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... Say Yes To Change

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Photo credit: nsplash Annie Spratt

Provided by CCNL (Christian Churches Network of London)

... Say Yes To Change

The Christmas ornament pictured above aptly captures the sentiments that many of us feel as 2023 begins. Does hearing the word “change” bring a smile to your face, as there are some of us who actually thrive on change as a new opportunity for fresh starts…or does it send a shiver down your spine as the word “unprecedented” still runs amok in our heads as we yearn for stability. It is challenging to keep our balance these days. If things feel uncertain for you right now, you are not alone. We may feel overwhelmed or cautious about how to move forward with confidence after the ongoing onslaught of unexpected events that occurred over 2022.

Pause to think about the big picture changes we did not envision on January 1, 2022… invasion by Russia into Ukraine resulting in ongoing war; crazy economic uncertainty/inflation; roller-coaster housing prices & availability; COVID variants now with added RSV and influenzas; increasing extreme climate events causing much destruction; amplified humanitarian crisis of famine, displaced people and human rights violations; decline of religious participation patterns and commitment; democracy at risk in governments everywhere; health care systems strained to breaking points; increased homelessness and unnecessary deaths; growing concerns re China …whew, it was quite a year with much to pray about. On more personal levels, unexpected changes in churches and businesses leadership, deaths of loved ones, shifts in relationships, alterations in personal health, or even the recent storms over Christmas that disrupted many family events, travel plans, and dreams of normalcy.

Breathe deeply and remember that God was and is very aware of all of it. As well-loved children of the most high King of heaven, He stands with us. Remind our souls that positive things also happened in the midst of that chaos. We saw births, weddings, changed lives, recoveries, generous hearts, laughter, new discoveries, many learnings, conflicts resolved.

In Christian terms, we often use the word “transformation” instead of “change”- it somehow sounds less threatening and more positive. Transformation is more than simple tweaking of habits or actions, even though those are needed. It is more than creating strategic planning or goal setting together, which are also needed, to provide coordinated effort and foster enhanced communication on many levels. Transformation is about modifying core beliefs and long-term behaviors—sometimes in very profound ways from the inside out, embedded into our daily living. Scripture is full of both incremental ongoing changes and wholesale transformations; personally, theologically, and structurally…just think of the profound transformation of thinking from the Old Covenant with the law to New Covenant found in Jesus. Change is built into the fabric of all creation by our Creator God. Our fear of change and anxiety about the future stems from wanting to be in control – wanting to see ‘the terms and conditions’, the expectations and the outcomes before we sign up! Hear this truth clearly - God is in ultimate control. Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Let’s talk together with our heavenly Father about these ideas of change and transformation as we enter 2023… we come with open hearts and willing spirits. May we awaken each morning saying “yes” to God with much anticipation:

Today, we say yes to trusting you
, putting our lives into your hands to shape us more and more into a reflection of your character. The imagery of the potter and the clay often occurs in some difficult passages in the Bible as we are called to submit our will to yours. Much easier said than done daily. 2 Corinthians 4 reminds us: “Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry his precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do” How reassuring that You do know what to do because we do not. Help us seek your purposes in our lives, resting in your sovereignty as your Spirit transforms us.

Today, we say yes to change. The church is notorious for being fairly resistant to change, the source of way too many disagreements over the years. We like to call our way “traditional”, or “biblical”, but look at how much trouble Jesus got into with the religious leaders of his day as he challenged those kinds of mindsets. Give us discernment, patience, curiosity, and much wisdom God about what needs to change. To understand the differences between our personal preferences and your purposes. The world is rapidly changing around us. We desire to be relevant, engaged and so interested in our culture in order to communicate your sacrificial love to future generations and diverse people around us. The Bible describes this spiritual transformation in us in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” How exciting.

Today, we say yes God to putting aside our fears. Joshua 1:9 (NLT) says: “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (MSG) says “Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” Fear is obviously not a new problem – it occurred often throughout history. Sociologists tell us that right now, anxiety and heightened fears appear to be on the increase, especially for children. When there is much uncertainty, the tendency is to kick into survival mode. We seek to eliminate any possible risks: pull back, stop innovating and investing, just when we most need to do that most. It can be a scary world on any given day. Leaders express deep concerns for recovery from the last three years. Let us encourage each other often, giving robust freedom to try new things, to sometimes fail, to get up and try again and again. We give our fears to you Jesus.

Today, we say yes to demonstrating more grace, God. “Gracious” may sound like a pretty old fashioned weak word, but it is powerful. The synonyms for gracious are hospitable, kindly, polite, thoughtful, friendly, cordial…being full of grace can change a conversation, comfort a broken heart, open doors, restore hope and lessen conflicts There are too many simmering angry people, resulting in violent outbursts, hateful words, sowing doubt with subtle criticisms and rumors. Charles Allen, a theologian and Greek scholar adds this to our understanding by offering a succinct synopsis of at least three distinctive types of grace mentioned in the bible: the mercy and active love of God; the winsome attractiveness of God; the strength of God to overcome. We need all three daily in our lives…to offer abundant grace to others and to ourselves.

Today, we say yes to changing how we support those who lead us in our faith communities. “Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness. There should be a consistency that runs through us all.” Hebrews 13:8. There are many new leaders starting in London…as one generation moves on either to new opportunities or to retirement. We pray for those churches and ministries who are in the midst of search processes – a very tentative process of waiting and wondering what’s next. Direct them to wise and loving leaders that will enrich and deepen the faith tapestry in our city. We pray for the transition periods as change takes place, welcoming those new to a position. May we be of assistance or encouragement in some way making them feel “at home” here. We pray as well for the seasoned leaders already among us God. Give them safe personal community. Wise accountability. Amazing partners in ministry where they can be encouraged. Freedom to fail and take risks. Fresh winds of energy and new ideas. Jesus sent out his disciples in training and suspect he shook his head at times initially. In Hebrews 12, it also says “Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?”

Today God, let’s say yes to changing our approaches in this Post-Christian Era to those around us. ...We seem to be befuddled or struggling to even want to share Jesus in word and action with others. Many of us only hang out with other Christians of the same tribe as ours and safely hide out in likeminded groups. The “invite them to church” approach seems to be broken. Church leadership writers are saying: Change or die- that is blunt. The reality of too many congregations is over the past ten years, the rate of church closures has accelerated or are on life support. They identify the program-based model is failing. Discipling in and through relationship is a growing trend again. As Christ-followers, God help us be better prepared to naturally share Jesus in healthy ways, being your presence wherever we are. Isaiah 43:19: “See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up: do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” We pray that this is still as true today as it was thousands of years ago. May we learn from those who are effectively and respectfully sharing the gospel in this new season.

We say yes to seeking your peace God today… and tomorrow… and throughout 2023. A new year is a good time to let go of past grudges, old hurts that surface in our present. May they no longer have a hold over us. May we listen and seek to understand what it means to be at peace with one another. Romans 12 is always compelling, humbling and an ever so beautiful challenge for the coming year. Let ‘s pray this for one another. Your friends. Your fellow Christ-followers. Your spouse. Your children. “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Just imagine if we lived like this how it could change the world! Exciting days lie ahead. We shout yes to you God as we trust in your Holy name. Amen.