a narrow path worship song

Before you read any further, please click through on the link to watch this incredible song and film from Minya, Egypt which was sent to us by Resonance* last week – and is undeniably the Sanctuary’s favourite worship song to date. Why? Watch it and then, if you still need to ask, we’ve got some reflections for you…spoiling sundays
The last few days have been ones when a lot has been stirred up and then newly weaved together.

On Friday night, at Mosaic Church Leeds’ Love:Nations conference, we were struck by one message above all others from the speaker (Jimmy Seibert from Antioch Church, Texas) – ‘our faith is in a person not an outcome’.

On Sunday, speaking at St John’s Church, Ben Rhydding, we shared with another group of believers the Sanctuary’s core vision of inspiring, equipping and challenging the UK church to both and worship – worship equally inspired by Isaiah 58:5-12 and Matthew 26:6-13.

Worship that is active and in motion – looking to reach out horizontally through sharing the gospel and caring for those in need. Worship that expresses loving God by loving others.

And worship that is static and adorational – pouring outour hearts in passionate, upward adoration as our focus is on Jesus’ feet and our ‘costly jar’ is smashed and ‘wasted’ just on him.

Worship that recognises both that our prayers to a powerful God – who is active – will always achieve more than our own actions and refuses to make the mistake of ceasing to be active because of this.

What difference could we make if we were truly, radically sold out to Jesus as a church?

If we were being humbly and prayerfully led to go in radical expressions of mission and justice, and constantly fuelled to continue in intimate, passionate adoration?

And then, back at the Sanctuary yesterday,we were focusing on God as our ‘Defender’ and wrestling with the balance between both sharing incredible testimonies and faithfully expecting answered prayer, miracles and changed circumstances and recognising the different kind of defence and deliverance that comes for our hearts of worship – and our counter-cultural witness – as we persevere through tragedy, ongoing brokenness and prayer that hasn’t been answered in the way we wanted it to be.

And then here we are at Tuesday. Today’s element of God’s character in focus is ‘Deliverer’ and our scriptures are Joshua 1:9 and Psalm 79. What a context to think and pray about the persecuted church in. What a context to watch this beautiful and challenging film from Minya, Egypt in.

We are the last people to want to glorify persecution – we are fierce defenders of justice, peace and loving others. It is important that we pray, campaign and give for the literal – as well as spiritual – deliverance of our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution. Just as there is an importance to work for the end of material as well as spiritual poverty.

But there is a reality – and we say this with love, respect and a shared ownership of what follows – that we as a comfortable, passive and often ineffectual western church need to wake up to here.

There is a humbling, astonishing, beautiful power in the testimony of the Christians in Minya that will teach us more about the true walk of following Christ than any number of podcasts, best-selling books or famous worship songs will ever do.

While we are busy praying for protection and an end to violence because we are so used to comfort and safety, some of the most persecuted parts of the church are experiencing a joy, perspective, level of community and indeed impact on those in need and/or those who don’t know Jesus we can’t even imagine.

And while we are all seeking the very best way to be used for God so that our gifts, resources, heart and call all match up with a particular need or place… the persecuted church is perhaps more blessed than we realise in not being able to factor in what can be dangerously bordering on self-actualisation.

Instead, they are counting the full cost to live or die to see Christ-actualisation.

The thing to celebrate here is absolutely NOT the persecution.

It is Christ. And Christians finding him so fully and deeply and living for him in a way that is staggeringly beautiful in its counter-cultural contrast to the ashes of its context.

Some six or seven years ago, one of our co-founders, Liz Baddaley, heard Canon Andrew White (the Vicar of Baghdad) speak for the first time about his work at St George’s Baghdad. There are many things about this incredibly Christ-like man which inspire and challenge us at the Sanctuary, but one phrase that remains dear is that very first one, ‘don’t pray for us to take care, pray for us to take risks for Christ’.

Liz wrote the song Keep on shining in response to this (and you can read more about the story behind that here).

There is a sense – just as Jesus describes in Matthew 25 in reference to the poor and the imprisoned – that it is in our persecuted brothers and sisters we see Christ most clearly revealed.

Yes please let’s pray and act for their release. But let’s do so from a position that is knelt at their feet in recognition of what we need to learn from them.

Persecuted Christians are no more perfect than safe ones, poor ones or rich ones. But sometimes, when we are forced to pay an incredible price for our faith, what we gain is a depth of understanding, knowledge and joy of what we have that is of infinitely more value.

(No wonder many persecuted Christians pray for our churches in their passivity, comfort and – often – compromise.)

If only we could all get to the place of wholehearted devotion and commitment from a position of strength and safety. But in the Bible and throughout history ever since, it has often been suffering and opposition that has formed character and the determination to stand and risk it all for Christ and his kingdom.

Putting the personal challenges of people at the Sanctuary alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters feels almost insulting – aspecially when much of our work as creatives and communicators does create a kind of self-actualisation alongside missional impact and devotion.

But it’s important for bringing things back to the context most of us reading or writing this blog are in.

This week in a number of conversations within team, we’ve found ourselves giving thanks for the privilege of painful, counter-cultural situations we’ve walked through too – whether long-term singleness, false accusations or living on much less money in order to give our time to this work.

Yes, God is our Father and he wants to give us good things and the desires of our heart. But in the times when we haven’t yet seen those breakthroughs we are learning – and perhaps in some small way shining – the greater joy that turns over the tables of our western worship of materialism, self-sufficiency and security and leaves us with something we long for far more – a deeper love for God and the people he has created.

And though we are sad to realise this, this deeper love might not be something we would be pursuing to quite the same extent if we had already been given what we most long for or not faced opposition and hardship.

We have so, so far to go on this narrow path still. And the Christians we’re looking to as examples of the Christ-acualisation we long for are not best-selling authors, worship song writers and famously influential movements – though we are very grateful for the beautiful ministry of many of these.

The people we are looking to are almost always at the margins – whether that’s because of persecution, poverty or some other form of injustice.

Whether they’re indigenous residents or missionaries, abroad or in forgotten corners of the UK, they shine with an authentic beauty and brightness that testifies the love and transformative power of Jesus like nothing else.

The kind of authentic beauty and brightness in this beautiful song and film from Minya, Egypt.

Tomorrow is the start of Lent and Open Doors are launching a brilliant and important initiative to help the church in the UK to wake up to the persecuted church, especially in the most extreme context we know about today – in North Korea. We’d love you to join them in prayer and action this Lent and beyond.

As for us? This Lent we’ll be joining them too, but a big  focus for us is also going to be on praying for us as the western church to be more narrow minded. Not in the way we look at society or theology, but in the way we look at ourselves.

It’s time to wake up to what the narrow path is like. And the power as well as the pain of it.

And it’s time to seek to be Christ-actualised in our culture – even if that means living radically different lives that stand out as such.

The church in the UK is only as fragile as it chooses to be. God’s power and love have not changed. So thank you brothers and sisters in Minya, Iraq and North Korea  for reminding us of this, even as we pray for your suffering to end.

*Resonance – who forwarded on the link to this song to us – are another favourite with the Sanctuary. They are an initiative of the missionary organisation WEC and work to encourage indigenous expressions of worship and creativity around the world. There work is an inspiration as well as vitally needed. Find out more about them here.

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