Updated: Aug 16
"So ‘lockdown’ is my least favourite word in 2020. I listened to Pete Hughes last week from New Wine – he did a series of three talks which were so very relevant and helpful to the times we are in: “Awakening: a revival spirituality for the age of anxiety”. A phrase that he used that really resonated with me was that this has been for many an ‘unwelcome wilderness’ but that through it all there have been signs of revival and new beginnings whether it is individuals coming to faith for the first time or coming back to a faith they once knew and a God previously trusted. So, what has it been for you? An unwelcome wilderness or opportunity for new beginnings? It could also have been both. Johnny has encouraged us as a church family to write down the three things we have learnt and over the next few weeks I will share these with you and, to start the ball rolling here are mine…
As many of you know we had a period of self-isolation whilst Johnny was unwell at the end of May and I really did not cope with that time well. I knew that I was already missing seeing people, my family and grandchildren particularly but I don’t think I fully appreciated what a relational human being I am and how I don’t do well when on my own! So, as I look back and look forward these would be my three.
Firstly, what is in your hand? This began for me over 18 months ago as I sought to understand what God wanted of me and how to use my time and I was reminded of this afresh with the series ‘Courage and Calling’ based in the book of Esther. Esther had a crown in her hand, she was the right person in the right place at the right time to intercede on behalf of her people but she had a choice as to whether she would trust God with her life …. When other things are stripped away do I really believe that God is all I need? When roles and responsibilities change do I believe that God can use me where I am, with the little that I have when I can’t see people? Will I choose to trust God?
Secondly, ‘chose joy’! The recent series on Defiant Joy has been really significant for me and, I believe, many of us as we have wrestled again with whether God can be trusted to know what He’s doing at all times. People I know and care about have died during this period and I’ve not been able to say goodbye; people have lost jobs with little hope in the immediate future of finding alternative work, marriages and relationships have been under greater pressure, the suicide rate has more than doubled in our country, domestic violence and child protection incidents have increased. I have been asked where is ‘joy’ when people all over the world are suffering? Where is God? And yet week by week we have heard the raw testimony of individuals and households that have found that the source of joy is Jesus and that Jesus is the same regardless of what is going on all around us, whatever is happening in our lives, whether we have much or little, whether that which we loved and/or valued has been taken away. As Pete Gower said ‘joy and sadness are comfortable bed-fellows’. Choosing joy each day may be a new concept for many of us but week after week we have seen from Scripture and personal testimony that it is vital to our lives as Christians. How is your thankfulness jar – is it a past habit that’s hard to keep going in the absence of church and being together? Maybe the question now is how is your ‘joy jar’?
Finally, ‘look up … lift your eyes’. Psalm 121 has always been a go-to Psalm of mine whatever the season of life; again it’s a choice. Will I chose to ‘look up … lift my eyes’ or not? I’ve been walking outside during lockdown and loving it rather than at the gym watching the TV! If I only look at the path before me, I miss out on so much else. If I lift my eyes I see what’s around me, the vastness and beauty of this part of the world that God created. If I look up and lift my eyes enough to look at Jesus face I see the heart of God etched out – welcoming, accepting, joyous to have my company, grieving over the state of our nation and world, conveying ‘I’m here … I’m not confined to church buildings, I am here in your heart and home, in your community, in your nation, in My people, in zoom times and the printed words faithfully distributed week by week’. Whilst much else has changed, I know that God hasn’t, His Spirit is on the move in our midst, many are being reached that would not normally access church services, acts of kindness by the people of God are ever before us. Will you and I chose to trust? Will we chose to be defiantly joyful? Will we chose to look up and lift our eyes to see the face of God, to experience the arms of God and know the love and forgiveness of God?
I don’t find learning easy; learning something doesn’t come quickly to me. I’m sure I should have known the above a long time ago given I’ve been a Christian for forty plus years. It’s not a journey I would have chosen, a wilderness that was welcome but …."
Over forty other replies have come in from church family.. Some are finding God in the waiting, engaging without all the things they most prefer. Others are battling with their desires to buy, to choose and being chosen for. Others are recognising it's an invitation to look to Jesus in a fresh way, to respond to all God is in the power of the Spirit, to tuck away and enter into new depths with Jesus... and with online study: to rewind and relisten! Others are marvelling at the power of God: alive and working in and through His church, even when our buildings feel out of action! God has given wisdom and knowledge to His creation, in seeking to try new ways of doing things - from developing vaccines and other treatments for COVID-19, to home schooling, to the use of Zoom and Facebook for His praise and glory and people coming to know Jesus, the Light of Life!