Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

re-charting the narrow path ahead

Monday, January 8th, 2018

How do you picture it? The narrow path…

Perhaps, like us, you’ve long seen it as set apart from the broad way, separate somehow; maybe, actually above it and leading still further up a steep hill, or winding through twist after turn of hidden corner and next stretch; uneven, difficult ground; deep, shadowy valleys with just enough light and water to keep going; difficult weather… hard circumstances that hone; sacrificial choices that refine; self-denial that prunes and grows more fruit to bless others.

But what if the narrow path isn’t so much like this at all? What if it’s less of a completely different, (by implication, higher and harder) course and more accurately Jesus’ Way through the broad expanse of joys and challenges that everyone – those looking for his way, and those not – will face in this world.

The narrow path image is one created by Jesus himself, and recorded by Matthew in 7:13-14 of his gospel:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Here (and in John 10:9) Jesus describes himself as ‘the gate’, and elsewhere as ‘the door’ (John 10:7) and ‘the way’ (John 14:6).

There can be no confusion that entering the right way is restoring relationship with God through Christ, that walking the right way is staying in step with him; following him closely, listening to his voice intently, enjoying his company and seeking to obey him no matter what the road ahead holds.

But does his narrow road towards life really look like the description at the start of this reflection?

Does this group of secondary images that much of Christian culture has gradually developed around the original Jesus picture add to, or actually distort, his symbol of discipleship?

Would the God who loved his world so much he came in person to walk his light among the people dwelling in darkness lead his followers along such a separate path?

Could the path that leads to life and the techni-colour purity of the one who created it really, every single time and in every single moment, always lead to the hardest choice or the most difficult terrain?

Just for a moment, let’s imagine re-charting the narrow path ahead. Picture this…

The main way people take is so broad it barely feels like a way – it is more like field upon field stretching out in parallel, and all across it people are moving forward towards the horizon. Some on their own; some in groups.

To the left, some meander or even give up, confused and overwhelmed by their surroundings and unsure of the point of their travels.

To the right, others stride ahead with single-minded, even competitive, purpose having decided their own route ahead, acting as if it is a race to win rather than a destination to reach.

But right through the middle of it all is the thinnest of paths – for the walkers among us, probably something that looks a bit like a sheep path…

It is discernable perhaps only by its flattened grass, gently yellowed from the steps of those who have found it over the centuries and by the light that surrounds each one on it at present.

And if it does have a fence – in parts or in whole – to differentiate it more clearly, every panel of that is a cross-barred access gate rather than a barrier.

It will of course experience the same weather and seasonal fluctuation as the fields around it; it’s walkers are not immune from blisters or sprains or fatigue. Dark nights still fall around them as often as bright dawns rise and shine on them.

But it is the way through because it walks with Life and towards Life.

It is a way that is supernaturally transformational because paying attention to the one who is Life can’t help but make you more alive today than you were yesterday.

It is a way that is beautiful, because it is paced slow enough to notice the rich details of the landscape and people around you.

It is a way that is merciful, because it is visible to those in the fields to the left and right of it, and all who are on it are lovingly conscious of those around them too, ready to stop and encourage others to join them… or to offer first aid, water, or a word of encouragement; eager to chat and laugh with one to the left or come alongside one who is crying on the right.

It is a way that is hopeful because even when its ramblers go through awful weather and reach dread-full obstacles, they remind each other where they are going. And they persevere in going there because they have the very best of company on the way; a Presence and a people to get them through the worst of times.

It is a way that is scandalously grace-filled, for it is always there for everyone to join, at any point in their journey.

It is a way that is contested, opposed and even persecuted because those not on it can easily be persuaded that it is restrictive, laughable or even dangerously misleading. And there are powers that seek to trip up and disable its followers.

But it is the only way that overcomes because it is wise and care-full to avoid potentially treacherous short-cuts or isolated stretches and there is ever present help from Life and his limitless strength and power. And so all those who remain on it to the end reach their long-anticipated destination.

But before they do, while they are still on this narrow path… those who choose to walk through everything with Jesus find – even sometimes by veering a little off to the left or really quite a long way to the right of him – that they learn to tread this almost tight rope course more and more accurately, and that it brings them more and more life and joy on route.

They discover life is full whether they’re looking out from hill-top’s vista or up from valley ditch’s black mire and muck.

They begin to see they are loved more than they could ever love, so they love as much as they can in response. But they love wisely too, for they know they are worth more than many sparrows so they flee any attachment that tells them they are not.

They learn to tread well to the right of hopeful expectancy but resist straying into entitlement.

They start to embrace selflessness without losing their unique self’s flourishing and growth as God purposed.

They have extraordinary faith that their leader will do everything he says he will, but they start to get better at discerning when they are hoping in their own dreams rather than his promises; understand that they aren’t always rightly interpreting his how or when; and most of all, they more and more fully embrace that they are following him not his works.

They become quicker to serve wholeheartedly, give generously and sacrifice astonishingly for others. But they revel too in taking their turn to receive lavish help or gifts. And they cease to be frightened to rest a bit longer than they feel they “should” when they know it is absolutely what they need.

They evolve into reckless forgivers but they are never careless enough with their hearts to not guard them  from the enemy, or any who would partner with him, in unrepentingly or unrelentingly damaging what they know is their well-spring and the greatest treasure they have to give their God.

They seek to be so much more than intentional but to stop just short of striving; to be principled but never so ruled by law that they become their own definition of a Pharisee.

They look to build healthy disciplines, but flee from following these whatever comes, rather than adapting to whatever and wherever the one who inspired them needs them to do – or not do – next.

They are prepared to suffer, and to suffer well as a witness to their first Pioneer’s footsteps (Colossians 1:24), but they do not celebrate or seek privation because they are beginning to understand that whilst Life conquers even the very worst with resurrection, it is not in anyway dependent on death to thrive!

Miraculously, they grow more stunningly obedient and strangely free at the same time. Less themselves and more themselves all at once.

Because this is the Jesus Way.

The way of the one who fasted and went to the cross, but who also laughed and feasted with his friends.

The way of the one who spoke gently saving grace to the adulteress (John 8:1-11) and consistently angry judgement to the exclusionary religious elite.

The way of the one who gave a hillside full of people with good food, leaving abundant leftovers spare, without means testing their need (e.g. Matthew 14:13-21), but who also told the rich young man he must give everything he had to the poor if he truly wanted to follow this way (Matthew 19:16-22).

The way of the one who healed every one of the sick who came to him in one place (Matthew 8:16), but left a village where everyone was looking for him to minister to them, because his calling to preach led him elsewhere (Mark 1:35-39).

The way of the one whose Spirit led Paul to radically tailor  his letters to the different churches he was writing to… for some were straying to the left, and others to the right, and all needed to come back to the narrow path – to re-enter the gate and follow the Jesus Way.

The way of the one who has walked with us every step of the way so far, and whose Spirit is saying again to us today:

“Dear heart, just a little more to the left now; no, that’s a bit too much, come back towards me now because you’ve gone too far… stay close, stay here.

“That’s it, yes that person, but no not that invitation; yes that work, but no, not that one… rest dear heart, rest.

“Yes, you’re right, I am saying that, yes, give that up, sacrifice it for me; but no, not that, dear heart, that is so much more part of how I made you to be and to reach others for me than you realise quite yet. And that, no not that, I love watching how much joy that brings you – enjoy it with me now.

“Well done good and faithful, that’s it, yes, that’s absolutely it… bang on… now just stay with me, don’t keep doing that longer than I’m in it, and don’t start that next thing before I say.

“Just stay close. Just listen… and, yes, almost, but wait for it with me for a while, it’s not quite the perfect time for that yet…”

And then, with joyful, loving laughter in his voice:

“Yes now, absolutely, NOW! Let’s go, go go!”

If you’d like to respond to what you’ve just read…

Here are some questions, one or more of which might be helpful to ask God and yourself as you pray, and in anticipation of your year ahead together:

1. Where might I need to move a little more to the left, or a little more to the right, in my heart-postyre, beliefs or actions?

2. What excites me about thinking a bit more about the narrow path ahead of me/ my church/  my organisation?

3. How might holding this slightly different view of the narrow path help me/ us in our personal and missional walk(s) with Jesus through 2018?

putting God at the centre of your celebrations

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

In the abstract, holidays feel like a time when there should be more space to connect with God and the things on his heart. But in reality, many of us find that when we’re away from our normal routines, it can be harder – rather than easier – to spend time in worship, prayer or even reflection… especially if we are away with other people…

Busy festival times of celebration – especially Christmas – can be even more like this…

Even when the reason for all the activity is Jesus, it can end up negatively impacting on our time with him, or lead us to feel like we have two modes of operation – one clearly connected to our devotion, and one that just feels separate, even if its really good. In the morning we might read our Bible or an Advent reflection, but later when we’re laughing with friends over good food, it can feel like that’s unrelated to him.

So we wanted to share this incredibly simple and obvious idea that some of us used on an extended holiday recently, that we found to be so wonderful we’re planning to use it every time we enter a period like this, as a way of:

  • consciously doing holidays and celebrations with God
  • connecting with him together really naturally
  • giving him all the thanks and praise for all the good gifts we’re enjoying, so that they (and we) are always connected to the one who gave them all.

As well as the joy we experienced from doing this with God, we also ended up making a note of some wonderful moments we might otherwise have forgotten, and getting the chance to savour everything more richly together before moving on to the next thing.

It’s basically a way of capturing and thanking God for every good gift you experience, by adding a little more each day to what gradually becomes a giant thanksgiving chart…

…as we said, it’s a super simple idea, but this resource explains clearly everything you need and notes some additional pointers that might be helpful.

We know that holiday and celebration times – especially with family – can throw up negative experiences and emotions as well, and this exercise we’re sharing is absolutely not about denying those.

It’s really important and healthy to pour out our pain over this to God and the following two resources (the first generally and the second specifically in relation to Christmas) might help a bit with this:

We also have a blog from a few years back that a number of us have come back to repeatedly with some more simple ideas about increasing connection to God during vacation times: http://journey.thesanctuarycentre.org/2011/08/01/rest-in-his-presence/

landing, pacing and resting

Monday, October 30th, 2017

We’ve landed in Nidderdale at the property which will shortly host the Sanctuary’s new, bespoke prayer space… and are starting to feel settled here. Our hearts are very full – we can’t stop thanking and praising God for leading us every step of the way over this last stretch, and for leading us here – to a place of such wonder and beauty right in the heart of Yorkshire.


We’re also very tired after a busy few months ending in one location and packing up two properties in order to move to the new one.

So during November and December, we’ll be taking it gently, making sure we pace ourselves, rest and just enjoy settling in before we start thinking about building plans in the new year. And some of our central collective members will also be taking a well-earned holiday during this time-period too!

But we wanted to let you know we’re safely here, all has gone smoothly, we’re getting settled, we’re so excited about what’s coming… and we’re already being inspired to create here!

Here’s a psalm that bubbled up and overflowed out from Liz yesterday afternoon…

Bright valley is all smiles today –

awoken by the world’s strongest light

to shine back the favour

in glowing gold and green

and burnished brown bronze.

The brooks almost giggle their descent,

as if tickled out of shyness

by creeping warmth

illuminating bracken-scented shade

to shimmer their rush, flow and drop.

Shoals of sky-painters

dip, glide and weave,

brush-stroking broad blue

with passing shapes;

then, as I ascend the fell under them,

shift craft and lead me up

like a troupe of soaring minstrels

– bright pied-pipers by the dozen –

uplit and uplifting.

A distant floating balloon

punctuates blue with red, now white;

what does my below look like from that kind of above?

But I am glad to be on the ground today,

climbing to first flight-heights only.

For here each ordinary thing,

each overlooked scrap

of moss on wall

or grass underfoot

grows jewel-like

as if the land itself was a prayer,

or a hymn – or both.

And it is of course.

I tread the same fields and rocks

as monks and pilgrims.

And I wonder,

is the whole valley dancing anew

to welcome us home

to their ancient glory-scape?

I breathe in deep, fresh joy.

And I quiet.

And I am all smiles too.

freedom is as freedom does

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

We’ve uploaded a new resource. Freedom is as freedom does is a poem celebrating the kingdom understanding of individual liberty as being inter-connected with others’ worth and flourishing. You can download it as a printable pdf from our articles and poetry page or read it below:


Freedom is as freedom does

I’m still learning freedom is as freedom does;
it’s about the you – as well as the me – contained in us…

Heaven’s maths and kingdom equality are set by the one who is also three,
one who multiplies his connection-reflection in billions more like me.

The West tells me: “live the material gospel of individuality!”
But I cannot be free if I’m bound up in someone else’s slavery.

Consumer culture persuades me “make more to have more to one day be enough”.
But I’ll never find my wings in the service of amassing endless stuff.

It’s not real plenty when it comes at such poverty-sustaining cost.
It’s not seeing the world if others’ homes and habitats get lost.

It’s simply not real life if it clutters my days with distraction
and robs me of time and space with my One True Satisfaction.

So God of freedom, crash through all my self-justifying defences;
help me see better through this matrix and come to my senses.

It was for freedom that you so extravagantly set us free,
not for comfort, but for upward and outward relational liberty.

For I am not just I – I am in you and I am in your body.
So I am less with every threat to – every theft from – our corporately.
But I am more – and I am free – when I surrender to you; utterly.

inherently seasonal

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

Autumn is all around us, ripe with so many deeper pictures if we look closely. A few days ago, we shared some thoughts inspired by autumn raspberries – this week, several of us have been talking about harvested apples…

On Monday our prayer rhythm’s daily verse was Psalm 39:4: “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” visualised by the brilliant Logos as follows:

It really stuck with us… perhaps especially because Autumn leaves in various states of colouring and falling are all around us now.

And it got us thinking about how seasons (physical and spiritual) work the same way as life – each has a ‘measure’ to its days; every single one, to varying degrees, is ‘fleeting’.

Perhaps one of the ways many of us come unstuck sometimes is when we forget this – when we don’t remember how inherently seasonal things are.

Sometimes when something good comes to an end, we even start questioning whether it should have happened… sometimes when God gives us something new for one season we keep it going long, long beyond its appointed time… and sometimes when something new is given we question whether what was given before it was really good after all.

(Aside: perhaps this may not be so much a failing as another glimpse of how we were made for eternity… although, will there be no seasons in eternity? That’s hard to call…)

And then as we thought about picking all the apples many of us have been growing in our gardens, we realised again how little we – or the apple trees themselves – question whether they definitely were apple trees once they have no fruit in them… or try to hang on to the apples indefinitely, way beyond the next few weeks, just because they’re good to eat now…. or dismiss blossom as pointless now the fruit has come in its place.

Autumn is here, it’s time to rejoice in what’s been grown and harvested – and to use up all its good gifts thankfully, knowing new seasons will bring new growth and new crops and nothing has materially changed; an apple tree is an apple tree is an apple tree…

We responded by worshipping with these beautiful song words from Kristene Di Marco’s song, Jesus, Your Love – you might like to join us:

“So let my heart 
tell you again
when seasons change 
and stories end,
Your steady love
it will sustain
me through it all –
Jesus, Your love.”

autumn raspberries

Monday, September 18th, 2017

God’s been speaking to us over the last few days through Autumn raspberries we’re trying – and not managing – to stay on top of picking…


They feel completely miraculous… we can barely keep up with their fruitfulness!

One minute they look completely stripped bare, like there’s nothing left to give and you’ve cleaned them out completely… and then, sometimes as little as half a day later, there are loads more to pick.

We felt God highlight to us that this is what we feel like at the moment after a very intense few months of ministry and movement and with transition still not fully behind us;  like we’ve been picked bare and there’s nothing more to give… but then all this fruit still comes.

The prayer rhythm is up and running again. The trial dispersed email has been created and is already fizzing with life. The new season is getting planned. New creative outreach projects are already being prepared. New resources are being drafted. And the second round of boxes are somehow also getting packed in and around it all.

And best of all, he is inspiring faith and joy and bringing life and beauty and laughter and giving us rest and strength to pray and share and shape new visions and strategies of actions to take. He’s a remarkable source for never-ending fruit!

How often, and how easily, we seem to forget that our supply is eternal…

That we can be like the beautiful image of the Psalm 1 tree when we plant ourselves in him.

This week we heard that one of the “fruitiest” Christians a number of us have ever met, and who has ever prayed for and supported the Sanctuary, had gone to be with Jesus after a long and faithful life. He will be over the moon!

But his going – whilst leaving a huge legacy among so, so many people – will leave a large gap because he and his wife of later years just kept fruiting. When they couldn’t go out as much they focused on leading their neighbours to Jesus, when they couldn’t take action they prayed.

In every season there they were – raspberries, raspberries, raspberries. Lush, extraordinary, beautiful lives that shone all the more brightly the frailer they got – more and more transparent to Jesus’ love.

Their lives – and our raspberries – reminded us of a scripture which several of us had been thinking about a few days before the raspberries came to our attention. So we’re passing it on to you, along with these reflections, and praying its truth over every one of you facing any kind of trial, strain, sorrow or stretch at the moment.

Could do the same for those known to you facing these kind of situations too?

But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us. 

We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair. We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 

We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, His resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 The Voice)

new season – new ways to pray with us

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Welcome to the Sanctuary’s new season and an update on some new and emerging ways to pray with us that we’re really excited to tell you about; especially if you’ve not been able to engage in our prayer rhythm previously because of physical distance from our base in the heart of the UK.

To jump straight in, visit pray with us; to find out more, keep reading…

At the heart of everything we are and do at the Sanctuary is worship and intercession. And, most centrally of all, our daily prayer rhythm of both, which has been running for more than seven years.

For the last five years of these seven – September 2012 to Augst 2017 – this rhythm was based at 6 Church Street, Ilkley. During this time – as part of a public centre set up, run in a shop-front space – we opened up this prayer rhythm up to everyone and anyone…

Monday to Friday we were there, three times a day, gathering with regulars, visitors and people passing through to worship God and lift the world – and every one in seven billion within it he so loves – to him.

But as of 1 September 2017, that changed as our occupation of 6 Church Street ended on 31 August.

We’re in the process of moving to our new base and preparing to work towards building a new small, bespoke prayer space there from scratch, which will even more closely match the vision God first gave us in 2009.

Of course, despite the disruption, inevitable mixed emotions and endless boxes(!) this is all very exciting…

But much more importantly, we’re entering a new season with a new model of working better suited to developing and growing – in both depth reach – our vision of engaging ourselves and others in sustained prayer for the nations, resourcing the church in outward focused worship and reaching out in creative ways to those who have not yet encountered God’s love.

In short, our vision and work (aside from expansion of the latter made possible by increased capacity) isn’t really changing. We’re still committed to obeying everything God has called us to do to explore, share and resource the journey towards the place where world and worship meet.

But the way we go about our work, and who we open some elements of it to, is changing.

The biggest change in our new model is that we’re shifting away from running a public centre to go both deeper and wider.

The deeper part is that the new base we’re developing will be much more of a hub,  a restorative, spacious and more private place which serves and facilitates the collective of people involved with actually carrying out the Sanctuary’s core work. Somewhere to gather, pray and work in and out of together in a more focused way.

The wider part is that we’re re-orientating how we do the rhythm to share the absolute treasure store we’ve found it to be with many, many more people than just those who were able to come through our front door when we  ran a public centre.

Shortly after our old base opened, one of our pray-ers asked if we could start sharing the famous whiteboard we used as the focus for the rhythm each day so that she could still pray with it even if she couldn’t come in that day.

And so we did – and suddenly, as well as our worship resources being used by people all over the world, people elsewhere started to use the whiteboard too…

Any prayer rhythm participation happening remotely was always just overflow – an added blessing… and because we were preparing each morning, we couldn’t usually share it until after morning worship.

But now this is all turning upside-down.

In our interim phase – now up until when the new prayer space has been built and is ready – and beyond it, even when our collective can gather again, we’re choosing to operate and resource the dispersed elements of our prayer rhythm much more deliberately.

So wherever you’re reading this, can we extend to you the warmest of invitations to join in with our daily rhythm remotely?

Because now the focus for any given day in the rhythm is being published late afternoon/early evening on the previous day. So no matter what time you check in Monday-Friday, wherever you are in the world, whatever time zone you live in and however early you like to pray, you should be able to find the focus there ready and waiting for you already!

Currently you can do this by following us on twitter or using the feed on the right hand side of our homepage to find out what our focus for worship and intercession is that day – and then join in with it!

(See our source document to view!some of the cycles behind the rhythm.)

But we hope more is coming too…

Hot off the press: we have also begun the process of trialing a daily email which resources this prayer rhythm in much more depth with a small group of our most committed pray-ers, with the view to exploring being able to offer this much more widely once it’s further developed.

We’re only a few days into this but the early signs suggest the road ahead could be more beautiful and transformational than we had even thought to imagine.

We’ll keep you posted but meanwhile, with the day’s focus now available to you in plenty of time each day, we’d love you to pray with us

If you have any questions about this, or any other element of the Sanctuary’s work, please do just contact us

lessons in beautiful transparency

Friday, August 4th, 2017

At the suggestion of one of our pray-ers, we’ve created a rather special, gift resource for you. It’s a souvenir and thanksgiving offering to celebrate our time at our first base, and to share the testimony of how God used a window to beckon us into greater bravery and train us in the art of how to communicate the gospel in beautifully transparent ways

we’re taking flight

Monday, July 24th, 2017

The Sanctuary’s time being based at our first physical home – 6 Church Street, Ilkley – is coming to an end, following us giving twelve months notice to leave the space this time last year. We’ll be taking flight on 31 August as another step towards creating a new base of our own and adjusting our current, public access model. And so we’re using these last few weeks of having our shop-front windows onto the A65 to begin sharing thank yous and goodbyes for the five years of generous hospitality given to us by All Saints Church…

To do this, we’ve brought together elements from two previous windows – created for Yorkshire Day 2015 and New Year 2016 – featuring the work of our two most talented artists – Alison Hodson and Barbara Macnish.

What better to say what we want to over this year’s Yorkshire Day (1 August) and as we prepare to enter another new season on the Sanctuary’s journey.

The text on the window reads:

“We’re taking flight!

We’ve loved sharing our prayers and creations with you through this space.

Thank you for having us All Saints Church! And goodbye and God bless to all our neighbours and passers by.”

It is then signed by the principal members of ‘team window’ – Jill, Liz, Alison and Barbara – on behalf of everyone at the Sanctuary.

We’re planning to work with landlords and councils going forward to make use of multiple, empty shop-fronts so this isn’t the end of our window work – but for this last of our first batch, at our first base, the main team of creatives involved all got together to celebrate the journey of the last five years and raise a toast to the glass that helped train us all in the art of communicating the gospel in beautifully transparent ways:

entering our bigger story

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

During July, we’re spending the majority of our morning worship rhythms setting our own stories – and the Sanctuary’s story – within the bigger story we live in: God’s. One of our principal tools for this, and for inspiring the reflective discussion questions and prayer foci we’re using for it, is the album  Music inspired by the story. It explores key biblical characters’ inner motivations and sacrifices of praise in songs that feel  like both unique-to-the-character dramatic monologues and worship we could all sing.

Each day, we’re taking a different track and responding to it, the wider biblical narrative it brings to life and how it speaks into our individual lives and callings, the people and situations on our heart to pray for and the season of the transition the Sanctuary is currently in as we prepare to leave our current premises next month.

We’re also creating a growing prayer installation with symbols for each story’s message on it…


We’re just two days in and it’s been so powerful, we wanted to invite you in too!

Obviously the main stimulus for this is the music and lyrics which aren’t ours to publish, but if you’d like to join us – and we highly recommend you do – order the CD/mp3 download and use a track a day yourself in prayer… exploring what each part of the larger story speaks into your own and your intercession for others’.

Again we can’t share all the details of what we’re discussing and praying in response online, but you will see some of it if you follow our twitter feed either on twitter itself, or on the feed displayed on our main website home page and this blog’s landing page – you don’t have to be on twitter to access these feeds… just use the scroll bars to move up and down.

Enjoy the story!