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

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.  


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

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)

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.  

Do you remember your history? – Andrew Price

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

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

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. 

Who even am I? And other urgent questions asked by a new mum during a pandemic  – Roanna Day

Over the last six months nearly every part of my identity has been challenged, destroyed or removed. 

My identity as a successful editor in London? Maternity leave and moving to Monmouthshire effectively ended that. Gone are the glamorous lunches, dinners and parties. Gone is the confidence gained from my job title when introducing myself to people. Gone are my free beauty products, connections and, well, gone is one of the main reasons people used to want to be my friend. 

My identity as an attractive, fit, young woman? Somewhere between my abs separating and forceps pulling me apart my self esteem was brutally exposed. Am I still beautiful if none of my old clothes fit me anymore?

My identity as a teacher and leader in church? Gone, when we decided we wanted to push into church around the dinner table here at Great House Farm. I’m no one’s leader, no one wants me to teach at their church, no one tries to grab me for a coffee after a meeting. Am I even a good Christian if no one is listening to me?

My identity as a cared for, carefree daughter? Seriously challenged by my dad’s fight for his life. Suddenly my parents were not just a resource, a support, a place of retreat – they were something in threat, something I had to look after. 

My identity as a wife, sister, friend? Rocked, by the arrival of my daughter and my whole purpose shifting to being about serving, loving and raising her. 

Whether it’s becoming a new mum, living through a pandemic, changing jobs, moving house, leaving a church (or, if you’re a mad woman doing all those things at once!) a big shift in life can mean facing up to who we are and how we define ourselves. 

It’s only now, after much processing with Jesus, that I realise how many parts of my identity I had created to serve me and not God.

The question I’ve been trying to answer during lockdown, and the one I’d like you to ponder too, is; who are you when no one’s watching? 

Who are you when your calendar is completely empty?

Who are you when you’re not working?

Who are you when you’re not going to church?

Who are you when it’s just you and God and all you’ve done is baked, watched Netflix and walked once a day? 

Who are you, when your life is reduced to the four walls of your home? When your circle of influence is just your family? 

In short, who even are you? 

It’s in thinking through all of this, through wondering who I am when so much of me and my life has been changed, that I realised that this crisis of identity is part of the purpose of this time. 

Let me put this another way. Imagine you’re a bulb, a bulb that’s just been planted deep into compost. It’s hard to tell what sort of plant the bulb is anymore, with last year’s growth cut off and the foliage died back. The bulb has been plunged into darkness, given water and fertile soil and then, for the coming months, it’s a waiting game to see whether it will grow again or not.

That’s how I feel right now; like I’ve been plunged deep into the earth, it’s dark and any growth that’s happening is invisible. Can you relate?

I feel this lockdown period is a time of deep planting. We’re in the dark, soggy compost stage now. Last year’s growth has been pruned off and now all we’re left with is the beginnings of ourselves.  

Through the gentle sway of these lockdown days Jesus has shown me that everything that matters about who I am is bedded deep within me and what counts, in these times of deep, dark, planting, is just that I grow towards the light. 

I believe this season is a ripe opportunity to let old growth die back, deadhead false identities and be planted again with purpose.  

“…What counts, in these times of deep, dark, planting, is just that I grow towards the light.” 

It doesn’t matter that I don’t have any social plans. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a job title other than mum. It doesn’t matter that my church now happens in my kitchen, not in a big building. It doesn’t matter that no one is seeing me be a Christian other than my family.

All that matters, about who I am, is what God says matters. I am who He says I am, and nothing else. 

This is a season, in my life and I believe in yours too, of being deadheaded, planted and watered. Jesus is cutting off old, no-longer-helpful identities and chucking them on the compost heap. Now is the time to rest and reset in the darkness, preparing for next year’s growth. 

Let’s make sure we grow towards the light. 

The battle is the Lord’s, but you’ll still have to fight it – Andrew Price

The battle recorded in 2 Chronicles 20 gets a lot of attention in songs and sermons, and rightly so.  Assured of God’s presence with him, King Jehoshaphat of Judah sends out singers to lead the army and as they begin to praise, the enemy soldiers turn on one another. By the time Jehoshaphat’s army arrives, their enemies have been defeated without Judah’s army having to strike a single blow.  The battle underlines the need for prophetic direction and the power of praise in the face of the enemy.  It is inspiring and instructive.  It is also the exception.  There are many more battles where, still with God’s presence and support, God’s people have to physically fight their way through to victory.  

In the New Testament also, we are told to fight the good fight, to put on the amour of God and take up the sword of the spirit.  This need to fight through to victory is not an alternative to trusting God, but the evidence of it.  We can embrace the battle knowing that God is with us.  Using a different metaphor, Paul talks about his life as a race he has run. Although commissioned and called through a miraculous encounter with Jesus, he still had to endure shipwrecks, beatings and imprisonment in order to complete his God ordained work.  Paul’s life was a testing marathon, not a brief sprint.  

“This need to fight through to victory is not an alternative to trusting God, but the evidence of it.”

The first to hear John’s words in the book of Revelation were churches enduring trials and even persecution.  They needed to be reminded that while the final outcome was assured, they had to stand firm and hold on to what was true.  I’ve heard it preached that Jesus’ victory was really won on the night before his death as he struggled with his destiny in an intense and exhausting prayer encounter with his Father, finally accepting the path of winning our salvation through suffering love.  I understand the point being made, but without his sacrificial obedience the next day it would have meant nothing.      

Many times, God hears our cry for help and answers immediately.  The gospels and the pages of church history bear witness to this. Instant healings, enemies defeated by the angel of the Lord or hostile border guards who inexplicably wave through people they would normally stop and arrest.  Like the battle in 2 Chronicles 20, we love these stories.  They remind us that God listens, cares and acts and they lift our expectations and hope. 

Alongside these instant answers though, there is Lazarus who sickened and died, even though Jesus knew he was unwell, before he was miraculously raised to life, and there is Abraham who kept his hope of a son alive even while recognizing that it was impossible without supernatural intervention.  There is Simeon who faithfully waited for the coming of Messiah, and there are the many accounts of sustained prayer that precede outbreaks of revival.  There are the disciples who prayed and waited in the upper room before the Spirit came at Pentecost, and there are the numerous stories of parents who prayed for many years before their children turned to God.  

Jesus told the parable of the widow who would not stop pestering the judge until she got justice and the parable of the man who woke his neighbour to get bread to feed unexpected guests.  He told us these stories to encourage us to pray and not give up.  In the model for prayer that he taught his disciples, the very first request is for the Kingdom of God to come, something that in its fullest sense we have yet to see.  Nevertheless, in the middle of a broken world, Jesus wants us to keep praying and keep expecting to see God’s will done on earth exactly as it is done in heaven where sickness, suffering and sadness are unknown.  Like Paul’s life, such prayer is a marathon not a sprint.  And like a long distance race it requires us to keep choosing to carry on through tiredness, pain and discouragement.  Such prayer changes and refines us, gradually moving our focus from the seen to the unseen.  

As a schoolboy cross-country runner, I found the start and finish of races fairly easy.  Spectators cheered and coaches shouted encouragement.  It was the miles that separated them that were hard. The field thinned out and there were no parents or friends to spur me on.  There was just distance, hills and, often, rain and mud. I knew the finish line was somewhere ahead but I couldn’t see it, so it was just one foot in front of the other again and again.  Fighting through to victory can be like this.  The initial vision comes with excitement and anticipation, and people around us are inspired and supportive.  But several months or even years down the road, having faced setbacks and the opposition of the enemy, our perseverance is tested.  Regardless of how we feel we have to carry on hoping, working and praying.  In these times, people who are with us for the long haul become more precious than gold. People who are committed to praying with us and working with us for as long as it takes.  

“Regardless of how we feel we have to carry on hoping, working and praying”

Daniel had to wait and fast three weeks for the interpretation of a vision he had received, not because of any lack of faith but because spiritual powers opposed and delayed the angelic messenger appointed to visit him.  Joshua and Caleb had to wait 40 years for their inheritance because of the unbelief of the rest of their generation, but they kept their hope alive and stayed strong.   

Let’s praise God for quick answers and battles we don’t have to fight.  God knows when we need them.  But let’s also be ready to fight and keep fighting for the things God has promised.  It doesn’t mean God is no longer interested or that we got it wrong.  It means God is strengthening us, developing our faith, honing our vision.  The answer will come. 

Kingdom hunger: a study on fasting – Andrew Price

It’s obvious why fasting isn’t popular.  Deliberately not satisfying our hunger for hours or days at a time does not come easily.  At the same time we know that Jesus, our example in all things, fasted and expected that we would too[i].  The result can be that we see fasting as just an “ought to”.  But fasting is much more than not eating.  And while it will always demand self-discipline, if we see it against a wider biblical backdrop we will fast with a greater understanding and sense of purpose.  But first of all, we need to remind ourselves of the unique hope we have.

“The result can be that we see fasting as just an “ought to”.  But fasting is much more than not eating.” 

What is history’s main theme, the melody to which everything else is merely harmony or counterpoint?  Rather than being a succession of random events, scripture depicts history as the story of God’s relationship with his creation. From the beginning, God’s desire has been to live among us as our loving king in the creation fashioned and sustained by him where there is peace, justice and joy, and where death, sickness and tears do not exist. 

Despite our rebellion, throughout the centuries God has been working with and through people to bring about this kingdom.  So committed to us is he that, in Jesus, he actually became one of us.  Jesus not only announced that this Kingdom of God was very close but he also went further, proclaiming that it was already here.  As he healed the sick and freed people from demons, Jesus inaugurated the rule of God on earth[ii].  Like the vanguard of a victorious army of liberation, God’s kingdom had arrived and was driving out its enemies.   

“From the beginning, God’s desire has been to live among us as our loving king”

Then, in his suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus took all that the powers of evil could throw at him and triumphed over them by rising again.  More than this, his resurrection demonstrated that God had begun renewing his whole creation.  What started with Jesus’ resurrection is now radiating out.  And he did this for us and for all who believe.  This is the main theme of history.  And we are approaching the climax.  

This is the good news that Jesus’ first disciples preached all over the Greco-Roman world; God loves his creation, even in its lostness and brokenness, and he has now come to our rescue.  The kingdom of God is coming and its advance guard is already here. Like the first disciples, we know by faith and experience that this is true and that the power of the Kingdom is already at work in and around us.  But we also know that it has not yet fully come.  Suffering and evil still wreck people’s lives.  This is reflected in the prayer Jesus taught us – “your kingdom come”.  As this prayer suggests, we are not passively waiting for the complete coming of God’s Kingdom, we are praying and working for it.  We live in the time between the victory of Jesus and its complete implementation.  As when a stone is thrown into a pond and the ripples begin to spread out and cover the surface, the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will eventually cover the earth[iii]

“God loves his creation, even in its lostness and brokenness, and he has now come to our rescue.”

So what’s all this got to do with fasting?  In Matthew 9, we find the disciples of John the Baptist asking Jesus why his disciples did not fast.  Listen to Jesus’ answer, “how can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?  The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast”[iv].  With Jesus physically present, there was no need to fast.  But soon he would be taken away from them and that would be the time for fasting as they waited and worked for his return and the renewal of creation.

As disciples, we have tasted the presence of the King and the powers of the age to come, and that taste makes us hungry for the day when the glory of the kingdom is revealed in every corner of creation, when the dwelling of God is with mankind, and Satan, the great enemy of humanity, is thrown into the burning lake.  The joy and the peace we have tasted makes us want more.   John Piper expresses this well when he writes “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God”. 

To fast is to express our longing for the fullness of the King and his Kingdom.  We fast because we want more of what we have begun to experience; more presence, more power, more peace.  We see the impact of fasting as Jesus casts out a demon that his disciples could not deal with, telling them that this kind comes out “only if you use prayer and fasting”[v].  We see how it lays the ground for God to speak as the early church commissioned Paul and Barnabas[vi].  In fasting we bring our whole selves – body as well as mind and spirit into line with our prayer, submitting our urge to eat and drink to a much greater priority.  As we take time to focus ourselves on God and deny the demands of our stomach, a deeper hunger emerges.  It’s a hunger that other appetites often crowd out – not just the pleasure and satisfaction of eating, but maybe also things like our need to be busy.   As we fast we remind ourselves of our greatest hope and desire and we subject everything else to our desire to see God’s kingdom come in me, in my church, in this world.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”, Jesus says in Matthew 5.  Fasting cultivates a hunger for righteousness, for justice, and for the only kingdom that can fully bring them.   

“To fast is to express our longing for the fullness of the King and his Kingdom.”

None of this is about punishing our bodies because they, or nice food, are bad.  This idea has nothing to do with biblical Christianity.  God created the material world, including us, and liked it!  Our firm hope is not for an ethereal, sitting-around-on-clouds heaven, but for a renewed creation where heaven comes to earth.  But like athletes aiming for a medal, we discipline our minds and bodies in the service of this coming Kingdom.  Appetites are fine but we must be able to control them, not vice versa.

Much more can be said about fasting.  Richard Foster’s excellent book “Celebration of Discipline” has a very helpful chapter on it.  There are practicalities to be observed, particularly if you’ve never fasted before, and many types of fast that can be employed.  The main thing however is to do it.  Perhaps start by regularly fasting the midday meal, setting the time aside to worship and pray.  Then move to fasting breakfast and lunch, and then coming together in the evening with your family or community to break bread and eat together.  

“As we take time to focus ourselves on God and deny the demands of our stomach, a deeper hunger emerges.”

So don’t think of fasting as an uncomfortable “ought to”.  It is Kingdom hunger; God’s people hastening the fulfillment of the Kingdom, bringing it into the here and now through a discipline fuelled by longing.  Come Lord Jesus.  

[i] Matt.4:2, 6:16

[ii] Matt.12:28

[iii] Hab.2:14

[iv] Matt.9:14

[v] Matt.17:21

[vi] Acts 13:2-3

Did you celebrate Halloween over the weekend? Here’s why we didn’t – Coming Home Family

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” 

Hebrews 12:1

From the first days of the church, we have been challenged and inspired by the lives of those who have served God in their time.  And there is no shortage of people to look to.  From the first disciples through to men and women today who have devoted everything to God, there is much to celebrate.  The love and hope that are found only in Jesus have inspired courage and self-giving like no other cause.  In 2019 alone, around 3,000 Christians gave their lives for their faith, and the persecution of our fellow believers is getting worse[1].  We know why this is.  Jesus warned us that as the end of the age approaches, as the gospel is preached to all nations, the church will be targeted for persecution and deception[2].  Our enemy knows his time is short[3] and is doing everything he can to kill, maim and destroy not just Christians, but every part of God’s creation.  Life, joy and peace he hates, and will attack until he meets his end. 

“Our enemy knows his time is short and is doing everything he can to kill, maim and destroy not just Christians, but every part of God’s creation.  Life, joy and peace he hates, and will attack until he meets his end.” 

As the passage from Hebrews shows, we have always remembered those whose lives reflect God to us, particularly those who have been martyred.  In doing so we acknowledge that the church is not just those alive today, but every believer who has ever lived.  One day we will be united with them in such joy that it is not possible to imagine as we see Jesus, the firstborn, face to face.  Around the seventh century this remembering took the form of a special day.  In the Western Church this is celebrated on 1st November as All Saints Day or All Hallows. 

Despite the fear and intimidation Satan brings, Christians through the centuries have brought good news: health and healing, hope and forgiveness.  We live in the good of their work.  They kept a witness during dark times, they preserved the true faith, they spoke of Jesus even when to do so was to risk their lives. They frustrated and even overcame the enemy and his forces by “the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony and (they) did not love their life even to death[4]

Every single Christian today stands in a line of faithful witnesses stretching back to the first apostles.  We owe them so much.  We don’t worship or pray to them, and we don’t need to confine their inspiration to a single day each year, but we are ever grateful for their lives and the example they set for us.  

“Every single Christian today stands in a line of faithful witnesses stretching back to the first apostles.” 

We live in a time when the battle for lives is more obvious than ever, and where the genocidal cruelty of the enemy cannot be ignored.  Make no mistake, behind the hatred and killings lies the malice of our enemy, working through those who knowingly or unknowingly promote his cause. It is a great sadness to me, therefore, to see how our nation and even some Christians, have forgotten those who fought our brutal enemy, and instead set aside a day to celebrate the enemy they fought against and his goal of death and misery for all. 

As mini-Christs what we do with our time matters, it actually affects the course of history, the lives of those around us and our eternal inheritance. What we celebrate, what we set aside time for, what we put our hands to is an act of worship and festivals like Halloween are steeped in our enemy’s messaging and agenda. It is not a event to be redeemed.

Do you think that Halloween is harmless fun, just pumpkins and fancy dress?  Think again.  In this season, who and what are you choosing to celebrate?

[1] https://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/wwl20-trends/

[2] Matthew 24:3-31

[3] Revelation 12:12

[4] Revelation 12:11

“I’m a single Christian woman in my thirties, here’s how I do it with joy” – Abbie Price

As Valentine’s Day looms, our good editor thought it wise to commission me to write a piece on singleness and Christianity.

Being a Christian single, and having reached *gasp* my thirties. I should be ideally qualified to write on the subject. And I guess I am. I’ve by no means got it all sussed, but I’ve been there. I’ve been the third wheel more times than I care to count, I’ve countless times been asked why I’m still not married, I’ve endured the pitying, head-tilting looks…I’ve been there.

Created to be connected

I dream of being married, building a home, having kids, raising a family. I long for the intimacy of a marriage relationship. And I would love someone to call my partner, someone to adventure with, to take on life with, to be my co-conspirator in all my dreams and plans. And I’m beginning to let myself believe that that’s ok, because we were designed to be in relationship. That longing, that desire, for intimacy is God-given.

In the beginning, God created us. He created us, firstly; because it was His pleasure to – He created us to be in relationship with Him (indicated in Genesis 1.26 and 3.8). He also created us to be in relationship with each other (Genesis 2.18).

This truth of the human condition hasn’t changed in all these years – something deep inside of us longs for connection, for relationship. Around the world and across the ages, we see this expressed (and to a certain extent, fulfilled,) in romantic relationships.

“I dream of being married, building a home, having kids, raising a family. I long for the intimacy of a marriage relationship.”

But I think I’m doing myself out of a whole wealth of relationships if I search for connection, for intimacy even, only in a romantic/ marriage context. I think the importance of, and the quest for, a marriage relationship over and above all other relationships has become skewed out of proportion.

First and foremost we are created to be in relationship with our creator God. As a Christian, this is our primary responsibility and reward – we are invited into intimate relationship with the God of the universe. This is a relationship, a love affair, if you will, with infinite possibilities.

God longs for intimacy with us, like that which He enjoyed with Adam and Eve in the garden. He has spent the whole of history wooing us and winning us back into
relationship with Him (via various prophets, judges, kings, and finally His precious son, Jesus).

“We are invited into intimate relationship with the God of the universe – this is a relationship, a love affair, if you will, with infinite possibilities.”

There can be no doubt that this can be and should be the most intimate, the most exciting and the most important relationship in any Christian’s life.

Secondly, we were created to be in relationship with each other. Jasmine Holmes on The Single Person’s Search for Intimacy makes a very good point when she notes that somehow, intimacy has come to be equated with sex, thereby effectively excluding singles from intimacy.

She reminds us that intimacy is not exclusive to a sexual relationship, that there are several, healthy forms of intimate relationship open to everyone – married or single. Our desire as humans to know and to be known could and should be expressed and fulfilled in our relationship with our family, our friends, and our church community. This opens up the possibility of a more diverse, and healthy range of intimate relationships – for both marrieds and singles. It also does away with the, unreasonable and unhelpful, assumption that spouses should be fulfilling their partner’s every single relationship and intimacy desire.

Life abundant

But then there’s the fear. The worry that I might not ever get married. That I might end up alone. Forever. But I don’t believe that’s the kind of life we were designed to lead. Fear was never meant to dominate our lives.

Jesus came to give us life, and life to its fullest (John 10.10). His life, death, and resurrection were the means of bringing us into right relationship with God, and setting us free to live the lives that He dreamed of for us.

When we say things like “if only I were married”, or “if I were married, I could do….”, we restrict our lives, our dreams, our possibilities in a way God never meant for. When we create churches and cultures that explicitly or implicitly restrict singles (e.g. from leadership, involvement in groups etc.), we place restrictions, which I believe, God never intended.

“When we say things like “if only I were married”, or “if I were married, I could do….”, we restrict our lives, our dreams, our possibilities in a way God never meant for.”

My Dad has told me, since I was young, that I would meet the right man if I kept pursuing God and what He had for me. Now, I’m not sure if I’ll ever meet Mr Right, but what I do know is that pursuing God and what He has for me is the most fulfilling, the most exciting and the fullest life I could lead.

The tension

The thing is, between where I am now and where I want to be; is a huge gap. I long to have kids of my own someday – so much so that when a friend innocently handed me her new baby boy for a cuddle the other day tears sprang to my eyes and in that moment I honestly thought my heart would break.

Even in the fullness of a life lived pursuing God and building wonderful friendships and community, the struggle is still real. Those lovely moments witnessed between couples that remind me so harshly that I’m single, the early-morning and the late-night loneliness, those tough times when I don’t have a person to turn to; those times are hard. And they’ll continue to be hard.

So, I continue to look for the man who might be the one. I’ve even joined an app (from which I hope, at the very least, to gain some half-decent dinner party anecdotes).

But what I won’t do is give up. Or give in, for that matter. I will continue to pursue God, and all He has for me, and I will continue to invest in my wonderful friends (singles and marrieds), family and community. And I won’t give up hoping that I’ll meet my someone one day, hopefully not too long from now.

So. My advice to all the Christian singles out there?

Exactly the same as the marrieds. Pursue God. Pursue Him for all you’re worth. And all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6.33). And invest in relationships, be they with friends, family, or in your church community. Build trust and intimacy that don’t depend on romance or sex. Go for coffee with your mate. Call your Mum. And, if you’re not in one already, do yourself a favour and join a small group.

Do this and I can guarantee a rich, full, exciting life. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll meet your partner in the process.