Tools for the journey

Published 1:04 pm Saturday, May 9, 2015

by Andrew Book

Last weekend, the Courtland United Methodist Church confirmation class went on a retreat. A confirmation class is a group of youth who are exploring Christian faith and trying to decide for themselves if they are ready to commit to following Jesus and joining the community of the church. As part of their exploration, we took some time apart to talk about faith, to worship and figure out how to thrive on this journey of faith.

As we spent Saturday afternoon exploring prayer, we talked about the Lord’s Prayer (the prayer Jesus taught in Matthew 6:9-13) and we practiced “breath prayers” (short prayers that you can offer in the space of one breath). Then we made prayer beads. Making prayer beads is not the usual way to teach about prayer, but they provide a great tool to help us focus on prayer. Prayer beads help those of us whose minds tend to wander in prayer by giving us a focus for each portion of our prayer to help keep us focused and remind us what to pray for next. The prayer beads we made have beads for “Praising and thanking God,” “Concerns for the world,” “Those we love and struggle to love,” “Desert of faith (what we are struggling with in our faith),” a time of silence and more. I have found my new prayer beads are a great tool to guide my prayers and help me focus on God.

Making prayer beads has led me to reflecting on how important it is for us to have tools to help us thrive in the areas of life we are focused on. One of my hobbies is woodworking. The tools I use for everything from designing to cutting, sanding and finishing are what allow me to enjoy woodworking. Without those tools, I would not be able to do much. The same is true for many areas of life. We would not expect to thrive in school without books or a teacher. We wouldn’t expect to increase our basketball skills if we did not have a ball and hoop. No one would try to pave a road without a truck, put out a fire without a hose, or fly across country without a plane.

There are very few, if any, areas of life where we don’t find the right tools to complete the goals we have set for ourselves. The life of faith is no different. If we are serious about growing in faith, we need to invest in the tools which will allow us to grow. Going all the way back to the first Christians, the church has developed different tools to help people grow in faith. One of the earliest, the “Ichthus,” is a simple fish made out of two curved lines. “Ichthus” is actually the Greek word for fish and the early church used it as an acronym. It is hard to translate to English, but here is what the Ichthus stood for in Greek:


Ch (one letter in Greek)-Christ

Th (also one letter)-God’s



The Ichthus was a tool that reminded them who Jesus was. It reminded them that Jesus fed the crowds miraculously with a few small fish and reminded them that Jesus came to a bunch of fishermen and said, “follow me.” Those fishermen became Jesus’ first disciples, making a fish into a tool to remember that God calls normal people to follow Jesus.

At our Saturday evening worship on the Confirmation Retreat, I invited the group to consider Jesus’ simple invitation to those fishermen: “Follow Me.” I offered each of them an ichthus as a tool to remind them that Jesus was inviting them to follow. I am happy to say that they all embraced both the tool and the journey — now I pray that those tools will help them on the journey of faith that has only just begun.

Whatever goals you have in life, I hope you will find the right tools to help you reach those goals. If your goals include growing in your faith, I pray that you will find what you need to focus your thoughts and prayers, train your mind, and guide your hands into a life of following Jesus. If there is any way I can help you find the tools you need, please let me know!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or