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  • Ross Moughtin

If God doesn’t show up, we’re stuffed!

“If God doesn’t show up, we’re stuffed!”

This declaration by Mancunian Andy Hawthorne has to be the best definition of Christian ministry, what it means to serve in the name of Jesus. However strong our commitment or excellent our skills, what counts when it counts is God’s faithfulness to his people. Especially in tough times.

And we are living in tough times.

I’ve just come back from five days of New Wine United at the East of England showground in Peterborough, the first time since 2019 that New Wine has been able to organise this summer Christian jamboree. And it’s been a tough two years.

I'm not sure why but we hardly knew anyone there, surprising given that there were about 8000 people (I think) in attendance. One person I did meet was George (“Good morning, George!) who as a NHS chaplain in a major teaching hospital, ministered right through the pandemic, virtually alone without the support of volunteers.

He was telling me that only as the pressure has begun to ease (we’re speaking relatively) are staff now beginning to face up to the emotional pressures they have been under. And what is more, the public has become more demanding, even hostile.

This seems to be the case for so many in ministry. Paul Harcourt, one of the national leadership team for New Wine, spoke about the difficulties, the pressures of leading churches and Christian agencies in the storm. Many are bruised, some have lost their footing. And as we emerge from one storm, we enter another as the cost of living crisis throws us about the boat.

More than anyone else Christians should be adept in riding out storms. It is no coincidence that storms feature so prominently in the biblical narrative. Jesus, of course, on Lake Galilee but also Luke, as he writes Acts of the Apostles for Theophilus, devotes no less than one long chapter to when the ship carrying the apostle Paul to Rome is hit by the Northeaster (Acts 27:14).

“This may be hard to accept, but your problems and difficulties have a purpose,” observes writer Tony Warrick. “God wants you to learn something. Every storm is a school. Every trial is a teacher. Every experience is an education. Every difficulty is for your development.”

Storms teach us to trust in God’s faithfulness. So much of the time we are tempted to think we can manage pretty well with the occasional assist from the Holy Spirit. And for much of the time, that seems to work. Storms take us back to basics.

While at New Wine I was able to talk with representatives of various Christian agencies, many serving their local communities in Jesus’ name, often on our housing estates where hope is bereft. Christians against Poverty were there (they’re going to be busy) along with TLG which works with some of the 192,531 children excluded from school each year.

Reading their stories there are times, sometimes as a defining moment, when they find themselves in a situation when if God does not turn up, they are truly stuffed. It seems to be the way God works - to place us in a situation, such as facing the Red Sea with the Egyptian chariots closing in, where our only option is to rely on God.

And when God does turn up, not only are we able to do things in his name but more especially, we experience his loving-kindness first hand, a defining experience. But it’s a lesson we find difficult to learn, for strangely it often doesn’t get any easier.

It was the late Alan Godson who taught me to ask the right questions. Put bluntly, you never ask the question Can I do this? If you do, you won’t do very much. Instead we ask Does God want me to do this? If the answer is Yes, then we get out of the boat and start walking.

Again, we do not ask Can we afford this? a question so beloved by church councils and trustee committees. We simply ask What does God want? Myself I saw how God provided over £1million, all given by church members, for his building project when our general church accounts were consistently under stress.

This resolve to rely on God’s faithfulness and refusal to be limited by our own resources is the key to how we may serve in Christ’s name. It’s what Christians do.

I attended one seminar given by a Christian working in PR. Essentially he was saying that looking at the various data that through the pandemic there has been a marked shift in UK society in our openness for spirituality and engagement with the local church. Sadly I did not take notes nor has the recording (which I have paid for) not yet been uploaded – and so I can’t give you the fascinating info.

Going back to the Acts of the Apostles, the ship’s company only began to listen to the apostle Paul after they had thrown all the cargo overboard. Only then, having lost all hope, did they ask the apostle what to do, and following his direction, they were all saved. They could see in his composure that God had turned up.

Faithful, you are

Faithful forever you will be

Faithful, you are

All your promises are yes and Amen

All your promises are yes and Amen

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¡Hola!  Well, here we are again in Los Cristianos, on the southern tip of Tenerife, for our annual vitamin D fix. And like this time last year I am sending this blog from our favourite waterfront café

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