrdom in Achaia (Greece), and was there crucified on the X shaped cross, now called St Andrew cross.

Outspoken Peter

Jesus gave some of his disciples a second name – Simon the fisherman was also Peter, the rock. No other man in the New Testament bears the name Peter.

Peter was a married man with children.  Andrew, his brother, and Peter’s mother-in-law, as well as his children lived with him.  It as possible the Mark the Evangelist (author of the book of Mark) also lived with him for a time.

Most of us find Peter to be likable – he was outgoing, gregarious, transparent and enthusiastic. Most important of all, he loved Christ. And Simon could be anything but a rock. He wasn’t dependable. Without God’s Spirit, he often spoke or acted in a way that would be inappropriate. His actions belied an underlying insecurity in spite of his outward confidence. He could be audacious, presumptuous and foolish.

Because he was impulsive and strong-willed, his faults were obvious. That’s what enables us to clearly see the contrast in his personality after he received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Because of this, Peter’s example and writings are a great inspiration. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter was no longer self-centered and vain. He sought to do all to the glory of God.

Peter’s first recorded sermon is related in Acts 1:15-22. Already we see an added dimension of sobriety, maturity, wisdom and knowledge of Scripture. With his second sermon in Acts 2, we see a mighty preacher of the gospel giving a focused and powerful masterpiece of a sermon.

When Peter and John were arrested, they were inspired and fearless in their testimony because they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). The officers “saw the boldness of Peter and John” and marveled (verse 13).

Peter’s humility and loving-kindness are evident all through his two epistles, I Peter and II Peter.

He was the first to invite non-Jews to join the early church. With John, he went to Samaria where, with laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit fell on the Samarian believers. He also toured in Judea.

With the opening of the door to the Gentiles and the spread of Christianity, Peter receded in the Biblical narrative and was last mentioned in connection with the Jerusalem conference where he championed the liberty of the Gentiles. It appears that Peter traveled widely, taking his wife with him, doubtless in Jewish evangelism. Tradition uniformly asserts that Peter went to Rome, that he labored there, and then in his old age suffered martyrdom under Nero. New Testament reference to the closing years of Peters life is found in John 21:18-19. Tradition says that he was crucified on an upside down cross at his request, as he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ.

Peter spread the good news to modern-day Turkey, Betania on the West Bank, Italy and Asia

Practical Phillip

Like nearly all of the apostles, Philip came from Bethsaida in Galilee, the region in the northern Israel were Jesus‘ ministry was centered. He was a good friend of Andrew and Peter who lived in the same fishing village. It is almost certain that he was first a disciple of John the Baptist, because Jesus called him near Bethany on the Jordan River where John was preaching.

It appears from the Apostle John’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, that Philip may have been in charge of the supplies and food, the road manager of sorts. He was the kind of guy who was practical, always thinking about the bottom line. And on this occasion, Jesus, trying to stretch Philip’s faith, posed a question to him as the crowd gathered:

“Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5). Philip responded, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (verse 7).

Philip didn’t do so well on that test. He didn’t have the most faith, but he was a follower of Jesus who was used by God.

Philip is known for bringing Gentiles to Jesus. His days after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are shrouded in legend and mystery, but the best tradition says that he did mission work in Asia Minor. The historian Eusebius says that he was a “great light of Asia” and that he was murdered, possibly by crucifixion, and buried in Hierapolis, which is in what is now South-Central Turkey.

Skeptical Bartholomew

Some believe he was also called Nathanael.

The one and only opportunity for Bartholomew to shine in scripture, comes in a very curious and intriguing passage found in John 1:43-51.

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me” Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses told in the law, and also the prophets wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

This passage is interesting for a variety of reasons. It reveals at least two important aspects of the apostle’s character–his relationships with other apostles, and his honest and sincere personality.

There is no further reference to him in the New Testament and the traditions concerning him are not trustworthy. He may have gone to Turkey, India and Armenia.

Ambitious James the Greater

It is thought that this James was called “the Greater”, to distinguish him from the other James, being either taller or older. His home was in Galilee, probably Bethsaida.

James he was a fisherman with his brother John and they may have been in partnership with Peter and Andrew early in the ministry of Jesus. They were the sons of Zebedee and Salome. Salome may have been Mary’s sister, making the sons cousins of Jesus.

From the reference to “hired servants” in the employee of Zebedee and the mention that Salome was one of the women who ministered to the needs of Jesus and his company, it may be inferred that the family was one of some means.

The Apostle James and his brother John were, in the beginning, hotheads. They received from Christ the name “Boanerges,” meaning “sons of thunder,” for their impetuosity. When they went with Jesus to a Samaritan city, they were spurned by the local residents and this angered James and John. They asked Jesus “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and consume them” (Luke 9:54)? Jesus rebuked them for their attitude (Luke 9:55) and said “the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56). This was not likely the only time that they lost their tempers.

Because of the ambitious self-seeking of James and John, they asking Jesus for a special place in his coming Kingdom, calling forth the wrath of the other apostles.

James occupied a prominent place among the apostles, and, with Peter and John, became a special confidant of Jesus. Only these three are present at the Transfiguration, at the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when the daughter of Jairus was raised from the dead. He was also present when Jesus appeared to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias after His ascension.

James was the first of the disciples to die.  In the year 44, the zealous temper of James and his leading part in the Jewish Christian communities, probably led King Herod Agrippa to choose him as his first Christian victim in his attempt to please the Jewish community. James preached in Judea and was beheaded in Jerusalem, although, some believe that he preached in Spain and was buried there.

The book of James is not attributed to him.

John, Transformed

John was a fisherman and the son of Zebedee and Salome and brother to James the Apostle.

The fact that John knew the high priest well enough to gain entrance to the court where Jesus was tried and could also get permission for Peter to enter, further reinforces the thinking that the family made a comfortable living.

John is introduced as a disciple of John the Baptist. One day as he stood with Andrew and John the Baptist, he heard John say as Jesus walked by “behold the Lamb of God“. The two disciples immediately followed Jesus. That day changed their lives and was so memorable, that many years later when John the Greater wrote his gospel, he still remembered that it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

During the course of the Lord’s ministry the experiences of John were common to all the apostles. There are, however, a few scenes in which he takes in important part. The Gospels makes it clear that he was one of the most prominent of the disciples. With the other two in the inner circle of the apostles, James and Peter, John was also chosen by Jesus to be present at the Transfiguration. They were nearest to Jesus during the agony in Gethsemane and the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

John had an explosive or fiery personality and could be over zealous to protect Jesus interest. Further, John and his brother offended the other Apostles because they and their mother asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in glory (cf. Mk 10:35-41).

However, John is known as the “Apostle of Love.” He really loved the church and always encouraged the brethren to love each other. John was brave enough to stand at the foot of the cross where Jesus was nailed, while all the other Apostles were still in hiding. John could also be trusted; he received Jesus’ commissioned from the cross to look after his (Jesus’) mother.

Five books of the New Testament are attributed John; the fourth gospel, three epistles, and Revelation. The only one in which he his name actually appears is the last.

Very likely the seven churches of Asia enjoyed his ministry. The book of Revelation was written on the small Greek isle of Patmos, where he was exiled for preaching the word of God as the testament of Jesus. Tradition says that he wrote his gospel in Asia at the request of Christian friends, and that he agreed to do so only after the church had fasted and prayed about the matter of three days.

It is evident from his Biblical writings that John was very aggressive in dealing with heresies in the church, while at the same time remaining very loving and gentle. He was a man who studied and knew the scriptures. Throughout his gospel he tells how Jesus fulfilled certain scriptures. In fact, John was so knowledgeable that he was able to call Jesus the “Word and the Word was God” (cf. John 1:1).

John was described as the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, no doubt because of his understanding of and love of his Lord. The defects of character with which he began his career as an Apostle –intolerance, and selfishness – were in the course of time brought under control, until he became especially known for his gentleness and kindly love.

John was a man of prayer. In his golden years, the historian Eusebius reports that John was still a mighty intercessor and he was considered a sacred priest devoted to God (Eusebius, 106, 107, 116, Roberson, 2).

John was the last survivor and died peacefully in Ephesus about year 100.

Matthew was Scorned

Since double names were common among the Jews, there can be little doubt that Levi and Matthew (meaning “Gift of God”) were one in the same person. He was the son of Alphaeus and as a tax collector, he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek and skilled in record keeping and writing.

Jesus met him at the tax office in Capernaum and called him to be one of his disciples. Society was shocked when Jesus dined with Levi because he was a  tax collector, and therefore, an outcast. Under the Roman Empire’s system, Levi would have paid all the taxes in advance, and then collected from the citizens and travelers to reimburse himself. Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt because they extorted far and above what was owed, to ensure their personal profit. Because Roman soldiers enforced their decisions, no one dared object.

The readiness with which Levi responded to Jesus’ call seems to indicate that he had previously encountered Jesus and his teachings and had already decided to dedicate his life to his cause.

In addition, he must have been a man of deep spiritual conviction. This is revealed by his concern for his former colleagues, whom he invited to a dinner at his home, Jesus being the honored guest. No doubt, his purpose was to win these men to Christ.

Matthew seems to have accompanied Jesus in his ministry up to the time of the Last Supper. After Jesus’ death, Matthew retreated to the Galilee (Matt. 28:16), where he became one of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Later, he was among the apostles in Jerusalem said to be present at the Ascension and the election of another “Matthew” (Matthias) to replace Judas Iscariot among the Twelve (Acts 1:10-14).

The Gospel ascribed to him does not claim to be written by “Matthew,” but he has been characterized as its author since the second century. Modern scholarship now doubts that he was in fact the writer of this work.

It is thought that Matthew preached the Gospel to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries – possibly Ethiopia, Persia, Macedonia, and Syria.

There is wide disagreement in the sources as to the place of Matthew’s martyrdom and the manner of his death, which is variously reported as being by burning, stoning, stabbing, or beheading. According to the historian Hippolytus, Matthew died at Hierees, a town of Parthia (near modern day Tehran in Iran)

Mysterious James the Lesser

The Bible reveals very little about James the Lesser – only that he is a son of Alphaeus. He is usually identified as the brother of Joses and son of Mary. Since Matthew/Levi is also called the son of Alpheus, it is possible that he and James were brothers.

There are only a few Biblical verses about James the Lesser and what he did for the early church. He was one of the Apostles who witnessed Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7), a confidante of Peter when he was on the run from Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:17), and later rose to prominence in the church along with the other apostles (Acts 15; 21:18; Galatians 2:9).

The writer of the epistle of James refers to himself only as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” As many as six different men in the Bible are named James and there is little consensus as to who wrote the book.

According to Roman historian Eusebius and Hippolytus, James became the bishop of Jerusalem and was killed by a Jewish mob. He was thrown down from a parapet and clubbed to death after he refused to abandon the Christian faith – all the time praying for his attackers. He was possibly buried beside the temple.

Matthias the Replacement

Peter wanted to maintain 12 disciples after Judas’ death and developed two qualifications that were necessary in the replacement. First, the new Apostle must be someone who had been a follower of Jesus from his Baptism to his Ascension. Second, it had to be someone who had witnessed Christ’s Resurrection. The choice came down to two men: Joseph, who was sometimes called “Joseph the Just,” and Matthias. Both men were qualified, so the disciples drew lots. This means that they made their decision by drawing or pulling a marked piece of straw or cloth from a bundle. Matthias was the winner. The Bible does not give us any information about him after his selection to the Twelve.

Nothing certain is known of his career or subsequent to his appointment. Various traditions have developed to fill in the details of the future ministry of Matthias. One says that he evangelized in Ethiopia, where he was stoned to death. Another says that Matthias traveled to Damascus and later died in Judea. A third tradition says that he spent most of his time in Jerusalem, where he eventually died and was buried.

Paul, Inspired Traveler

Paul was born in the busy first century Greco Roman city of Tarsus, which is located on the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea, now Turkey. Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul. The change to the Greek name Paul, was timely as he entered upon this position of leadership in bringing the gospel to the Gentile world. Providentially, three elements of the world’s life of that day-Greek culture, Roman citizenship, and Hebrew religion-met in this Apostle of the Gentiles.

Tarsus was a trading center, known for its manufacture of goats’ hair, and here Paul learned the trade of tent making.

His Gentile connections greatly aided his ability to bridge the chasm between the Gentiles and the Jews, but of central significance was his strong Jewish heritage. His racial affinity with the Jews enabled Paul to begin his missionary labors, in each city, at the synagogue. Born of parents of Jewish blood, the son of a Pharisee, he was cradled in Orthodox Judaism.

He made his first appearance as a “young man “, probably at least 30 years old and already an acknowledged leader in Judaism. He actively opposed Christianity making him an enthusiastic leader of the persecution that arose upon the death of Stephen.

At Damascus the transforming crisis occurred. Repeatedly he refers to it as the work of divine grace, transforming him and commissioning him as Christ messenger. When the supernatural Being identify himself as “Jesus persecuted“, Paul at once saw the error of his ways and surrendered instantaneously and completely.

In assembling an approximate chronology of the apostle’s labor, Ramsay calculated that Paul was converted around A.D. 34, and likely was executed at Rome about A.D. 67. If this dating is accurate, the apostle’s earthly life and labors spanned some thirty-three years.

Paul was a skilled traveler. In the December 1956 issue of the National Geographic Magazine, there appeared an article entitled, “In the Steps of Paul.” The authors, who did  considerable research on Paul’s travels, estimated that his missionary endeavors consumed some twelve thousand miles, some by ship on the Mediterranean Sea, and across the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. In addition, hundreds of miles were traversed by land. He visited approximately fifty cities in his evangelistic endeavors (McRay 2003, 11).

Yet within the thirteen epistles known to have been written by Paul, and penned over an era of maybe just under twenty years, there is no complaint of fatigue, no whimpering at the hardships, no disappointment expressed of having been “crucified with Christ,” or of wasted years, or lack of family, wealth, or fame—just adulation. There was the simple joy in serving his Lord, and for the blessed hope of life to come. Paul could not be budged from his resolute course.

map of the journeys of the apostle Paul

“Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles par excellence, so much so that the church became predominantly Gentile by the end of the first century” (Ferguson 2005, 37).

Paul had a basic understanding of himself as a sinner with all other human beings, and he accepted responsibility for his sins. Yet he was extraordinarily confident in three things:

  1. the importance of the work he was called to do,
  2. the benefit of the gospel to all those he approached, and
  3. the authorization that he had from God for his message.

This confidence came from two sources – from the scriptures, in which he believed completely, and from his personal encounter with Jesus in the road to Damascus. In addition, he did not hesitate to express himself in strong language when he felt strongly about a particular issue.

He was executed at Rome in late AD 66 or early 67. Tradition says he was beheaded on the Ostien Way.

Obscure Simon the Zealot

The most obscure of the Apostles, Simon was the son of Clopas, and was also called Jude. His title may be a reference to his political affiliation, although there are some translations which indicate the meaning of Zealot to be ‘jealous’ or ‘zealous’. Later accounts depict him as a missionary to Persia, where he was murdered; either crucified or sawed in half, but this is not definitive.

According to the historian Hippolytus, Simon the Zealot became the second bishop of Jerusalem, after James the Just. He died in his sleep and was buried in Jerusalem at the age of 120 years.

Little-Known Thaddaeus

Thaddeus was also known as Labbaeus or Jude. His name is included in only 2 of the 4 gospels lists of disciples.

We know that Thaddeus, like other disciples, preached the gospel in the years following the death of Jesus. Tradition holds that he did so in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya, possibly alongside Simon the Zealot.

According to eastern tradition, he founded a church and converted the city of Edessa after healing its king. Church tradition holds that he was crucified there as a martyr. One legend suggests he died in Persia because he was executed by an ax or club and these weapons, typical in Persia at the time, are often shown in artworks depicting Thaddeus.

After his execution, his body may have been taken to Rome and placed in St. Peter’s Basilica, where his bones remain to this day, interred in the same tomb with the remains of Simon the Zealot.

Ancient historians agree that he died at Berytus (Lebanon, near Syria and Turkey), and was buried there. Armenians, however, for whom St. Jude is the patron saint, believe that Thaddeus’ remains are interred in an Armenian monastery.

Probing Thomas

The Apostle Thomas (Hebrew or Aramaic for “twin”) was also called “Didymus” (Greek for “twin”). Little is recorded of Thomas the Apostle. He was probably born in Galilee to a humble family, but there is no indication that he was a fisherman. He was a Jew, but there is no account of how he became an Apostle to Christ.

Thomas was courageous, willing to stand by Jesus in dangerous times. He also relentlessly sought the Truth; constantly asking questions. In addition, his wonderful profession, “My Lord and my God,” is the clearest declaration of Jesus’ divinity in Holy Scripture.

Famously, Thomas is remembered for being absent from the Upper Room the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection. Thomas dismissed the accounts of the others by saying, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (Luke 20:25). Eight days later Thomas made his act of faith. He fell at the feet of Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God!” and Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe” (John 20:25-29). This incident gave rise to the expression “doubting Thomas.”

Thomas, Reluctant Missionary

According to the Acts of Thomas, one of the New Testament apocrypha written in the city of Edessa, the apostles divided the world for their missionary labors, and India fell to Thomas. However, Thomas claimed that he was not healthy enough and that a Hebrew could not teach Indians.  Even a vision of Christ could not change his mind. Therefore, Christ appeared to a merchant and sold Thomas to him as a slave for his master, a king who ruled over part of India.

One story suggests that Thomas offered to build a palace for the Indian king that would last forever. The king gave him money, which Thomas gave to the poor. Asked to show his progress, Thomas explained that the palace he was building was in heaven, not on earth.

Ultimately, after giving into God’s will, Thomas was freed from slavery and planted seeds for the new Church, forming many parishes and building many churches along the way.

Many historians believe that Thomas did indeed land on the palm-lined coast of Kerala on a site now called Cranganore. Here’s he is reported to have established seven churches – the first in AD 52.

Thomas is said to have raise the first cross in India and performed one of his earliest miracles when he encountered a group of Brahmins throwing water into the air as part of a ritual. He asked why the water fell back to earth if it was pleasing to their deity. “My God”, Thomas said, “would except such an offering”. He then flung a great spray into the air, and the droplets hung there in the form of glistening white blossoms. Most onlookers convert it on the spot, the rest fled.

Although, accounts of Thomas’ missionary activities are unreliable, the most widely accepted report holds that though he was reluctant to start the mission. he went east through what is now Syria then Iran. Historians believe he then traveled to Southern India. He traveled further than any of the other 12 Apostles and represents, most profoundly the missionary zeal associated with the rise of Christianity.

To this day,  Thomas is venerated as the Apostle of India. In fact, there exists a population of Christians on the western coast of India, who lay claim to conversion by Thomas. Their tradition holds that he was martyred during prayer by a spearing on the “Big Hill” near Madras, and was buried in Mylapore, on the east coast of India. Thomas’ remains may have been transported to Ortona, Italy, although some say he is still buried in Inda.

The following two famous authors, although not generally considered to be Apostles,  were disciples of Christ, and instrumental in broadcasting the Good News.  They cannot be omitted from any list of original Christian evangelists.

Mark, First Gospel Author

One of Christ’s 70 disciples, his original name was John and his surname was Mark. He was mentored by Peter, who was his likely source for writing the second gospel-the Book of Mark.

Mark was born in Cyrene of Jewish parents, near the western border of Egypt and his date of birth is unknown.  His parents, Aristopolos his father and Mary his mother, migrated to Palestine shortly after his birth because of the Berber attacks on their town and property. They settled in Cana of Galilee not far from Jerusalem.

A few years later Mark’s father died and Simon Peter, who was married to a relative of Mark’s father took care of Mark and considered him a son. Peter saw to it that St. Mark got a good education, studying law and the classics.

Church Traditions state that Mary, Mark’s mother, was an admirer of Jesus Christ and followed Him everywhere and that Mark was one of the attendants who served at the feast in Cana of Galilee where Jesus turned the water into wine.

Mark traveled with Barnabas and Paul on many religious missions, during which he founded the Church of Alexandria Egypt and established the Coptic faith. He died circa 68 A.D. in Alexandria. In the 9th century, some of his relics were relocated to Venice Italy where he had been adopted as their patron saint.

Luke, Loyal Companion

Many scholars believe that Luke was a Greek physician who lived in the Greek city of Antioch, Turkey. Other believe that, based on Colossians 4:10–11, 14, Luke may have been a Gentile.

A gentle physician who joined Paul‘s mission, Luke chronicled the development of the early church in the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He, therefore, contributed over a quarter of the text of the New Testament.

In Acts, Luke wrote in both the first and third person, indicating that he may have lived in Troas and was in the company of Paul when Paul was in Troas. The composition of the writings, as well as the range of vocabulary used, indicate that the author was an educated man

Based on his accurate description of towns, cities and islands, as well as correctly naming various official titles, archaeologist Sir William Ramsay wrote that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… [he] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” Professor of Classics at Auckland University, E.M. Blaiklock,

Luke followed Paul until his [Paul’s] martyrdom. In II Timothy 4, Paul wrote that Luke alone remains with him as he sat in prison awaiting his execution.

Luke was an evangelist, a historian, a physician, a pastor, a missionary, a companion, a brother, and a theologian. Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that he was also the first icon painter. He did not write a gospel for fame or recognition, which is why he does not mention his own name in either of the books he wrote. His goal in writing a gospel was to document the exact truth concerning Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation.

Luke died at age 84 in Boeotia Greece. His tomb was located in Thebes Greece, from which his relics were transferred to Constantinople, modern day Istanbul Turkey, in the year 357.

map of mediterranean Click here to see how Christianity spread during the first 1000 years.

IT IS SO COOL.  There is a second video that covers the 2nd 1000 years at the same site.  FASCINATING.

You can skip the ad.

Conclusion

The original Christian evangelists were a brave group, each with his unique set of strength and weaknesses. Although God assisted them in their endeavors, most endured arduous travel conditions and they all endured constant persecution. They would have missed their families, due to travel that could last for years. The dangers of the road required that they evangelize in pairs so their travel companions and converts became the closest thing they had to family. Although, inspired and motivated with the joy of the Holy Spirit, they deserve our greatest admiration and gratitude for the sacrifices they made.

If you are aware of additional information regarding the personal lives of the Apostles, please let me know and refer me to your reference.  I’m interested.

References:

The Coptic Orthodox Church Network (http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/synexarion/mark.html)

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church (http://www.stapostle.org/st-thomas-church-parish-history/saint-thomas-biography/)

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/)

Crosswalk.com (https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/5-things-to-know-about-luke-from-the-bible.html)

National Geographic March 2012 edition

Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Southwestern Company

The Bible

St Paul by Litsa Hadjifoti, Michael Toubis Publications