24 February 2017
Steve Clifford writes... In the storm
I don't know if you're like me, but often as I come to the end of one year and look forward to the next, I take a few moments to see if God might have something to say for the coming year.
So it was a few months ago, as 2016 came to an end and I looked ahead in anticipation to 2017, two words came to mind. It felt as if it was a challenge – certainly for me personally, but perhaps for us as a Church across the UK. Over the last few weeks, I've lived with these two words – I've found it impossible to get away from them. I've reflected on the challenge they bring to me in my own Christian journey, but also to us as an Alliance, and the churches and organisations that we endeavour to serve. The two words are simple and yet, as I have reflected on them, enormously provocative: be brave.
As I have responded to this call to bravery, I was reminded – as I read a book written by two friends of mine – of the incident that follows the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew chapter 14. The crowd is being dismissed, the clear up has happened and Jesus is determined to have a time of prayer alone on the mountainside. So, Jesus sends his disciples off in the boat to the other side. The Greek words used create the sense of Jesus, with great urgency, pushing them out into the lake. We, of course, know what happens next. The disciples are in trouble, there's a strong wind and big waves. Presumably Jesus knows there is a storm coming. It seems Jesus is sending them into danger. It's at this point that Jesus meets them. As he walks on the water towards them, his first words are simple, yet profound. "Take courage!" Perhaps we can translate this: "Be brave." To which he adds: "It is I". In other words, they are not alone in the storm because he is there with them.
As we look back on 2016, and forward into the rest of 2017 and beyond, it seems to many of us as if we are living in a storm, both personally, nationally and internationally. Wherever we look, there seems to be uncertainty as to what the future will hold. The vote to leave the EU; the election of President Trump; the mass movement of displaced people; the rise of radical, militant Islam; the repositioning of China and Russia; government policy which, in the name of challenging radicalisation and defending human rights, is in danger of eroding religious liberty and fundamentally reshaping how we view our humanity and conduct our relationships. So much uncertainty can lead us into deep insecurity, even fear. So it is, that "take courage" and "be brave" are words that seem so appropriate. Perhaps with such uncertainty around, this is an opportunity for us as followers of Jesus to offer another outlook on life to those who surround us.
Could it be that the 'storm' will open up opportunities to share our faith in Jesus, perhaps to offer a prayer, or to step up and make ourselves available to take on fresh responsibilities, and so initiate change for good? Could it be that God is sending us out into the storm, not fearful of what the futureholds, but confident that God is committed to working His purposes out right across His creation - and that we have the privilege of joining in on His mission for His world?
The great news of course is He doesn't leave us on our own, He promises to be with us and to give us whatever we need to fulfil the task. As Jesus was about to leave his disciples, he gave them some final instructions. In Acts 1:8, he puts it like this: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Thank God, it's not all dependent on us being brave. He promises the Holy Spirit. Let's face it, it's impossible unless the Holy Spirit enables us, but with the power of the Holy Spirit within us and working through us, who knows what He might achieve.