New Ministry Update

Like many people, I spent most of my life blissfully ignorant of the state of Her Majesty’s Prison Service. That is, until a friend convinced me to join an ecumenical mission group that ministers inside a Category-A (maximum security) men’s prison. Once inside, I quickly learned that the UK prison population is growing at a dramatic rate, but, so too is the percentage of prisoners attending church. It has become increasingly common for people inside to start asking the bigger questions of life, and it appears that God is meeting them in that space. In fact, prior to the pandemic, it was rumoured within the Church of England’s Ely Diocese that the chapel inside HMP Whitemoor was their fastest growing congregation! 

This should not surprise us. Jesus was often drawn to outcast fringe groups who were ostracised by majority; “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). The first person Jesus personally promised to meet with in paradise was a criminal who hung next to him on a cross at Golgotha, and, let’s not forget that both Moses and Paul committed murder before being transformed by God’s grace and used for His Kingdom.

It’s important for us to realise that when a criminal finds faith, their potential is enormous. I have met some extraordinary men who are serving long-term sentences and are using their time to memorise large sections of the New Testament, regularly pray for people who are persecuting them, and read intimidatingly large books on Systematic Theology and early church history. These people are passionate about God and are hungry to learn as much as they can about Him. But, until now, their access to any kind of formal theological education has been non-existent. 

This is why I am pioneering CamTIP. My vision is to bridge the gap between well-resourced theological colleges and under-resourced prison chaplaincies who are experiencing growth. With the help of Dr Alison Gray, we are creating a partnership between Westminster College and HMP Whitemoor, so that Christians inside can study theology with academic accreditation, go deeper in their faith, and be connected to the wider family of God. 

I am excited to see how each of our students will continue to flourish in their personal spiritual journeys, as well as the significant opportunities that come with receiving a high-quality education. I am also eager to see how they may bless us – the wider church – with their testimonies and insights. We know that God is in the business of surprising us with the people he chooses to advance His Kingdom. Might these people be the key to the UK’s next big church renewal? 

You can find out more about us at, and if you would like support this ministry, please sign up to my monthly prayer newsletter and consider financially supporting me as a pioneer.

Against “Tent Making”

One of the most startling things I have encountered while pioneering a new ministry has been the conversations I have with other Christians about money and work. Since I left the prosperity gospel (which was obsessed with money-talk), I have now found myself in the Church of England, which is wholeheartedly avoidant of money-talk. I used to find this a breath of fresh air, but now that I’m fundraising for ministry, I seem to have uncovered some seriously worrying and very unbiblical views about money, giving, mission and ministry as a vocation!

I have no doubt in the future I’ll have a series of reflections on all sorts of money and ministry issues, but today I want to make a clear argument against “Tent Making” as a legitimate model for sustainable ministry. 

In Christian jargon, Tent Making is a term used to describe a financial model for ministry, where pastors or missionaries have secular jobs so that they can either fully or partly support themselves as they do God’s work. It is based on the fact that the apostle Paul took a brief interlude from full-time ministry in order to work in trade (he literally made tents, hence the name) while he ministered to the church in Corinth for one day a week. Although this was a brief period of his life, many Christians now refer to Paul’s temporary small business in metaphorical language to imply that ministers or missionaries ought to adopt this model to financially support the ministry God has called them into. 

To be clear, I am not in any way against the actual trade of manufacturing or selling tents! Nor am I calling out pastors or ministers or missionaries who have been forced to do this so that they and their children don’t go hungry. 

But what I am saying is that this so-called “model” is a social and spiritual tragedy, not a legitimate economic method for those who are called into ministry. Of course if you can’t raise enough funds you will have to support yourself and your family through paid employment. But if all Christians followed God’s Biblical principles of supporting those in ministry, then this would not have to happen, and we may not see so many pastors burning out by their mid-thirties. 

Of course it can be (rightly) pointed out the the line between a missional vocation and a secular career is often blurred; it is indeed true that all Christians are missionaries to some degree. However some are called to it as a full-time vocation while others are called to be missionaries in their workplaces or schools. The Bible is very clear on this, and suggests that both callings are honourable, valid, and deserve a fair wage. 

In any case, if God calls you to full-time mission, then be encouraged that the people of God should be supporting you in this. And if God has called you into secular employment or business, then I hope this challenges you to consider supporting not only your local church but also missionaries who have taken a considerable risk to obey God’s call and spend their full-time lives making disciples of the nations. 

So without further ado, here are five reasons why the so-called model of Tent Making should be viewed as a sad Plan-B rather than a Plan-A archetype:

1. It goes against God’s command in the Bible

While many Christians point out that this was how Paul sustained his ministry in Corinth, the rest of the Bible is abundantly clear that this is not the way things should be. While Paul did indeed briefly work in trade, God’s command is for the exact opposite, and Paul himself later argued that his tent making should not have been necessary. 

In Numbers 18 we see what is often now regarded as the “Levite Model.” In this scenario, the people of God who are called to full-time ministry lay down their rights to earn wealth through business and instead live off 10% of the wages of the rest of the people of God. (Another 10% of the people’s wages were given for the poor, which is a bit more complicated for those of us in a welfare state and/or living on less than a living wage). But in short, if everyone earned a living wage, then every Christian missionary or minister would only need ten people to financially support their salary. There are of course added costs of general ministry expenses, teaching materials, buildings and the like, however the principle remains the same: the people of God should give 10% of their income specifically to support the wages of those who are called to full-time ministry. This is not an optional choice but rather a commandment of God throughout scripture (see Malachi 3). 

This is then carried into the New Testament. We know that Jesus and all of the Apostles each received financial support from other believers. Similar to the Levites, Jesus’ disciples left their family business and trades in order to be full-time apprentices to Jesus and subsequently spread his good news throughout the world. This was only legitimately possible because none of them had full time work; all of them lived off financial support from other believers (see Luke 8:1-3 and John 13:29). 

With regards to the Apostle Paul, we know that Antioch was the sending church who gave him an initial gift to go spread the gospel to other regions. From then on, those who received the message of the gospel then supported him as he then went to whichever next region God sent him to. I would tentatively call this a “Pay It Forward” model, whereby people paid Paul to teach in their church and would then give a final gift for his travels to the next city God calls him to. We see in his letter to the Philippians how Paul essentially writes to say thank you to his supporters in Phillipi, while then also providing them with further pastoral ministry and answers to their most pressing questions.1 

So, for a while, Paul’s Pay It Forward models seems to be sustainable. That is, until he reaches Corinth. The church in Corinth had a number of issues regarding having to “pay” for spiritual nourishment, so because money was a clear stumbling block for them, Paul decides to take up his old trade of tent making and work round the clock to keep them satisfied. This is only for a very short season (a “gap-year” if you will), and it drastically reduced his teaching hours to a mere one day a week, although he no doubt would have had discipleship conversations with people while working with his hands.

Most importantly though, Paul later writes to the Corinthian church, arguing that he should not have had to do this (see 1 Corinthians 9). He writes harshly against their “judgement” on him and fully argues against the Tent Making model in no uncertain terms. 

The sum of his argument is that the necessity of tent making was because of their hard hearts and his desire to remove all stumbling blocks in their way. It was never intended to be a legitimate model in itself. Rather, Paul, the ever-passionate long-suffering servant to the gospel decided to lay down was was the norm in order to accommodate for these stubborn people. In verse 7 he says, “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?” It is clear to Paul that if every other trader is allowed a legitimate income, so too should those who work for the Lord. 

But he does not just appeal to the human argument of fair wages for a fair day’s work. In verses 13-14 he appeals to the command of God, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” A similarly worded argument is also made by Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:17-18.

Many would go on to argue that ministers should lay down their rights to an income, just like how Paul did for that brief period of his life. But it’s worth remembering that this was a temporary measure and in no way something that Paul advocated as a sustainable model for ministry. Not only does it provide various unhealthy cultural problems in the church (which I’ll expand on in a moment), but in no way is this part of the commandment of God. Scripture is clear that minsters have rights to a fair income, and nowhere does God himself ask anyone to lay that down. Only one church in the Bible does this, and that church ended up getting scolded for it. 

In short, Paul’s need to make tents for a brief interlude of his ministry was simply due to the failure of his local (and undoubtably wealthy) church. In no way is it ordained by God or endorsed by Scripture. 

2. It values autonomy over family

The whole argument for Tent Making is usually hinged around the idea of self-sufficiency and not depending on anybody else. If you’re depending on the generosity of others, well that makes you a leach. 

But here’s the problem: we are not created to be autonomous units. The Bible is very clear that we are interconnected, relational creatures who have been designed to love and be loved. Implicit in this Biblical worldview is the idea that we are all ultimately dependent on God and each other if we are to flourish and thrive. While the Bible does indeed warn against taking this too far and using it as an excuse for laziness and overdependence (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 addresses this quite aptly), we must be careful to create a healthy balance and not go too far in the opposite direction towards ultimate autonomy. 

Sartre and other philosophers from the Existentialist movement have spilled a lot of ink arguing that we are autonomous free agents floating around in a world that is devoid of meaning. This has trickled into mainstream culture and is now often accepted as an inherent truth that informs our beliefs. But as Christians we must remember two things: first, autonomy is a myth, and second, the desire for full autonomy is the root of sin. 

The myth of autonomy is a prevalent one that usually thrives in societies who are prosperous and not in crisis. Paul Foster writes, “When we are tempted to think that what we own is the result of our personal efforts, it takes only a little draught or small accident to show us once again how utterly dependent we are for everything.” All of us are dependent on God, the land, and other people. Everything that we do is interconnected, and no-one ever makes a life choice that does not have ramifications on those around them. 

I believe that one of the Church’s greatest witnesses to the world is how we look after one another and be a healthy family (see 1 John 4:7-21). When we are interconnected in a healthy way and when we live in such a way that we are reliant on one another, this shows the world how to love well and how to resist the lie that autonomy is a good thing. 

The sin of autonomy is very clearly spelled out in the first chapter of Genesis, and I would argue is the root of all other sins. “I want to do life my way and own my own” runs counter to God’s model for Christian living. God himself says, “it is not good for man to be alone” and them provides a compatible companion for Adam in the garden. When the two of them end up sinning, what they ultimately say with their actions is that God’s definition of good and evil is not enough, we must take matters into our own hands and decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. In doing so, this severs mankind’s relationship with our creator, and ultimately results in us repeatedly choosing autonomy, with God repeatedly chasing us down and making costly sacrifices to restore our relationship with him. One day, all these ruptures will be restored. But until then we must constantly resist that ongoing temptation to be independent of God, the land, family, and the church.

It is the enemy’s goal to isolate us from each other and whisper the lies that independence is both a possible and worthy pursuit. 

3. It implies that ministry isn’t “real work”

Back when I was traditionally employed, I remember being partial to conversations about missionaries who, behind their backs, were accused of laziness and of not having a “real” job. This is deeply shameful and I had had to apologise to God and also to a missionary friend of mine for this. I will also say that I’ve noticed these conversations are often harsher towards men who have families, which brings up another whole issue of sexism, gender roles in bread winning and the general idea that “God-stuff” is for women while “real-world” stuff is for men.2

The idea that spreading the gospel is somehow less worthy than working for a bank or school or business is absolutely ludicrous. It is fundamentally important that we acknowledge that all of us are called to mission, and that those of us who have been called into it as a full-time vocation should be honoured for the sacrifice that has been made, not mocked for being reckless or stupid. If you question the validity of Christian vocation then you should perhaps question the seriousness of your faith. 

Sadly, I have seen many (often wealthy) Christian families all over the world offer missionaries employment in their homes (usually as a cleaner or child-minder) and then call it “supporting the ministry.” This is not supporting the ministry. This is providing a normal wage for normal work. Those who genuinely want to financially support the ministry give money for nothing, so that the missionary is then free to spend their time actually working in mission. When you tell missionaries that you’re “supporting” them but add the clause that they have to work for you, you are actually taking away from the ministry because you are occupying time that would have otherwise been devoted to serving God. 

I would in fact with a very heavy heart say that know of “Tent Making” work that has been offered to more than one missionary for an illegally low wage, all the while being branded as “supporting the ministry.” This is not supporting ministry. You are taking away time and energy that would otherwise be used for mission, while also exploiting the missionary’s vulnerable financial position so you can benefit from illegally cheap labour. This may be well-meaning, but it is actually deeply sinful and should be dealt with better in the church. 

Paul’s personal decision to lay down his own rights in no way legitimises the exploitation of missionaries by richer families in church. 

4. It promotes burn-out culture

I’m sure there are some churches and mission organisations who still need to read Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians and think about their inherent laziness, but most churches I’ve been in all over the world have massively over-corrected and swung too far the other way into seriously damaging burn-out culture. 

This is especially true in church plants that I have seen, where wealthy churches commission a few families to plant a new church elsewhere, but don’t supply enough funding for the pastor/minister to earn a living wage. This is when the Tent Making model is advocated most strongly, and unfortunately means that these pastors almost never have a holiday or a day off, which is not only counter to God’s command in the Bible, but also counter to how he made our bodies!

Sabbath rest is a command from God. It is not optional. If you don’t believe me, check out Exodus 20:8-11, Hebrews 4:9-11 , this Bible Project video or this teaching from Bridgetown Church. Rest is not a luxury for the elite, but rather a fundamental right and command from God. And yet too often we ignore this in our own lives and then project our distorted views onto those in full-time ministry!

When writing about burnout culture in Millennials, Anne Helen Peterson says, “Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.” We now know that burn-out literally makes us physically sick and ignores the crucial fact that God made us to be embodied creatures with limitations and finite capacity. Why do we still ignore the obvious?

I did an internship for a church, which involved 3 days doing “church stuff” and 3 days working in the “real world” in order to earn a survivable wage. This meant I was working 6 days a week, with 1 day left to see friends, maintain a relatively clean home, buy food for the week and organise my life. Tragically, and somewhat ironically, it was during this church internship that I stopped feeling the presence of God, which continued for over four years.

Burnout culture is so inherent in our society that many of us don’t even know how to spot it. But in all honesty, I think the calling of the church is to be a counter-cultural resistance the idols of the spaces that we minister to. One of the best ways we can do that for our missionaries and ministers in particular is to actually fund them so they can have a living wage while serving the gospel full-time. If we force them into a position of needing extra employment, we are heading them towards a collision course between their bodies’ capabilities and the unreasonable amount of work that we expect them to do. 

5. It lacks love

I would argue that the Tent Making model inhibits love for two reasons. The first is that the church is being unloving towards the missionary by placing a heavy yoke on them to be self-sufficient, all the while hoarding money that these days is often used for fancy music tech and new projectors. This both devalues the mission and the missionary. The second is that it also doesn’t allow the missionary herself to minister out of love because she is simply too exhausted to serve well. 

I have no doubt that the many people who tell missionaries to “consider Tent Making” or “stop being lazy and get a real job” must have some good intention deep down somewhere. Perhaps they are concerned for said missionary’s children, or perhaps the missionary has struggled to communicate to them the validity of the work that they do. But it almost always comes across as unloving because it ultimately tells the missionary that they do not value what they do or who they are. It is worth noting that I have never seen this in poor churches and only ever seen this in rich churches. I think there is something inherently worrying, unloving, and unbiblical with the idea of storing up wealth for fancy lighting on a Sunday while ignoring the basic needs of those who are called into mission. Churches that prioritise the Sunday consumer experience over and above the the living costs of full time missionaries are becoming more and more common, and this troubles me greatly. 

I remember visiting a vicar’s humble dwelling and commenting on how much I liked his furniture. The poor guy then got so stressed out that he proceeded to give me a tour of the whole house and point out that every item was either given to their family for free or bought on a clearance sale at Ikea. I hadn’t meant anything by the comment other than to compliment their good taste, but the poor guy is so used to people expecting him to live in poverty that he now gets jumpy at the slightest hint that he might be marginally above the poverty line (he is not). I have no doubt that this is because people in the church have repeatedly made unkind comments that devalue his vocation and tell him that he should be embarrassed for earning a living from it. 

I think this happens even more frequently to missionaries, and I would say it is fundamentally unloving because it causes the missionary a great deal of stress and forces them to constantly be on their guard to “prove” their poverty and think of themselves as second class citizens. 

Out of this, the missionary herself then struggles to live out her ministry from a place of love, because she is ultimately stressed and rushed in all aspects of her life. If your idol is self-sufficiency and autonomy then this may seem glorious. But if your aim in life is the gospel of love and peace then this should trouble you. A stressed and burnt out person cannot love well. Think of any time in your life when you’ve been stressed or running late for something and out of that you’ve said something wonderfully kind and loving to someone else. It just doesn’t happen. In the same way, a missionary ought be to a loving non-anxious presence in the world, and they will struggle to be this long term if they are under heavy financial pressures because the church has unlovingly withheld finance that could have released them into full-time mission from a place of security. 

I think it is worth remembering that when an individual is called into ministry or mission, there is usually a clear discernment process, and a recognition that there are ramifications for all those around them. If the minister has children, then this has ramifications on their children. Likewise, if the missionary needs to raise support, then this has financial implications on their church family. They are not stupid when they go into this, although many people of treat them as though they are. 

All in all, I think missionaries could all do with a little bit more kindness from the body of Christ, especially those who are new to the field or pioneering something unusual for the kingdom. 

I really like how one of my supporters put it when he offered to help fund the work that I’m currently doing. He said that in his eyes, we are both missionaries, it’s just that the work that we each do for the kingdom will practically look very different. While one of us is on the front line going into prisons, the other one is in the business world earning money and setting up a kingdom investment portfolio so that missions like mine can be sustained long term. Both of us are working for the Lord, it’s just that our work is different and therefore our stresses, obstacles and temptations will ultimately look different as well. 

I appreciate that the overall tone of this post has been rather critical, but I do hope this serves as an encouragement to all Christians to love and be generous, and for missionaries in particular to not be afraid when asking and praying for a real living wage. We’re not asking for riches or fame – we’re just asking for enough to get by without being condemned or judged. 

Until next time,


1Of course it must be noted at this point that Paul’s needs were minimal: he is likely to have had few if any possessions, and he often stayed in the homes of believers and ate their food. Nevertheless, there would have been traveling costs on his journey, and he would have had to buy his own food fairly regularly. I would never ever suggest that those in ministry should earn enough to live highly lavish lifestyles – I know of many multimillionaire preachers who advocate for the prosperity gospel that is fundamentally unbiblical. My argument against Tent Making is about alleviating missionaries from crippling poverty; not an excuse to hoard vast sums of wealth. 

2 I will caveat that there are some lazy missionaries out there! But while these are generally the exception and not the rule, it is worth pointing out that it’s neither healthy nor kind to lump all missionaries into that category simply because of the few. I can’t think of any other vocation that is judged quite so strongly when a small minority don’t live up to particular standards.  

Recommended Resources

For All Christians

Bible Project short video on the Biblical worldview concerning generosity. 

Bible Project podcast series on money and God’s provision

John Mark Comer’s teaching on why hurry, hustle and burn-out culture are enemies of the gospel of peace: book here and podcast here. Further teaching from his church here

For Missionaries

Advice from Stewardship on financial support raising: a three part YouTube series called ‘What I Wish I Knew Before I Started Support Raising.’ 

For Christians with Capitol 

This podcast by the Bible Project, which explores Biblical themes concerning business, wealth, generosity and mission while situating this in the life stories of two Harvard Business School graduates who had their lives changed by exploring the Biblical view of wealth and money. 

Accidental Freedom

A year ago I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, which came as a surprising relief at the time given that I’d been sick for over two months and the initial concern was that it might have been something lethal. But once the ‘phew it’s not cancer’ relief wore off a firm reality had to settle in: I am going to have chronic pain and fatigue for the rest of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t accept this right away, and some friends and family are still unable to accept this. At the beginning the doctors and nurses kept on talking about drugs that might help me achieve ‘remission,’ which I naïvely thought meant that I would one-day feel better and I would go back to my normal 6-day working week. But when ‘remission’ finally came and all the tests revealed that the disease was supposedly ‘inactive’, I was still feeling sick every day, and I didn’t know how to accept this on a psychological level. Admittedly it was much milder than before: I am now able to dress without too much difficulty, I shower most days, I cook and eat food, and on good days I can go for walks; but my head was still in the toilet bowel most mornings, my arthritis still came and went ad hoc, I was still feeling flat out exhausted like an elephant was sitting on my chest, and, while the sharp pain on the right side of my abdomen no longer made me pass out, it is still very present and causes significant distress on a regular basis.

After a few months of this I learnt that this is very normal for some people with my illness, so I signed up to do a course about it through a local support group. The course description said it was about using mindfulness to help manage chronic systems, which I thought meant they would give me breathing exercises to help make the pain go away. Instead, the psychologist said the best she could do was provide Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT) to help me psychologically cope with the reality that I might never feel well again, and that from now on my life will always have severe limitations. Initially I was gutted. But eventually this has became a game changer, and I’ve found that accepting, and dare I say sometimes celebrating my limitations has become enormously freeing for my soul.

Broadly speaking, this experience is not restricted to those of us who are perpetually unwell or disabled. Everyone knows how frustrating it can be to have your freedoms taken away from you against your will. Our whole western culture is built around the idea that we are autonomous ‘free’ agents, so when life imposes restrictions on us, we can often be so baffled by our newfound limitations that we literally don’t know how to cope, and sometimes this can result in pretty extreme denial or anger.

‘Freedom’, we are told, is the autonomy to choose to do whatever we want. The idea behind it is that we know what’s best for us, and that if anyone else tries to tell us what to do or if an unfortunate event forces us to accept there are some things we physically can’t do, then we become some kind of victim.  

But there are some real-world problems that all of us need to face at some stage of our lives, and these can force us to either deny the reality of our loss of ‘freedom’ or accept that true freedom isn’t exactly what we thought it would be:

First, not all things we are ‘free’ to do are necessarily good for us. In fact, some ‘freedoms’ can be incredibly bad for our health, for our relationships, for our society, or for our home that is planet earth. For example we may be legally ‘free’ to smoke when we turn 18, but smoking can significantly damage and kill your body, which not only causes you physical and mental suffering, but also impacts the people who love you. Likewise, you may be ‘free’ to consume as much single-use plastic as you like, but the reality is that if you continue to consume and dispose at that level then you contribute towards the death of our home and the demise of our future stability as a species. Again, I may be ‘free’ to work three days a week at my part time job, study for another three days a week for my masters, have every evening of the week booked to do something with church community, and spend Sunday flat out serving at church every week, but eventually the lack of real rest is going to catch up with me and my body is going to crash (and it did!). Nobody is physically stopping you from doing these things, but if you exercise your right to do so then there are pretty severe consequences down the line. The ‘freedom’ may be yours, but the consequences are not optional.

Second, there are many ‘freedoms’ that we think are fine because they give us short term pleasure and they don’t hurt anybody, but over the course of time we realise that we can’t stop doing them. And I’m not just talking about recreational drugs here. There are some itches that become more itchy once you start scratching, and what you used to think was freedom eventually starts to look a lot like addiction. This cannot be true freedom. You may have the ‘freedom’ to choose at the beginning, but further along down the line you have absolutely no freedom at all. While many of us exist in some kind of groupthink that says certain addictive habits are ok, the fact is that what you thought was freedom may actually have the power to strip your freedom away from you because you simply cannot stop. John 8:34 & 36 come to mind in this instance: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin… [but] if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’

True freedom then, may in fact not be the autonomy to do whatever we want, but rather the acceptance that certain Godly limitations may be good for us. Moreover, self-mastery over the things that are designed to be addictive may be more powerful than the short-term pleasures that are promised by hedonism.

So I want to reflect today on the accidental freedom I have found in accepting my physical limitations. There are some limitations that are forced upon us by things such as illnesses (and pandemics!) and there are other limitations that might not be imposed but have been advocated by ancient wisdom because they have the power to be surprisingly freeing in the truest sense of the word.

An example of the former may be when I discovered I was coeliac over a decade ago and was forced to switch to a diet that was gluten-free. Almost overnight both my health and my cooking improved. I discovered that a simple restriction in my diet forced me to live healthier and to be more creative in my cooking. Over time this has turned cooking into a joy and a passion that I take great pride in. This limitation, although frustrating when I had to adjust to it ten years ago, actually ended up improving the quality of my life.

Similarly, I’ve met a number of architects who have told me that they prefer a design brief with heavy limitations because the restriction forces creativity, which can in turn disarm the inertia that often comes with having too much choice.

For the latter, the early churches knew very well that certain restrictions can be life-giving, and there have been many religious communities that have chosen to live a way that is intentionally limiting so that they may find deeper freedom in their relationships with people, with the land, and with God. The Benedictine ‘Rule of Life’ is one such example, but there are many others. In the case of ‘The Rule,’ St Benedict proposed that Christians intentionally restrict their lives with specific rules so that they may find the right balance of prayer, work, study, and leisure (or renewal). This healthy balance in turn meant that Christians would be better equipped to love the world and follow the ways of Jesus without exceeding their human capacity. To a modern world that says you are free to do whatever you want, this is a radically counter-cultural way of life.

This doesn’t mean that the global church always gets it right though. I’ve noticed in Evangelical/Charismatic/Pentecostal circles that people often think that if you accept the limitations of your own life then you’re somehow imposing those same restrictions on God. Of course this is ridiculous and may in fact be a heresy: if your God is transcendent, omnipresent and infinite, assuming that you too possess those qualities is straight up idolatry. But nevertheless, we tell ourselves that if we accept Jesus into our lives then he’ll basically give us his superpowers, and then we can do anything or go anywhere or be whoever we want because God’s limitless existence somehow means that we are limitless too. ‘My God is on my side’ gradually evolves into ‘my God is me.’

But all of us at some stage have to accept not just the reality of our own limits, but the gifts that restrictions can bring to us, regardless of whether they are forced or voluntary.

To caveat: I’m not saying that we should never persevere when life gets hard or that we should give up on our God-given potential. But our western culture is very good at preaching those things because the narrative of ‘don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do’ tends to make it easier to sell things. For the majority of Millennials and Gen Zs, burnout culture has become completely normalised because we struggle to accept this one simple fact: we are finite, embodied creatures that exist in time and space.

Pete Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality says, ‘you find God’s will for your life in your limitations.’ When the church focuses only on people’s potential and not enough on their limitations then we very quickly make our way towards burnout because we physically and mentally force ourselves to transcend the limited capabilities God has given us. Anne Helen Petersen says in her article on Millennial Burnout, ‘Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.’

As much as we try and be like God and tell ourselves we have eternal youth and infinite capacity – I recently heard of someone saying that the iPhone is ‘the human experiment in omnipresence,’ – we need to come to terms with the reality of our real-world existence on planet earth. Our time has limits. Our bodies have limits. Our personalities have limits. Our capacity to know everything has limits. And this is a very good thing.

The world may say that there is a bottomless hole of endless consumption or that if you just keep achieving and striving you may one day feel fulfilled in your life, but this is a lie.

Here’s a startling idea: you can’t say yes to everything. I’ve often heard that I don’t have to say yes to everything, but no-one ever told me until I got sick that I physically cannot say yes to everything. And this is wonderful because when I’m saying no to a good thing, it means that my yes to something else will be better and more fulfilling.

An interesting reading of The Fall in Genesis 3 by John Marc Comer is that it is about our perpetual ‘temptation to transgress our limitations.’ In other words, there were an abundance of yeses and only one simple no, but we wanted to become like God with no limits so we refused to accept the no and overruled the boundaries that were set before us. That is the heart of sin: that we cannot accept our limitations and our place before God.

Yes, God has endless capacity, endless resource and endless power. But you don’t. And learning that you are an embodied finite creature with limitations does not in any way impede God’s capacity to provide for you as a loving father does.

In fact learning to live within the capacity he has given you (for example, he has built us with a need for rest and then commanded us to do so with this thing called Sabbath) is surprisingly freeing.

I would never wish my Colitis on anyone because it is a horribly painful disease that never goes away. But the restriction of my capacity hasn’t been all that bad for my emotional wellbeing.

I have learnt that rest is a virtue and not a sin.

I have learnt that I am an embodied creature rather than a ‘brain on a stick,’ and that my body has needs that I should listen and respond to.

I have learnt that slowing down my life can bring a wonderful peace to my soul.

I have learnt that sitting at the feet of Jesus really is far better than all the other things I used to think were important.

I have learnt how to ask people for help, and that 90% of those people are actually pleased that I asked them.

I’ve learnt to accept changes in my body (steroids combined with bed rest results in lots of weight gain), and that the standards of beauty of the world aren’t actually all that healthy.

I have learnt how to properly cry.

I have learnt how to be honest with Jesus.

There are many things I cannot do anymore, or can only do with limited capacity. I have to ask people to help me a lot. But to be honest, the value of the things I’ve learnt far exceed the things the luxury of self-sufficiency.

So this has been my accidental freedom: the acceptance of my finite existence, my limited capacity, and the fundamental truth that I am not God.

I hope more people can accept this without requiring illness to be their teacher.  


Recommended Resource

Book by John Marc Comer: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Sermon series from Bridgetown Church: Unhurrying with a Rule of Life, especially the talk by John Marc Comer: The Power of Margin in a World Without Limits

Article by Anne Helen Petersen: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

Book by Pete Greig: God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer

For those who have chronic illness or disability: a book by Emily Ackerman called The Amazing Technicolour Pyjama Therapy.

Why I’m a Feminist (or: I Don’t Hate Men)

Trigger warning: this content contains references to sexual harassment, assault, and mental health.

I’m a feminist because in every country I have ever lived in, a man’s career has always been considered more important than my safety as a woman.

To be clear, I am perfectly aware that #NotAllMen are rapists or sexists. But in the UK, if a man chooses to commit sexual assault against a woman, his sentence – should he be prosecuted at all – could be less severe than if he’d toppled the statue of a slave trader. In my experience, men who sometimes don’t even know each other band together to protect each other’s jobs after a crime is committed, and yet for a woman to seek justice it feels like a lonely uphill battle.

I’m not just talking about a glass ceiling where women’s careers are institutionally downtrodden by men’s careers (although this is hugely important too), I’m talking about women’s safety being institutionally downtrodden by men’s careers. I’m a feminist because I believe this is unfair.

From age 14 to 24 I worked in restaurants; most of them were in art galleries. In a London restaurant in 2011, a customer pinched my bum, so I firmly asked him not to do it again. He sniggered and said he was turned on by my anger. When I took it to my manager, he explained that the man was a famous artist, so there was nothing he could do. Silly me. This man’s paintings sell for millions of pounds, so who am I to think I have the right to not be harassed by him? He’s protected because of his job.

But that was a minor incident.

A few months later we got a new Head Chef, who seemed friendly at first, and even took a bit of an interest in me. But then he started to get mad sometimes, and one of the things that would set him off would be if I – a petit teenage girl – were standing in his way. To teach me a lesson he would pick me up, pin me against the fridge, and dry-hump me. The first time was early in the morning before the restaurant had opened, but after a while he grew more confident and did it in front of other chefs, once was even in the middle of a dinner service. Some kitchen staff would laugh and jeer him on, others would say nothing. Nobody helped me because he was their boss. Again, this man had a big career ahead of him: he used to work in one of Gordon Ramsey’s kitchens and was hoping to become famous himself. Abuse is so normal in that industry that you don’t even consider it to be abuse. It’s just chefs being chefs. Men will be men. Boys will be boys. And then of course immediately after each incident I had to go front of house again with my charming waitress smile and flirt with seedy customers for tips, most of which would be given to the (male) manager.

Aha! You might say. We’re in 2021! We’ve got the #MeToo movement, and famous men are being shamed all the time! You could disclose who those men were, sell your story, or sue and get some compensation! Hurrah!

This may be true, but let me explain another incident, where I was sexually harassed by a police officer on a train when I was living in Asia.  There was one other passenger in the carriage – also a man – who was paid the equivalent of 50 pence to pretend to go to sleep just before it happened. When I got back to where I was living my friends helped me try and report it to the police, but all nineteen of our attempted reports mysteriously went missing. Then we tried taking it to the British Embassy. Nothing. Nobody once called me back or took it any further.

Then – and this is the bit that really shits me – the people I lived with pressured me to take it to the local press. They were British journalists, so they naturally believed this was the logical next step. I must be clear, I did choose to go through with this, but there was no way I could have predicted that my identity would be leaked, nor could I imagine the onslaught I was about to receive. My phone rang non-stop, and day and night I was called by male journalists, all of them asking me once more to repeat in detail what had happened. Then came the fan mail from various local women and girls, which was very well-meaning but did ensure I’d be reminded of the incident on a minute-by-minute basis. Then came the marriage proposals and death threats from various men around the country. There was no forgetting. To make things worse, most of local newspapers twisted what I said and made the story to be far shoddier than what had actually happened, so I spent a lot of time trying to clarify things and backtrack on what had already been published; no he wasn’t drunk, no he did not say that, no he did not penetrate, etc.

Only one person who interviewed me asked if I was ok, and she was a woman. The men saw my story as a commodity, and my emotional distress was only important insofar as it was useful to them.

#MeToo has indeed changed things, and I’m glad that (some) famous criminals in the West are no longer protected by their careers. It does occur to me that if I wanted to go to the press now about that (very) famous artist and that (slightly) famous chef, I could cause a stir and maybe even see some justice. Times have changed, and that is a wonderful thing. I watched the Weinstein and Epstein cases very closely, and rejoiced with those women who, after a very long uphill battle finally received some compensation.

But there’s still a long way to go because men still benefit more from public outrage than women do. In my experience it was mostly male journalists who made money off the back of my police officer story. And in the case of all these other big #MeToo stories, it was mostly male editorial executives who profited from selling newspapers, male lawyers who made a buck, male newsreaders who went viral for looking shocked and upset on camera, and male Facebook and Twitter executives who profit from this bizarre Attention Economy. Outrage sells, but it’s often women who pay in trauma and men who benefit in revenue.  

In my instance it wasn’t just local Asian press; the Daily Mail and the BBC also wanted to get involved. Thankfully, with the help of a friend we managed to stop the Mail from publishing an inflammatory story that was both racist and not true. But the BBC journalist was already a friend of mine, and he hoped his story would make headline news in the UK because not only were the police force and embassy ignoring my complaints, we had also learnt that the police officer was also part of an elite religious group. The story was suddenly getting juicy – everybody hates the religious elite, right?

But then we received news that the officer had finally been arrested. I was relieved. The BBC journalist was gutted.

Justice had finally been served, so he no longer had a potentially explosive story. Although the BBC (as far as I know) does not overtly pay its employees on the basis of how big a story gets, it does help to have a viral story under your belt if you want to apply for a promotion or negotiate a pay rise. So in this instance, justice was not in my journalist friend’s best interest, because he too had hoped to capitalise on my trauma. And let me tell you, he made no attempt to hide his disappointment when he no longer had a story worth publishing.

So, even when perpetrators are exposed, I still notice a zero-sum game between justice for women and careers for men. And that bugs me.

Therefore I’m a feminist because I’m starting to realise that the cost to me is important too. My journalist friend from the BBC may have lost out on a viral story that could have turbo-charged his career, but I’m the one who has had repeat panic attacks for years. I’m the one who suffered from insomnia. I’m the one who still has nightmares. I’m the one who’s had to fork out money on counselling. I’m the one has to pay for an Uber home if I ever go out at night because I don’t feel safe. And I’m the one who can’t turbo-charge my career because stress has made me too ill to keep a full-time job.

I may have had a public #MeToo moment with the police officer, but in all honesty it was exhausting for me and profitable for men. Until it was no longer profitable for men, then it was just exhausting for me. Right now I’m too tired to go fully public with the others. But that’s why I’m a feminist. I think my emotional health and general safety should mean more than money-grabbing story for men who sell newspapers.

On (Real) Hope

The only reason why we ever continue to do anything in life is because we have hope. We plant gardens because we have hope that they will grow. We apply for jobs because we have hope that we will receive an offer. We press on through shitty situations and resist the temptation to give up because we have hope that the shit will pass.

Hope is a very good thing.

It keeps us going. It propels us forward and pushes us to go further than we’ve been before. And it can be powerful. As Felicity Jone’s character Jyn says in Rogue One, “Rebellions are built on hope.”

But what happens when hope is met with disappointment? What about those people who hoped that getting into Cambridge would automatically solve all their life problems, and then realised it actually created a bunch of new ones? Or those who hoped that becoming a social media influencer with millions of followers would make them feel loved and complete, but instead they feel hollow and alone? What happens when the dream job or the dream romantic partner or the dream whatever doesn’t quite do what you thought it would do for you? What do you do when you reach your goals and achieve all that you wanted and then have a breakdown because you don’t understand why you’re still so unhappy?

Jim Carrey famously said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

It’s a cliché to say that money/the dream job/marriage/fame won’t make you happy. And yet most of us still believe that they will. We are wired to have hope in something. It’s built into our system and is part of our design.

The problem is that we put too much hope in the wrong things, and not enough hope in the right thing. This is where I believe God comes in.

One thing I’ve noticed is that if you have hope that a dream job is going to make you feel accomplished and fulfilled, most people will agree that this is a sensible thing and will encourage you on that path. Even if they themselves were disappointed by that path. But if you have hope in God, people immediately treat you like you’re a stupid child wishing for a fairy godmother to show up.

Why is that?

Our culture is largely influenced by thinkers like Feuerbach and Marx, who claimed that the “God concept” was invented by humans as a kind of collective wish-fulfilment. Life is hard, so we believe in a higher power that will make us feel better. Now, if you worship a God who always agrees with you, never surprises you and never convicts or challenges you, then this is probably true. You may well be worshipping an extended version of yourself rather than the God who created the universe. If God can fit inside your brain, then he’s not God; it’s just you in there.

But I do believe that there is a God who is bigger than us, and I don’t think he’s necessarily a fantasy. In fact I actually believe we’re wired to long for him. The reason why we’re often filled with existential dread (or existential procrastination if we fill our lives with distraction instead) is that God intentionally made us with a capacity for Hope so that we would search for him. Those who do search for him often find him to be surprising when they find him.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Continuing with the job analogy, there is an important difference between the hope (small h) that I have in my ability to get a job and the Hope (capital H) that I have in God as my Ultimate Fulfilment. Both are good forms of hope. It’s reasonable for me to have hope in my abilities because I have a decent CV, a good degree and a hard work-ethic. But it’s also reasonable for me to have Ultimate Hope in God, because all resource on the earth belongs to him, and he has made me for relationship with himself. Neither of those things are a contradiction. If I don’t get the job I want, that’s fine because I still have a decent CV (hope) and I still worship a God who has promised to never leave me (Hope).

But when I do get the perfect job (or book deal, or spouse or lots of money, etc) and find that the attainment of that goal is not what I expected, that’s ok too. This time, however, it’s because I’ve had to discern what kind of hope it is that I have in that thing to make me feel something. If I have Hope in that job to make me feel like I have a purpose, then I’ve misplaced my Hope.

I can hope that the job will be a good thing for me, but Ultimate Hope of spiritual fulfilment should be reserved for the one who made me. Only the guy who literally made the cells in my body and the stars in the sky deserves my Ultimate Hope.

My point is that we are supposed to have hope, and we are supposed to have Hope. But if Hope is given to something that is less than worthy (i.e. literally anything that is not God), then the inevitable disappointment will have an existential sting when it comes. As Proverbs 3:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

Importantly, Hope in God is not escapism. It is not a denial of the reality of a fallen world. Sometimes, things get bad. And sometimes they get really really really ridiculously bad.

About four months ago I received a letter from the ‘National Health Service Suspected Cancer Service’ (yes, the wording is terrible) telling me I’d been referred to them by my GP due to my “worrying symptoms.” My GP had told me I was being referred to a specialist, but he never mentioned they were cancer specialists. When I read the letter I actually nearly pooed my pants. I then received another letter from them telling me that I won’t be able to have any scope or scan for three months because the government had shut those facilities down due to the Covid crisis.

I was already very sick at this point since I had delayed going to the GP for about seven weeks, largely because I was hoping that my symptoms would just go away on their own. This was not real hope. In this instance I was wishing away a problem by simply ignoring it. That’s escapism.

Real hope says “I can see that this is crap, but I’m going to address the issue because I believe it might get better.” Moreover, real Hope takes it a step further and says, “I can see that this is crap, but I believe that God loves me and will remain close to me no matter what comes.”

I believe that Real Godly Hope is the only thing that allows you to soberly look at your problems while still believing in an Ultimate Good. And you can only reach that point when you come to the end of yourself, realise you were not made for autonomy, and choose to depend on someone who has known you and has loved you for a very long time. Christians have to choose this dependence every morning, and we can feel the difference when we don’t!

Thankfully, I do not have cancer. I was eventually allowed a colonoscopy, and along with some other tests and biopsies the doctors were able to decipher that I have Ulcerative Colitis, which basically means I have an overactive immune system that thinks my colon is a foreign threat and tries to attack it. There’s no cure, but they do have drugs that can ease the pain and hopefully put me into remission in the near future.

I’m learning that it is possible to have both hope and Hope when one is in chronic pain. I’m now learning how to say that I have both hope in modern medicine and Hope in a God who loves me. They don’t contradict each other, they just need to be put in their rightful place.

This does not deny the reality of my literal and figurative shit-fest. I will have to take drugs for the rest of my life, I have to go for regular (sometimes invasive) tests, and sometimes I have to get out of bed in the morning even when everything feels excruciating.

But my Ultimate Hope is real, and the one I have Hope in will be with me until the end.  

I wish more people had that.


Recommended Resource

On Death by Tim Keller (it’s not as morbid as it sounds)

This talk by the artist Charlie Mackesy about searching for God in a messy world.

For something more philosophically highbrow, I recommend this talk by James KA Smith as he presents his book On the Road with St Augustine: A Real World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Pray a Sh*t Prayer

One of the benefits of being chronically unwell is that you have no energy for bullsh*t, and that seems to reflect well in one’s prayer life. There is no energy left to come up with theologically sound prayers that are flouncy in nature and well thought through. You just say what you mean and hope God can take it.

There’s something to be said for meeting God when everything is a bit sh*t.

I’m slightly obsessed with the fact that Jesus prayed a prayer that was theologically problematic. On the cross he cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Back then people misunderstood it, and even now we consider it a theological problem. God promised to “never leave nor forsake” his people – surely that extends to his own Son? Some say God really did forsake Jesus at the cross and thereby ruptured the trinity in that moment, and this was necessary to bring us salvation. Others say Jesus was just crying what he honestly felt, even if it wasn’t true.

Either way, we do know he was quoting his prayer book, which we thankfully have access to as well. It’s called the book of Psalms. The one that Jesus quotes in Matthew’s account of the crucifixion is Psalm 22, and is attributed to king David, “a man after God’s own heart.” We know God never really forsook David, and yet he had the nerve to say “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

I grew up super-Pentecostal. Prayer in my teenage years was about lengthy-proclamations that sounded amazing and were obnoxiously loud. Prayer always had to be positive and declarative and had to stir up the emotions. You had to “prophesy your promise” and DECLARE your healing, blah blah blah. When things were a bit sh*t, you had to side-step the fact that things were a bit sh*t and instead you simply had to DECLARE that they weren’t really sh*t and then by magic they would stop being a bit sh*t. Fake it till you make it, but Christian.

Well, since then I’ve started reading my Bible, and events in the Bible are sometimes a bit sh*t. A women gets raped by her brother. Another woman eats her own child in order to avoid starvation. The Son of God is tortured and then killed in the most horrendous way imaginable. It’s graphic. There is horror. There is torment. Some parts are deliberately written to shock the reader because the Bible is about real-life, and sometimes real-life is a bit sh*t.

And yet God somehow wants to associate himself with all the mess and the muck that our fallen world throws at us. The incarnation is all about how he identifies with the fragility of the human condition. It’s the exact opposite of what we expect from divinity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love liturgy. There is something amazing and beautiful about speaking out theological truths that have been well thought through and wrestled with for centuries. But there is also something good about praying honestly, and telling God how it really is, and not really worrying about it sounding great.

Right now, for the first time in my life, I am in a fragile condition and I do not feel God. I’ve been in far-worse turmoil before, but I always felt his presence then, which made it bearable. Some call this a “desert season.” I just call it sh*t.

And so, I am currently praying theologically problematic prayers that are a bit sh*t. I’m asking God where he is, even though I know that he’s supposed to be near. I’m telling him that my future feels hopeless, even though I know he has promised the opposite. I’m asking him the age-old question why, even though I know I’m supposed to lean not on my own understanding.

To be honest, I think he can take it. His shoulders are broad, and I don’t think he would want me to withhold from him what I really think and feel. If there is one thing we must always remember from the gospel, it’s that God desperately wants to be involved in our lives, and sometimes, this side of eternity, life is a bit sh*t.

So tell him about it. Go pray a sh*t prayer today.

I dare you.


Recommended Resource

On how to pray through emotions and the importance of lament, I recommend these two talks by Tim Mackie: one on fear and one on pain.

More on praying with the Psalms, Tim Keller’s ‘My Rock and My Refuge‘ is good.

Prayer Tool from the 24-7 prayer movement: ‘How to Lament’

An interview with Pete Grieg talking about unanswered prayers and his wife’s chronic illness. He has also written a book on it that I’ve not yet read, called ‘God on Mute’.

Lastly, I’ve watched this talk by the artist Charlie Mackesy about five times, and I’ve recently nicked one of his stories for a sermon. It’s basically about meeting God in human fragility and it’s brilliant.

The Three Graces of Chronic Not-Wellness

I’ve re-read this post four times now, and I think I shall keeping coming back to it for quite a while. Well worth sharing with others.

Feeling useless and hopeless due to a physical ailment is impossible to navigate unless you actually believe that your worth is in something higher than your productivity. I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way.


Around a year ago, I began a Quest. Admittedly, it was not as exciting as the Chaucerian or Middle-Earth variety, but it was still a long journey that I would, in an ideal world, not have needed to make. My Quest was facing up to the fact that I was, chronically and perplexingly, Not Very Well.

Not-Wellness had been a slippery companion for several years, coming and going as it pleased, proving manageable and unmanageable by turns. It had a variety of ploys for Making Me Feel Lowkey Rubbish, its favourite being nausea. I felt sick, in bad phases, most days, for hours at a time. Not the eat-something-bad-throw-it-up-and-get-it-over-with kind of sick, but the pernicious, lasts-for-ages, doesn’t-appear-to-have-a-cause kind of sick. At its mildest, it was a vague discomfort that generally appeared after eating. At its worst, it was all-consuming, physically exhausting, and completely incapacitating, the only real solution being…

View original post 1,743 more words

Physical Suffering & Biblical Meditation

Last week I was diagnosed with a lifelong autoimmune disease. I’ve certainly endured physical and mental suffering before, but for some reason this has made me feel excruciatingly far from the Lord. Never before have I so resonated with the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

What strikes me right now is that Jesus himself endured physical trials and even felt far from the Father. I would guess that the two hardest moments of his life were his time on the cross and his time in the desert. In both instances he was in physical and mental agony. But, most astonishingly, both times he managed to sustain himself with Scripture.

In Luke 4 we get a glimpse of Jesus’ first agonising trial before launching his ministry: a solitary 40-day fast in the desert. (If I tried this myself I think my friends would put me in a psychiatric institution, but that’s beside the point.) Importantly, he was very hungry. God chose to take on a physical suffering.

When we are hungry or lonely or tired (my guess is that Jesus was all three of those), our most vulnerable selves are exposed. Trials such as these are where the scaffolding surrounding us is taken down, and the foundations of our lives are revealed to either be strong or shaky. What is at your core?

Can I still praise God for his goodness, even when everything tastes like the colour grey? Will I still worship him even when my worship playlist doesn’t give me the dopamine spike it used to?

In the desert the devil leads all three temptations with a question around what God has already said. The first is “if you are the Son of God…” and thereby questioning what God had publicly declared at Jesus’ baptism in the previous chapter: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The devil always questions what God has already said. Notice with Adam and Eve as well: “Did God actually say…?”

I think one of our primary temptations is as Christians is to not take God’s Word seriously enough. “Surely this but is only symbolic” we tell ourselves. Or, “Jesus didn’t mean that all rich people should give their money to the poor, only those ones.” Or we just skip the challenging bits altogether.

But, as Psalm 18:30 tells us, “the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” So Jesus responds to the devil’s question by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Indeed, throughout the rest of Luke 4 Jesus responds to all temptation with Scripture.

Why? Because he a) knew it was truth, and b) knew it. Scripture was embedded in his system. It was in his bloodstream. He had meditated on it and memorised it since he was a child. He knew the Word that came from the Father, and when the trials inevitably came (and they do come) he had something solid to rely on.

What about the cross?

The three synoptic gospel writers each give a slightly different account of the crucifixion with some overlapping similarities, probably because they each remembered different parts of the event. But they all remember Jesus quoting a Psalm. In Matthew and Mark’s account, he quotes Psalm 22. In Luke’s account, he quotes Psalm 31. Personally, I imagine he was reciting a bunch of them.

He knew the Word. He knew what God had spoken through the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms and even directly to Jesus himself through the Holy Spirit. But he didn’t just know it on an intellectual level; he knew it deeply in his soul because he had meditated on it throughout his whole life.

The Hebrew tradition of Biblical meditation was more than a verse on an Instagram post with a pretty background. They would chew on it. It was uttered on their mouths repetitively. It was memorised. It took time and discipline, but because it was deep in their hearts it was easy to regurgitate when they needed to remember it again.

An American preacher once asked his congregation, “who here has ever worried about something so much that you could not sleep due to your mind ruminating repetitively on the problem?” Almost everybody raised their hand. He raised both his hands. “Good,” he exclaimed, “that means you all know how to meditate!”

I guess it’s just a question of what we meditate on rather than whether or not we do it at all.

Psalm 1 talks about meditating on the Word of God day and night. Notice how it’s not about reading a passage and then forgetting; it’s about allowing a passage to bypass your mind and penetrate your soul.

Let’s be clear: I don’t do this. In fact I have never done this. But I imagine it is much easier to call out the lies of the world if you already have the truth of God’s Word embedded in your system.

When police officers in the UK are taught how to to spot counterfeit money, they are fist given real money to spend time with. They touch it, they smell it, and they look out for the intimate details. Only once they are deeply familiar with the real thing are they then able to spot the fake.

It’s the same with all truth I guess. When you know what God has already said you can spot when the enemy is trying to contradict it. You don’t know you’re being lied to if you don’t first know the truth.

The only problem is that getting to this place requires discipline. I do not (yet) have this discipline! I do wish I tried to establish this during a time of peace rather than waiting for the turmoil to hit me. But I guess it’s never too late to start.

Lord, help me to learn how to not just study your Word but to also meditate on it. Embed it into my bloodstream and teach me to rely on your truth entirely.


On Nostalgia

Do you ever get that wistful feeling that things were better before now? We often think that here and now is just so bad and if we simply returned to the “good old days” then life would be better again.

Nostalgia is basically that sentimental (and often unrealistic) longing for a particular time in the past. Christians are especially guilty of it, and I am no exception. This can happen on a personal level, where someone might wish they could go back to their childhood, but it can also happen in the political sphere, where we long to go back to another historical period, perhaps one where the church had a stronger grip on parliament, or when sexual ethics were more conservative, or when a higher percentage of the population were Christian.

Put simply, we get so caught up in longing for “the good old days,” that lose our ability to be fully present here and now, and we forget that Jesus calls us to be agents of social change and to look forward to his coming kingdom.

This does not mean that we should not look back into the past; on the contrary, properly investigating history can often reveal the truth of how things really were, and can actually put things into a healthy perspective. To quote the famous Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, “in the past, everything was worse.”1 No self-respecting historian would deny that the world is actually getting better.

For example, in 1800, the global literacy rate for people over the age of 15 was 10%. By 2016 it had risen to 86%. Or take female education around the world: in 1970 the share of girls of primary school age enrolled in school was 65%, and now it is over 90%. Moreover, the survival rate for a child after five years of cancer in 1975 was 58%, whereas by 2010 it had risen to 80%. Most astonishingly, extreme poverty (as classified by WorldBank) was 85% in 1800, which dropped to 50% in 1966 and has now been sitting at 9% since 2019.2

We can’t deny that for people all over the world, life has improved. It’s certainly not perfect, but it is getting better. And yet, a great deal of Christians seem to resonate with problematic phrases like “Take Back Control” and “Make America Great Again.” Why? Things were definitely not better before. The world was poorer, there were more wars, and basically everyone was sexist and racist.

In all honesty, I think we are more afraid of change than we need to be.

First, when we fear social change in the political sphere, we are basically buying into the lie that the government has more power than Jesus. This is ridiculous. Regardless of who is in charge, Jesus is still sitting on the throne in heaven and he knows exactly what is going on.3 We do not need to tremble with fear when political powers refuse to align with our values.

Second, when we worry about being pushed onto the sidelines and having our “free speech” muffled, we forget that the gospel can sometimes spread faster under persecution.4 We should be glad when the world hates us and pushes us out of the limelight. Not only are we called to rejoice when we are mocked for the gospel, but we are told to expect it!5

In fact, when we have too much political power we tend to make a mess of things. Christian historian Brad Gregory argues that Christendom lost its power because it had to: during the Reformation era, the church wielded enormous political power and yet it failed to live by the standards that Jesus set. This stripping away of influence was a very good thing.6

Third, when we wistfully long to go back in time we miss the opportunity to be a prophetic voice that exists in the present and calls the future into being. Let’s be proactive agents of change rather than whiney reactionaries who don’t know how to cope! Let’s live out God’s declaration to Isaiah: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? 7 How can we discern the new thing God is doing if we’re too busy obsessing over our false 1950s-esque fantasy?

Yes, we should be looking back so that we can remember the good God has done. And we should also look back to remember mistakes we need to learn from. However, our primary calling is to look forward to our coming king, not back to false idea about the past.8

The world is changing whether we like it or not – if only we could see the good that God is doing!

Until next time,


1 Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists (2017), Bloomsbury p1.

2 Luct Jolin, ‘Reasons to Feel Hopeful’ in Cambridge Alumni Magazine Issue 89 – Lent term 2020, pp34-39.

3Revelation 4

4 See for example John Piper’s talk, Spreading Power Through Persecution

5 Luke 6:22-23 ; 1 Peter 4:12-16

6 Brad S. Gregory, ‘Against Nostalgia’ in The Unintended Reformation (2012) Harvard University Press, pp365-387.

7 Isaiah 43:19

8 Revelation 22:7

Faith and Power

US President Trump posing in front of a church after protestors were cleared with teargas

It should hopefully go without saying that followers of Jesus are called to be involved in their local communities, and that this will inevitably be political in some way. Since we are called to love our neighbours, it follows that this will involve some kind of engagement with public life.

The question therefore, is what should Christian involvement in politics actually look like?

Now, I fully believe the gospel transcends the right/left divide. There are Christians on the left, and there are Christians on the right. Both sides have a tendency to look at one another and say, “What? How are you there? You’re a Christian!”

I have no interest in advocating for the left or the right. They are both man-made constructs that came about during the French revolution. I obviously hold my own opinions, but I will not be addressing them here. Instead, I am asking Christians to try and suspend their left/right assumptions and ask a deeper question: what should it look like for followers of Jesus to interact with worldly power?

Should we be buddying up to presidents and monarchs? Should we be chasing after fame and influence? Is power necessarily always good or bad?

Following the example of Jesus’ life, the gospels teach us that real power comes not from fame or influence or political position, but through humility, suffering, and putting the “other” above ourselves.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks on climate change at the UN

Let’s look at these in more detail:

1. Humility

Jesus was the exact opposite of what you would want in a God or a Messiah. He refused to enter time and space with a thunderous arrival, and instead he arrived in the form of a helpless baby. In fact, this baby was so vulnerable, he was a refugee for the first few years of his life.

But that’s not even the weird bit. Not only are we called to worship the man who chose to be weak, but we are also called to imitate him throughout our lives.

Philippians 2:3-11 says, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Like I said, Jesus is often the opposite of what you might want or expect. He was expected to rescue Israel by riding in on a war horse; instead he rode in on a donkey. He was expected to avoid the sinners and the unclean; instead he ate with them and healed their diseases. Today we expect him tell us how awesome we are, and instead he lovingly calls us to repentance.

Therefore we are not called to grab power or celebrate high influence, instead we are called to live in humble gratitude and quiet service. This means – and I want to make this absolutely clear – fame should not be celebrated or idolised. It may be thrust upon you, but if you’re a church pastor and you maybe meet with a senior political figure, don’t post about it on Instagram. We don’t need more Christians lusting after power and recognition – it’s not good for anybody. Let your leadership be driven by the humility of Jesus, not double-taps to boost your ego.

2. Suffering

Theologian Lincoln Harvey remarks,

“We have a desire to protect God from the wombs of women and the tombs men dig.”

Jesus in the Trinity p10.

Let’s be real, the God we serve is peculiar. Not only did he chose to be a baby in a turbulent world, but he also chose to suffer and die. What kind of God dies? And isn’t God supposed to be immune to suffering? Moreover, why on earth would he ask us to suffer along with him? I thought my youth pastor told me Jesus died to make me awesome!

Like I said, Jesus – and indeed your calling as his follower – may not be what you expect.

Matthew 16:24-25 says, ‘Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

1 Peter 4:13 says, ‘rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

3. Serving the “other”

Jesus wasn’t humble just for fun, and he didn’t die for the sake of himself. Instead, he did every single thing in service to others. Moreover, he calls every single one of his followers to do the same. As a basic Kingdom ethic, every Christian on this planet is called to love their neighbour as themself.

But who is my neighbour? Well, if we read the Good Samaritan parable, we soon discover that the people Jesus calls us to serve are a) different from us, b) marginalised, and c) need our help.

Let’s unpack these further.

a) As followers of Jesus we are supposed to get involved with people who are different from us, but how can we do this in the political sphere? Personally, I think we need to start thinking of some imaginative ways of breaking free from our echo chambers. When I moved into the house I currently live in, I was shocked to find that my housemate voted differently from me in the EU referendum. “But you are a Christian!” I exclaimed, “how is it possible that you think so differently from me?” Talking it through was painful, because we’re both emotionally attached to our positions, but we are making headway. We still think each other are in the wrong, but at least now we can at least understand where the other is coming from. And importantly, we love each other.

b) Who are the marginalised in my sphere? Who is it that the world does not see but Jesus sees? When we look at unjust political systems, we need to think carefully about who are the oppressed and who benefits from oppression. White people in the UK and US need to especially think carefully about this – slavery may be over but the residue remains. White is not ‘neutral’, and benefitting from oppression puts the responsibility on us to work toward justice. It shouldn’t be up to the oppressed to fight alone for themselves. That’s not how the Kingdom works.

c) Who needs my help? This one is pretty simple – just open your eyes and look around you. Lean not towards those who deserve your help, but to those who don’t. That’s where grace is found. Don’t seek to help those who can pay you back, but look for those who can’t. Do this with gentleness, and be sensitive towards preserving people’s dignity whenever possible.

Overall, it is clear from Jesus’ example that Christians should not seek out influence for their own gain, and should be very very careful in regards to power. For some, there will be callings into places of influence, but these ministries should be birthed out of suffering, humility, and service to others – never as a power-grab. Most of us will never be called into the spotlight, and we should be grateful that we don’t need to deal with all the rubbish that comes with it.

The Queen of England is the head of the Anglican Church worldwide

Questions still remain about the overall relationship between church and state, and I know many will have different views on this. For now, I would say that wherever God has placed you – be it Westminster or a school or a prison – aim to follow the example of Jesus. Let his suffering, humility and heart for others be what drives you each day.

And above all, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Jesus died to make us rich and famous. He sets us free from the anxieties of protecting our own interests and then catapults us into a life of service to others. This will look different for each individual, according to their calling.

All that being said, take this with a heavy dose of grace. None of us are going to get it completely right, so let’s at least aim to be kinder to one another during these strange times.

Until next time,


Recommended Resource is an excellent theological resource about social justice.

Godpod do excellent theological podcasts in general, but they’ve also done a few about political engagement. I recommend this one.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written in 1936 Germany during the rise of Hitler.

Oxford historian Dr Sarah Williams has a lot to say about the church’s relationship with political power. You can listen to an interview with her here or download a more in-depth lecture here.

Lastly, if you don’t believe that Christians should be involved in politics at all, feel free to read an essay of mine that addresses this question while looking at the Apartheid regime as a case study. Download here.