I’ve done quite a lot of reading whilst away on sabbatical this summer. I’ve read all sorts of different things, from novels to non-fiction books in the fields of leadership, discipleship, sociology and popular psychology. I’ve had my mind stimulated and provoked in all sorts of ways. I’ve also been writing too, the fruit of which I hope will emerge soon.
When it’s time to take a break from reading an interesting book, most people prefer to pause not in the middle of a chapter but at the end. It feels like a better place to stop, rather than part-way through something. We can then pick things up again later, in a new chapter, with a sense of anticipation of something new about to unfold.
Life is like that. And so is the life of discipleship. Sometimes we pause or take a breather and then pick things up exactly where we left off – like in the middle of a chapter. But there are other times when we re-start in a new chapter. Things feel slightly different. We’re still in the same story but it’s like we’ve turned a page and there’s a new chapter heading.
This September seems like that for me. It feels like Isaiah 43:29: ‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’ That’s partly because I’ve been away on sabbatical and am returning after a break. But it’s more than just that. As I’ve been observing and listening and praying I think it’s a new season, certainly for me and for us at The Belfrey, and maybe for many churches in our region and nation. Things feel slightly different. Like we’re in the same story but starting a new chapter.
Jesus told his disciples that they needed to be discerning to understand the times and season they’re in (Luke 12:56). Jesus knew it’s important to know when you’re starting a new chapter.
A new chapter will not look the same for us all, especially in own daily lives. For some it’ll be about big changes – like a new job in a new city and a new church. For others it’ll be about developing a new interest or turning what was previously just an idea into a new reality. It may be about new routines in new places – like finding a new regular coffee shop or eating place. It may be about picking up new connections – at work, at home or with a potential new friend. For some it’ll involve praying new prayers – bold and brave prayers, or using a different prayer-style, or a new prayer-posture (kneeling down, arms raised, standing up, etc). For others it’ll be about buying a new translation of the bible and enjoying hearing from God in a fresh translation of Scripture.
In church life a new chapter will, for some, be about joining a new small group. (If you’re not connected with a small group for mission and discipleship, I’d urge you to do so at the start of this new season. It’ll help you thrive!) It’s about developing new friends. Serving in new ways. Inviting new people. For some who don’t yet know Jesus, this will be their season for finding faith, marking it in baptism, joining a church and beginning to live the new life Jesus is calling them to. For others it’ll be about experiencing new encounters with Jesus, going deeper in worship, being healing and being filled anew with his love.
To begin a new chapter, or indeed to enter into anything new, you can’t be passive. Instead, you must actively step out and step up. To use an agricultural picture, we’re to sow seed. That’s so important if we’re to going to see fruit this season. I believe God is calling us to sow. To invest. To give. I told the staff team at The Belfrey just this last Monday, that this week we needed to be looking for every opportunity to give. This is about planting. Planting seeds of love, of kindness, of generosity. ‘Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, but whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (2 Corinthians 9:6). There’s a harvest coming. A harvest to be reaped. It’s a harvest of love that comes from showing love. A harvest of financial resourcing that comes from financial giving. A harvest of answered prayer that comes from praying. A harvest of people coming into God’s kingdom and finding family in church that comes from us inviting friends and loved ones to find out more. But all these new things only come from sowing. From sowing a seed. There’s no harvest without sowing.
At The Belfrey, as we joyfully celebrate on Sundays, warmly build community midweek in small groups, persistently pray early on Tuesday mornings, generously give our tithes and offerings, faithfully invite friends to church, kindly show God’s love in all sorts of practical ways and continually pray for God’s transformation of the North, so we’re sowing seed. Seed bringing a new season. Seed opening a new chapter.
A new chapter is exciting – but it’s challenging too. It’s both a privilege and a responsibility. That’s why we need to rely on the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6), giving our best (Colossians 3:23) and trusting the Lord (Proverbs 3:5). That way we can be sure a chapter is being written that future generations will long to read and share.