It was fantastic to have Mike Breen back speaking at my church STC Sheffield last Sunday. I was at the church in 1994 when Mike came to be the Vicar. He’s the most naturally gifted speaker I’ve ever heard and his teaching has been a big influence on me. I also had the blessing of some time with him when I was on a training year with the church in 96/97. He affirmed my heart to write even though it took a long time after that for it to find expression. The key hallmark of Mike’s teaching is that on one level it’s simple to understand but it is also deeply profound.
Mike is now based in America and works developing materials to support the development of a healthy, outward looking church (1). His message yesterday is available on the STC website (2), where you can also find great resources such as a daily podcast.
Mike spoke about Psalm 23, which talks of God’s heart to shepherd us and particularly about how God wants to break into the fear in our lives. We are a church, which expects God to speak and move and releasing people from areas of fear and habits of fearfulness is a common theme. We live in a scary and insecure world and personal struggles can establish fear as a driving force in our lives. One of Mike’s insights was that fear can come in different guises. We can rebrand fear as stress or even responsibility, which sound more normal but below the surface it can still be fear that is driving us.
Mike encouraged us that God’s perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and that the opposite of fear is faith. It was at this point that my wife, Louise started prodding me.
Many years back I had a revelation about the forces that drive us. I sensed that we tend naturally to swing around a cycle of pride and fear. We tend to look to ourselves and our abilities – we start from the place of pride and what we can achieve but at some point we hit our limitations. We fail or find we don’t know what to do and lurch from pride (what we can do) to fear (what we can’t do). From this point we either stay in the place of fear or try and claw ourselves back up to a place of proud self-sufficiency. Round and round it goes, like a noose as we exhaustedly try to fix life.
As Mike said the answer to fear is faith – putting our trust in God. The answer to pride is humility – acknowledging our need for God who then by his grace offers what we need.
Those of us who are Christians still battle the instinct to get drawn back to the old cycle but as we look to God and work things through in community we find there is a better path to follow and learn how to choose the right path more often.
As Louise knows, when I first had these thoughts I was blown away by them and I expected others to be too. Time has taught me that we need more than revelation, we need application something STC is very big on. Of course for me, I now realise years later, the most important application is my life. Rather than expecting people to be impressed by the idea, people need to see it in practice, then it will definitely be some use.
So to this week!
This week I had my non-working day when I get some writing done and I had lots planned. A week into my new job I also needed my work phone to hand as I needed to be in contact with one of my staff. What followed was a bit of a palaver involving phone chargers and me most definitely falling head first into stress. I had a plan for the day but my approach was all about what I could get done and soon that plan was looking shaky and I was worried it was all going to go to pot.
Once the phone issue was sorted I took stock. I paused and in some fashion stopped to pray and listen. The great thing was that it only took a moment. As I write about in my book ‘What Happens Now?’ when I stop before God I steady like the bubble in a spirit level. I find peace and balance in being in his hand. Faith in what God could help me to do began to rise and fear about a wasted day started to fall away. I got back into activity but from a place of being reconnected with my source.
The battle against pride and fear is a lifetime’s battle but God offers to shape us and change our instincts so we crash and burn less often and less dramatically. Beyond pulling us back out of the ditch he then always has a positive plan to make the most of all that he has made us to be.
God made us to show off what he could do. He wants to set us free and unleash us into the world.