A humbling experience at New Wine
At the close of the New Wine Leadership Conference in Harrogate earlier this month, John Coles invited us to ask God for a word to take back home with us. Just one word – because one word from the Lord is worth more than any amount of human words – but one that summed up what the Father had been saying to us and doing with us over a special three days together. Each person will have been touched in different ways, so each word would encapsulate a personal encounter.
John shared that the word the Lord had given him was ‘bulrushes’, not the most obvious word to come to one’s mind, but one that took him immediately to Exodus and the story of Moses. The sense was of God’s gracious protection, particularly perhaps for New Wine – that God is not done with us yet, and has protected us because he still has a part for us as a movement to play, alongside others, in the renew- al of his Church in this nation.
My thoughts were many and, in the moment, nothing came that I knew was so obviously from God. However, the word that first surfaced, and which has been coming back more and more powerfully since, was ‘humbling’.
It was humbling to be so clearly in the presence of God as a family of leaders. Archbishop Justin Welby called us to a generosity of spirit, and to lives that are transparent, holy and marked by a willingness to suffer.
That could not be better exemplified than by Brother Edward, pastor of the largest church in Damascus and speaking on behalf of the pastors of Syria. It was humbling to see their faith and to hear their heart. It was humbling also to hear that the 1,700 leaders present in Harrogate had, in response, given £107,000 to support our brothers and sisters in that crucified land.
Mark Batterson, author of The Circle Maker, enlarged our vision as he told the story of National Community Church in Washington DC, growing from nothing to bring vibrant life, overflowing love and great creativity to the heart of America’s capital. Nicky Gumbel, Kate Coleman and Charlotte Gambill were the other guest speakers, each of whom brought something that left you marvelling at God rather than impressed with a talk.
‘Humbling’ is not merely the result of something seen or heard, it can also be an experience directly from the Lord.
For me, one of the things that marked the conference was emotional honesty and genuine vulnerability. Young worship leaders sang with great faith about a God who brings ‘beauty from ashes’, not as an abstract concept but from a place of great personal pain. Trust in God has rarely, in my experience, been so beautifully expressed.
Every time, the Lord drew us into a place of encounter with his grace that left none of us untouched. Times of ministry were times of honesty, where you knew that real life and the reality of personal faith were being addressed, without hiding or pretence. Seasoned leaders made themselves vulnerable and poured into younger people; in turn, the younger leaders blessed and honoured those who had shown them the way.
There was no sense of competition, only of standing together as a family. The Spirit came to us, broken vessels, in power and love. All that was possible only because the Lord himself brought us to the end of ourselves.
For many of those at the Leadership Conference it will be a landmark moment in their journey. What is most important though is not what happened, but how we go on. In my reflections I was struck by a third strand in scripture concerning ‘humbling’ – that it is not just a response to a moment, or something directly from the Lord himself, but can also be an action with which we voluntarily engage.
The Psalms mention ‘ the humble’ four times, promising that the Lord ‘saves’, ‘guides’, ‘sustains’ and ‘ crowns’ them. Despite that, we often continue to fall into the temptations to build our own kingdoms, trust in our own resources, or make our own names great. In the light of God’s mercy in Jesus, the New Testament urges us therefore to ‘humble ourselves’ (James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6). This is a posture that we are invited to adopt, where our eyes are on him alone. Watching the news at present, the political tendency in these troubled times is look for simpler answers and stronger leaders, endlessly dividing the world into winners and losers. We trust in our God. We know he has chosen the weak and the foolish to make his power known.
New Wine as a movement has been humbled. We will go on stronger and better as a result.