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Slow Down My Beating Heart….

Last week, I had an investigatory procedure at hospital. I had been a little anxious about the day as I wasn’t quite sure what it would involve and whether I would need further ’work’ done. When the consultant walked in, it was a man that I knew. Our church organises long distance walks/adventure activities for the public. It was on one of these that I met the man who was now leaning over my hospital bed and talking me through what was about to happen. Whilst I’m sure that a stranger would have done the job just as well, I felt hugely reassured and grateful that it was someone that I knew. I felt a sense of peace and perhaps even an inner joy.

In preparation for the procedure, I had, for the previous few days, taken a daily vasodilator (to lower my pulse). The consultant said that this hadn’t had much effect, so he gave me some intravenous beta-blockers. Still my heart rate was too high for the procedure, so I was given a further shot to ‘slow down my beating heart.’ I won’t know the results for a week or two, but I was told that initial indications were positive. I was hugely thankful for this and felt a sense of joy.

The next day I had scheduled to have off work, so Andrew had booked a B & B at the last minute for me to recuperate. (Lots of Brownie points!!XXX ) The room was small, but clean and the bed was really comfy. Bliss! I was hugely grateful and had a deep sense of joy inside.

The next morning, my breakfast was yummy, but what really touched me was that the waitress said that if we wanted we could have our coffee outside on the patio. ‘Wonderful idea’ we thought and went out into the glorious September sunshine to drink our cafetière of coffee. The weather and the coffee on the patio felt like a grace gift from God. I was really grateful and felt a sense of joy.

We then went on to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere. I didn’t want or need a busy or super-active day, but at Minsmere I could slowly mosey around and just ‘be’ a part of nature. It was a beautiful peaceful wander. I was so thankful to be there and felt a sense of joy.

Finally in the evening, I had some extraordinarily delicious Thai food at a street café. In spite of the people sitting next to us being ‘a tad odd,’ it did nothing to ruin the evening. You see, I was so grateful for my food and I had this feeling inside – a sense of joy!

I noticed something wonderful in those two days….I found myself praying without even meaning to because I was so thrilled with God’s blessings…even the small ones like a comfy bed and a nice cup of coffee in the Autumn sunshine!

I’m not entirely sure why some of those things made me so much more thankful than usual and I don’t think it was entirely because of the medication! It has made me think though…..how can I cultivate a grateful, thankful heart in my every day life….even for the small things? Then, I will find myself praying without even trying and I am sure that I will have a greater sense of inner joy day by day!

Live Courageously & Speak Truth To Power – Say Establishment?!?

‘Happy Wedding Anniversary’ said an unfamiliar voice across the table. This was not to be an intimate dinner for two. Instead, courtesy of Andrew’s role as President of The Law Society of England & Wales, we attended The Lord Mayor’s Banquet.

Also attending were many well known figures of the British Establishment. I am not one for pomp and ceremony, but amidst the stunning surrounding, fanfares, sumptuously dressed tables, toasts and speeches, it was clear that God was very much at work.

Sometimes Christians feel that there is little sympathy for faith at senior levels within our nations leadership. That can cause:

1) A siege mentality where we either fail to have any impact on the world or
2) Negative campaigning that can appear as bigotry (but perhaps is sometimes born out of fear?)

The powers of darkness have nothing to fear regarding the former and the latter can simply give rise to a harder form of secularism, even perhaps resulting in the establishment of bad case law.

Well, what I witnessed last night blew my mind!

David Cameron spoke of the phenomenal work that churches are doing. In his speech he spoke at length about how the church is the most effective agency of change in local communities, even amongst hard to reach communities.

The Archbishop of Canterbury claimed that as a nation, we had much to be grateful for regarding the work of DFID (Department for International Development.) He spoke about the significant DFID money being given to Churches and Christian Charities. The reason? It is widely acknowledged that the churches have the community ‘know how’ at home and abroad and can bring sustainable grass-roots change.

The Late Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, herself a former President of The Law Society, said that a major highlight of her Mayoral year had been in St Paul’s Cathedral where there was a service to celebrate 20 years since the Ordination of women as Anglican priests. She said ‘Glass should be in the windows, not in the ceiling!’ Last year in her speech as incoming Lord Mayor, she challenged the Archbishop to work to raise the number of women in senior levels within the church. This year, the Archbishop cheekily responded by challenging ‘the city’ to raise the number of women board members in FTSE 100 firms to reflect society! 😉

Opposite me, a highly decorated top ranking Police Crime Commissioner leant over the table to ask what I felt about the role of religion in politics. What ensued was a stimulating conversation about the importance of a degree of separation between church and state (which was interesting given the setting). We discussed the need for the church to have a prophetic role ‘speaking truth to power.’ He argued that the church needed to have a greater voice and he asked me ‘where is the Baptist voice?’ Shouldn’t Baptists be in a better position than the Established Church to speak truth to power? ‘Perhaps’, I thought, but it got me thinking once again about the fact that in our desire for decentralisation, we could be in danger of losing the power of a unified public prophetic voice.

Knowing that I was a minister, the guy to my right-a retired stockbroker and a liveryman tried to get a rise out of me by speaking about the ‘phallic nature of the table decorations’ (I have to say it wasn’t the first thing that crossed my mind!) He then moved on to state that he didn’t really agree with women bishops. Still not getting the rise he anticipated, he started asking various probing questions about the nature of ‘call’, experiential faith and why there was a need to respond to Christ if Christ has indeed ‘already done it all.’ Halfway through the evening, he asked for my business card saying that I had been the first person courageous enough to straight talk with him about his need to respond to all that Christ had done.’

To my immediate left was a wonderful senior female minister in the Church of England. The gentleman to her left opened a conversation with us both by saying

‘Wow – you two don’t look anything like church ministers used to when I went to church as a child.’

We both smiled politely….having heard something similar many times before.

He then asked us what we found to be the most frustrating aspect of ministry. We both spoke about how apathy and fear within the church hinders the work that God wants to do in individual lives and in the the world through the church. He said that he felt that this was a generation that generally lacked courage. He then challenged the church to take a lead in this nation by showing it how to live courageously! He left saying that he had been immensely inspired by the conversation!…..So had I!

As a woman, life in ministry (not least getting into it in the first place) has presented a catalogue of difficulties. However, there are many amazing advantages of being a woman too! One of these is the ability to take people by surprise precisely because you don’t look like they think a typical minister looks! Perhaps it is the novelty factor or just curiosity, but if it provides an inroad to the Gospel, then I am not complaining! These comments often lead almost immediately into deep questioning and sharing from both men and women.

Last night was also a reminder that God is at work in profound ways within our nation that perhaps we do not often see.

‘The Establishment’ were the ones setting the church a challenge – to show leadership by living courageously; to speak truth to power; to continue to bring transformation in our communities.

All I had to do what to open my mouth and respond to what The Holy Spirit was already doing in lives within that room!

And so…..If you are praying for the leaders of this nation-be encouraged! If you are not, then you should be – so get down on your knees in prayer and then get up off your knees and live courageously!

Church-we cannot afford to be fearful, complacent or apathetic. There is a world waiting for spiritual leadership and there are national leaders calling for the church to lead by example!

Ear-wigs & Leaders!

EARWIGS-poster

A couple of weeks ago, I was ear-wigging on a conversation about an upcoming leadership role within a big church organisation.

‘They should have this background or that experience; they must have this qualification or that competency, along with a firm grasp of X, Y and Z’ came the people’s replies….

All suggestions were carefully recorded and many of them were very good.

One of the few woman in the group chipped in….

’I think we should be looking for a person of godly character.’ 

 ‘But, that will leave us in danger of appointing someone who is just too nice.’ said one of the men and the woman’s comment was swiftly ignored.

Well, the woman had been silly to suggest it. Of course, someone nice would never work out in that role! It was a role that would require someone prepared to ruffle a few feathers from time to time; it would require someone with the courage to speak honestly and challenge where challenge is required; it would require someone willing to take the people of God right outside their comfort zones………………….and someone of godly character couldn’t do that, could they?

I mean, Jesus would never have ruffled any feathers or posed a threat to the status quo would he? He was just too nice….it was being so nice and inoffensive that led him to the cross, wasn’t it?

Godly character and being nice are not the same! How did we come to domestic our faith so much that being anything other than ‘nice’ might affect our polite sensibilities? In so doing, we have often rendered ourselves potentially incapable of leading anything more revolutionary than a jumble sale or a tea party!

When it comes to leadership, a person’s competencies determine what that person can do. Their commitment determines what they will seek to do and their character determines what they will do.

Of course we need people of character and, specifically, of godly character!

Maxwell states that ‘Leadership is not something you do, it’s something you are….being must precede doing….to achieve greater results you must be a person of great character.’ (The 21 Most Powerful Minutes In a Leaders Day, Page 99)

Amen Maxwell! I don’t always agree with you, but leadership character perhaps now matters more than ever! As society increasingly rejects authority based on position, the church needs to offer the highest form of authority…an authority that comes from the transforming power of God working in and through a person/s – a power that gives an integrity and authenticity to all a leader is and does.

Yes….of course, all leaders are flawed, but leaders must be committed to becoming more and more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and dedicated to a much ‘higher calling’ than ‘people pleasing’ will ever be. That will be costly!

What about skills and competency? I am sure that when the Apostle Paul gave instructions to Paul and Titus to appoint of the basis of character, he was not suggesting that competence was unimportant! Indeed he almost certainly assumed that appointments would be made on the basis of a certain level of skill.  So, of course skills and competency are necessary, but a commitment to Christ led character development is a far better predictor of potential spiritual leadership ability than skill level.

Whilst skilful leaders are highly desirable, competency without character will eventually be undermined. The price of appointing on the basis of skills or gifting or even experience rather than character will always be too great, particularly in Christian leadership.

Final thoughts: I could go on about the core of a leaders life being one of love and integrity….about how that foundation is the wellspring that gives rise to empathy; lack of blame; humility; emotional mastery; accountability, confidence in Christ and calling; courage to take risks and the focus on the whole picture, but I’ll save that for another time.

I could also talk more about the high cost of leadership and the fact that many leaders will need to go through periods of trial, testing, broken-ness and personal sacrifice before they really start to realise their God given potential, but again I’ll leave that for another posting.

Finally, I sincerely hope that the people upon who I was ear-wigging make the right appointment….a man or woman who will probably spend a lot of time on their knees before they even accept such an appointment and then, who if they sense themselves called, will make themselves utterly available for God to work in and through in whatever way he chooses!

Imagine the impact on the Church, society, the nations and the powers and principalities if Christian leaders and those who follow them submitted themselves to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in this way!

Ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls – we have a responsibility! 

So, you want to be great for God?

A New Year thought that I believe really matters…for me at least! Over the past year, I have heard a number of people say that they want to give their lives to achieve great and significant things for God. That’s probably very worthy. However, it could potentially smack of wanting to be promoted to a position of importance in the Kingdom of God. Surely, the greatest, most significant thing that any of us can do is to humble ourselves before the Lord, seeking to be totally available and obedient to Him. That will help to ensure that our desires are Christ centred, not ‘us centred.’

The Methodist Covenant Prayer reads:

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will,

Rank me with whom you will;

Put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you

Or laid aside for you, exalted for you

Or brought low for you;

Let me be full, let me be empty,

Let me have all things,

Let me have nothing;

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

To your pleasure and disposal.

And now glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant now made on earth

Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

It’s not an easy prayer to pray, but it is a prayer of deep humility and a prayer of utter abandonment to God….and isn’t that where we should be? Whether we may be laid aside or exalted…..God is still God and His love for us does not differ one iota whether we are busy doing things for him or whether the most we can manage is to just let ourselves be ‘beloved of the Lord’!

Certainly, we can be sure that when God is looking around for those to whom he can entrust leadership, he will be looking first and foremost for those who are both available and obedient.