Eyes wide open

Recently, I had the privilege of taking part in the induction and ordination of a great young couple who are beginning Baptist ministry as co-pastors of a baptist church in Alnwick, a small market town in rural Northumberland (and the venue for our 2020 North East Regional Conference).

It was a superb afternoon, with messages of encouragement and good wishes from college tutors, leaders of other denominations and even two former pastors of the same church. As I chatted with members of the church during the customary post induction bun-fight, I was struck by how enthusiastic they all appeared to be about this fresh start, this new chapter - characterised largely by a deeper desire to engage with the wider community in mission as God leads them forward. That enthusiasm is infectious, a new thing had begun, or as God spoke through the prophet Isaiah ‘I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?’ (Isaiah 43:19 NIV).

As we move into autumn, this can be a challenging time of year for some of us. Summer holidays are well and truly over, it’s getting darker so much sooner in the evening and we may even have to turn the heating on! Many of our churches are settling back into a more usual rhythm after the summer break and apart from the customary Harvest Festival (which Engage Worship have produced some brilliant resources for), it can feel a bit like next stop, Advent!

However, so often, even during the seemingly quieter autumnal season, there is so much new growth taking place all around us. I am amazed every year when, after harvest time on our farm, new crops that have been sown begin to emerge. Every year I come home and exclaim to Ruth, my wife ‘the wheat’s emerging!’ It’s the wonderful miracle of new growth, happening almost imperceptibly as the dark brown earth turns into the beautiful lush green carpet. Even with shorter days and colder nights new growth is everywhere, but as Isaiah comments ‘Do you not see it?’ God, I think, often works in more gentle, imperceptible ways. It’s so easy in our local church situations to look elsewhere and see amazing church growth, to look elsewhere and see missional energy and new initiatives kicking off right left and centre, yet to look at our own situation and to be thoroughly discouraged (or that’s often my experience anyway!)

Maybe as autumn begins to show off its amazing vista of colours, we need to book a check-up at our local spiritual Specsavers! Ask God to help us see as He sees, to help us to listen for His voice, that the almost imperceptible may become obvious to us as we live, work and recreate in our local communities - finding out where God is already at work and joining in. I believe that throughout our nation and all over our beautiful rural areas God is doing some amazing, creative new things. However, the question God asks us today through the prophet Isaiah is a simple yet challenging one, ‘…I have already begun. Do you not see it?’ My prayer is that, as we yield to Him again, God would open our eyes to the new things He is already doing in our midst. Open our eyes Lord!

Alistair Birkett
Director of Pastoral Care: North