Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

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.

It’s accompanied in our other window, by another goose and the following information, expressing our desire to say three things to every one local to our first base:

Thank you to:

  • All Saints Church for giving us rent-free use of this building for five years. 6 Church Street has been a huge blessing to us – and countless others – because of many of your members’ great generosity. We pray that everything that happens in this space after we leave – and your forthcoming wider building project – will continue to bless many people with the greatest gift we all have to share. Though we are of course deeply sad that your future plans no longer involve us, we remain deeply grateful for all you have given us.
  • everyone who has smiled at our windows, joined us to pray, got involved with our work, given us money, time, resources or talent or prayed for us during our time here.
  • our brilliant God – for his unchanging, unqualified and unequaled love and generosity.

See you soon!

We’ll still be based locally and so you’ll still see us out and about in Ilkley – and other towns and cities in the area – with our creative work. But we’re changing our model, as well as our address. So this is still a goodbye in terms of us having a constant high street presence.

(Although our prayer, resourcing and creative work aren’t changing, we’re no longer going to be offering public access to them all. Instead, we’re planning to build a small, studio base of our own at one of our members’ houses where we can all gather and work out of.)

God bless

Ilkley – we’ve loved sharing our creations with you and praying for you every day from this space. We’re going to miss being a part of your every day life but we’ll still be praying for you and sharing things with you. God bless the whole of you – every person and every inch – with a deeper knowledge of Jesus’ presence, which will never leave or forsake you.

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 windows, 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 has helped train them in this 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!

breaking the depersonalisation of personalities

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

It is a deeply sad irony that an era that so champions the individual should lead to so much depersonalisation of those it elevates as ‘personalities’. But it is ultimately unsurprising. Because at the root of individualism is not really individuals at all, but rather just one individual… the one with a capital I.

So just as the too-often-forgotten-ones in seven billion lose their names, faces and value in comparison to me and my uniqueness and needsthe overly-remembered-ones in seven billion are often inevitably robbed of their three dimensionality too…

This is deeply out of line with the heart of God towards humanity, and the heart for people we must seek to pray – and live – out of, if we want to love like Jesus. So how do we recognise when it’s happening in us and ask for God’s help to champion something different? Especially when it’s directed towards people we are urged to particularly pray for such as our leaders and politicians?

Today is the 2017 ‘snap’ General Election and, please God, the majority of the UK will be casting their vote for their preferred candidate today following around two months of intense political campaigning and commentating.

People feel strongly and politics is important. It is important to challenge injustice and unwise decisions. Sometimes strong arguments need to be made. Righteous anger even has a place. But…

… when individuals are referred to only by their surnames, reduced only to their political alignments, intentionally and deliberately spectated scrupulously and eagerly for the first sign of any mistake or sign of limitation so they can be lambasted or mocked for it… something is deeply wrong.

When it’s overlooked that there are only twenty four hours in a day and a myriad of demands and friends and family and breathing space all needing to be given by candidates alongside memorising manifestos… something is out of control.

When those considered weak or somehow unqualified are belittled and those considered strong and brilliant are so envied that their tearing down is earnestly desired… a house is truly divided against itself.

When even those professing to love God and others are happy to ridicule and vilify their leaders and potential leaders rather than expressing thanks and prayerful value for the those standing, and focusing on examining their policies and yes – to a point – and in loving respect, consider their characters as to their fitness to lead… we, the church, need to get on our knees and repent.

Surely each of us know by now – and if we don’t perhaps we need to ask some further questions of ourselves – the cost of standing up publicly for what you believe in, especially when it is the minority view; the limitations of our own strength in always living out what we know to be true; the very real struggle of balancing calling with family life; the amount of encouragement and strength you need if you’re really going to step out as a faithful pioneer for the sake of the kingdom…

Surely we – who’ve experienced grace upon grace – can model more mercy and appreciation and value to our leaders.

Surely we who follow a Lord who made a point of going after whoever was marginalised in society – including compromising, colluding tax collectors – know that first in line for the twelve today might well be a banker or a politician as much as someone in desperate financial need.

We’re putting this strongly because it feels urgent, whoever is elected. And because finding another way is so easy – and equally inevitable and infectious – when you spend time in prayer.

It’s a way we’ve been led to on our knees. Bit by bit. Stage by stage we’re starting to not just pray for leaders, but to love them too…

Not just in some amorphous, floaty way, but in a specific, deliberate way which looks for whatever is good and noble in them, seeks to understand how they’ve arrived at the views they have (even if we really struggle with them!), seeks to celebrate and bless them every time we pray or talk about them and looks for ways to engage with them that will build them up in themselves as well as communicate what we think or what we’re hoping they’ll do.

These are the decisions that have helped us – little by little – make progress on this journey of counter-cultural love…

  1. We seek to always make a point of calling everyone by their given name whenever we talk about them. We use their first name on its own in prayer as often as we can, and their full name the rest of the time, rather than just their surnames. (We’ve found looking up what their first names mean has further helped in informing our blessing of them. Engaging with who they are and how God sees them makes immeasurable difference.)
  2. We’re starting to invest in taking our time “getting to know” people we pray for/about as much as possible (especially where we disagree with their stance a lot of the time). Almost all public figures have some biographical information available so we’ve been looking it up and spending a while reading it carefully during prayer, having first asked God to prepare our hearts towards them.
    We’re deliberately look for pieces of information that reveal their distinct personhood, evoke respect or inspire empathy… asking: what talents has God clearly given them? What positive character attributes do they exemplify? What experience do they have which brings richness, or helps us understand why they see the world they way they do? What can we celebrate about them, or identify with from our own experience?
  3. We make sure we try to look at them face to face when we’re praying… as if they were with us in the room receiving prayer ministry! We’ve found that finding honouring photos of them that show them smiling – not caught on camera in an unwitting, unflattering moment – really help. And again, taking time to sit and connect with God and them, and praying for a soft heart towards them, has really helped.
  4. We ask God to help us see them as he sees them, and to give us his heart of love for them… although by this point we rarely don’t have our own sense of love and compassion rising! And we ask God if there’s anything he wants to show us about who they are or how to pray for them.
  5. We consciously try to remember these are real people with real lives. So we remember that people gain or lose jobs at elections, have to balance the sacrifice of standing and demands of the work with family needs, and have the same limitations and vulnerabilities we do to stress, over-work, public criticism, under-valuing, sleeplessness or anything else that feels like it might go with the territory.

Tomorrow, campaigning and election fever will be over. But engagement needs to continue. Whatever the result and however we feel about it, could we see 9 June 2017 as a new beginning in our hearts that transforms the nature of our thoughts, prayers, speech and actions towards and about politicians – and all public personalities – going forward.

Love doesn’t score points or impress others with ruthlessly witty one liners. Love will not tolerate scorn, derision, envy or depersonalisation.

Because love does not seek to diminish, distrust or destroy.

No.

Love looks hard and finds the good.

Love celebrates the unique individual made in God’s image and reflecting his glory.

Love champions and extends grace, forgiveness and mercy.

Love expresses thanks for hearts and acts of public service.

Love sees and understands the cost.

Love mourns and rejoices at the right times.

Love never fails.

 

 

 

 

 

GE2017 – ready-to-send love

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Last week we shared how prayer and discussion had led us to see the general election as a gift of opportunity – and the plans we were putting in motion to bless every candidate with an encouraging message of love that also spoke up for others who need courage and love. We promised you we’d share as much as we can in case you want to write to your own candidates too, so this blog is to do that:

Over the last week we’ve been crafting these cards, writing a bespoke message to each candidate in response to positive experience and achievements in their bios, continuing to pray for each one by name, and putting together a joint letter to them all to speak up for the most vulnerable in our society – and the kind of nation the UK could be.

We can’t share the personal messages we hand wrote in each YOU ARE LOVED card because they are specific to the individual candidates’ personal details and wouldn’t help you craft yours in any case.

But we found a bespoke way to thank each and every candidate for standing up publically, acknowledge the inevitable personal cost of doing so, assure them of our prayers and affirm everything in their record which showed their skill and/or track record of standing up for vulnerable people and important issues.

And we told them they are loved and valued by every one of us – whether we’re voting for them or not.

We also told them that we’d agonised over including the letter alongside the card because we just wanted to affirm them at such a stressful time, but that this election was too key not to also raise others who we are praying for – and value so deeply – too.

Here is the text we included in the text to that letter, in case you would like to lift it into something similar of your own to your candidates:

“Dear Ros, David, John, Kris, Paul and Matt,

As candidates in this general election – happening at such a key time in our nation’s history – we wanted to write to you as a praying community seeking to champion the value of each and every one in seven billion people alive today. We feel it’s a vital time to stand up for the kind of nation we want to be and to ensure that the most vulnerable in our world, nation and community are prioritised alongside everyone else.

To that end, we’re sharing this brief list of the issues that feel most important to all of us – no matter which party we are each voting for – for our next government (and whoever of you is elected to parliament) to address. We’ve not included much information; we know you will be deluged, but have bracketed at least one expert and trusted organisation’s website after each one so you can find out more if you want:

Global issues

National issues

Thank you so much for your time. God bless you all,

The Sanctuary’s praying community”

GE2017 – a gift of opportunity

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Those of us who gather to pray together at the Sanctuary come from widely different backgrounds. But there are some characteristics present in us all. Top of that list is having been so captivated by God’s love for us and every one in seven billion, we are now heaven-bent on embodying that love, as well as making it known.

In other words we’re constantly engaged with making a difference to the world – we’re daily praying and acting in response to headlines, issues of injustice and  community events. So when several of our pray-ers responded to a call to pray about the election with what can only be described as a kind of spiritual exhaustion, it was indicative of the wider atmosphere in our nation…

When the forthcoming snap election was announced last month, the news reports contained interviews with a number of people who expressed a sense of being ‘sick’ of politics… one woman was quoted again and again as saying there was ‘too much politics’.

Media, commentators and comedians have carried on this tone. It’s not so much election fever as election malaise. We know we have to engage with this election – we know how important it is; how crucial for determining not just the course of action ahead of our nation with respect to Brexit and other key issues, but perhaps for even defining what kind of nation we want to be.

We know.

And yet…

There is a palpable weariness.

Even among many of the most engaged.

But it’s vital we turn apathy to opportunity.

Everyone in our nation needs prayer to rise above the sense of heaviness, and to be told that there is hope – resilient, abiding, certain hope.

People standing for election need prayer for protection and need to be told that they are loved and appreciated for who they are in the face of an often gruelling ordeal which, for most of them – whether you agree with their policies and ideology or not – comes out of a desire to stand up for something they believe to be for the common good.

And candidates and parties need to be given help in shaping vision – not just lobbied on pet policies – of the kind of country we could be.

There are many ways to do the above. You will be praying and acting into them already.

But, in case it’s helpful for stimulating further prayer, ideas and actions, having wrestled passed that tiredness, and listened for what God was laying on our hearts, here’s how we’re seeking to respond to the opportunity GE2017 presents us to share God’s love and courageously stand for his priorities.

  1. First of all we’re seeking to share hope with everyone we engage in – not vague or politically based hope, but sure and certain Jesus hope. We’re doing this through prayer, in the tone of our conversations and resources and through sharing an art installation in the window of our current premises.
  2. Secondly, we’re praying for our nation and urging everyone in our national and global prayer network to continue to do the same at this crucial time. So we’re investing our time in writing communications like this one, and in creating prayers like Anchor us Lord so that we all remain focused on God’s heart throughout this process.
  3. Thirdly, we’re creating a special card for each of the six local candidates standing in our area and sending them a message of love, appreciation of the costs of standing for public office, and assurance of our prayers. At a time when most of what comes at them is demands, comparisons, polling pressure and criticism, we want to speak en-courage-ment and grace – no matter what their political stance is, or whether any of our pray-ers are likely to vote for them or not.
  4. And lastly, after much wrestling prayer and discussion, despite us feeling that item three is a huge priority for us – to proactive love those who many in our community will not at this time – we’re including a folded up letter in their cards which also speaks up for others we love; most especially the poor and vulnerable.

We’re going to be honest with them, sharing that we agonised about whether to include this because we want the main message they receive from us to be about them, but that we felt this election was too crucial not to speak up for who and what we believe Jesus is leading us to champion.

Because – as we said above – this election is about who we want to be as a nation as we enter Brexit negotiations, redefine law and much more. It is about choosing a character as well as a course.

We’d love you to join us in seeking to speak and embody hope – especially Jesus-rooted hope – at this time where there is such a pervasive sense of drifting and uncertainty.

We’d love you to keep praying with us for the nation at this vital time.

But can we also go one further, and ask you to think about joining us in finding a way to express honest words of appreciation and love to all your candidates? And to consider enclosing something alongside this that speaks up for the voiceless to them with love and respect – something that voices a larger, kingdom-inspired vision for who our nation could be.

You will have your own list of policies you feel are vital, but we are choosing to highlight serving the global poor, protecting vulnerable groups within our own nation and caring for the environment well – and doing this by referring to the specific recommendations made by the following, trusted expert organisations in reference to this election.

  1. Christian Aid
  2. Tearfund
  3. Traidcraft
  4. Age UK
  5. Shelter
  6. The Children’s Society
  7. The Wildlife Trusts
  8. Friends of the Earth

Next week, once we’ve put our own communications to our own candidates together, we’ll share a bit more of the visuals for their card, the tone of the message we write, and the text we’re developing in case you want to use that more directly.

But whatever you do, we’re praying for you – and us –  to keep receiving God’s hope, love, vision and courage to see GE2017 as an opportunity – an opportunity to share his hope, love, vision and courage even wider.

For his sake, his kingdom’s sake, the UK’s sake and the sake of every one in seven billion he so loves. Amen.

 

magnificat counterpoint – Easter reprise

Monday, April 10th, 2017

We’ve uploaded a brand new meditation/monolgue to the Easter section on our seasonal resources page – this one imagines Mary at the end of her life, looking back at the whole of her time with Jesus, and after him; how her song – and all God’s other words to and through her have come true; and just what her life of praise and obedience has helped to enable…

What a life God has given me! What a life…

Part of me is still just that young peasant girl from Nazareth. But I…

I… I?

I have also been God’s son’s… mother!

How can I explain the unexplainable?

You see, everything the angel and the prophets said became techni-colour truth.

No word from God ever fails. Not a single sentence can ever come back empty of course.

But I actually watched it happen, everything heard and sung about… I watched it become flesh and deed and fact.

My life has been part of the greatest story ever imagined, lived or told…

************

I did find favour with God.

I did conceive and give birth to a son.

I did call him Jesus.

The Holy Spirit really did overshadow me and the one who was born in, and through and from me was his son – the Son of God himself.

My beautiful, broken-hearted barren cousin did have a child in her old age who changed everything for her. And who – even in the womb – recognised the Lord beginning to grow in me.

Beautiful, 24-7 worshipping old Anna the prophetess did see and speak the truth, when her soft wrinkled smile shone on him knowingly. How could her God-perceiving heart not see with crystal clarity? The One only to be accessed one day a year by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies was being carried into the outer courts in baby-crinkled skin!

Messiah was here – with us! He did come. For us – to redeem Jerusalem; to redeem the whole world.
Simeon did see God’s salvation. He held it in his very arms, gathering it close to him as his over-flowing heart burst out praise there and then in the temple courts. Like me, he cradled the one who had been clothed in the cosmos … the light of the world – revelation for the gentiles of every nation, the cornerstone and crowning glory of the people of Israel!

And as he grew up? Well, Simeon was right. Many in Israel did rise and fall because of Jesus; many hearts did reveal their true thoughts by speaking against God’s living sign.

And a sword did pierce my heart.

************

It was when we were running away from Bethlehem that I first thought those words were coming true. Because Joseph’s dream was right; we did need to flee Herod’s anger and violence. And the terrible thought of what might happen to the little one who was my everything – God’s everything.

But that wasn’t it.

Then later, on a long road home from Jerusalem when I realised my twelve year old boy was missing, a freezing fear of separation sliced through my core again. But that wasn’t it either. Not even a foreshadowing of it.

I thought again I was tasting it when his ministry was in full swing and he was away saying things I didn’t understand, making enemies out of powerful people and putting friends, strangers and outcasts ahead of his own family… right from that first public miracle in Cana when he said his time had not come to the day he would not come out to see me and his brothers away.

But even all of this was not it.

************

I knew that when his time really came.

Oh yes, then I knew. It is coming now… the sword is falling and I do not know if I will bear its devastation…

When he didn’t use his powers at all but surrendered himself to slander, betrayal and capture.

When they chose to free Barabbas – Barabbas? – instead of him.

When Pilate washed his hands.

I could see it starting to fall as if in slow motion, with a kind of dehabiliitating, disbelieving clarity.

When they took my son – God’s son – who had done nothing wrong and everything right … who had loved people and preached truth and justice and healed, rescued and poured out compassion on the outsider, lived perfect righteousness and exposed hypocrisy and exploitation and hard hearts towards God and man.

When they took him and beat him, and hung him on a cross to die a cursed death between two criminals with a crown of thorns rammed on his head and a mocking sign inadvertently proclaiming the truth – “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum; Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”.

When he handed me into John’s care.

When the life I had once surrendered my whole imagined life for was taken and brutally killed in front of me.

When I realised that it was not just the angel’s words, or Simeon’s or Anna’s that were coming true, but Isaiah’s too…

For like a sheep he was led to the slaughter – he didn’t even open his mouth to protest. I watched him become a man of sorrows, familiar with everyone’s grief. I witnessed him be despised and rejected – betrayed by one of the very people he had put even above family… cheered on into death by the very people who had cheered him into the city a few days earlier, by people he had healed and delivered.

And the punishment that should have been theirs; the punishment that should have been ours – oh God, even mine – was all put on his one set of shoulders. Oh God, how could my son’s back be broad enough to bear the weight of the whole world’s sin? How could his nail-pierced hands hold the agony of carrying it all? How could the purest Son of God carry every foul thing that separates us from his Father?

And then…

… it fell.

************

The pain of that blade sunk deep, white-hot deep, into my core.

Despair.

Excruciating. Total. Despair.

Separation.

Black-can’t-breathe-horror.

Son severed from mother.

Son severed from Father God.

God severed from his very own self.

Earth breaking.

Created order quaking.

Balance crumbling and spirit shaking.

Dark in day and splitting stone and the sacred temple veil severed in two. Because there was an even deeper, cosmic severing happening that none of us foresaw too.

But I didn’t know that on that black, black afternoon.

Then, I knew only the sword. Only the searing pain. Only the darkness and the tears and the indescribable wrenching, anguished loss of the loveliest life ever lived.

************

Thank God for that first, glorious, Resurrection Sunday!

Praise his mighty name for the restoration of all that is good and holy!

Exalt the Lord our God because the Son rose again with the sunrise!

And he has conquered death and fear and shame!

Thank God Jesus’ death was not his end – that it was not my end – but everyone’s new beginning!

“Oh my soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

For I have seen the humblest of all lifted high… on a cross, out of death, and into the heavens!

I have seen the hungry filled with good things… on hillsides and in their hearts and spirits…

I have seen his arm perform mighty deeds and then the most mighty of all – giving his life as a ransom for many.

And I have seen a great mercy extending to every generation in Israel’s lineage and outside of it.

Oh Jesus, son of my heart and Son of the living God. All praise to you my risen and reigning Lord! You lived our life, washed our feet, died our death, paid our dues, stormed our hell to win our freedom, and ascended to glory to make a way for us there again. For all of eternity!

So oh yes, I’m still praising you God that I said yes to you when Gabriel asked me to give up my life for yours.

Because what a life – what life – you have given us all in exchange! Resurrection, eternal, rich and joyful life.

Love for Jew and Gentile, love to least and most
love to distant islands and love to far off coasts.
Love for every generation, stretching out to kingdom come
Love that freely offers redemption to every mother’s son.
***********
And so my hand rests here, remembering the first signs of your miracle growth – and knowing you live in me again now!

And I listen. And I obey. And I pray and I praise. And I gladly, daily, still risk my everything for your costly grace.

For your life means life. Forever.

Yes your life brings life. For everyone.

And despite that sword, people will still always call me blessed.

Because the one who reigns over us all –

chose to need my heartfelt YES!

If you found this resource helpful, you can download it – and similar monologues (for Easter and Christmas) from our seasonal resources page

the power of powerless worship

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Inspired by Earth Hour, we chose to go off the grid a little early, and pledged to fast from electricity in preparing for – and during – morning worship yesterday. The results of switching off were incredibly powerful, so we wanted to share some of the experience with you… and recommend you doing something similar yourself at a church service or in a small group session.


But before we explain why it was so powerful, we need to tell you something first.

We failed.

Partly because, following the heart-breaking attack in Westminster the previous afternoon, we decided it was important to read the headlines that morning, as we wanted to incorporate prayer for London into our time together. (Our morning routine usually relies on online news sources, and we didn’t even think of making extra time to buy a newspaper instead.)

But mostly because, although we used no lights, heating, sound equipment, projector, keyboard, laptop or internet based media or print-outs, it was impossible not to benefit from previous uses of electricity.

As we listed the things we normally use at the Sanctuary without thinking to prepare, lead or participate in our prayer rhythm, we realised how few hadn’t at some stage been ‘produced’.

Even the things that felt ‘natural’ such as pens and paper, printed Bibles, candles and matches are with us because of layer after layer of energy use.

As the list of our usual electrical – and hidden electrical – use at the Sanctuary grew and grew, something was also happening in our hearts.

That was – of course – the point… the whole aim of the fast. It did its job!

After it, we are feeling much more thankful

Colossians 16:1 reminds us of something we often forget when we celebrate the wonder of God’s creation – he created all things invisible as well as all things visible: Spiritual powers yes, but also imagination, inspiration, ideas… and gravity, magnetism, and electricity.

But we tend to sing a lot more about the mountains, moors and lakes we can see than we do about these things.

And whenever we aren’t actively practising gratitude for any of God’s gifts, we tend to become less present to it being a gift, and less careful with both our praise and our stewardship as a result.

We often take time to remember just how much our encounters with God – and our lives as a whole – are served and enriched by the natural world, and all the wonders God has filled it with…

But today we were truly blown away by how rich we are in our encounters with God – and our lives as a whole – because of electricity, and the other gifts it serves and enables in turn.

Songs are recorded and shared widely, and their sheet music, chord charts and lyrics are instantly downloadable for people to play and project to a group of people.

A wide range of art, graphics and films to bring concepts to life are available by typing key words into a search bar.

That ‘somewhere in the Bible’ verse can be instantly at your finger tips, then studied further by flipping to another translation or clicking on a wealth of commentary.

The news is on tap; information and statistics are immediately available to us.

All God shows us in worship times can be shared through resources on our website which people all over the world can access within hours of it being revealed to us in prayer.

And if we want to share a gospel message in the window we can very quickly get specialised art materials (such as glass pens in every colour of the rainbow) delivered to our door to create one… tomorrow!

Transport, printing, heating, lighting, labour saving appliances, devices and gadgets… hot water, hot drinks, stationary manufacture… the list just goes on and on…

Our powerless worship exercise has made us even more aware of the huge amount of energy we’re actually using, and just how much of the time.

Even the best online carbon calculator doesn’t have room to ask you questions about all of these things, or the ability to make a true calcualtion of your complex use of resources.

And as we prayerfully seek to move forward in living lighter, it’s helpful to be more mindful of just how much energy use comes into our worship and day to day life.

By becoming more aware of – and more thankful for – all these half-overlooked gifts, we are much more likely to be more care-full.

By being more present to our usage, we’ll be more mindful of it and, surely therefore, more intentional. Hopefully, we’ll be more cautious and just kinder – to God, planet and people – in our choices over how we use the earth’s resources.

We need to be – in the whole of our lives’ worship. But even more so in our devotion… there’s another level of echo here of passages Amos 5:21-24 that we talk about so often in response to worship that undoes itself through injustice.

Because doing this exercise has also reminded us just how much powerlessness in energy terms equates with poverty and powerlessness in other senses.

An estimated 1.2 billion people in the world today don’t have access to electricity. Most of these people live in Sub-Saharan African countries and rural areas of India.

The poorest people in the world are the most powerless in every sense – and their lack of access to energy cuts them off from so many joys, advantages and riches.

They are also some of the people most adversely affected by the consequences of our power consumption…

We need to consume less, use more renewable energy, and ensure they are given the choice and opportunity to come on grid if they want to…

But our prayer is that they don’t try to emulate our way of life, which has so many flaws…

Because please God, help us remember what we’ve also newly seen again… sometimes when we gain everything, we lose much of what is most important.

So many things can be done and communicated quicker and more conveniently, so we do more and more and more things… and our pace can become exhausting.

So much content and information and variety is wonderful, but sometimes we just pack it all in, and forget to just go deep with one thing, or simply to be.

So little of our time is spent in and with the real, un-manufactured and unprocessed… and so much of our life is detached from the real business of living it… and simply being.

Don’t get us wrong… we’re not planning to retire the keyboard, sound system and projector in order to have ‘earth hour’ worship every day.

The lights are back on, the music’s playing through the ipod dock, the kettle’s resumed it’s constant service, we’re all at our laptops again, typing, searching and linking away… and we’re loving all these gifts.

But we are more grateful to God for them, more aware of the cost of them and – perhaps, please God, perhaps – a little less dependent on them, and another step towards a lot more dependent on him.

To find worship and prayer resources related to environmental justice, creation care and climate change, visit our search by issue page.