Feeling worn down? – Andrew Price

“And he will speak against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One”

Daniel 7:25 NASB

Feeling worn down? – Andrew Price

There’s more than one way to win a war.  Sometimes when an all-out assault won’t work, a war of attrition might be more effective. Through persistent attacks over a period of time, little by little, an opponent’s morale as well as their strength can be worn away until eventually they capitulate.  Instead of being defeated by direct overwhelming force, an opponent’s resources and will to win are steadily eroded until they can fight no longer.  

We know that Satan can be like a roaring lion, using fear and intimidation to attack us.  We also know that he can appear as an angel of light, trying to disguise wrong as right, death as life.  But he has another way, more subtle and often more effective.  He wears us down.  

Our position as children of God is so strong.  After all, if God is for us, who can be against us? Equipped with God’s word and standing shoulder to shoulder with other believers, we can resist and overcome the temptations and accusations our enemy hurls at us. But our enemy’s attacks aren’t always obvious, and instead of trying to land one massive knockout punch he may be happy to probe and land little jabs here and there, until we are so tired and bruised we can’t go on.  

Daniel – Integrity in a godless culture

The quote at the start of this article is from the book of Daniel.  Daniel had been forcibly taken into exile.  His people were defeated; their promised land had been lost.  He lived and worked in the greatest city of the time, confronted every day by evidence of the immense wealth and power of Babylon.  The intended message was clear:  Babylon and its gods are supreme.  From the start of his career in Babylon, Daniel was under pressure to submit and conform to the pagan culture that surrounded him.  Sometimes the pressure was direct and life threatening, but there was also a more subtle continuous pressure aimed at wearing him down.  “Why do you worship a God who couldn’t save his people?”, Daniel’s masters may have asked, “can’t you see that our Gods are winning?”.  We in the West might feel some sympathy with Daniel.  A godless culture is in the ascendancy, and Christians are portrayed as losers or bigots.  Government, media and the educational system are increasingly influenced by secular or even anti-Christian ideas and the pressure to conform or despair is relentless.  What can we learn from Daniel?  In Chapter 6, we find that he prayed three times a day, and that he still did this even when it could cost him his life.  The disciplines of prayer and scripture reading are an anchor to reality and a space for hearing God.  And God certainly spoke.  He spoke through scripture, dreams, visions and angelic messengers.  This regular communication with heaven was a lifeline for Daniel, keeping him rooted in truth and life.  We also find that he prayed towards Jerusalem, the city of God.  His orientation was always toward God’s Kingdom.  His refusal to compromise, his devotion to the disciplines of prayer, fasting and scripture, and his awareness of the unseen realm kept him faithful to the end.  Today, the people of Daniel’s God are growing even in the most hostile of environments while Babylon and its gods are just a memory. 

Solomon – when desire defeats wisdom

Solomon was less successful.  At the start he had everything including wisdom and wealth.  Despite all this, Solomon ended his life following other gods.  1 Kings chapter 11 tells us what happened.  Solomon disobeyed God.  He married women from the surrounding pagan nations – against God’s instruction – and eventually they turned his heart to other Gods.  Why did he take this disastrous course?   It seems his desire overrode his wisdom.  I wonder if he thought he could handle the temptation presented by these wives.  I wonder if he said to himself  “I’m the king, I’m so wise, I’m so powerful, these laws don’t really apply to me”.  Certainly it seems that people in positions of power are prone to see themselves as above the rules that apply to others.  Sadly even Christian leaders, misled by their pride, sometimes disobey God’s clear commands.  And when leaders allow themselves to be put on a pedestal, this limits the chances of anyone challenging their foolish behaviour.  Solomon was wise but became foolish, allowing himself to be worn down by putting himself into temptation. 

Ephesus – activity without love

In Revelation we find a whole church that had been worn down.  When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, sometime between 53 and 62AD, they had a reputation for faith and love.  But around 30 years later, in the book of Revelation, Jesus is rebuking them for their lack of love.  We don’t know exactly what happened in the intervening years but we do know that when Revelation was written, they were working hard, enduring suffering and seeing through the deceptions of false apostles, all good and praiseworthy things.  But they had lost the love they had when Paul wrote to them as a young church.  By then, Paul and his generation were gone.  The Church was still going and, on the surface, still strong.  But the fervent love that had been their first response to God’s saving love and mercy had gone.  And without love, as Paul wrote elsewhere, they were nothing.   

Churches can do many good things, but without love they are empty.  Hard work and resilience only benefit if they are animated by love for God and our neighbour.  Sound teaching and discernment are essential but without love, useless. The radical love of the first generation had given way to the loveless work of the second. Churches must engage with the world around them, but without God’s love as the motivator, they are no different to any other social service agency.  As generation gives way to generation, we must make sure that, above all, love is our legacy.  

Learning from their example

What can we take from all of this?  None of us want to lose our edge or be worn down into irrelevance.  No Church wants to find that, despite their training programmes, social justice projects and well-run meetings, they have lost the love that make them worthwhile. Daniel’s refusal to compromise and his devotion to prayer and scripture are an important message to us as we live in an age which wants to squeeze our faith into a tiny private corner of our lives where its explosive truth cannot offend our intolerant culture.  Even when it was likely to cost him not just his job but his life, Daniels’ faith was lived out in public.  Although discipline like Daniel’s is unfashionable, having a routine of prayer and study means that even when we don’t feel like it, we make time to hear God.  And it’s probably when we don’t feel like it that we most need to hear him.    

Solomon’s tragic fall teaches us that humility and obedience are for all of us, without exception.  If we flirt with temptation or fool ourselves that we can ignore what scripture says about how we should live, we will find ourselves in thrall to other gods, such as public approval or career success.  

Above all let’s nurture love.  Love, first for Jesus and also for each other.  If we lose our joy, affection and gratitude to God it’s only a matter of time before we are worn down.  Even in the busiest day, making time to be grateful, and to worship is vital. Our Church community has adopted the discipline of breaking bread every day.  It’s a biblical and practical way of remembering the unlimited love that Jesus has for us and his promise of a new creation.  

Activation

Do you feel worn down?  Take a moment to reflect.  Remember your first love for Jesus, your response to the one who gave up everything for us.  Consciously lay everything on the altar – your work, your relationships, your dreams, and your worries – and worship him just as you are.  He will not reject you.  If he brings to your attention things you need to turn from, trust him.  He knows what is best for you.  Then tell a trusted fellow-disciple what you’ve done and ask them to hold you accountable.  Even though you may feel weak and worn out, God will renew you.  

“Create in me a clean heart, O God

And renew a steadfast spirit within me

Do not cast me away from your presence

And do not take your Holy Spirit from me

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

And sustain me with a willing spirit” 

Psalm 51

The Bible says we shouldn’t worry, even in times like these, here’s how you do that – Roanna Day

The Bible says we shouldn’t worry, even in times like these, here’s how you do that – Roanna Day

A colleague of mine just had her car broken into because she had hand sanitiser on display. Fear has crept its way into the throne room in so many lives and we as the church have to figure out a way to live differently. To be peaceful in the storm; unafraid in the face of a panic. 

Bill Johnson says any storm you sleep through is a storm you have authority over. So; how are you sleeping at the moment? How’s your mental health? When was the last time you relaxed your shoulders and took a deep, long breath? How many extra bags of pasta did you add to your last Ocado order? 

We have a heavenly responsibility to respond and not to react, to move to a different rhythm than that of the rest of the world and it’s times like these when that call becomes just that bit harder. 

Our job is laid out clearly in Matthew: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Do not be anxious. Do not worry. This is non negotiable! Matthew doesn’t write: “It’s fine to worry as long as you pray a lot too.” Or, “go ahead and worry, just make sure you’ve donated to your local food bank.” The message is; do not be anxious. 

Admittedly, this is a touch challenging. I look at my immunosuppressed dad and can’t help but think of what will happen if he contracts coronavirus. I cradle my newborn daughter and worry about how she would survive a high temperature. I wonder whether I’ve washed my hands thoroughly enough, did I remember the back of my thumbs? Suddenly door handles, light switches and TV remotes loom, germ-ridden and passed so easily between me, my dad, my husband. They’ve probably got some baby sick on too! How on earth do I keep everyone safe? Quick! I better order some more bleach. 

“Here’s the hard truth: you determine whether you worry or feel anxious or not.”

Here’s the hard truth: you determine whether you worry or feel anxious or not. Not the situation, not anyone else, not the coronavirus. You. Whether we worry or not is decided by what we turn our focus to, what we fill our ‘house’ with, what we pour over and what we empower in our lives. 

Later on in Matthew we get a glimpse into how we can live a worry-free life: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

‘Come to me’ says Jesus. Come and I will give you rest. This liberating invitation from our Father God is the key to a worry-free life. It’s the thrumming heartbeat of our faith and in moments like this, it’s our lifeline. 

There is no caveat to this invitation. This applies in times of war and famine, in times of joy and celebration and in times of loo roll shortages and obsessive hand-washing. Whatever the day, whatever it is you’re carrying, take it to Jesus and he will give you rest. That’s a promise. 

“Whatever the day, whatever it is you’re carrying, take it to Jesus and he will give you rest. That’s a promise.” 

The other strategy to overcoming anxious thoughts is found in Psalm 34. Verse 14 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it”. This verse echoes the command in Matthew when you remember that Jesus is called Prince of Peace. Peace is a person, peace is Jesus Christ and so peace is the presence of Jesus Christ. Taking a touch of creative liberty you can rework the Psalm’s instruction into this: “Seek Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Pursue him and he will give you rest.” 

David gives us another clue to peaceful living in the opening of this beautiful Psalm “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.”

How does David stay peaceful? How does he find rest in the storm? How does he bring himself to the feet of Jesus in valley seasons? Through praise, constant praise. 

I hate to pile the pressure on, but, it is our birthright and responsibility to be peaceful every single day. Our King commands it! Thankfully He handed over the blueprint for peaceful living:

  • Run to Jesus
  • Constant praise

“It is our birthright and responsibility to be peaceful every single day.”

If you’re thinking “that’s all well and good but how do I actually do those things?” then here are some practical tips, inspired by my own journey to peacefulness, to get you started… 

Watch what you consume: what you focus on has power. Watch things that make you laugh, meditate on God’s beautiful creation, read the Bible, listen to a church podcast, catch up with a faith-filled friend. I’m not saying you can’t watch *that* true crime drama but take note of how you feel before and after and just try and tip the scales towards consuming things that provoke joy over fear. 

Stay grateful: a few times a day thank God for a couple of the blessings in your life. This is such an easy way to switch your heart posture from fear to joy. Things I’m grateful for today? Our coffee machine, blooming daffodils and being able to exercise again. 

Listen to worship music: as much as you can, fill your house and your headphones with worship music. Yes, you will know every Bethel song off by heart, yes they all have the same four chords but no, it doesn’t matter. Worship music changes the atmosphere around you and it recalibrates your mind, spirit and soul too. I wouldn’t have survived this season without it. 

Being peaceful in times like these takes effort and discipline but it’s so worth it. It means you sleep soundly at night, it means you become a safe space for others and importantly, it means you become a blazing advert for the goodness of God.

Go meet with Jesus and tell him all about it, a great night’s sleep awaits. 

If God’s going to love me whatever I do, why would I bother fasting? – Andrew Price

If God’s going to love me whatever I do, why would I bother fasting? – Andrew Price

When I talk with other Christians about spiritual disciplines, one question keeps coming up.  But we’re saved by grace aren’t we?  Isn’t this all a bit legalistic, isn’t it just an effort to earn God’s love?  If God loves me whatever I do, why do I need to do any of this?  But this sort of question is based on a fundamental misunderstanding.  Let me explain.

I became a Christian at a time when the UK church was beginning to rediscover that the Holy Spirit, and gifts like tongues and prophecy, were not confined to the pages of scripture but were for today.  I was saved into a house church where we put into practice what we read about in the early church: meeting in homes, no clergy/laity divide, and authentic relationships that went beyond the Sunday meeting.  We sang new songs, we evangelised on buses and we rejected everything that smacked of dead religion and cold legalism.  I have very few regrets about this but one baby that we threw out with the bathwater was spiritual disciplines. 

We obviously didn’t need what older Christians called quiet times.  We were so excited about God that we just prayed whenever we wanted.  Reading your Bible everyday? That sounded so legalistic.  We could read it whenever we felt led to. And of course when we were excited about God, for instance at a big church conference, we prayed, praised and read our bibles like there was no tomorrow.  But on Monday, back in school or back in work, we somehow didn’t feel so excited.  And when we were tired, bored or busy our focus on God took a hit.  Our highs were high, but our lows were subterranean.  We were a little like on/off dieters, a good sermon would keep us praying and thinking about God for days, rejecting all temptation, but gradually the impetus wore off and all our free time was spent in front of the TV with our minds switched off. 

“Seek God when you feel like it…and when you don’t.” 

But the Holy Spirit is a patient teacher.  Over a period of years I began to rediscover what Christians from other times and other cultures could have told me.  Seek God when you feel like it…and when you don’t.  Deliberately build practices like bible reading, prayer and worship into your life or other things will always fill up your time.   This doesn’t conflict with spontaneous, in-the-moment God thoughts.  It’s not an either/or issue.  In reality it makes it more likely that we will hear God and know what to do when he speaks.  

Do spiritual disciplines conflict with grace?

We didn’t, can’t and won’t ever earn or deserve what Jesus did for us by his death and resurrection.  God’s sending of Jesus was motivated by love[1], not duty or debt.  In just the same way that the Israelites did not earn their release from slavery in Egypt, we did not earn the rescue from sin and death that Jesus achieved for us. Paul reminds us that it was while we were sinners[2] and rebels that Jesus died for us. It was pure, undeserved grace from a God who is love.  We receive this gift through faith[3], not by good behaviour, and it stays that way.  The most spiritually gifted, mature, holiest Christian is as dependent on grace as the murderer who has just cried out to God.  We can approach a holy God. We have been freely forgiven!

But to borrow an image from Wesley, if salvation is a house, why would we stay in the porch? There is always more love, more grace, more revelation to receive.  This is where we can enjoy the benefits of spiritual disciplines.  Their purpose is not to try and make God love or forgive us, he already loves us and has already forgiven us, their purpose is to enable us to better enjoy his grace and his love.  Whether or not we practice spiritual disciplines we are still saved and God still loves us.  The difference, as one writer puts it, is our ability to believe it, to sense it and enjoy it[4].   Putting it another way, all the gifts God gives are freely available to us.  Cultivating spiritual disciplines just puts us in a good place to receive them. It’s obvious when you think about it.  If I’m regularly setting aside time that is focused only on God, I’m more likely to hear what he’s saying than if my time is taken up by a dozen other things. 

“Their purpose is not to try and make God love or forgive us, he already loves us and has already forgiven us, their purpose is to enable us to better enjoy his grace and his love.” 

Habits of holiness

Humans are creatures of habit. We all have them, and there’s nothing intrinsically good or bad about habits, except that good habits are good, and bad habits are bad.  If we build regular prayer, worship, scripture reading or other disciplines into our lives, we create habits that will increase our knowledge and enjoyment of God.  If we don’t, it won’t leave a vacuum, other less helpful habits will take their place.  Over the centuries, Christians have found it helpful to develop a regular rhythm of prayer and worship that is woven in with working and eating and resting.   Instead of leaving it to chance, or how we are feeling, we can regularly put ourselves in a place where we can hear and encounter God.   Do this often enough and voila! you’ve created a good habit. 

Practicing freedom

The paradox of disciplining ourselves to be free; free to hear, know and love God more is like the paradox that underlies progress in any skill.  To become free and fluent in almost any art or craft, you have to commit to discipline.  Listen to that musician playing with such expression and such abandon.  She practices every single day.  Watch that dancer who moves with such fluidity and freedom.  Behind him are hours and hours of strenuous exercise, as he brings his body under control.   See the artist who, with a few swift pencil lines, suggests a face or a landscape.  Only painstaking observation of people and objects over years has made this possible.  Any of us may desire that kind of freedom, but desire by itself is not enough.   Freedom is not the absence of discipline, but the ability to use it like the rungs of a ladder to reach higher and higher.  The same is true with spiritual disciplines.  Do I want to be able to hear God easily?  If so, I need to practice listening.  Do I want to be able to worship freely?  I need to practice worship.  Do I want to hear God speak through scripture?  I need to read the bible regularly. 

Making a start

Rather than being a way of twisting God’s arm or earning his goodwill, spiritual disciplines enable us to explore and enjoy what he offers us freely.  God created us with free will, and it’s up to us where we invest our time and energy.  But we reap what we sow.   If you want to know and experience more of God, spiritual disciplines are a great way forward.  Start simply, with something that you can build into your daily or weekly rhythm.  Commit to spending a set time in prayer each day, and maybe reading a Psalm or a chapter of the gospels.  Breaking bread daily, because it naturally fits with a meal, is a simple habit to develop.  It means that we will regularly remember the sacrifice Jesus made and the resurrection victory he won.  Whatever practices you choose to build in to your life, the main thing is to make a start.  And if you forget, don’t feel guilty.  Remember that God’s love does not depend on you meeting certain standards.  Just start again, and begin to enjoy the fruit of spiritual disciplines. 


[1] John 3:16

[2] Romans 5:8

[3] Ephesians 2:8-9

[4] https://www.gci.org/articles/what-are-spiritual-disciplines/

Freedom for excellence – Andrew Price

My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love. Galatians 5:13 (CEV)

Freedom for excellence – Andrew Price

Think for a moment of the glorious liberty won for us by Jesus. Free from guilt, free from fear, free from slavery to sin. Like the Passover lamb his shed blood saves us from death. And like Moses he leads us out of captivity towards our promised inheritance.  We have been released from a debt we could never have paid.  The more we let it sink in, the more we instinctively turn to praise.  But if we are free, what do we do with this freedom?

Let me present you with two very different visions of freedom.  The first pictures it as our ability to make choices unhindered by anyone or anything else.  Here, freedom means an absence of rules or constraints, where no-one can tell us what to do. This chimes in well with our individualistic, rights obsessed society and is reflected in the idea that we should be able to be anything we want to be.  This vision is superficially attractive.  Its obvious flaw is that our choices affect not just us, but those around us.  To use a trivial example, my choice to play music loudly at 3 a.m. limits the freedom of others to get a decent night’s sleep.  In such cases, whose freedom wins? Ultimately, this sort of freedom becomes destructive as competing interests, each one convinced of their rights, fight it out.  Unconstrained, it leads to anarchy or oppression.   

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The second vision of freedom is very different.  Let’s call it freedom for excellence.  Have you ever seen a great musician perform, one who has complete mastery of their instrument? They play with such freedom and such expression, creating moods and feelings with just notes. Or perhaps you’ve seen dancers at the peak of their powers, seemingly free to move, leap or shape themselves in any way they choose. But how have such people reached this place of freedom? The answer, paradoxically, lies in discipline. Such mastery comes only through disciplined practice.  Rather than throwing off constraints or rules, these artists use them like the rungs of a ladder to reach greater and greater levels of freedom, continually refining and improving their skills and technique. Bishop Robert Barron has expressed this paradox very well; “The law is not the enemy of freedom. The law is the condition for the possibility of freedom”. 

This radically different idea of freedom gives us a fresh understanding of God’s law and helps explain why the Old Testament saints loved and revered it.  Psalm 119, for instance, is a love song to the law.  David delighted in God’s laws, precepts and commands.  Why? Because they guided him into a life lived in God’s presence.  He saw them as lamp for his feet and a light for his path.  Like a virtuoso musician whose disciplined practise leads to even greater freedom in playing, David’s embracing of God’s law led to the freedom and joy of fellowship with God.

“David’s embracing of God’s law led to the freedom and joy of fellowship with God.”

Now, in Christ, we have a new and even better covenant, one that deals once and for all time with our sin and releases us into our inheritance as the people of God.  This new “law of the Spirit of life” is what sets us free from sin and death.  Instead of being written on tablets of stone, it is written in our hearts and minds.  And as we submit to and serve the Spirit we are liberated into life and peace (Romans 8:2, Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 7:22, 9:11-15). 

“And as we submit to and serve the Spirit we are liberated into life and peace”

Freedom through obedience?  Freedom to serve? These truths do not sit easily alongside popular ideas about freedom.   We need a revolution in our thinking or we will never be able to grasp that the more closely we follow the leading of the Spirit of God, the freer we become.  But this is the true nature of freedom and the greatest example of this is Jesus, who moved with such freedom and power because he only did what he saw the father doing (John 5:19).  Paul clearly saw the link between being free, being a servant and the pursuit of excellence.  In 1Cor 9:19-27 he tells us that “though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible”, and then goes on to describe how, like an athlete competing for a prize, he disciplines himself so as to win an eternal crown.  He was so overwhelmed with gratitude, and so gripped by the call of God that he wanted to pour out his life as a servant of Jesus and his people.     

The death and resurrection of Jesus is our exodus, our release from slavery.  But this exodus is just the beginning of a greater journey.  We are now faced with a choice; what should we do with this freedom?  We are rediscovering the truth that being a Christian is not just an individual, private transaction between me and God, where I get my sins forgiven and then go to heaven when I die.  It means taking my place in God’s people, a people with a calling and a mission here and now, not just in the hereafter.  We have the privilege of announcing and demonstrating the good news about this kingdom.  This task is worthy of our very best.  

We are free, but let’s not waste this precious freedom.  Instead, let’s work like an athlete or an artist, to become excellent in the service of the Kingdom of God.  

What happens when the wine runs out? – Andrew Price

What happens when the wine runs out? – Andrew Price

Jesus chose a wedding feast to demonstrate his miraculous power for the first time. This was no co-incidence.  Such a feast points to the perfect culmination of this age when all creation will be gathered to celebrate the wedding of Jesus to his bride, the church.  But on this imperfect occasion, the wine runs out until Jesus, at Mary’s request, steps in and turns water into wine.     

For many years the standard quip of preachers when telling the Cana wedding feast story has been along the lines of “Jesus turned water into wine and theologians have been trying to turn it back ever since”.  And doubtless there is truth there.  But what struck me as I read the passage again is how often we run out of wine but carry on anyway.

I’m sure that at the Cana wedding feast, the lack of wine was quickly noticed – and commented on!  There would have been embarrassment all round. When Mary turns to Jesus and tells him that the wine has run out, she is asking him to do something about it, not bringing it to his attention.  I can’t imagine for a moment that everyone would have agreed to just carry on, pretending that there was plenty left.  They knew the difference between an empty cup and one full of wine.  

“But what struck me as I read the passage again is how often we run out of wine but carry on anyway.”

We can find ourselves doing what we have always done, but without the joy and freshness of the new wine.  The immediacy, the closeness of our walk with Jesus somehow fades but we just carry on. Probably, like the Ephesian church in Revelation chapter 2, the things we carry on doing are good.  Far from backsliding, they were working hard.  But their intoxicating first love had gone, and Jesus commanded them to repent.

At times like this we need Mary’s honesty.  To say it like it is, whatever the consequences.  In Exodus, a whole nation looked to Moses to lead them.  They expected him to guide them all the way to the Promised Land. The pressure of those expectations could have been overwhelming.  But Moses knew that without God’s living presence, there was no point in going even one step further.  And God, angry at the speed at which the people had slipped back into idol worship, was saying that he would not go with them.  So Moses prays, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”.  He was prepared to call a halt to this massive migration unless the God who had reawakened his calling at the burning bush was going to be at the heart of it. Imagine if some of the Israelite leaders had overheard his prayer.  “Couldn’t we just carry on?” they might have said, “I mean, what would we do with all these people if we stop here? What would we tell them?”.  Leaders, in particular, can easily feel under pressure to not rock the boat, especially if things seem to be going smoothly.  Sadly it often takes a crisis to bring us to a place where, like Moses, we are not prepared to just carry on without a fresh sense of God’s presence, without new wine.  God answers Moses’ honest prayer with a new revelation of his glory. 

“The immediacy, the closeness of our walk with Jesus somehow fades but we just carry on.” 

Jesus does not immediately agree to remedy the wine shortage.  But Mary will not be put off.  She knows her son.  So she tells the servants at the feast to do whatever Jesus tells them.  Her persistence and her willingness to take practical action turn disaster into triumph.  And have you noticed the part played by the least important people present? It was the servants who filled the massive stone jars with water and then took some of the water to the master of the banquet.  They didn’t ask questions, they did as Jesus asked them.  I doubt they were the most skilled or gifted people at the feast, but they were available and they were obedient.   We can only guess at the taste of wine made by Jesus.  It must have been wonderful.  The master of the banquet was amazed.  The new wine was better than the old!  And there was so much of it; around120 gallons.  From drought to abundance, from empty to overflowing. But it took honesty and willingness to serve.  

This seems to be a hard lesson for us to learn.  As individuals we can fall into ruts we find comfortable, and only later feel trapped in them.  Churches and institutions can have a powerful momentum of their own which resists any change of direction.  Habits and structures can persist long after the life they once served has gone.  Hard work and perseverance, careful planning and skilled management are all good things, but when the wine that celebrates the presence of the bride and groom has run out, they are an empty cup.  

Only Jesus can bring the fresh wine.  We can’t manufacture it.  Our part is to acknowledge our need and be obedient as God speaks.  Like Moses, we must determine not to go any further until we know that God’s presence will be with us.  

In Praise of Workers – Andrew Price

In Praise of Workers – Andrew Price

If you have a bible handy, turn to Romans 16:1-15.  I’m almost certain you’ve never heard it preached on.  You may even have skipped over it in order to get to 1 Corinthians.  But hold on, it’s a part of scripture so it’s there for a reason. Paul, dictating the letter to Tertius, is signing off.  Before he does, he takes time to individually mention and affirm some of the people he knows in Rome. What catches my attention is what it is about these people that he affirms most often.  

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church…for she has been a great help to many people including me.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers.

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker.

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord”

Now doubtless these people had other gifts.  For instance we learn elsewhere that Priscilla and Aquila were teachers.  Others on Paul’s list may have been prophets, apostles or evangelists. But what Paul is commending is their willingness to serve, to help, and to work hard.  

Worker.  It’s not a glamorous title is it?  At least not to our ears. Maybe if we’d been on the list we’d have preferred to be recognised for our persuasive preaching or our wise leadership.  But what Paul is grateful for, what he wants to commend and encourage is hard work. Remember that minister simply means servant and that to have a ministry is to be called to serve other people.  In the radically different logic of the Kingdom, the last shall be first and the leader is a servant. And what do servants do? They work.  

What Paul is grateful for, what he wants to commend and encourage is hard work.

Without hard work, God given dreams and visions will remain unfulfilled.  The rebuilding of Jerusalem described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is a good example of this.  It was God who moved Cyrus King of Persia to support the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, and God’s hand was evident as the rebuilding progressed.  But the exiles who returned had to provide the physical labour to turn vision into reality.

As in Romans 16, Chapter 3 of Nehemiah carefully records the names of the workers.  Almost everyone – priests, Levites, goldsmiths, district rulers, temple servants and guards – joined in the work and the few who did not, who “would not put their shoulders to the work”, are mentioned dissaprovingly.  The fact that scripture lists the names of the workers tells us something about what God sees and values. He recognises and remembers the efforts of people who would otherwise be forgotten as well as the kings and princes whose names find their way into the history books. 

God is not impressed by celebrity or status. He sees our hearts and he knows how we have worked. It makes no difference whether or not our work is recognised by those around us, God sees.  

Without hard work, God given dreams and visions will remain unfulfilled. 

The people rebuilding Jerusalem carried on their work in the face of threats and intimidation.  At one stage they had to carry weapons as well as building materials. But they continued until the walls were rebuilt and dedicated to God with great celebration and rejoicing.  They had all played a part, from the least to the greatest, and their names are still there for us to see and be inspired by.

Like the returning exiles, our task is to build.   We’re building families, communities and churches that bring glory to God and a blessing to our neighbours.  We need the impetus of visions and prophecies but we also need the day-by-day choosing to be faithful in prayer, to serve with joy and to use our time and energy wisely.  And most of this choosing is unseen and away from public gaze. What we do on platforms and stages is important, but no more so than what we do in our homes, factories and offices.   

We need the impetus of visions and prophecies but we also need the day-by-day choosing to be faithful in prayer, to serve with joy and to use our time and energy wisely. 

Returning to Romans 16, Paul certainly did not undervalue the gifts of the Spirit.  He tells the Corinthian church to “eagerly desire the greater gifts”. But he was also looking for what we often call character; to be helpful, to be ready to serve, to work hard.  He valued the people who shared his devotion to mission and could be relied on whatever happened. Paul and his fellow workers also understood about grace and works. Paul’s letters celebrate God’s undeserved favour and warn the churches against slipping back into believing that we can in any way earn our salvation. 

So Mary, Urbanus and their colleagues were not driven by guilt or trying to win salvation through their own efforts. Like Paul and the other apostles, they were compelled by love. Their lives had been transformed by the measureless goodness of God and the work Paul commends them for was their grateful response.

So let’s remember to honour character as well as gifting.  The people who follow their calling in good times and bad, whether or not anyone is watching.  The people who are always ready to help, to encourage and to share the load. The workers.  

Do you remember your history? – Andrew Price

“…remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.” (Deut.7:18)

Do you remember your history? – Andrew Price

A recurring theme in the Old Testament scriptures is God’s people being asked to remember their history.  The prophets repeatedly reminded them of where they had come from and how God had rescued them from slavery.  The plagues inflicted on Egypt, the Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea were events not to be forgotten.  The prophets also pointed forward towards the day when God would judge all the nations and vindicate his faithful people, leading them into their full inheritance.  The remembrance of God’s past faithfulness and the patient hope in his future judgment were an essential part of being God’s chosen people.  Their history and their hope made them who they were. To forget these things was to become just like any other nation.   Through the years, from the patriarchs to the return from exile, God’s determination to bring Israel into its promised land is both a comfort and a challenge to his people.  Even when Jerusalem has fallen, Judah has been taken into exile and the temple is in ruins, faithful Jews still had a hope of restoration.  Israel’s history is not a sequence of random events, but a relationship played out over centuries.  This ongoing covenant between Israel and their God was a source of hope, identity and purpose.

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For the Church, the New Testament people of God, the same source of hope, identity and purpose is available, but only if, like Israel, we remember where we have come from and the story of God’s rescue plan for us.  We are right to be Jesus focused.  His death and resurrection are events that changed everything.  But they are also events that have a particular background and context and which are leading to something.  To begin to understand their full significance we need to see how the coming of Jesus the Messiah fits into the big story of God ransoming a people and bringing them into their inheritance.  Jesus himself was conscious of this and several times referred to the need for scripture to be fulfilled (e.g. Mark 14:49, Luke 22:37).  As we read through the Gospels we find that many details of the life and ministry of Jesus were prophesied long before, from where he would be born to the words he would speak on the cross.  This is important.  God, in sending Jesus, was not wiping away the history of his previous dealings with mankind.  He was not starting afresh, as if everything that had gone before had somehow failed and should now be forgotten.  Rather, Jesus fits perfectly into this big story.  His coming echoes back to Genesis and the promise of the woman’s seed that will crush the serpent.  His suffering and rejection are graphically described by Isaiah, and David, in Psalm 16, grasps that God will not let his anointed one stay in the grave.  Revelation, which focuses on the end times and the return of Jesus, is rooted in Old Testament prophecy and imagery. Jesus could not have come at just any time, to just any nation and brought about deliverance in any way he wanted. His coming proved, in detail, God’s never-failing faithfulness to his people.

There is a continuity between the Old Testament and the church age that was important to Jesus and his disciples, so we ought to think twice before ignoring it.  In Romans 11, Paul describes gentile Christians as having been grafted on to the same root as the Jews, sharing the same nourishing sap, and there is indeed much nourishment for us in the history and writings of the people of God before the birth of the saviour.  So it saddens me when I encounter Christians who rarely read beyond the New Testament.  They are missing, to borrow Tom Wright’s illustration, act 1 of the drama.  The following acts will not make as much sense, and we will miss much that has profound significance.  Let me give an example. When Paul describes Jesus as our Passover lamb in 1 Corinthians and challenges us to clean out the old leaven, how can we know what he means unless we know about the first Passover? And unless we know this, the significance of the timing of Jesus’ death will also be lost on us, as will John’s Revelation 5 description of him as a lamb looking as though it had been slain.  Another example is the word Christ, which is often just used as if it were Jesus’ surname. It refers to Jesus’ role as Messiah.  But what did Messiah come to do? And what were the Jews expecting, and how does this relate to the kingdom of God? These questions can’t be answered without the Old Testament and the developing story of the people of God.

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A popular view of humanity is that we are the result of some cosmic accident.  We are, many seem to believe, nothing more than a random collision of materials in favourable conditions that eventually led to life as we would recognise it.  There is, in this view, no particular meaning to the existence of our race as it will all end in another random cosmic event.  In the light of this rather bleak outlook, nothing has much significance, as in a million years we would all be forgotten.  Against this, God’s big story tells us that he created us in love, and that even though we repeatedly rejected and disobeyed him, he worked to reconcile us to him and to bring us into a land, a Kingdom where, free from the bondage of sin and death, we will live with him eternally.  He has already put his rescue plan into action and we live in the age where the good news of God’s rescue is spreading all over the world.  We look forward to and pray for the physical return of Jesus and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  This is the (much abbreviated!) big story.  You might tell it slightly differently but the main elements will be the same; a loving God, a people in bondage, a great deliverance and a journey to a Kingdom where God dwells with his people.  Its climax is in the Messiah, but it draws on the Exodus, the return from exile, and many other Old Testament events.

We are part of this big story.  To accept this is to connect to the central theme of creation and of life itself.  Our hope, our identity and our purpose spring from this reality.  When we forget it, the church has lost that which makes it unique.  To understand the big story we need to immerse ourselves in the words and actions of God throughout the whole of the Bible.  So let’s get reading!

A call to creativity – Abbie Price

A call to creativity – Abbie Price

In this season of lockdown, I have to keep reminding myself that life won’t always be like this. It may sound daft, but my very in-the-now brain is prone to forgetting that life was ever any different. Maybe I’ve always lived on this farm in Monmouthshire? Maybe the furthest I’ll ever go will be the local post office? Maybe I’ll only ever see my friends on Zoom…?

I shake myself. Snap out of it, Abbie. No, life has not always been like this. We are in this particularly weird season because of a virus. And in this weird season, we find God is in the business of deconstructing. So many of our norms, our ways of doing things, our daily rhythms, how we do church, how we build relationships, and so on, have been completely and utterly deconstructed. (Or, as it has sometimes felt; torn apart, ripped to shreds…)

He is surely good and we can trust that this deconstruction is not without purpose. In this strange season, God has been deconstructing so that there is space, time, opportunity and willingness in us to rebuild. It may be clichéd, especially after the year we’ve all had, but God is doing a new thing. Because we serve a good God, we can trust that all this deconstruction is in order to make way for something better.

So, in my deconstructed state, I come to looking ahead, to what God might be building in the aftermath. I by no means have the answers. But, I do believe God is calling His people to creativity. In this next season, where so much rebuilding is required; creativity, innovation and craftsmanship will be indispensable. In this next season, being able to envision and dream with God, and to build those visions, craft those dreams will be the essential work of His people. 

Our creator God has made us in His image. So we are, by design, creative. We have the opportunity in the next season to step up to the plate and be the ones who design the future, who build the new. If we don’t, someone else will. In the vacuum of a post-Covid world, the new normal will be rebuilt. It is our absolute honour, as sons and daughters of a good, creator God, to step up and be those designers, those builders, those craftspeople. 

In my own life, post-job, and tentatively forging into another season of freelancing and launching two businesses (I know, I don’t do things by half), I find myself, by necessity delving into creativity again. I’ve always been creative, yes. And yes, I did go to art school. But that was, as they say, another time and another place. For the past decade, maybe more, my biggest creative endeavours have been doodling birthday cards and painting my bathroom wall. 

Now I find myself almost irresistibly sucked into sketching, designing, writing, creating. And you know what? It feels good. It feels right. But it also feels hard. Creativity is risky. Creativity requires putting your skills, your ideas, your very soul on display. It’s not tried and tested, it’s uncharted territory, and it comes with its own special set of anxieties. 

A couple of months ago I had admired a friend’s painting. It had reminded me of my love of abstract art and sparked in me a desire to paint again. I had been looking to buy it, but then suddenly and unexpectedly, it arrived in the post. It simultaneously felt like the most wonderful gift from a beloved friend, but also a gorgeous encouragement from God to keep going, keep pushing into creativity.

This isn’t about how to find your inner creative, or even how to combat anxiety in the pursuit of creativity (if I crack that, I promise, I’ll let you know). No, I’m here to say to you creatives (and that’s more of you than you think), get creating. That quiet urge you had to start writing again, to get the old paint set out, to take a photo of a beautiful sunset, to bake a cake for no good reason…go with it. Listen out for those little nudges of the Holy Spirit and lean into creativity.

It’s not self-indulgence and it’s not time-wasting. Our good God, who has a good plan for our future, is calling you into creativity. Your individual creativity is going to be invaluable in creating the new. After the deconstruction, we have this wonderful invitation to be involved in creating the new; the ways we be church, the places we live, the books we read, the recipes we cook, the songs we sing…

So, let your spirit commune with the Holy Spirit. Start to dream creative dreams with God. And then, and this is the toughie, put pen to paper. 

The one question you need to answer before becoming a church leader – Andrew Price

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it!

Hebrews 13:2 NLT
The one question you need to answer before becoming a church leader – Andrew Price

So, you want to lead. Do you like having people round?

The early churches needed people who would keep a caring and compassionate eye on them.  Paul responds to this need and in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8, he gives practical guidance about who to appoint.  In both cases, being hospitable is a prerequisite. 

The lists in Titus and Timothy are worthy of serious reflection.  Most of the qualities Paul is looking for – such as self control, gentleness and marital faithfulness – describe character and everyday behaviour. The ability to teach is also among Paul’s non-negotiables, but it’s obvious that he is concerned about who they are, as well as what they can do. He wants leaders who welcome people into their homes and treat them well. 

“He wants leaders who welcome people into their homes and treat them well.” 

The content of Paul’s lists makes it clear that Timothy and Titus must have known the people they are choosing quite well.  The qualities Paul is asking them to look for couldn’t be covered by interview questions or psychometric tests (just imagine… Q1. Are you: a) harsh. b) gentle c) habitually violent. Q2: Do you hold on to the deep truths of the faith? a) always. b) sometimes. c) never).  You’d have to live around people for some time to know, using New Testament criteria, if they were suitable to serve the church as leaders. 

In the Kingdom of God, leadership is fundamentally different to the way it is practiced elsewhere.   The importance Paul places on hospitality reflects Jesus’ insistence that leaders should serve people, not boss them around.  Consequently, the way we develop and appoint leaders must also be different.  Commercial organisations tend to look for ambitious, driven people who will deliver growth and profits.  People are often seen as a cost to be minimised, so that profits can be maximised.  In Paul’s lists, the focus is on people and the growth he values is in holiness.  Business schools can teach many things, but gentleness, hospitality and raising children are unlikely to appear on the curriculum of any MBA.   

“In the Kingdom of God, leadership is fundamentally different to the way it is practiced elsewhere.”

You could argue that Paul’s lists reflect a particular context, where young, small churches, full of new converts and meeting in homes, required a different type of leader to, for instance, a large, well established modern church, with buildings and paid staff.  But while much has changed – Timothy, for instance, did not have to engage with social media – I believe the focus of leadership and the qualities it requires are the same.   

For the record, I believe strongly in developing leaders. I’m currently helping a church design and run a leadership school which has already had a good effect.  I’d be the last to say that churches should not intentionally develop people towards leadership.  But surely the aims, teaching methods, content, and context should be more like the New Testament and less like a business school? Again, for the record, I believe that leaders need to know and be able to communicate the orthodox fundamentals of our faith, particularly when so many of them are being challenged or just ignored.  But again, shouldn’t the focus of developing leaders be on the sort of people they are as well as what they know?

Back to hospitality.  Its importance to Paul underlines his understanding that leadership is not just, or even dare I say primarily, about church meetings.  He saw leaders setting an example and demonstrating how Christians should live.  Remember that Jesus didn’t just announce the gospel, he became fully human and lived among us.  Literally, he fleshed out his message.  His apostolic development programme lasted three years (full time), had just twelve participants (with one spectacular drop out) and included personal and practical challenges.  He and the twelve walked, lived, and ate together.  Jesus was certainly hospitable.  Not in the conventional sense, as he didn’t have a house to invite people into, but he welcomed people and frequently shared a table with them.  He was criticised for feasting with all the wrong people and accused of drunkenness and gluttony.  Even following his resurrection, he played chef at an impromptu beach barbeque.  He was such a good gatherer that the only way he could be alone to pray was by going into the wilderness or up a mountain.  Where did he get this welcoming tendency?  It runs in the family.

“His [Jesus] apostolic development programme lasted three years (full time), had just twelve participants (with one spectacular drop out) and included personal and practical challenges.” 

Our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Three persons, one God.  He is in himself community, each person loving and honouring the others.  From the beginning, God is sharing himself.  He creates humanity in his own image, and walks with Adam and Eve.  After they fall into sin, his rescue plan is always aimed towards the goal of living right in the middle of his people.  God is not stand-offish or distant, he loves to welcome us into his presence and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus means that we can all do this.  Putting this another way, God is hospitable. 

Hospitality goes even further than people we already know.  In Matthew 25, Jesus turns to the righteous on the day of judgment and tells them that they fed him when he was hungry, gave him a drink when he was thirsty and when he was a stranger they invited him in.  When they ask when they had done this, he replies “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.  The righteous, it seems, are hospitable.

So, far from being optional or less relevant today, it appears that being hospitable and welcoming is part of being like God.  All of us are called to be like Jesus, and that means being hospitable.  No wonder Paul thought you couldn’t be a leader without it. I know at least one person who has difficulty seeing themselves as a leader, partly because they spend so much time being welcoming, inviting people into their home and raising good kids and now grandchildren. They fit Paul’s list very well, leading through the way they live.  It strikes me as sad that somehow in the intervening centuries, things that Paul saw as central to leadership seem to some to be distractions.   

In this era of division and suspicion, coupled with increasing isolation and loneliness, it’s surely time to honour hospitality.   


Being discipled through family – Owen Day

Being discipled through family – Owen Day

Becoming a Christian felt to me like a completely independent act. Something I just did, on my own, through reading books, practicing prayer and doing an Alpha course.

I remember feeling very alone in the dark and when I started to recognise the light of God, like a lighthouse beam searching for me, I thought how long a way back to Him I had to go. Without realising I had travelled deep into the darkness, His light, though warm, felt like a long way away from where I had spent most of my life.

However, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that throughout the whole journey of meeting Roanna, realising that if I wanted to marry this girl I’d have to at least think about exploring my faith(!) to then meeting her family and learning from scratch how to be vulnerable with them (read: anyone!)… throughout all of this I was busy being discipled through family.

My wife and her family encouraged me to dig deeper into my faith without pressuring me or creating a shame culture. They gave me an example that I had never really seen before: they lived out a life that was dedicated to Jesus and made decisions based on prompting from the Holy Spirit or being guided by what scripture says. They prioritised the church, attending corporate gatherings even when the timings were difficult and they were fully involved and committed to bringing others closer to Jesus.

This example was exactly what I needed when I was new to faith. I needed to be shown how to live a Christ centred life and this family was showing me in practice, not just in theory. I had heard great preaches and read brilliant books on how to be a Christian but I struggled to relate that to my life. But, through my new family I was able to ask really basic questions and get answers that applied to my life and I got to do this over the dinner table where I felt comfortable enough to open up. It was all so new to me; vulnerability over curry and prophecy over dessert! They involved me in conversations about issues and challenges they were facing, I heard daily testimonies and got to listen in when they shared their views on church (quite the topic at the Prices’ table!). In short; I was able to see how a Christ centred family could work and I wanted more!

My discipleship has stepped up forward since moving into the same house as my in-laws last summer and living day by day with the family as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always easy (did I mention we’ve had a baby in that time?!) but I get to see up close how each person walks out their faith. I love how everyone is committed to growing more like Jesus and how open everyone is about what they are grappling with. This has made me truly thankful that God has placed me in this family. It has encouraged me to get deeper with God, with scripture and with living a faith filled life.

“In short; I was able to see how a Christ centred family could work and I wanted more!”

This article is testament to how the nurture of a good family can help you step out in ways you would never have thought possible. I’m not a wordsmith like the Prices, words don’t come naturally to me, but over time with the encouragement of the family I’ve been able to pen this article and have grown in the process.

I think it’s easy to overlook the people that you live with as potential disciples. Lots of people look for discipleship from couples at church, maybe the pastor, but in the real world you only spend a few hours a week with these people whereas your family are walking with you every day. By creating a culture of mutual encouragement at home you can grow and learn together as a family. Bill Johnson talks about how he and his wife Beni used to make sure that they read the bible in the communal rooms of the house, not just limiting it to the bedroom or a private office. This practice encourages children to see their parents reading the bible regularly and makes reading the bible accessible for them. In Matthew 28:19 we are called to “…go and make disciples of all nations,” and I believe that this can start at home.

So I ask you, are you encouraging or being encouraged by your immediate family to walk closer with God?

Are your family looking more and more like Jesus every day?

For me, discipleship, true transformation, is at its best and most effective over dinner, with people who know and love every part of you. Dinner, and discipleship, now, where have I heard that before?