10 Books to Inspire for 2017


Here’s my annual selection of great books that I recommend for the coming year. I had a 3-month sabbatical in the summer, which means I read almost twice as many books as usual this year, so I’ve got lots to select from. I hope this Top 10 encourages, stretches, challenges and inspires you, as they did me. Enjoy!

bhouston1) Brian Houston’s ‘Live, Love, Lead’

It’s always good to read a well-written biography, about a real person who’s made a difference in the world. This is an auto-biography by church leader Brian Houston, founder and leader of the influential Hillsong churches, about the lessons he’s learned in life and leadership. Even if you’re not a church-goer you’ll find this book honest, interesting and motivating.



2) Robert Colville’s ‘The Great Acceleration’

Journalist Robert Colville writes a fascinating book showing that the world is getting faster and urging us to respond. Looking at diverse issues like our average walking speed, media, politics and relationships this thoroughly researched and well written book is a must-read if you want to understand the fast-moving world in which we’re living.


brenebrown3) Brené Brown’s ‘Rising Strong’

Social scientist and celebrated author Brené Brown has written another brilliant book! She asked herself, what do people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through pain have in common? The answer was clear: they recognise the power of emotion and are not afraid to lean into discomfort, rising strong after a fall.


borisjohnson4) Boris Johnson’s ‘The Churchill Factor’

I’ve read a number of biographies of Churchill and I really enjoyed this offering from Boris Johnson, who became UK Foreign Secretary earlier this year. It’s good to read and learn from history but sometimes history books and historical novels can be a little dry or dull. This is the opposite. Johnson has an appealing style and Churchill really comes to life. The Evening Standard’s summary is right: ‘readable, engaging and often funny.’


toddrose5) Todd Rose’s ‘The End of Average’

This book will stretch your understanding of who you are and what’s important. Daniel Pink’s endorsement summarises this important book really well: ‘Todd Rose has taken the latest findings from a new area of science, the science of the individual, to show that our one-dimensional understanding of achievement – our search for the average score, average grade, average talent – has seriously underestimated human potential. This book is readable, enlightening, and way above average’.


billjohnson6) Bill Johnson’s ‘God is Good’

I really valued time at Bethel Church, Redding, CA in the summer and so looked forward to reading this latest book from Bill Johnson when it came out recently, and I wasn’t disappointed. This year I’ve completed my reading of the Johnson library and think this is his best book yet. In fact if you’ve never read anything by him before, this would be a good place to start as it summarises most of his books and teaching all in one place.


adamgrant7) Adam Grant’s ‘Originals’

It was the subtitle that drew me in: ‘How Non-Conformists Change the World’. This book explores the power of new ideas and what it really takes to make them happen. Using surprising examples from the world of business, sport and entertainment, Grant debunks the common belief that successful innovators are born leaders who boldy embrace risk. Instead we’re shown how anyone can embrace a new idea and how parents can nurture originality in children. I loved it so much I then read Grant’s previous book, ‘Give and Take’ which is similarly excellent.


paulharcourt8) Paul Harcourt’s ‘Growing in Circles’

This is a short and very readable book about discipleship by Paul Harcourt, leader of New Wine, the UK-based church movement encouraging local churches changing nations, of which The Belfrey (where I’m Vicar) is part. He wrote this book to particularly help those Christians who feel ‘stuck in discipleship’ – like they’re following Jesus but not growing. It displays simple but profound insights and includes some great stories. I throughly recommend it.


annvoskamp9) Ann Voskamp’s ‘One Thousand Gifts’

Sam (my wife) and I have both read this book this year. It was a joy to read, not only for the content but for the style. It’s all about embracing a lifestyle of gratitude and slowing down to catch God in the moment. But it’s also beautifully written in a style that is a graceful, poetic and stirring. If you want to live a thankful life, this is the book for you.


bible10) The Bible

Yet again I end with the Bible. This book that I read day after day after day and am never disappointed. I’ve particularly enjoyed dipping into Brian Simmons’ The Passion Bible this year, which is not only well translated but insightful and – as the name suggests – shows the passion that’s behind this Book of books. If you only read one book in the coming year, let it be the Bible. Make a start, perhaps with one of the gospel accounts of Jesus. May you discover, with me, that this word is ‘a lamp to your feet and a light to your path’ (Psalm 119:105).


4 Prophetic Priorities

As 2016 draws to a close and we look to a new year, what is the Spirit of Jesus saying to the church in the UK? 

There is much that the Lord wants to say to UK society through the church, but he also wants to speak to the church in order to strengthen, encourage and comfort us. As I pray, listen and observe, four words stand out: poor, promotion, purity and planting. These represent four prophetic priorities, crucial for the future wellbeing of the church in our nation.

Looking Back & Looking Forward

In recent years the Lord has been speaking to the UK church, amongst other things, about finance, leadership, worship and mission. On finance: he’s been challenging each disciple to look again at what it means to generously give. On leadership: he’s been releasing women to lead at every level of church life. On worship: he’s been calling us to renewed intimacy as we draw close. And on mission: he’s been pulling mission away from the margins and back to the heart of church life.

But what is the Spirit saying to the church now with regard to these same four areas? On finance: there’s a fresh call to care for the poor; on leadership: to raise up and promote new young leaders; on worship: we’re being challenged to sexual purity, and on mission: to prioritise church planting.

1. Poor 

(‘I was a stranger and you invited me in’ – Matthew 25:35)

Caring for the poor and disadvantaged is an issue close to God’s heart. It’s always been so. It’s good that many in the church are waking up to generous financial giving but we need to go further so we don’t think our giving is finished once we’ve set up a standing order; in addition we must genuinely get our hands dirty and care for the poor. In our contemporary materialistic culture the church must continue to demonstrate care for those on the margins, and none more than refugees. Whilst there are issues of security and capacity that governments must rightly address, the church has a prophetic role in showing care and practical love to the large numbers of displaced refugees presently looking for a resting place. We must open our hearts, our churches and our homes. The compassionate call to care for the stranger is echoing across our globe and our nation.

2. Promotion.   

(‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young, but set an example’ – 1 Timothy 4:12)

In an ageing UK church, this is a time to particularly promote the young. It’s excellent that there are more and more women in leadership. It’s also great to see the church breaking free from only selecting pastor-teacher types for ordained ministry – although we still need them too! It’s right that more indigenous leaders are being released to take on greater leadership in their locality. But now is the time for many more young leaders to emerge. It’s time for the wider church to particularly promote them and provide for them so that they can take the church on into the future. In an ageing church, the cultural gap between these young leaders and the older generation of congregations will sometimes feel awkward and at times will be difficult. We’ll need to be brave and bold, and be prepared for a church with a new feel, new language and new cultural expressions to emerge as we promote more young leaders. This is crucial for effective mission and ministry of the church as we look to the future.

3. Purity

(‘Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’ – Romans 12:1)

More than ever before, there are strong voices in society and in the church, urging the mainstream church to so value inclusivity that we affirm and sanctify sexual relationships that have always been outside Christian orthodoxy. Given the church’s poor record of treating members of the LGBTQIA community with care or dignity, many Christians have understandably felt some sympathy with this message. Nevertheless such revisionism is not the answer. Rather, the Lord is calling his church to a renewed purity in our day, and to a kind and clear reaffirmation that the God who loves all, invites all to express sex in a life-long marriage between a man and a woman as part of our sacrificial worship. This has always been the historic teaching of the church, based on the consistent message of Scripture. Anything outside of that is heterodox and cannot be affirmed as pure.

4. Planting

(‘So the churches were strengthened in faith and grew daily in numbers’ – Acts 16:5)

Whilst we must value the heritage of our many fine cathedrals and parish churches, some buildings no longer effectively serve God’s mission and so need to close. But as we look to the future, we need an expectation that God’s missional community – the church – will grow, resulting in many tired churches being revitalised and new churches being opened. This need for church planting is stronger now than ever, with increasing pockets of our nation having no vibrant worshipping community for many miles. We need all sorts of churches, worshipping in all sorts of styles, led by all sorts of leaders. This kind of church planting will only take place as existing church communities strengthen and new communities form. In particular there’s a need for more resource/ resourcing churches, with a particular call to planting, to be regularly establishing other churches that will do the same. Release more churches like that, led by young missional leaders and over a few generations this nation will be significantly transformed. Bishops and senior leaders need to be brave in encouraging such churches to emerge, even if not everyone initially grasps the vision. 

I believe this call to care for the poor, to promote more young leaders, to embrace biblical purity and to plant new churches is significant and strong. May the King of kings give us faith to respond to this noble call with prayer, much grace and practical action.


It’s one thing to sing, but another to adore. Singing is good, but adoring is different. We’re no longer singing about something or someone, we’re singing to them. We’re singing a song of love.

Adoration is the language of lovers. Of those who’ve found something delightful, scintillating and captivating about another. That kind of discovery requires expression – in devotion, and love. In adoration.

That’s what the Magi – the so-called Wise Men – did that first Christmas. When they encountered the infant Jesus – the God-child – the bible says that ‘they bowed down and worshipped’ (Matthew 2:11). The Greek word used there for worship is proscunio, which means ‘to come towards to kiss’. It’s the language of adoration. And it’s what we do at Christmas. Like the Wise Men, we adore the Christ-child. We give him our heart-felt love. In our words and our actions.

Adoring Christ is at the heart of this season. We do it as a response to his love, and to please him. But as we do, it’s also good for us and pleases us and nourishes our souls. True worship – worship that’s more than just saying the right words – does just this. That’s because adoration stimulates the soul.

So adore Christ today. Right now. Give him your love and devotion. Tell him. Sing to him. A song of love. And then go and live a life of devotion for him today, expressed in the love-song of your work and relationships. He will receive it as a glorious act of adoration. 

‘O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.’

The Season of Singing

We all love a good sing! It’s true. We really do. There’s something healthy, wholesome, even holy about singing your heart out. And of all seasons of the year, Christmas is the time when we really sing.

As Advent begins and Christmas approaches there’s lots of opportunities to sing. We sing carols. Christmas songs. Festive melodies. In choirs. In schools. In churches. In homes. On street-corners. In fact everywhere we go, there seems to be Christmas music. And rightly so. Because Christmas is the season, above all others, for singing.

Singing is good for us. That’s why we sing when we’re happy. And when we’re sad. Because when we sing we let out our emotions and express things that are deep in our souls. 

We all have a soul. It’s that part of us that exists deep within and will live on in eternity after our bodies have died. We’re to be attentive to our soul and must take care of our it. Sometimes we need to intentionally speak to our soul, telling it to sing. That’s what we’re doing when we sing a hymn like ‘Praise my soul, the King of heaven’ – we’re telling our soul to praise Jesus Christ!

Sometimes in preparation for Christmas we get bogged down in busyness. We can get so stressed that it affects our attitude to Christmas songs. We see this when we start to get cynical about the festive music in shops, or when we forget to sing, or worse still when we deliberately choose not to sing. If we’re not careful we can start to become Scrooge-like and negative. That’s why we must sing. Because when we sing, something happens. Our soul begins to stir. We become open and attentive to the things of God and, at Christmas, to the wonder of his good news: that Almighty God has not left us alone but has come to us in Jesus Christ. 

At the first Christmas there was much singing. Angels sang. Mary sang. Zechariah sang. Simeon sang. And God sang. He sang a love-sing over the world he created and the people he values. That’s why we sing at Christmas. 

The bible says that ‘the season of singing has come’ (Song of Songs 2:12). So let the singing begin!

The Significance of what we Possess

In Back to the Future 2, old Biff Tannen goes back in time, meets his younger self and gives him a Sports Alamanac from the future, listing past sports results. Later young Biff begins to realise the significance of what he possesses. He bets on future sports games, knowing the results and becomes a multi-millionaire. But instead of using it for good he uses the Almanac for personal gain, turning the world into a terrible place. The rest of the movie is about how Marty and Doc unravel things and put them right. It’s a great story!

If you’ve seen the movie you’ll recall that when young Biff is first given the Almanac he doesn’t realise what he’s been given. This gift from the future is full of amazing potential, but it takes him a while to realise what he’s been given.

Similarly, followers of Jesus have been given a wonderful gift. It’s a gift from the future. A massive gift! A gift of more value and greater potential than any future Sports Almanac. It’s the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus often called the Kingdom of God ‘the kingdom of heaven‘. That’s because it is heaven. It’s God’s dominion that his followers will experience fully in the future. But we don’t have to wait until heaven to experience the Kingdom. Whenever Jesus is at work, God’s Kingdom comes. It’s the future impacting the present. And disciples are called to continue this work, co-labouring with Christ in bringing his future Kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). That’s the mandate and commission (Matthew 28:18-20) of all who’ve ‘entered the Kingdom’ by started a new life following Jesus (John 3:5).

One question that Christ-followers often wrestle with, when considering God’s future Kingdom impacting the present, is this: how much of God’s Kingdom can we see, this side of heaven? Part of the answer is found in these remarkable words of Jesus: ‘the Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom’ (Luke 12:32). These words have profound implications.

Jesus means that we don’t just ‘enter’ the Kingdom when we give our lives to Christ. We’re given the Kingdom. It belongs to us. All that’s in the Kingdom, becomes ours. Including the vast resources and ‘treasure’ of heaven (Luke 12:33). So we can see this world transformed.

This means that all the resources needed to bring heaven to earth are available to us (Luke 17:21). Heaven is a place of no sin, sickness or sadness. So forgiveness – for sin – is available here on earth. So is healing – for sickness. So is comfort – for suffering. We don’t have to wait for heaven to begin to experience these things. They’ve been won through the death and resurrection of Christ and are available today – in the present.

This means that all the resources needed to live this Kingdom life are entrusted to us (1 Corinthians 13). All the faith, hope and love we need. Faith – to see the unseen; hope – to trust in a better future, and love – to give selflessly – are not just for some future time, they’re for now. 

This means that all the resources needed to lead a worry-free life are ours (Luke 12:29-34). Clothes – to cover us and keep us warm; homes – to enjoy shelter and community, and money – to live and eat and give – are part of God’s Kingdom that he wants all to experience not just in eternity but now. It’s why we care the poor and disadvantaged so they can experience these things this side of heaven.

All these things and more are not just future possibilities but present realities in God’s Kingdom. Why? Because ‘the Father is pleased to give us the Kingdom.’

To be honest, I don’t know exactly how much of this future Kingdom we can see and experience, this side of heaven. But I for one am going to actively pursue more of this Kingdom (Luke 12:31), keeping my eyes fixed on it’s King, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2), praying to see as much of the future invade the present as is possible. Because I’ve been given possession of the most powerful, beautiful, transformative realm created by God – his Kingdom.

Maybe I, and maybe many other Christ-followers, are a bit like young Biff in Back to the Future 2 – we don’t the realise the significance of what we possess.


Last Monday was Halloween when the world celebrates darkness. I talked with the Belfrey staff that morning about light. Here’s the gist of what I said.

I wrote in last week’s Friday Message to the people of The Belfrey about an experience that happened to me recently. I was walking down Petergate in York, approaching St Michael le Belfrey Church and the Minster Piazza, just after it had stopped raining. The pavements were wet. But the clouds had cleared and the sun had now come out, shining in all its glory, magnified by the wet stone which was acting like a mirror. As a result the light was exceedingly strong and powerful. Warm and beautiful. It was wonderful to behold. I went on in that Friday Message to talk about people in the bible, like John and Daniel, who experienced Christ as light. In receiving him, we receive light. A light to pass on. 

One way we do this is by shining. 

At the top of this blog is a picture. A picture of two people – standing in the light. It’s a photo taken by my son, Luke, of me (in the yellow jacket) and my friend Andy (to my right) in the Lake District last April. You can find this picture on unsplash, the free online site for uploading and downloading pictures. There’s something about this picture that’s caught people’s imagination, so much so that it now has 4.8 million views.

In the summer the Pokemon Go Reddit site used it as the banner for their site – as can be seen here:

As the post above shows, there’s even been enquiries on the site about my jacket (and I’ve been personally contacted about it too!) Amazing! The picture is still being used on the site today – a site with millions and millions of views. 

I’ve never met Kris Vallotton, who has a strong prophetic ministry and is based at Bethel Church, Redding California. But I’ve heard him speak on a number of occasions and read some of his books. Last weekend he posted on social media a quote from one of his books, with a picture. Here it is:

And there it is again! That same unsplash picture of me in my yellow jacket! 

There’s something about this picture. And I think it’s something to do with light. Particularly because both Pokemon Go and Kris Vallotton have used the left-hand section of it – the bit with me standing in the light. I find this fascinating.

It reminds me of Isaiah. Isaiah says: ‘A people walking in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). But he goes on to say: ‘Arise! Shine! For your light has come. And the glory of the Lord rises upon you’ (Isaiah 60:1).

There God’s people are told not just to see the light, but to shine the light. The idea is that God’s light so impacts us that we radiate, reflect and give out his light.

This is very much a New Testament idea which we see, for example, in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. There disciples of Jesus are told that

‘we all, who with unveiled faces, reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’

The background to these words is Moses. He spent time in God’s presence on Mount Sinai and came down with a bright face, reflecting the glorious light of God, so much so that he wore a veil. But now we, as New Testament people, have a much greater revelation of God and more glorious gospel than the Israelites. We too are impacted by the Lord’s presence and are called not to veil or shield his light, but rather to shine it. 

There’s an unusual Greek word used for this is 2 Corinthians 3 – only found once in the bible. It’s the word katoptrizomenoi and it literally means ‘beholding as in a mirror’. Some English bibles translate it with the word ‘contemplate’ but that misses the missional context of the passage. The idea is not that we see Christ’s light for our own contemplation but that we reflect to others. That we look like the Lord. Because the Lord Jesus is radiant. Full of light. Beaming. And glorious.

The call is to shine.

How do we do this? There are a number of ways, some of which are unpacked in more detail in the next chapter of 2 Corinthians – eg. by preaching Christ and pointing to him (2 Cor 4:1-5); by keeping going when it’s hard (2 Cor 4:7-17); and by keeping our eyes on the unseen (2 Cor 4:18). But most importantly we shine when we face Jesus Christ. We shine as we fix our eyes on him. If we look face-to-face on him, we’ll reflect him. If we turn away from him, fixing our eyes on our circumstances, we’ll reflect our circumstances. Which might be great, but might not be. The call for disciples is to stay focussed on Christ. That’s who and how we shine.

So stay close to Christ. Face him. Spend time in his presence. Be prayerful. Walk in His Spirit. And encounter him. As we do this and worship him, we’re told in Isaiah 60 that his glory will rest on us. Isaiah says that in the midst of deep darkness, we’re to arise. Stand up. Get up. Get on. And shine his glory. And the more we do that, the more glorious he will become. And so will we. Because our shining attracts his glory.

Last week I was away with the family on the east coast and one morning I saw the sun rise over the sea. I watched as the sky began to change colour. It was beautiful and stirring. A few mins before the sun came up, I saw an elderly man walking down a side road towards the sea front. He was walking with his dog and aided by a walking stick. As he got to the road at the front he just stopped. And he took in what he saw – this glorious sky and the sun about to burst forth from under the horizon. He must have stood there for four or five minutes. Leaning on top of his stick. I watched the sky, and watched him. I was imagining what he was thinking about as he took in the light. And I thought of the description of Jacob in Hebrews 11:21 – of him worshipping whilst leaning on top of his walking stick.

All this reminded me that Jesus Christ is glorious. Resplendent. As he says in John 8:12, he really is ‘the light of the world’. But Jesus also said to his followers (in Matthew 5:14), ‘you are the light of the world‘. Really? Me? Us? Isn’t that heresy? Isn’t that putting ourselves in the place of Jesus? No. Because the light we have, is his. Our job is to arise and shine his light. It comes from Christ. It belongs to him. We reflect him. As in a mirror.

So shine. Today. This week. Shining the light of Jesus. 

‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, 

and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 

See, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness the peoples, 

but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you’ 

(Isaiah 60:1-2).

New Chapter

I’ve done quite a lot of reading whilst away on sabbatical this summer. I’ve read all sorts of different things, from novels to non-fiction books in the fields of leadership, discipleship, sociology and popular psychology. I’ve had my mind stimulated and provoked in all sorts of ways. I’ve also been writing too, the fruit of which I hope will emerge soon.

When it’s time to take a break from reading an interesting book, most people prefer to pause not in the middle of a chapter but at the end. It feels like a better place to stop, rather than part-way through something. We can then pick things up again later, in a new chapter, with a sense of anticipation of something new about to unfold. 

Life is like that. And so is the life of discipleship. Sometimes we pause or take a breather and then pick things up exactly where we left off – like in the middle of a chapter. But there are other times when we re-start in a new chapter. Things feel slightly different. We’re still in the same story but it’s like we’ve turned a page and there’s a new chapter heading.

This September seems like that for me. It feels like Isaiah 43:29: ‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’ That’s partly because I’ve been away on sabbatical and am returning after a break. But it’s more than just that. As I’ve been observing and listening and praying I think it’s a new season, certainly for me and for us at The Belfrey, and maybe for many churches in our region and nation. Things feel slightly different. Like we’re in the same story but starting a new chapter.

Jesus told his disciples that they needed to be discerning to understand the times and season they’re in (Luke 12:56). Jesus knew it’s important to know when you’re starting a new chapter.

A new chapter will not look the same for us all, especially in own daily lives. For some it’ll be about big changes – like a new job in a new city and a new church. For others it’ll be about developing a new interest or turning what was previously just an idea into a new reality. It may be about new routines in new places – like finding a new regular coffee shop or eating place. It may be about picking up new connections – at work, at home or with a potential new friend. For some it’ll involve praying new prayers – bold and brave prayers, or using a different prayer-style, or a new prayer-posture (kneeling down, arms raised, standing up, etc). For others it’ll be about buying a new translation of the bible and enjoying hearing from God in a fresh translation of Scripture. 

In church life a new chapter will, for some, be about joining a new small group. (If you’re not connected with a small group for mission and discipleship, I’d urge you to do so at the start of this new season. It’ll help you thrive!) It’s about developing new friends. Serving in new ways. Inviting new people. For some who don’t yet know Jesus, this will be their season for finding faith, marking it in baptism, joining a church and beginning to live the new life Jesus is calling them to. For others it’ll be about experiencing new encounters with Jesus, going deeper in worship, being healing and being filled anew with his love.

To begin a new chapter, or indeed to enter into anything new, you can’t be passive. Instead, you must actively step out and step up. To use an agricultural picture, we’re to sow seed. That’s so important if we’re to going to see fruit this season. I believe God is calling us to sow. To invest. To give. I told the staff team at The Belfrey just this last Monday, that this week we needed to be looking for every opportunity to give. This is about planting. Planting seeds of love, of kindness, of generosity. ‘Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, but whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (2 Corinthians 9:6). There’s a harvest coming. A harvest to be reaped. It’s a harvest of love that comes from showing love. A harvest of financial resourcing that comes from financial giving. A harvest of answered prayer that comes from praying. A harvest of people coming into God’s kingdom and finding family in church that comes from us inviting friends and loved ones to find out more. But all these new things only come from sowing. From sowing a seed. There’s no harvest without sowing.

At The Belfrey, as we joyfully celebrate on Sundays, warmly build community midweek in small groups, persistently pray early on Tuesday mornings, generously give our tithes and offerings, faithfully invite friends to church, kindly show God’s love in all sorts of practical ways and continually pray for God’s transformation of the North, so we’re sowing seed. Seed bringing a new season. Seed opening a new chapter.

A new chapter is exciting – but it’s challenging too. It’s both a privilege and a responsibility. That’s why we need to rely on the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6), giving our best (Colossians 3:23) and trusting the Lord (Proverbs 3:5). That way we can be sure a chapter is being written that future generations will long to read and share.

What time is it?

Here’s the substance of the closing talk I gave at New Wine’s ‘Inspire’ conference a few days ago. Inspire was a great event in the North, for the North and it was a privilege to be asked. It was my first public speaking opportunity since returning from sabbatical.

Paul Manwaring from Bethel Church in Redding, California was speaking at The Belfrey a few weeks ago. Amongst all he said, one phrase in particular stood out for me. It was this: ‘do you know the time?’ Jesus said that disciples need to know what time it is (see Luke 12:56). So what time is it?

Here are 4 things the church in the North needs to hear about the time in which we’re living.

1. It’s time to WAKE UP!

The apostle Paul said to the church in Rome: ‘understand the present time: the hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber!’ (Romans 13:11-12). He’s saying: it’s wake-up time! Whilst this is always God’s message to the church, I believe it’s a particular word for the North at this time. In fact this was the word I shared, at the beginning of this year, with the people of The Belfrey in York, where I’m Vicar. It’s time for awakening.

I’m very grateful for an extended period of sabbatical rest I’ve just experienced. Whilst on sabbatical I spent some time reflecting on this passage from Romans 13 and subsequently wrote this in my journal: 

‘It’s time to awaken. It’s time – not to be selfish. Not to mess around. Not to live for ourselves. But to take up the more noble task of putting on armour. Taking up the sword of the Spirit. Fighting for the kingdom. With weapons of love.’

God wants to awaken his church to his love and power. He has great plans. Especially in the North. But so many of us and our churches, if we’re honest, are asleep! When someone’s asleep, they’re there, but not there. Taking up space but making no impact.

To wake some people from their sleep, just a gentle nudge or a little whisper in the ear will do. That’s how God’s going to wake up some of us. Gently. However, to wake up others it involves something more dramatic – shaking, pushing, shouting and even occasionally a slap around the face! That’s how he might need to do it for some of us, if we won’t awaken. Because it’s time! Time to wake up to the task of seeing our region transformed. There’s much to do. Aided by our prayers and our work, the Spirit of God wants to wake up our region!

I had a busy run-up to my sabbatical. My last day was Pentecost Sunday – 15th May. In St Michael le Belfrey Church that evening we were pleased to host one of the key beacon events for our region, at the request of the two Archbishops. It was a wonderful time of celebration and prayer. Tom Holmes led worship brilliantly and Miriam Swaffield spoke so well. We cried out to the Lord for our villages, towns, cities and region. I went to bed that evening tired but excited about the day that had been and about the sabbatical about to start. Next morning I was up early, ready to take a plane journey from Manchester to California. I made all my connections and ended up on a very full plane, with virtually every seat taken, except for the the next to me. ‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘I can stretch out and sleep!’ But just before we took off a man sitting nearby saw the seats and had the same idea as me. He got up and and sat down in the space. ‘Oh well’ I thought. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Chuck. He was from St Louis Missouri. He was on business. He was in the UK to meet some British partners in his online enterprise. Then he said, ‘but the main reason I came was to preach. In a church in Coventry’. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘that’s interesting’. I hadn’t yet told him I was a Christian or a church leader. ‘Yes, I felt like I was sent to this nation with a message.’ ‘And what’s that?’ I asked. And he replied: ‘Revival is coming to your nation.’ I said: ‘I believe that too’. And that started a conversation which lasted the whole journey!

Later that day when we’d parted company I thought to myself: this is day one of my sabbatical. And what’s the odds of me sitting next to a man, who doesn’t seem like a religious crackpot, who’s on a mission from God, telling the UK church that revival is coming?! In many ways that conversation with Chuck set the tone for much of my sabbatical, as the Lord has been speaking to me and giving me faith for much greater things in my city and region.

When I was nineteen years old someone spoke a prophetic word over my life. They said that ‘I would be a leader in the UK church, when revival comes’. Those words profoundly impacted my life, and to a large extent have shaped my future. And since then those three words – leadership, church and revival – have always been important to me. In my lifetime I’m expecting to see a spiritual awakening. And I believe it’s coming, and may well be here.

One of last awakenings to hit the North of England was in 1850s as the fires of revival swept across the Pennines, impacting Lancashire and Yorkshire in particular. One couple affected by that work of the Holy Spirit were a couple called Benjamin and Anne. Benjamin worked in the gasworks in Barnsley and was offered the job of Manager of the new gasworks at Skelmanthorpe, fifteen miles to the North West. He and Anne moved there and heard the good news about Jesus. They gave their lives to Christ and followed him to their dying day, seeking to impact their community with the gospel. Since then, each subsequent generation of their family has continued to follow Jesus. Their son William, who married Arabella, followed Christ. Their son Luther, who married Mary, followed Christ. Their son Richard, who married Christine, followed Christ. And their son Matthew, who married Sam, is following Christ. That’s me – Matthew. I am part of the continued legacy of that revival. Five generations later. Such is the impact of revival.

God wants to do it again. Bringing many many people into the kingdom. He wants to bring revival in a way that won’t peter out, but will last. It’s time. Time for awakening.

2. It’s time to GET READY!

On many occasions Jesus told his followers to get ready. To get ready for his coming. Especially for his Second Coming, when he’ll return in glory. But we also need to be ready for him coming afresh by his Spirit. Are we ready for him coming in reviving power? He wants us to be prepared.

Before going camping you have to get ready. You don’t just turn up or you’ll be in trouble. Instead, you pack a bag. You get your tent ready. Maybe buy some more tent-pegs. You gather camping gear. Buy your food. Check you have enough camping gas. Maybe get some more. There’s lots of preparation work to do. Similarly God wants us to get ready for what he’s about to do and, if we’ll look, for what he’s already doing. Because the Lord is on the move. Stirring hunger in hearts. There are people across the streets from us or in our network of friends with a growing hunger for God. They’re waiting for us to help them. To show the love of Christ in practical ways. Are we ready? Are we ready to tell them our story of faith and explain the good news? Are we ready to invite them to church?

Are our churches ready? This is not a time for petty disputes or for multiple Church Council meetings about the colour of carpets or how many Holy Communion services a month we have. It’s a time to be doing the basic things well. Like pray. Nothing of lasting significance happens without prayer, so it’s important that churches pray. Do you have a regular prayer meeting where you pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? If not, start one in your front room. Do you have a small group system and discipleship programme ready for people? Do we offer people the opportunity to give their lives to Jesus in our church services? Or aren’t we expecting any folk who don’t know him to be present?

Are our families and homes ready? Are you ready to invite people into your home? Neighbours in distress and people in need? Do you have enough coffee mugs ready for the conversations, the bible studies and small groups that are going to take place?

Are you, personally, ready? The Lord wants to use you, even more than he’s doing now. He wants your life to be totally dedicated to him. Serving. Following. Living for him. This isn’t a time to be returning to old lovers. And old sins. That’s like taking a shower and then putting your dirty underwear back on. No, this is a time to wake up, get clean, get dressed and get ready.

Jesus Christ is fully committed to you. He died and rose again for you. He’s won your forgiveness. He’s given you a brand new life. Are you fully committed to him? He’s calling each one of us to commit our lives to him and then go and live for him. If you’ve never done this and never handed your life over to Christ, do it now. Hear his call to follow, and say ‘yes’ – it’s as simple as that. If you’ve committed your life to Jesus many times before, do it again. That’s the best way of being ready. Having a life surrendered and dedicated to Christ.

3. It’s time to LEAD ON.

I was in the United States for the first seven and a half weeks of my sabbatical. At conferences. Touring. Visiting beautiful places. Meeting people. Writing. Praying. Whilst I was there we had the EU referendum in the UK. I watched all evening on BBC online as the results came in. Then, dot on 6am UK time (and midnight in Chicago, where I was staying) it was finally announced that ‘leave’ had reached 50% and had won. Over the coming hours and days I watched with interest as events unfolded across the pond in the UK. The Prime Minister stood down. Many of the Labour leader’s shadow cabinet resigned. UKIP’s leader retired. Then we had a poor performance at the Euro2016 football tournament and even our national football manager resigned. Many Americans were asking me: ‘what’s going on in your nation?’ It felt to me like there was a vacuum of leadership. I wrote about it in my journal, saying that ‘the British look like sheep without a shepherd’ (quoting Jesus’ words from Mark 6:34) and I prayed for new leaders to step in and step up.

Those recent very public examples from politics and sport highlight what is probably still the case in many fields in the UK – that there’s a great vacuum of leadership in much of our nation. Not just in politics and sport, but in other areas too. It’s time for leadership. For leaders gifted with humility and authority to step up and lead on.

It’s a time for great leaders to emerge: in politics and local government; in business; in education; in media; in the church and in the family. That will include many of us – and people just like us. Called to make a massive difference in the spheres of influence in which the Lord has placed us.

Leadership is often hard. Pressurised. Sometimes lonely. Sometimes people don’t like the decisions leaders make. But don’t let that stop anyone leading when God has called them. In fact, we as the church need to encourage all our leaders. And we need to let them lead. Yes, we advise them, help, care and pray for them. But we must let them lead! We must say to them: ‘You have our support. Lead on!’

4. It’s time to LOVE PEOPLE

Jesus said that there are basically two commandments that all disciples need to follow (Mark 12:30-31). Both relate to love. Love God and love people.

Being dedicated to Christ is hopefully a sign of our love for him. But what about our love for people? Do we love people?

As I was arriving back at Manchester airport a few weeks ago, my plane arrived at the same time as a number of others. So there was a long queue at passport control. It’s not what your need, after after a long-haul flight, but there was nothing I could do. I tried to estimate how many people were in front of me, and reckoned there must have been a thousand or more in the queue. It took a long time to get through as we shuffled along to present our passports at the front. There wasn’t much to do and I was on my own, so as I waited and shuffled, I watched people. It was fascinating. I was in the UK and EU queue. And I could hear people talking, many with a northern accent. That didn’t surprise me, given I was flying into Manchester! I guessed that most folk lived within a couple of hours or so of the airport. So these were mostly people from the North. These were my people. Good, northern folk. People I want to see come to Christ. En masse.

So I began to pray for them. I quietly blessed them and thanked God for them. And as I did that I found I had a love for them. But as I searched my heart I recognised that it wasn’t a big love. It wasn’t a deep, compassionate, love. It actually felt pretty shallow. And I felt convicted. 

So I began to pray for myself. ‘Lord give me a greater, deeper, stronger love for these tired, lovely people. Give me more love’. Later, on the train back to York I wrote about it in my journal, writing down my prayer. Asking the Lord again for more love.

What about you? Do you love the people God’s put you with? I mean, really love them? People at your work? On your street? In your community? In the North? For some of us, we don’t have a great love. But we can ask for love. And God will give it to us. He promises to pour love into our hearts. Giving us compassionate hearts. Not patronising, judgmental hearts. But tender, kind, caring hearts. Hearts of love.

So let’s pray for a fresh outpouring of love, both for God and particularly for the people of the North. A love that spills out into very practical action. Will you join me in asking the Lord for that? Because it’s time to love people. The wonderful people of the North.

In between each point I paused and led us in a response. This included those present committing themselves again to Christ, with two people making a first-time commitment. We ended by praying for love. More love. For the men and women of the North, whom God passionately loves.

Why I Pray

Here’s a short 4 minute film recorded last week on Why I Pray. It was produced by Belfrey Media for The Gathering, a regular Friday night event, to help people go deeper in prayer.

We’re in a season, I believe, where the Lord is calling us to awakening.  (If you’ve not seen it, do watch my video on this from earlier in the year, by clicking here). The church needs re-awakening to the wonder of Christ and the power of the Spirit (Eph 5:14). And our nation is being called to a spiritual awakening (2 Chron 7:14), which is why both Archbishops have asked all the clergy to gather their communities to pray.

There are lots of ways to pray. Lots of types of prayer. Lots of styles. The most important thing is that we pray! That’s why we ended The Belfrey’s annual meeting last night with 40 minutes of prayer, concluding with us kneeling before our Servant King and saying the Lord’s Prayer.

Nothing of lasting significance happens without prayer.