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Tuesday, 17 January 2012


Why are you trying to swim across when I am ready
to part the waters for you?
After three years teaching in Croydon, I thought God had finished teaching me about his strength and my weakness. I remember clearly two words that I received at the time, both questions from God directed towards his wayward and stubborn daughter. The first: Why do you keep running into a brick wall? And the second: Why are you trying to swim across when I am ready to part the waters for you? The second was accompanied by a picture of a fast flowing and dangerous river and a little girl sitting on the bank crying because she kept trying to brave the current and swim across and then had to turn back again. Time and time again working with young people in Croydon I ran head first into brick walls and flung myself into treacherous currents; I was desperate to make a difference and to love those I was trying to teach but I kept trying to do it on my own: I kept trying to live by sheer force of will rather than inviting God to teach me how to do it. Eventually, I learned to tattoo Zechariah 4:6 on my hand in biro in the morning as a poignant reminder that this was not about me; it was all about Him. "Not my might nor by power, but by my Spirit." Similarly, psalm 127 became somewhat of a mantra: " Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late." 

And so I thought I had learnt my lesson about my inability and God's endlessly willing capability. Apparently not. I think it is a lesson that we keep learning and that we need to teach ourselves every day because the temptation to make it about us is irresistible. The temptation to put our structure, our agenda, our motives down on top of God's is always there, always needs to be resisted. The relentless structure of teaching reinforces independence: it is easy to stop putting God first, and reminding ourselves that He is the very reason we are doing anything, when there are a myriad of other things to do and when, ultimately, your time is dictated by the remits of your job - the things you have to do each day. I always knew, in some sense, what I was supposed to be doing because there were deadlines and marking and teachery things to be done. 

It is not like that now. Now I don't have job or a structure and suddenly I have no idea what it is I'm supposed to be doing. There is the general, vague vision: I am living here to try and be Jesus and bless and serve this community. But the specifics of that vision are decidedly hazy. And the temptation to plaster over the haze with things that I think I should be doing is overwhelming. Rather than asking God what he would have me do and wait patiently for the answer.

On Saturday, I returned back to our flat after four days housesitting and broke into tears. This is not an unusual experience for me (I am somewhat emotionally inconstant for any number of reasons - some definable, some not). I had just been watching some clips about the work of Eden ( and was feeling jealous and frustrated and useless; longing to make a difference, to look like Jesus, to connect with young people and love them and support them and reinforce their dreams and aspirations but having not the foggyist clue about how to do any of it. I always find it quite difficult not to be jealous of all the other amazing and beautiful things happening around the country (which is, I know, stupid and selfish and sinful and definitely an easy place for the devil to grab a comfortable foothold) and reading about Eden made me simultaneously want to run to Manchester, forget about Barnwell entirely, and join in, and ignore all of it and go and sit in some hole somewhere. Neither of which seemed particularly Godly options. And so, instead, begrudgingly, in the small angry voice inside my head, I prayed: Alright, God, I get it: I am helpless. Helpless. I confess it. I don't know what I am doing and I am helpless unless you do something. 

9781842914045.jpgI am grateful for the honestly of Roy Godwin in his book "The Grace Outpouring" for sharing a similar prayer which he prayed and for writing down God's response: "It's because you come here in weakness and cannot minister of move out of your usual experience that I want you here. You have nothing to give, so you have to be abandoned to me. And the fact that your eyes are opened so that you're able to discern what's going on spiritually means that you can see what the evil one is doing and you can deal with it. But you don't know how to, so again, you have no experience with this particular area and you have to come back to me. It's your helplessness I want." 

There was something of an echo of that last sentence hammering in my head as I sniveled on the sofa and grumpily confessed to God that I had no clue what I was doing. Was it possible that a sniveling, desperate prayer might be just what He wanted? That a confession of weakness and inability was needed for Him to start working, lifting up my attempt at humility instead of having to batter against my pride. The answer seemed to be a yes because no sooner had I gone to the toilet, than there was a knock at the door and three of the teenagers we have been connecting with turned up on our doorstep. There aren't many places where you are as helpless as sitting on the loo and I took it as a sure sign that God had heard my prayer and this was his answer: I know you're helpless. You can't change this estate. You can't make young people come to you to hear about me. But I can. Look. 

Three days after my helplessness confession and we have been amazed by what God has done: several teenagers have come to hang out with us and drink hot chocolate, we've seen more teenagers than ever before wanting to engage with our weekly football on a Sunday and, last night, at Girls' Group, God doubled our numbers (two to four, but I'm still counting it as doubled!) and then, miraculously, provided enough food for everyone to eat even thought I knew I hadn't made enough spag bol to go around. 

I still haven't learnt my lesson. I am going to need to keep reminding myself that it is my helplessness and my utter dependance that God is after; not my scheming and determination to get things done in my own way as soon as possible. The idea of being abandoned to God is, however, becoming a lot more tempting. If being abandoned to God means that I get to be involved in what He is wanting to do instead of trying to squish Him into what I have decided to do, then that's definitely preferable. It's liberating. It's beautiful. And, looking back over the past weekend, it is infinitely more fruitful than anything that I could concoct on my own. 


  1. Thank you Nic for your honesty and for posting this, it's helped me so much, thank you for being prepared to be vulnerable and honest.

    I'm once again trying to remember not to try to strive and do things myself but ask God to sort things out, THEN do whatever bits I need to do with Him and in Him.

    Have you read Henry Nouwen's book about the Prodigal Son? xxxxx

    1. Yes. I love that book. Beautiful. Thank you for reading and for thinking and for commenting. It is valued and appreciated. That is possibly a tautology, but both are true! Much love. xx