‘A Christian who struggled to pray’
Simon Orojian’s journey of discovering a shared Way of Life
Simon works as Digital Experience Manager for the Grow Course at The Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication (CCX) in London. He tells us about his journey of beginning to adopt a shared Way of Life as a tool for growing in discipleship.
I grew up in the suburbs of Paris next to Disneyland. My parents were missionaries. I was baptised as a 10-year-old but struggled in my Christian life through my teenage years and into university. I used to describe myself as a Christian who struggled to pray. We all do, don’t we? I thought that was just how it was.
I always had my Christian heroes – like the generous, forgiving bishop in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I wanted to display those same kinds of virtues, but it didn’t look like happening anytime soon. Through university I was struggling really to know what to believe.
When I arrived in London during lockdown, I threw myself wholeheartedly into church and my Christian life. But I still had no idea what spiritual growth really looked like. Coming from an Evangelical tradition I’d always known how to become a Christian; what prayer to pray; how to be ‘saved’. But I had no real idea what to strive towards once you are a Christian. Apart from striving towards helping other people become Christians!
Attending the Discipleshift Conference that took place in London in November 2022 really brought about a complete shift in my thinking and more importantly in my actions when it came to discipleship.
There were a number of excellent talks including an introduction to the Diocese of London’s Way of Life resources for deepening discipleship in our church communities. It emphasises churches adopting concrete spiritual practices as a way of embodying spiritual life together.
A couple of really important insights began to emerge for me.
First, that actions are more important than beliefs.
I’d spent a long time thinking that the thing that made you a good Christian was believing the right things. But here was a model that emphasized a ‘way’ of following and imitating Christ. Doing the things he did in order to become more like him. Here was a new goal and a new way of achieving it. Things I could practice. A training programme to become more like those heroes I looked up to.
I started looking deeply at spiritual practices and landed on seven that I found in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount: prayer, fasting, giving, scripture, sabbath, community and witness.
I realised that I couldn’t embark upon this journey on my own. At the time I was part of a small men’s group at church. There were 3 or 4 of us and I asked if they would go on a journey together with me exploring a Way of Life embodied by these spiritual practices. We changed the name of the group from ‘Iron men’ to ‘Apprentices of Jesus’ and started. The group has now grown to 40!
The other really important insight was that spiritual growth comes from the centre outwards. A lot of discipleship models talk about three concentric layers or movements: from worship, to community, to the world. The Way of Life resource talks about – Staying with God – Sharing the Journey – Serving the World.
I always thought that my first responsibility, having become a Christian, was to witness to the world. Help others become Christians. But I was a Christian who struggled to pray! I was trying to do that outward layer when I had no core, no spiritual life to speak of at the time. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is book ended with the call to community and witness but at the centre is the foundational call to be close to our Father in heaven and practices for how to do that: prayer and generosity and fasting. None of these things come naturally to us. But this Christian, who struggles to pray began to adopt, with the support of others, some prayer practices – silent prayer, breath prayer… and others. Because prayer takes practice. You have to pray to learn to pray. And I am learning to pray.
I have often felt that I struggle to live a sane life in this complex world. What I am finding is that these seven shared discipleship practices are like foundation points; pillars to both fall back on and build on. So, when I’m too busy, I can practice sabbath. When I’m too overwhelmed, I can pray. When I’m too lonely, I try and practice community. And when there is too much excess in my life, I can fast and remember that God is all I need.
I am growing muscles! I’m discovering a shared Way of Life.