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Confidence3 weeks ago
Tina Upton, the Vicar of Blacon near Chester, is using her sabbatical to think about how Christians can be more confident in sharing their faith with others. In this week’s Blog she reminds us about just how important it is to speak about our faith, and how the Holy Spirit helps us to get the message out!
I have been fortunate enough to be on sabbatical over the past couple of months, and it has been so good to live life at a slower pace, and to be able to spend quality time with family and friends. It has also been good to stand back a bit from the frenetic hamster-wheel activity of day-to-day parish ministry, and to take more of an overview of what we do and why.
The focus of much of my thinking and reading has been on encouraging faith sharing by Christians, and thank you to those ReSource supporters who have taken time to help with my little survey on the subject. I have read all sorts, and found myself reflecting on some great evangelists – big names like Charles Spurgeon or Billy Graham - and others you will not have heard of, individuals I have met down the years.
God chooses to use whoever he chooses – whether a world-famous preacher speaking to heads of state, or a young child speaking to her friends in her school playground.
Those churches that are growing have ordinary members with the boldness and courage to speak to non-Christians about their faith. So the growing church has members who talk about Jesus. Thinking about it, it’s obvious - no church can ever grow without new people coming to faith. The harvest needs to be reaped. All that is needed for that to happen, is confidence.
I find tennis fascinating to watch, not only the jaw-dropping moments when the players manage to place the ball in the farthest corner of the court, even though it’s flying at over 100 mph; but also the drama and tension you get with the one-to-one tussle between great stars. And whole matches can come down to one or two crucial points, moments when it could all go one way or the other. At those moments, it comes down to so much more than the physical ability and talent of the player: mental attitude comes into play. It’s all about confidence; do they believe they can win this match?
I believe that God provides us with the confidence that’s needed, if we will trust him to.
There’s a verse which has become important for me in all of this, from Paul’s second letter to Timothy chapter 1:6-7
“I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (NLT)
Fear and timidity – Timothy was an expert in that – if anyone had imposter syndrome it will have been him; he was young, in poor health, perhaps very shy – all leading to him being tremendously unconfident. But Paul, writing from his second lockdown in prison, tells Timothy “God has given you the necessary gifts, of power, love and self-discipline”. And to each of us who feels unconfident, as well as to the church in general - which has become so unconfident in speaking up about the faith we have – Paul’s words speak to us too. If you are in Christ, God has given you a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. Have confidence!
Fan into flames the gift of the Holy Spirit
For Christians, God gives us the confidence we need, which we might otherwise lack. Where our natural inclination might be to take a back seat, to avoid speaking up, to avoid imposing our ideas on others, the Holy Spirit in us gives boldness to proclaim the gospel; bringing strength where there was weakness, that is the sort of power Paul means.
And the Holy Spirit gives love – self-giving, caring about the other person, not concerned about myself or my own reputation, but instead for their salvation. And the self-control is about adopting a godly order of priorities, placing self after others - God first, others second, self third.
Paul urges us to fan into flames this gift of the Holy Spirit which brings us power, love and self control. Allow the Holy Spirit to fan into flames the gift God has given you!
It seems to me there are various ways that we fail to make the most of what God is wanting to use us for – ways that the burning embers are just left to moulder and not become full-blown lively flames.
Underpinned by prayer
Of course, there needs to be a spark in the first place. You can’t light any kind of fire without a spark. We can work as hard as we are able, we can do as many activities as are possible in a week, we can read all the books there are or study for all the degrees imaginable, we can try with all the effort we can muster, we can pray and fast for hours on end…..but the only way anybody is going to receive any spiritual gift is from God. He gives what He wants to whomever he chooses. And God brings people to faith when he chooses. So there is no point in a church adopting any kind of faith sharing programme, or evangelistic course, or bible study series or whatever, if prayer is not underpinning all of it.
The oxygen of the Spirit
For the spark to become a flame requires oxygen. We need the Holy Spirit to help us put God’s gifts into practice day by day. Without Him, our efforts and best intentions will be fruitless. To fan glowing embers into flame, we need to have more Holy Spirit blowing over. We need to open ourselves, to pause and place ourselves in His hands, to give Him space to work over and within us. I look at the way things have gone in my ministry, and I have to confess quite often I have focussed too much on doing, and too little on praying. Let’s allow Holy Spirit to work in and through us.
Putting our gifts into practice
Oxygen is needed to light the spark, but the fire can also go out if no log or charcoal is put onto it. Kindling goes up in flame very rapidly, and looks very satisfying for a moment or two. But if we leave it at that, the flames will die away and become nothing before we know it. Longer-burning fuel needs to be put over the flames, to catch light and to sustain the fire long term.
I think the church in this country has been content to see flames arising from the kindling, and has not been brave enough to put sufficient longer burning fuel on. You do need to be brave and confident – there’s that moment a log is placed onto the flame, and you wonder is it going out? Then, with enough oxygen, the flames take hold, and gradually grow!
Fan into flames – that’s about doing things to make those flames grow. It’s not all about passively sitting back and waiting for something to happen to us. It means putting our gifts into practice. That means trusting God that the Spirit is at work, is guiding and prompting and protecting and empowering you, and have the courage to speak and act in His name according to the gift given you.
With boldness, with confidence, we are to speak of what we believe, of why we believe, of the reason for the hope that is within us – when on the bus, in the supermarket queue, commenting on social media, or talking on the phone. Each brave moment of speaking up, is placing more fuel on the fire. That little comment in the Post Office is as important in God’s kingdom as conversations held in the Oval Office of the White House.
We all have preconceptions, prejudices, unconscious bias, which not only restrict our expectations of other people, but also of ourselves – it means we limit how we expect God to work in us, in our lives and in our communities. Which means we limit what we believe the church can be.
It’s like lighting a flame and saying that fire will only ever warm this corner of this room a little bit, and there is no way we would expect it to become big enough to heat the whole house.
God lights the flame in each of us, in order for it to not only heat the house, but the whole world! And He provides all the fuel needed to do that. We just need to fan it into flames.
So - whoever we are, whatever role in the church we have, let’s ensure that we work to fan into flames the gift God has given us, not just for our own enjoyment - but so that the gift we have been given can be better used to build the kingdom where we are.
If you have a five minutes to complete a short survey on faith sharing to help Tina with her sabbatical research, please follow the link https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/G2L53N3 and if you are willing to help with a slightly longer interview on this subject, please indicate on the final question. Any queries about this survey, please contact Tina Upton on [email protected]