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. 

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.  

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?

Kingdom hunger: a study on fasting – Andrew Price

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

Four ways to shift your perspective and strengthen yourself in the Lord – Emma Duncan

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I know that’s a brazen theft of a classic opening line, but for me it describes the situation we are in.

For some of us this is a time to slow down, reflect and reconnect, filled with meals around the table and deep conversations. For others; a time of loneliness, worry and sorrow, fraught with financial and relational anxiety and pain. What strikes me is that we are all in the same boat. I have never experienced anything on a global level like this that so unites us in our experience of humanity. Perhaps this is a good time to think about what it means to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

Paul, in Acts 27, was literally in the same boat as his fellow travellers when a great storm came. Actually, he had predicted the storm and the loss of life in v10, but they set sail anyway. For 14 days and nights they were tossed on open seas by hurricane-force winds and all hope was lost, but then Paul steps up and tells everyone not to worry because he has spoken to an angel who said that God had graciously given him the lives of all those on the boat. What a promise, wrought through the prayers of Paul, to save every life on board! But there are so many more examples where faith is lived out, even when no angelic visitation has occurred.

“Perhaps this is a good time to think about what it means to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down to any other god but Yahweh. They were in the same boat as every other exiled Jew in Babylon for whom the penalty of not bowing down was death. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were confident that God could save them; in a move of unbelievable faith and obedience, in v18, they said that even if He did not, they would not bow to another. What courage.

David returned with his army of malcontents (1 Sam 22:2) to find that all their women and children had been taken by the Amalekites. The army discussed stoning David to death in their distress, even though he was in the same boat – his wife and children were gone too. But it says that David ‘strengthened himself in the Lord’, he sought the Lord’s advice in that moment, and they went after their families and each one was restored. I could go on listing examples of times when our heroes of the faith were in the same boat as everyone else, but their perspective was shaped by something other than the earthly vision or understanding of what was going on. But how do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord?

Strengthening a muscle means to use it repetitively until it builds up and can work harder or bear more weight. To strengthen a structure means to add support to the structure to carry the load. To strengthen a cocktail means to add spirit until it makes more of an impact! To strengthen a metal means to boil away the impurities. I would argue that we go through the same processes to strengthen ourselves in the Lord and there is no better time to get on with doing so than when we are in the same boat as everyone else, whatever our personal circumstances happen to be.

So here are some practical ways that we can ‘strengthen ourselves in the Lord’:

Strengthen your spiritual discipline muscles by learning God’s word, meditating on it day and night (Psalm 1:2); singing praise and bringing a sacrifice of praise even when we don’t feel like it (Psalm 50:23); praying at all times with thanksgiving (Eph 6:18); speaking in tongues to edify, or build yourself up (1 Cor 14:4); fasting and praying (Matt 17:21). The more we do this, the more we can bear in times of difficulty because our lives are planted deep, like oaks of righteousness (Psalm 1).

Add structure to help you carry the load – in other words, we need our lives to be built on the truth of what God says about who He is, first and foremost, and then who we are and what our purpose is here on earth. Read about God, spend time talking to Him about who He is and what He thinks about you, so that those things are unshakeable, immovable truths that shore up every part of your life. If you feel a part getting shaken, find a scripture or a promise that God has given you in your own quiet times that speaks to that shaking, and build your life on truth.

Add Spirit to make your life stronger (this might be my favourite!). The beauty of Jesus returning to the Father was so that He could send the Holy Spirit to be with us (Luke 24:49). The access we always longed for into the presence of God is ours for the taking – being in fellowship with Holy Spirit is our ticket to power, comfort, peace, joy, hope, healing, wisdom and so much more. Make getting to know Holy Spirit a priority in your life.

And lastly, allow God to burn away our impurities (Prov 17:3). This is a really strange time to be alive, but God is shaking up our ‘normal’ and I don’t think He is keen for it all to shake back down as it was before. What is He refining in me through this process? My reliance on routine and predictability, health and wellbeing, freedom, intellect? Whatever it is, don’t fight the fire, allow God to purify you and be sure that even this is a strengthening process. David strengthened himself in the Lord, and so can we.

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

“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.

Coronavirus: a prophetic perspective – Roanna Day

Coronavirus: a prophetic perspective – Roanna Day

Setting yourself up to share a prophetic perspective on anything is, perhaps in any climate; setting yourself up for a potentially interesting response. In this climate it feels frankly dangerous. But, guess what? When it feels dangerous to do so is when it’s most important to share God’s heart.

We’ve written already the back-story of Coming Home, of how we spent a year dreaming and imagining with God. And, at the end of it, with much weighing, came to the conclusion that God’s next big move (or one of them) was to restore and revive families and to see church and discipleship run deep around the dining room table. Cue the complete upheaval of all of our lives, a huge move to the country and eighteen months of solid spiritual battle as we fought to claim what God asked us to fight for. Namely: a reinstating of worship, healing and health to families and a transformation of homes to become places of miracles, of supernatural kindness, love and grace.

“God’s next big move (or one of them) was to restore and revive families and to see church and discipleship run deep around the dining room table.”

However, when we dreamt of a revival of family and home, and playing our part in it, we have to admit we didn’t see this virus and lockdown coming. We knew God wanted to reposition ‘home’ in many hearts but an actual lockdown and millions of families being forced to spend endless time together? It’s a little more literal than we had guessed!

Let me be clear; I’m not saying that this virus is of God or from God. Nor that He’s rejoicing in people’s current hardship. I do however believe this time is rich with purpose and that God is using this global pause to reset and refresh a few things.

I wrote not long ago on the importance and responsibility of us, as the church, to not worry. Not ever. Equally important is for us is to be recklessly generous and full of compassion and in times like this that becomes sharply necessary as people face financial, family and health crises. Let us be the people who share the most, who listen the best, who love the hardest as our communities face unprecedented challenge.

“I do however believe this time is rich with purpose and that God is using this global pause to reset and refresh a few things.”

Before we just knuckle down, focus on surviving the coming months and put all of our drive into carrying our community and church through this though, my sense from God is that there is a Noah call to this time. This is a Kairos time. This is the time for a purposeful resetting of some of our rhythms, habits and structures.

Imagine if you were already in the habit of regularly worshipping, praying and fasting with those you actually live with? Wouldn’t that make a world of difference right now?

Imagine if you were already in deep community with your neighbours and already shared your rice, pasta, eggs and more?

Imagine if you lived closer to those you were in church with, close enough to catch up over the garden fence?

While I applaud churches quickly adapting to life in the current climate and braving Facebook Live (and have greatly enjoyed joining several livestreams this past weekend) I wonder whether there’s more to be adapted than just our skill with technology. Is it to be celebrated that people are still tuning in to worship and learn together on a Sunday morning? Yes. Absolutely yes. But should this virus-induced pause also make us rethink how we meet, live and work as church? Yes. Absolutely yes.

I love big meetings. I do. Just the other night I was whinging because my family wanted to do some sung worship just the five of us and I really struggle to worship in a small group. I love teaching to a big group, not only is it a great confidence booster, it also sets such a big stage for the Holy Spirit to work. I love so much about big meetings. But mostly what I love about church is seeing God radically transform lives, and guess what? I think that’s easiest seen around the dinner table.

Yes; love, tune in and support Sunday services but I urge you to think about the church that’s happening in your home too . The opportunity for discipleship with your children, siblings and spouse. The opportunity to study together, to read the Bible aloud, to break bread and to draw, sing and create with each other. “Church” should spill over and out into every inch of our lives and my hope, and my suspicion, is that part of the purpose of this time is for us to rediscover that.

The good God problem – Roanna Day

The good God problem – Roanna Day

Something funny happens when I talk to people about our current life. When I talk about how hard it can be, how angry I’ve been at God, how I know he is refining me, but how much it hurts every single day. 

Some people stand beside me and say Amen. They look to the future with me, to the place God is taking me and the person He is making me and say “it will be worth it”.

Whereas some people respond with comfort, with compliments or, and this really is the crux, with a confidence that God will come and remedy the current difficulties. 

It’s this that’s made me speak up about what I’m dubbing ‘the good God problem’. Admittedly the title is a touch provocative because, of course, He is a good God. He is endlessly good. One of my favourite songs, written by Jenn Johnson, talks about how God’s goodness runs after us and I feel the truth of that every day. 

But, have you ever stopped to think about why God is good, about why you can trust in God’s goodness? I hadn’t until my teacher Emma Stark asked. Her answer? We can trust in God’s goodness because of His holiness. 

It’s because He is holy, that He is good. 

We tend to, rather humanly, reverse this and instead have made a God out of goodness. We have made goodness into the holy thing. 

Psalm 89 v 14 says: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne.” He is a good God, He is love. But, his throne is built on righteousness and justice. It is because of that truth that we can trust in His goodness, in His love, in His mercy.

We cannot make the mistake of idolising God’s goodness to the point where we fail to see His work, His purpose and His presence, in the hardships. 

God wants us holy, more than He wants us comfortable. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve said that to myself these last two years. When my day feels insurmountably difficult, when I think about the state of our finances, about providing for our daughter as she grows, about my dad’s diagnosis I bring myself back to that truth: He wants us holy, more than He wants us comfortable. 

He wants to indulge us, yes; He’s a good father. He wants us to have everything we need, yes; He’s a generous provider. He wants us to know that we are fully loved, yes; He is love itself. 

But, I believe that before, or rather, alongside all of that, he wants us to be holy. 

Our holiness is his purpose for us. 

Our becoming holy is what allows us to come further in, to run completely into His arms. 

Our holiness is what allows us to be family with Him. 

For all of those reasons and more, He wants our holiness. Even if the road there is a difficult one, even if that means staying His hand from helping sometimes. 

He wants us holy, more than He wants us comfortable.