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.