More Joy

 I’m praying for more joy. More joy in my life. In my family. In my church. More joy.

Not because we are sad or low or down. Not because we’re upset or worried or fearful. Simply because it’s good to be joyful.
Every time I open the bible at the moment, words stand out about joy! Here’s a few:

    ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy’ (Romans 15:13)

    ‘A joyful heart is good medicine’ (Prov 17:22)

    ‘Be joyful in the Lord always. Again I say: rejoice!’ (Phil 4:4)

    ‘You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy’ (Isaiah 9:3)

    ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10)

We’re encouraged to be joyful. Invited to be joyful. Even commanded to be joyful! Because it’s good and a sign of abundant life. 

Joy is an attitude of gratitude. It’s not just a superficial emotion. And it’s more than just feeling happy. Those things can disappear or change with circumstances. Joy is something different. Something stronger and more profound. Joy is an expression of something deep in our hearts – of a contentedness that comes from Jesus Christ. 

It’s great meeting a truly joyful person. You can’t help but be encouraged by them! This is even more true of a joyful community. Who wouldn’t want to belong to a people like that?

Why not join me in praying each day for joy? For yourself and for others. Because joy is to be shared and given away. And the Lord has unlimited supplies of joy. So don’t be afraid to ask. For joy. For more joy.


Words Matter


Words matter. They really matter. So much so they can affect the destiny of a city. That’s what Proverbs 11:11 says: Through the blessing of the upright a city is blessed but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.

The success of a city is influenced and shaped by many things including its sociological, economic, geographical, historical and cultural background. But God says there’s something else that’s crucially important that many don’t see. It’s the importance of our words. That’s because words have impact. The word-smith Eugene Peterson agrees, saying: Words are not mere words – they convey spirit, meaning, energy, and truth.  

Prov 11:11 says that if we get our words right a city can be exalted. It can be lifted up. And flourish. But get our words wrong, and it can flounder. Fail. Fall. In that stark way that Proverbs work, we’re confronted with a simple question: will we use words to bless, or to destroy?

According to one dictionary, to ‘bless’ is to: invoke divine favour on. To confer well-being or prosperity on. To endow with talent. To honour as holy. Use words like that and our city will be exalted. So how does this happen? When I spoke at St Cuthbert’s House of Prayer (YHOP) on this recently I mentioned 5 kinds of words spoken to us and by us that can have impact:
1) words we RECEIVE from people

2) words we SPEAK to people

3) words we WRITE to people

4) words we PRAY

5) words we DECLARE

We need to take care with what we do with all these words. Words spoken about us and over us (especially as children) shape us more than we realise. The way we speak to others and write (especially in emails and texts) has the capacity to encourage or discourage, to build up or tear down. And our prayers in particular reach the heart of God and can change circumstances and lives. When praying with someone our words are particularly important, having the capacity to speak hope to challenge hopelessness and truth to counter lies.

Words of declaration are also important. These are statements of truth and can be spoken not only over individuals but also over communities and nations. Declarations can bring transformation, because (whether people realise it or not) they can be a form of prophecy. You declare into being that which in time comes to pass.
John F Kennedy famously declared, on 25 May 1961 that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. That was an impossible thought for most. But what happened? On 20 July 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, taking ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’.

Some declarations are evil and destructive (as Prov 11:11 says). Think of Hitler’s proclamations about the Jews in the 1930’s. He spoke into being that which later took place – with terrible consequences.

The Church Fathers knew that declarations were powerful. That’s why they produced creeds. Creeds are not just doctrinal statements – they’re made to be declared! In proclaiming them, truth is spoken into lives, cities and into heavenly places. When we declare over our city that most basic creed that ‘Jesus is Lord’ we’re not only expressing truth, but prophetically declaring that Christ is and will be Lord over our city. We are speaking and declaring blessing. And we can do that over individuals, families, streets, villages, towns, cities, regions and nations. Over churches, organisations, businesses, councils, governments.

The House of Prayer at Fald-y-Brenin in Wales has been doing this for a number of years now, and as a result are seeing signs of wonderful transformation in their community. Here’s how they describe it and how they pray:

Every week we speak blessings over our neighbours and immediate locality. In Luke 10 we read that Jesus taught the disciples to declare peace over a village or town before entering it… There is a strong tendency for Christians to criticise and judge people and behaviours we term sinful… We are going to change all of that and have a heart to love and to bless, to see good and trust God to deal with the bad. We are going to speak light into darkness and life to the dead, not in judgment but in compassion and love for the sake of Jesus.

Imagine what could happen if not just a few isolated individuals but many people choose to speak words like that? Kind words. Good words. Words of blessing. When God’s people use words like that, cities begin to change.

Our words are much more powerful than most of us realise.


Giving Yourself


 ‘All they want is my money’ is a phrase I’ve occasionally heard from people about church. Bad experience can unfortunately lead some to that conclusion. But in most churches it’s not true. I and other church leaders don’t just want people’s money. We want them! 

Church is a community following Christ and making a difference in the world. To do that requires people. In fact church is people.

Christ wants the same. He is looking for communities of people who will follow him and make a difference in the world. In every village, town, city, region and nation. It’s about people.

God wants and calls people. The church should want the same.

So where does money fit in? That’s a good question to ask at The Belfrey at this time when we’re inviting people to start, or to renew, regular financial giving to the church. Heidi Baker is helpful on this. She says:

Did you know God loves it when we give extravagantly – over and above what would be expected? 
One day I was weeping on the floor and asking God how He could possible use my tiny life for His amazing plans. I was feeling small and sad. I knew there was a sea of humanity out there in desperate need. Do you know what He said to me? I heard him speak these beautiful words:
“Heidi, I like your little life. And I accept your offering. I’m going to take it and I am going to multiply it for my glory.”
Only God can multiply a tiny seed and make it grow. He can use something small and seemingly insignificant to grow something vast and full of purpose. Don’t be afraid that all you can offer is yourself. He can do ‘immeasurably more that all [you] can ask or imagine’ (Ephesians 3:20) with your laid-down life. 

So here’s Heidi’s advice:

Throw yourself into the offering today. Not as a tithe, but as a whole sacrifice to the Lord. Give yourself and watch what God does with you.

That’s the attitude. We give our lives. Once we do that, giving anything else – including money – is much more straightforward. We give as much money as we can to make the biggest difference we can. And we trust that God will provide for us, so we can give again. 

Sam and I have found that as we’ve done that year after year, God has been amazingly faithful so that we always have more than enough, so we can give again, and again, and again. But it all starts with giving yourself.


Sunshine & Showers

Three members of my family died this week, exactly 100 years ago. Arabella, Frank and Florence Porter all died of the Spanish flu within a few days of each other, leaving the rest of the family bewildered. My grandfather, Luther also became ill and went into a coma and shouldn’t have survived. He told afterwards of how he believed he’d died, but during that time in a coma he went to heaven and met Jesus Christ who said that it was not his time, that he had work to do and that he should be sent back. I’m very pleased about that, otherwise I would not be alive today!! 

Those few days in March 1915 were life-changing for my grandfather. He was not quite 11 years old. He’d had a profound experience of Christ and would never be the same again. And yet he awoke from that divine encounter to discover his mother, brother and sister had all died. Imagine the mixed emotions. The sense of wonder and woe. Elation and devastation.

I remember Grandpa Luther well. He had a wonderful smile, a deep and strong faith in Christ and a great love for people. He brought transformation to many lives. He was an optimist, and yet a realist, in that he knew that life was rarely straightforward. He would often describe it in terms of joys and sorrows. His favourite phrase was ‘sunshine and showers’. I suspect those fateful days of March 1915 shaped that perspective.

Grandpa Luther of course is right. We can sometimes naively think that if life isn’t all good, then it’s bad. Or when something is difficult or painful or stretching then something is wrong. But the reality is that life is normally full of the good and the not-so-good, all at the same time. And sometimes there are even seasons when things are especially tough. No-one is promised an easy life. In fact if we’re seeking to be people who make a difference, bringing light into darkness, then life is rarely going to be straightforward!

Although life this side of heaven in a mixture of sunshine and showers we’re not meant to focus on the showers otherwise we get depressed and want to give up. Instead Jesus helpfully tells us to have a different outlook – to ‘seek the kingdom’ (Matthew 6:33). In God’s kingdom relationships are right, freedom reigns, love is shared and contentedness experienced (Romans 14:17). Sounds like sunshine to me! 

If your life seems to be dominated by dark clouds, hang in there, it won’t last forever. Lift your head and look for the sun breaking through. It’s no coincidence that Christ is prophetically described in Malachi 4:2 as the ‘Sun of righteousness’. Allow his warmth to comfort and refresh you so you can rise above your troubles and instead continue to impact your community with joy and grace. 

Leaving a Legacy

‘The righteous man walks in integrity; his children are blessed after him’ (Proverbs 20:7 NKJV)

If he was still alive, we’d have celebrated my father’s 80th birthday last week. I thought about him on his birthday and gave thanks to God for his life. I called my Mum to see if she was ok and I read a few pages from his autobiography about his childhood memories of the Second World War to my two youngest children at breakfast. David, our youngest was just a baby when he died and so doesn’t remember him.

But I remember him. He died nearly ten years ago now, but there’s much that I still recollect about his life. I recall his gentle but clear leadership. He had that rare blend of humility and authority that I find so effective and attractive. I remember his funny ways, like forgetting the punch-line of jokes. And his daily rituals of cleaning his shoes and eating a spoonful of bran every morning which looked to me like horse-food! But most of all I simply remember him as my dad – as someone who played cricket with me and my brothers in the garden, who asked about my day at mealtimes, who encouraged me to reach for my best and who prayed for us every day.

No person is perfect. Not my dad, nor me.
No father is perfect. Not my dad, nor me.
No leader is perfect. Not my dad, nor me.
But I think that my father, Richard William Porter was pretty good. That’s why I’m not embarrassed to be grateful for his life. For all he invested in me. And for the legacy of Christian faith and the kind fathering which he passed on to me. I am challenged to do the same.



‘Holy Spirit, fill me’ is a prayer I often pray. I pray it for myself and I pray it for others. It’s a prayer deeply rooted in Scripture (Ephesians 5:18) and in the tradition of the church. It’s a good prayer.

But what about asking God to empty me? I’ve been thinking about that recently. About asking God to remove all that is unhelpful. To pull the plug and drain me. Whilst I regularly pray prayers of confession and dedication, I rarely am so explicit and pray ‘Lord, empty me’. But I’ve found myself doing that over the last few weeks, partly inspired by the example of Heidi Baker. She explicitly encourages people to empty themselves before asking God to fill them.

Of course she gets this from Jesus. Philippians 2:7 could not be clearer that Christ ‘made himself nothing’ – or literally ’emptied himself‘ of his own desires and will, humbling himself to the greater will of his Father. This idea of kenosis – of self-emptying your will to be entirely receptive to God’s will – was prophesied by Isaiah, that a Messiah would come who ‘poured out his life’ (Isaiah 53:12). Followers of this Messiah are to do the same.

To live lives that are empty of ourselves doesn’t mean we are passive or boring or dull. Neither does it mean we get pushed around or become doormats. It means we live lives of surrender.

‘What kind of people does God fill?’ asks Heidi Baker. Her answer is simple and true. ‘Empty ones’.


Access Denied

‘Access Denied’ is not the error message I want to get when trying to open a computer file. Not only is it frustrating but it feels like I’m being told I’m excluded. I will try of course to find a way around the computer’s ‘no’ – but it will take time and may not work. Maybe it won’t open. Maybe others have access rights, but I don’t. Maybe I’m not included.

I’m so pleased that God is never like a computer! I’m never denied access. Not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is. Jesus always has access and if I come to the Father in Jesus’ name, I am always granted access. Every time. St Paul makes this patently clear in his Trinitarian understanding of prayer in Ephesians 2:8: ‘Through him [Christ] we have access to the Father by one Spirit.’

Tim Keller, commenting on this in his book Prayer, says:

The word ‘access’ was commonly used when an ancient king granted someone an audience. No one could simply walk into the presence of a powerful monarch. The consequences could be imprisonment or even death (cf. Esther 4:9-16). That, however, describes the powerful differential between an ancient oriental king and a commoner. The gulf between a holy God and sinful human beings is infinitely greater (1 Sam 6:10; Ps 130:3; Na 1:6). No human being can look upon God and live (Ex 33:20). Paul’s claim that we now have access to God’s very presence ‘through him’ is therefore quite astounding. We always have an audience because of what Jesus has done. His death on the cross reconciled us to God (Eph 2:16) and made him our Father.

This means we have access. To the all-mighty God of the universe. Because of Jesus. This has profound implications for life and faith! And what an incentive to pray, knowing that we will be welcomed and heard!!

When we approach God in Jesus’ name he will never say ‘Access Denied’.


2015: Prayer & The Wrong Kind of Greatness

Prayer must be at the centre.

If prayer is not at the centre of our lives then our best-laid plans for the coming year may be expertly managed but improperly discerned. Without prayer we might reach for (and even attain?) the wrong kind of greatness. That’s why disciples must pray. We do so on our own before God. And with others before God. We pray.

Prayer keeps us grounded. Humble. Wise.

Prayer is what we do. The bible – the disciple’s manual for life – could not be clearer about this. If you want convincing, I’ve not found a better summary of the centrality of prayer in the bible than in chapter 2 of Tim Keller’s Prayer. You can listen to it by clicking here, or you can read it for yourself by reading on in this blog. Either way, allow yourself to be stirred and challenged by the Holy Spirit to pray this year, as you see afresh how prayer has always been the way of God’s people. It is no different today.


The Bible is all about prayer, and that is why the practice of prayer is so pervasive throughout its pages. The greatness of prayer is nothing but an extension of the greatness and glory of God in our lives. The Scripture is one long testimony to this truth.

In Genesis we see every one of the patriachs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – praying with familiarity and directness. Abraham’s doggedly insistent prayer for God’s mercy on the pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is remarkable (Gen 18:23ff). In Exodus, prayer was the way Moses secured the liberation of Israel from Egypt. The gift of prayer makes Israel great: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” ( Deut 4:7).

To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule – it is a failure to treat God as God. It is a sin against God’s glory. “Far be it from me” said the prophet Samuel to his people, “that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” ( 1 Samuel 12:23 [italics mine]). King David composed most of the Psalter, God’s inspired prayer book, filled with appeals to “you who answer prayer” (Ps 65:2). His son Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem and then dedicated it with a magnificent prayer. Solomon’s main petition for the temple was that from it God would hear the people’s prayers – indeed, Solomon’s highest prayer was for the gift of prayer itself. Beyond that, he hoped those from other nations would “hear of your great name … and pray toward this temple” (1 Kings 8:42). Again we see prayer is simply a recognition of the greatness of God.

The Old Testament book of Job is largely the record of Job’s suffering and pain – worked through with prayer. In the end God is angry with Job’s callous friends and tells them he will refrain from their punishment only if Job prays for them (Job 42:8). Prayer permeated the ministry of all the Old Testament prophets. It may have been the ordinary means by which the Word of God itself came to them. The Jews’ preservation and return from exile in Babylon was essentially carried out through prayer. Their exile began with a call to pray for the pagan city and their neighbours (Jer 29:7). Daniel, nearly executed by the Babylonian authorities over his insistence in prayer three times a day, prays a prayer of repentance for his people, asks for their return, and is heard. Later, Nehemiah rebuilds the wall around Jerusalem with a series of great prayers interspersed with wise leadership.

Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21-22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1-26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying.

Immediately after their Lord’s death, the disciples prepare for the future by being “constantly in prayer” together ( Acts 1:14). All church gatherings are “devoted … to prayer” (Acts 2:42; 11:5; 12:5,12). The power of the Spirit descends on the early Christians in response to powerful prayer, and leaders are selected and appointed only with prayer. All Christians are expected to have a regular, faithful, devoted, fervent prayer life. In the book of Acts, prayer is one of the main signs that the Spirit has come into the heart through faith in Christ. The Spirit gives us confidence and desire to pray to God and enables us to pray even when we don’t know what to say. Christians are taught that prayer should pervade their whole day and whole life – they should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

Prayer is so great that wherever you look in the Bible, it is there. Why? Everywhere God is, prayer is. Since God is everywhere and infinitely great, prayer must be all-pervasive in our lives.

Tim Keller, Prayer (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014), pp.26-28.

May 2015 be a Happy New Year as you grow in the greatness of prayer.


10 Books to Inspire for 2015

I like watching videos but there’s nothing like reading a good book. Reading is harder than watching. I have to engage my imagination more and intentionally enter into the world of the text. But the reward is great. That’s why I aim to read at least one book per month. And about this time of year I normally recommend for the coming year a few books that have helped me. So here is my offering for the year ahead. I hope you find something here to inspire.

1) Eric Metaxas’ ‘Seven Men’
Having read Metaxas’ excellent and accessible biography of Bonhoeffer in 2010 I was pleased to discover this easy-read mini-biography of seven men who changed the world by their selfless serving. Hear the stories of Washington, Wilberforce, Liddell, Bonhoeffer, Robinson, John Paul II and Colson. Your life will be made richer.

2) Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team’
This book has helped many team-leaders from worlds as diverse as business, politics, education and church discover how and why teams thrive or struggle. It’s cleverly written in the form of a story and so is interesting and revealing. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and gain new insights into the teams in which you’re involved.

3) Rolland & Heidi Baker’s ‘Reckless Devotion’
This is a selection of Baker’s writings put into 365 daily readings. The Baker’s live extraordinary lives, based on a deep intimacy and dependency on Jesus Christ. This has been a very helpful book for me over the last year.

4) Edoardo Albert’s ‘Edwin – High King of Britain’
Albert has pieced together as many historical fragments that he can find about Edwin and presented them in a lovely historical novel about this great man who helped form Britain some 1,400 years ago. Read of the often violent and brutal culture of the day, of Edwin’s slow conversion to Christ, of the important role of Bishop Paulinus and how York became significant in the spiritual future of the region and nation. This is the first of a trilogy of books by Albert called The Northumbrian Thrones.

5) Mason Curry’s ‘Daily Rituals’
I can’t think of another book like this! It’s all about the daily habits of famous people from every sphere of life – architects, scientists, writers, composers and more. Unearth how they spend an average day. Fascinating!

6) Danny Silk’s ‘The Culture of Honor’
Silk is one of the leaders of Bethel Church in Redding, California. He gives the biblical foundations for the faith-filled culture that is so present at Bethel. This book will challenge, encourage and help you analyse the culture of the organisations in which you reside – including your family, church and workplace.

7) A N Wilson’s ‘The Potters Hand’
This is a fairly long but nevertheless interesting historical novel of Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of Wedgwood China. With family connections in the pottery industry I read it with interest. It’s not a biography, as Wilson has taken some artistic liberties by filling in various gaps in the story, but it would make a good film!

8) Bill & Beni Johnson’s ‘Spiritual Java’
If you want a selection of encouraging writing from the Bethel stable, this is a good place to start. With short chapters taken from writings of various leaders (Vallotton, Silk, Johnson, Leibscher) this book will motivate you to think differently, pray expectantly and live more faithfully.

9) Bill Hybels ‘Simple.’
This is brilliant. Clear. Wise. And very practical. Anyone who reads and puts into practice the advice distilled in this book will live a better, more healthy life. I thoroughly recommend it.

10) ‘The Bible’
I will end again with this book. The Book of books. I continue to read a little every day and I am not disappointed. There is no book like it. So if you read just one book in 2015, chose this one.


Christmas. It all starts with Thanksgiving.

Scrooge is un-liked because he’s so grumpy. The fictitious character from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is negative, miserly and rude. To be like that just seems wrong during a season of peace on earth and goodwill to all! Instead there’s something inside of most people that instinctively feels we should be positive, generous and kind at Christmas. I know that’s hard if you feel like life has dealt you a tough hand, but ultimately the choice of how we approach Christmas is yours and mine. And that’s true of life in general. We can be optimistic or pessimistic. Encouraging or discouraging. Happy or sad. The choice is ours.

Most people, given the choice, want to positive and optimistic. That’s a state of mind that comes from a contented heart. So how do we get that? It all starts with thanksgiving.

The bible urges us to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Not because we have to but because it’s good to. It’s good for us because it realigns our often skewed perspective. And it’s good for those around us as thanksgiving is infectious!

So how are you doing in your giving thanks?

For me, I’m thankful this Christmas for family, church, friends and faith. I’m thankful for being alive at this very moment in time. I’m thankful for the basic stuff of life – like food, shelter, clothes and a bed. I’m thankful for warm-hearted people who take time to say kind words and give thoughtful gifts. I’m thankful for the privilege of living in York and the North of England. I’m thankful for being a British citizen. I’m thankful for people who’ve given their lives to Christ this year. I’m thankful for those who are serving others across the world without reward or recognition – like aid workers. And for those who often go unnoticed but who’ve make a difference to my life. Many of them I might never see to thank – like road sweepers and toilet attendants – but they help make life better! Those are just some of the things and people for which my heart is thankful.

But most of all I’m thankful for what’s at the core of Christmas, which is God himself. He has not left us alone but has come to us in the babe in the manger, and still draws close by his Spirit. Followers of Jesus know that ultimately a contented heart comes as we turn our thanks to God! The God we know in Jesus Christ. Because He satisfies like no other. He gives purpose, meaning and joy, even if times are uncertain and life is difficult.

In a world of so much bad news people need good news! So get to church this Christmas, hear afresh the good news and give thanks to God for all his goodness. And why not go round the dinner table on Christmas Day and ask what people are thankful for? Watch what a difference it makes.

Christmas. It all starts with thanksgiving.