When I left for my sabbatical in May I left St. Mark’s with a prophetic word about going deeper with God, and Gary wrote an excellent blog in July suggesting that the starting point for followers of Jesus is to encounter God through His Holy Spirit, and to practice the presence of God. He spoke about the need for all disciples to be people of repentance, and the importance of making space for God, and seeking to host his presence.
When I read his blog while on sabbatical I was heartened and blessed, as it was very much what Jesus had been saying to me while seeking His guidance and direction about being called to go out into deeper waters and to cast our nets on the right (correct) side as individual disciples, and as God’s gathered people here at St. Mark’s.
I have had the opportunity to read a number of inspiring books while on sabbatical covering prayer, leadership, creating a culture of grace in our churches, hosting the presence of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and a call to Holiness to name a few! All have been excellent but the most recent one I have read is entitled ‘Different – Living the Holy Life’ by Simon Ponsonby, and I highly recommend it. He is emphasising the need for the people of God to pursue holiness, which he defines as Christlikeness through the time tested spiritual disciplines of prayer, bible study, worship, obedience, giving, mission, generosity to the poor, and walking in the Spirit. He does this by looking at sin, repentance, new life in the Spirit, forgiveness, idolatry, religion, submission, obedience and to put his book into context he quotes C.S. Lewis writing to The Times in 1952 calling for ‘Deep Church’. A rediscovery and return to the historic foundations laid by Christ and the Apostles, rather than the somewhat superficial religion he observed as characteristic of much modern Christianity.
Ponsonby says, ‘two generations on, we still need to heed this prophetic call and return to the deep things of God. We need to learn to pray again, and witness again, and invest in creative imagining and missioning’.
I passionately believe we need to welcome the empowering, equipping and transforming person of the Holy Spirit into our lives, and into the Body of Christ if we are to go deep with God. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us into the likeness of Christ, and the empowerment of our service for His Kingdom, and we must walk in His Spirit. When we have been in the presence of God, in His company, we cannot not be changed!
Two of my most memorable times on sabbatical was walking St. Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose in the Borders to Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in Northumberland – 64 miles over 5 days with a very dear friend of mine. We have been friends for nearly 30 years and I am godmum to her daughter. We have holidayed often together and treasure our friendship. But we have never spent 24hrs for 5 days in constant company with each other, walking, eating and sleeping without a break. And to our great joy our friendship grew ever deeper as we laughed, cried, got lost, shared, prayed, worshipped, and enjoyed God’s company as well as our own. A very blessed time and we keep ringing each other up and talking about it, as well as boring our friends and family!
The other powerful time was my 8 day silent retreat at St. Beuno’s near St. Asaph as I sought this call to go out into deeper waters. With the help of silence and my wise spiritual director we discerned God was revealing to me His deep desire to be friends with His disciples, with those whom He walked on earth with, and with every disciple ever since. I spent many hours reflecting and meditating on John’s Gospel, Chapters 13 to 17, and Chapter 21, and personalising the scriptures which is a very powerful exercise, and part of Ignatian spirituality. Chapter 15, 17 and 21 were exceptionally important and I will say a little bit more on Vision Sunday which will now be on 8th October. But Chapter 15 so well known to mature followers of Jesus, spoke again about the importance of making our home in Jesus, and Jesus making His home in us, no longer calling us servants but friends because He has made known to us everything that He has heard from His Father. That is a very awesome truth – we are being called to have a deep friendship with Jesus, and because He lives in us and we in Him, wherever we go He comes too, and wherever He goes we go too! This is what it means to host the presence of God taking us into a much deeper relationship.
Deep friendships come about through mutuality – it cannot be a one way relationship. Mutuality – a sharing of sentiments, intimacy (in to me you see), reciprocal, mutual dependence, and Jesus is offering to us such a relationship as dear, dear friends. If Jesus is in us and we are filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3: 19) then there is no room for anyone else in us – no room for me, nor the enemy, for as the Apostle Paul says, ‘it is no longer I living in me, but the fullness of Christ’. Amen and Amen!
God has been so good, loving, generous, forgiving, merciful and gracious to me on my sabbatical and there is still so much more work to be done in me as I allow His Spirit to prune, heal, restore, and transform. I pray that I will keep my eyes focussed on Jesus, and not at the storms which undoubtedly will occur. He is calling us all into a deeper friendship with Him, and as we host His presence, carry Him wherever we go, we will be ever more aware of our shortcomings, the need to repent, to receive forgiveness, be filled with His Spirit to empower us to go out and make disciples of all nations. As I said last Sunday Peter took a huge risk to get out of the boat and walk towards Jesus, and Jesus is calling us to be risk-takers not care-takers, Gospel bearers, and Kingdom breakers!
That excites me and I pray it excites you too. I no longer call you servants but friends. I finish with words from Ponsonby ‘it has always been the desire of God to be friends with humankind. Jesus was friends with tax collectors and sinners. Friends. Not merely an acquaintance, not simply on speaking terms, or even on first name terms, but friends’.