The Recipe for Making a Disciple


Jesus final commandment to his followers was very clear;

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

(Matthew 28:16-20, NIV)

Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to make converts, or even to make Christians; they are to make disciples.
And there is the problem. For the one thing that churches, of all spiritualties, have struggled to do throughout history, is to consistently make large numbers of disciples.

However, the Spirit of God is doing something remarkable in our time. Across the whole of the Christian Church there is a renewed focus on discipleship and mission.

The World Council of Churches recently put out something called the Arusha Call to Discipleship.

In the Roman Catholic world in Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) which calls for discipleship to be our primary focus.

Closer to home, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham has recently expressed how he wants his diocese to respond to Pope Francis’ call.

He expressed three elements;

“I would like to ensure that people of all ages in our parishes, schools, and chaplaincies are helped to discover, or discover more deeply, the importance of a personal ENCOUNTER with Christ; so that they can become convinced that they are each loved by God and are invited to grow in their relationship with him.
Because of that personal encounter with Christ, I would like to encourage each of us to hear and respond to his invitation to be his DISCIPLES, to follow him more closely, and to seek to serve him generously in our daily lives.
…with a greater recognition of, and openness to, the help, guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can all become MISSIONARY DISCIPLES; faith-filled, joyful and outward-looking Christians who are growing in confidence to speak humbly of the difference that knowing Christ makes to our lives…”
(Right Reverend Patrick Joseph McKinney, Bishop of Nottingham, Pastoral Letter November 2018)

In our own Anglican church, we have seen the recent publication of the ‘Setting God’s People Free’ report. This report is a clarion call to put discipleship and mission front and centre.

In our own diocese, Bishop Martyn’s recent initiatives are all seeking to follow the impetus of this report.

Now it cannot be an accident when Churches across the world and across the broadest spectrum of spirituality are all converging on the same call to make disciples who are on mission with God.

Someone once told me that the Christian life can be summed up as praying for the Holy Spirit to move, and then when He does, trying not to fall off!

So if the Holy Spirit is moving across the whole world calling the people of God to put discipleship front and centre, how can we join in with what God is doing, how can we join in with making disciples?

Perhaps we can best understand the process of making disciples if we focus our attention on Jesus’ calling of his first followers;

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted,
and they came to him.
He appointed twelve that they might be with him
and that he might send them out to preach
and to have authority to drive out demons.

(Mark 3:13-15, NIV)

If we consider this passage about the calling of the first disciples, I think we can see 4 elements that show us how disciples are made.

And perhaps that is something we need to state right at the start. Disciples are only made intentionally – they don’t happen by accident.

If you don’t have a process, or a programme, or a model for making disciples,

then you probably won’t make any.

So how does Jesus go about intentionally creating disciples?

The first element is having a sense of Jesus calling us to follow Him and making a response to that call.

‘(Jesus) called to Him those He wanted and they came to Him’.

As churches cannot make disciples without being intentional about it, neither can we become disciples without a chosen and serious engagement.

There is a sense here that these followers of Jesus allowed Him to interrupt and re-orient their lives. They chose to centre their lives on Him.

Their relationship with Jesus would no longer be peripheral, some vague and sporadic meetings, but rather it was to be at the very centre of their lives and their primary concern.

So the discipleship question is;

How central is Jesus in our lives?

How far up our list of priorities does Jesus come?

The second element in discipleship is that the primary calling of a disciple is to BE with Jesus;

‘that they might be with Him.’

These would-be disciples were called to spend time with Jesus, and this in community.

This is what is going help them to become disciples and this is what will enable them to go out on mission.

This is a key fact about discipleship, it only happens in small groups, or one to one. It almost never happens in large assemblies of people.

That’s because discipleship is more like a virus than a training programme. You catch it from someone that has it, and in order to catch it you have to live in close proximity to them.

A man joined a fresh expression that my wife and I led. He had been an Anglican his whole life, but to be honest he’d never really connected with the spiritual side of things.

Like most blokes he was happy doing the practical stuff. He was certainly always ready to help others with their car problems and DIY, but the spiritual practices – prayer, engagement with the Bible, had never really been his thing.

With the result that he was a kind helpful person, but not an effective disciple who could lead others to Jesus. He couldn’t really talk about his faith, he didn’t really know how to pray. He was a cultural Christian not an engaged disciple.

He and his wife started to come to our fresh expression of church – primarily because it was a warm friendly group of people who had fun together, who supported each other, and who shared their lives with each other. And as they grew closer to this group of people, things started to happen.

When we decided as a group that we needed to start praying seriously for our community, this man and his wide came along to the prayer times.

We would introduce a topic for prayer for our community – perhaps local businesses, the schools, sports clubs etc. and we would pass a holding cross around the group. When you received the cross, it was your turn to pray. We made it clear that you could pray silently, or out loud.

The first few times this guy prayed silently, but after a while, hearing others pray, he gained confidence and started to pray out loud.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so overjoyed to hear a prayer. Not because it was an eloquent, impressive prayer, but because it was a real step forward in this guys practice of his faith and his prayer – however inarticulate – was genuine expression of his heart for his community and a desire to see God’s blessing upon it.

Over the months and years that followed, this man’s faith grew through the support and encouragement of the fresh expression community. He started to have spiritual conversations with other dog walkers that he met, simply sharing his faith when there were opportunities. He even grew in confidence enough to start leading sessions of the fresh expression.

How did that all happen? By being part of a small group with some mature Christians in a space where spiritual practices were engaged with in an accessible and non-threatening way.

So the discipleship question is, where are the spaces in your community where people can grow in discipleship through engagement in the spiritual practices – prayer, engagement with the Bible etc. with a small group of Christians?

The third element in Jesus’ model for making disciples is that they are sent out to preach;

and that he might send them out to preach

How do we preach?

Do you remember at Primary School taking part in ‘Show and Tell’?

You brought an object to school and then told your classmates the story of the object – here’s a shell I found on the beach on my holiday etc.

Well when we are sent out to preach we are sent out to ‘Show and Tell’. We Show by our life, and we Tell by our conversation.

The Early Church saw rapid expansion before there were structures, training centres, professional missionaries, even church buildings.

Why? Because ordinary Christians lived differently to their neighbours. They were loving, kind, they shared together, they looked after the poor and oppressed in their communities.

In Peter’s first letter we read his advice to Christians living in a culture that was hostile to them;

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, …
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

(1 Peter 3:8-9, 13-15, NIV)

Do you see here how the ‘show’ and the ‘tell’ of Christian witness are intertwined?

A life which demonstrates the kindness and generosity of God provokes questions and these questions give an opportunity for witness to the difference Jesus makes.

The greatest weakness in the Christian Church is that we often separate the ‘showing’ of the faith and the ‘telling’ of the faith.

Some groups are very good at showing Christian love in service to their communities, but they never get around to sharing how these actions are an expression of their faith in Jesus.

Other groups are very good at telling people about what they believe, but they don’t demonstrate it in generosity towards, and loving service of, those around them.

A recent book ‘The Desecularisation of the City’ has looked at the churches in London that are seeing vibrant growth and this is their conclusion;

“The strongest growth seems to be occurring where congregations are committed to social transformation, without reducing the faith to a purely social gospel.”

In Leicester Diocese we are trying to hold both the showing and telling of gospel proclamation together.

Bishop Martyn’s ‘3 Questions’ challenge us about growth in numbers of disciples, growth in the depth of our discipleship but also about growth in loving service of the world.

So the discipleship question would be, are we showing the love of Jesus in concrete ways to those outside of the Church and is that accompanied by an explanation of why our faith motivates us to this action?

The fourth and final element of Jesus’ discipleship model is seen in the spiritual power that is given to them.

and to have authority to drive out demons

Those who have grown in their relationship with Jesus through putting Him at the centre of their lives, who have developed through spiritual practices in community, who have been obedient to the call to go out and preach the gospel in word and deed, these people are imbued with spiritual power.

The reality of our lives is that we are in a spiritual battle for people’s souls.

We are fighting against determined opposition to establish the Kingdom of God in a hostile world.

You can only do that effectively when you have spiritual power. You can only be filled with God’s power through a life of discipleship.

So to conclude, the question to ask ourselves is, ‘Where are we in our discipleship?’

Have we heard Jesus’ call to come to Him, to make Him the centre of our lives? Have we responded to that call?

Are we engaged in spiritual practices with a small group that will enable us to grow in our faith?

Are we engaged in a life that preaches the gospel by word and deed?

Is the power of God’s Holy Spirit evident in our lives bringing change, destroying that which diminishes human life and establishing the kingdom of God?

In this time of Lent may God enable us to examine our lives and the activities of our churches and respond to this world-wide movement of the Spirit of God to place the creation of disciples at the centre of all we do.

May God help and bless us all.

The Power of Bare Trees

bare tree

‘The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the 3rd of August, 1666. He told me that God had done him a singular favour in his conversion at the age of eighteen.

During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, Brother Lawrence received a high view of the Providence and Power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul.

 This view had perfectly set him loose from the world and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased in the forty years that he had lived since.’

(Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 1693, p1)

This is the story of the conversion of Brother Lawrence, an unschooled peasant born in 1611 in eastern France. As a young man he went off to be a soldier and was soon wounded. This led to a life-long disability that made him clumsy and awkward.

He recounts here the story of how he came to faith.

All it took was the sight of a bare tree in winter.

Which is amazing, as I know that I have seen many thousands of bare trees in my life-time, none of which has been a moment of spiritual epiphany for me.

I imagine Brother Lawrence had previously seen many of them too.

Yet such is the power of the Holy Spirit in a human soul that when he chooses to act he can take a mundane ordinary object that we have seen thousands of times before and yet use it to bring insight and whole-life transformation.

I imagine if Brother Lawrence were to have lived in our time the story might have been very different.

There would have been books written about how to use bare trees in evangelism. There would have been conferences and seminars. No doubt there would be good-hearted Christian groups going up and down the country tearing the leaves off trees as a missional act.

Which is, of course, to completely miss the point. What made the moment a spiritual revelation that altered the whole direction of Brother Lawrence’s life and made him one of the most valued spiritual guides in the world-wide Christian church was not the tree – but the activity of the Holy Spirit in his heart and mind.

When the Spirit moves He needs almost no material to work with. He can take anything at all and make that a means of open a person’s heart and mind to God. And that can happen in an instant.

It is interesting to read that Brother Lawrence says that at that instant there was born such a love for God in his heart that after 40 years of monastic life, centred on living for God and for others, he was not sure at all that his love for God had increased one bit.

I suppose that is a bit like falling in love. When you encounter someone and your heart goes ‘boom’ and you feel such an intense attraction to them – does that ever get stronger over the years? I would say it alters, it matures, it widens and deepens, but I am not sure it gets stronger than that initial ‘boom’ moment.

All of which is to say that;

  • we need to have more faith in the accessibility of God’s grace.
  • we need to have a greater expectation that God can reach people where they are in the midst of their ordinary lives and activities.
  • we need to re-focus our energies and efforts less on programs and methods and more on prayerful bringing people to God asking that His Holy Spirit would be at work in their lives, ambushing them with God’s love where and when they least expect it.

A bare tree – who would have thought what it could do?

A Harvest Surprise


There is a discourse of Jesus that takes a rather surprising twist.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

Luke 10 :1-2 NIVUK

The last three sentences of this are very unexpected.

From Jesus’ statement about the abundance of the harvest and the lack of workers, the last line would very naturally follow on, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

But, surprisingly, these two lines are separated by a rather incongruous and unexpected exhortation to prayer. Indeed, if this line about prayer was missing and we had to complete Jesus’ words, I doubt that any of us would complete it in the way that Jesus does.

Perhaps the most logical follow-on would be something along the lines of; “The harvest is plentiful and the workers and few, so everybody get out there and get harvesting!”

So why this interjection about prayer, what is Jesus telling us by including this unexpected phrase?

1 Whose harvest it is.
The harvest belongs only to God. Human beings should not presume to try and take the initiative and control how the harvest is gathered, nor who gathers it. This is God’s harvest; we need to follow His leading and guiding.

2 Those gathered, are gathered by grace.
Harvesting souls into the Kingdom of God is a divine act and one that is dependent upon miracles of grace every step of the way. Those who turn to Christ need a miracle of grace in their hearts and minds; grace to enable them to perceive the spiritual truth about themselves and about Jesus and grace to enable them to receive that revelation and to respond in saving faith.

3 Those who gather, gather by grace.
Not only are those who are to be brought into the harvest totally dependent upon grace, so are those who gather the harvest.
Every messenger of the gospel, every gatherer of the harvest, is likewise a miracle of grace. No one involves themselves in the work of God, other than God moves in them by His Spirit. No messengers send themselves out, rather they are sent out through a divine stirring, calling, commissioning and sending out by God.

4 The gathering is dependent upon grace.
The gathering of the harvest is also totally dependent upon grace. Those who are sent out need to be indwelt by the Spirit of God, who will then call and motivate and drive them to mission, who will enable them to proclaim the good news about Jesus, and who will anoint their proclamation with evangelistic power for the transformation of lives.

Mission is therefore completely different to every other human endeavour. In most human activity effort, technique, skill, hard work, and good methodology will more or less guarantee you positive results – not so with mission.

In mission nothing we can do has any efficacy in and of itself. A positive outcome in mission activity is entirely dependent upon God, in His grace, sending forth His Spirit; something we can neither predict nor control.

In this passage Jesus is therefore telling us something very profound and surprising about the nature of mission. Jesus reveals that mission is a mystical, mysterious activity. An activity in which God invites us to participate – and we do so in a meaningful way – and yet there is a degree to which we participate in a rather clueless, befuddled and uncomprehending fashion.

This reminds me of an experience I had at school.

At school I really struggled with maths and I remember learning about quadratic equations. I didn’t understand the concept. However I did manage to work out that if I had a string of numbers and letters in a certain format, and I carried out certain manipulations on them, then that would enable me to get a string of numbers and letters in a different format, which would be the correct answer. But I had absolutely no idea of what I was actually doing, or what it meant!

It was only when I got to university and studied maths as part of an engineering degree that I finally understood what those strings of letters and numbers meant and what the manipulations were doing and what the answer signified.

Our involvement in mission is rather like my schoolboy maths. Most of the time we have little comprehension about what we are involved in, what might be happening, or how God is working through us.

There is deep mystery built into the heart of mission and we are required to embrace it. The Lord of the harvest works as He wills and our involvement is merely to pray for the workers to be sent out, and to hold ourselves available and obedient to His call when it comes to us.

We just obey – God does the clever stuff.

Not Results but Effort


There is one crucial mistake that Christians often make. I was reminded recently that this has been the way of things since the very first days of the Christian movement.

This particular mistake is mentioned by St Paul, somewhat tangentially to his main point, when he chides the immature Christians in Corinth for their divisions.

Apparently there have sprung up ‘fan clubs’ for the different apostles in the church. Each group sets up its apostle as the ‘main man’ and denigrates the others.

St Paul scolds them for their immaturity; of which their division is the proof;

“For ye are yet carnal:

for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions,

are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3, KJV)

They are spiritual babies, not yet capable of living according to the spiritual nature; that nature which bears as its fruit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.

But, and here we come to my point, the mechanism that has given rise to their division is in the basis of their estimation of the relative worthiness of the apostles.

It seems that they have been arguing about which apostle is the best, and have based their arguments on the results of their ministries.

At first glance this might seem reasonable enough, shouldn’t people be objectively evaluated on results? Isn’t that what best practice is always about? Recognizing and rewarding excellence and thus encouraging others to strive for it too.

Whilst this may seem reasonable in the domain of human endeavour, Saint Paul moves quickly to show it is completely inadmissible in the spiritual sphere.

Taking an example from the world of farming, he shows the stupidity of such evaluations.

“I planted the seed,

Apollos watered it,

but God has been making it grow.

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything,

but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7, NIV)

To whom is the harvest due – The sower who sows the seed? The one who waters and cares for the growing plants? The one who comes along at the optimal time to wield the sickle and gather the harvest in?

St Paul’s reply is that the harvest is due to none of them! Rather it is the God who has been active in each of their ministries who owns the glory of the harvest.

The workers do deserve some credit, but it is their efforts that determine their merit, not their results.

“The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose,

and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour.” (1 Corinthians 3:8, NIV)

Which is actually an example of God’s perfect justice.

Anyone who has grown crops knows that there is an inherent unpredictability in the process.

The first time I grew potatoes, I planted 75 plants and harvested enough potatoes to keep me and my family all the way through winter and well into spring. The next year I planted 100 plants yet harvested half the amount! The weather was different, pests more voracious, which made for a poorer harvest.

In the spiritual realm, St Paul reminds us that there is also an inherent unpredictability in the process.

It is God who makes spiritual life to appear and to grow.

The way in which He does this, the timing of it and the relative fruitfulness of it,

is only His to determine.

Thus equivalent levels of effort from us, God’s co-workers, will not guarantee similar results.

Thus it is an example of God’s perfect fairness and justice, that He rewards us according to our efforts, not our results.

Which is where Jesus’ famous statement,

But many who are first will be last,

and many who are last will be first. (Matthew 19:30, NIV)

starts to make real sense.

Some super-successful Christian leaders, mega-church pastors, world-famous evangelists, may actually be shown, in the final analysis, to have been rather mediocre. Perhaps they simply harvested where others had sown? Maybe they were merely a ship, swept forwards on a great wave of the prayers of the saints? Maybe they just had the fortune to be in leadership in a particular place at the particular time when God chose to act mightily?

Whilst some untiring lay-pastor, someone who has struggled his whole life to lead a tiny congregation in some remote backwater and who has little to show for his efforts, may prove to be one of God’s greats.

It’s all about effort, not results.

All of which should give us all pause for thought. For God’s fairness cuts both ways.

When we see great blessing on our ministry, we should recognize the very real possibility that it has little to do with us.

When we experience only frustration and failure, we should know that not one single instance of effort for the cause of Christ will be unmarked or unrewarded. Failure does not indicate God’s displeasure, nor His lack of interest in our work for Him.

This is why St Paul sums up his teaching as follows;

“By the grace God has given me,

I laid a foundation as a wise builder,

and someone else is building on it.

But each one should build with care.” (1 Corinthians 3:10, NIV)

Build with care…

Thomas : the doubter

Doubting Thomas


Poor St Thomas – We know very little about him, the New Testament hardly mentions him; in fact, almost the only thing we know of him is that he could not believe the other apostles when they told him that they had met the risen Jesus.


What bad luck! For 2,000 years he has become a symbol of distrust, of a lack of good faith, of doubt and disbelief. But does he really deserve that?

Put yourself in his place. Put your imagination to work.

You have spent three years with Jesus. You have seen his miracles and heard his teachings. Finally you have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah of God, the one who will usher in the Kingdom of God on earth. Imagine your dreams, your hopes for the future.

But disaster! Within hours, Jesus is betrayed, condemned, tortured, humiliated, nailed to a cross and dies. Everything you dreamed, everything you hoped, has been shattered. What a catastrophe, what a disappointment!

Imagine the emotional, psychological, spiritual trauma of St Thomas. Upset by this event you do not know what to think. You are lost, disoriented, blown away.

A few days later you and the other disciples are still trying to cope with this huge disappointment, to rebuild your lives.

And then one day you go out, and when you return you find the other apostles are in total uproar, it’s mayhem! Some are crying, others are laughing, some are singing songs of praise! It is a cacophony! Everyone runs towards you, all talking to you at the same time, everyone is excited.

Finally some peace settles and you ask them “what happened?” They tell you “We saw Jesus!” “He came among us”. “He spoke with us”. “He has risen”.

How would you react?

Perhaps the easiest thing would be to let yourself be carried along by the excitement of all the others. To tell them, “Yes, very well, I believe you, hallelujah!” but without being really convinced, with second thoughts, but not wanting to create a scene.

This is why I prefer to call Thomas “honest” rather than “doubting”. He refused the easy route. He preferred to be honest, to be true to himself, to say what he really thought.

When he expressed his genuine doubt and disbelief, one can imagine that it led to a heated exchange between him and the other apostles. His final words seem a bit abrupt, a little violent, perhaps they make sense only after such an exchange and pressure has being exerted on him. But Thomas did not give in, he is tough, courageous, he does not fold.

I think there are many people who need to follow the model of St. Thomas. They have heard what their parents, catechists, priests, pastors have said about the Good News of Jesus Christ. They have heard others tell of their personal experiences with the risen Christ. But they find that all that is still not entirely convincing. There is something they still lack. Like St. Thomas, they need a personal encounter, a face to face meeting with Jesus Christ.

If we look in the New Testament we see that there are plenty of different models for how different people come to faith.

  • St John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, entered the empty tomb, saw the burial cloths that had covered Jesus’ body and he believed immediately, without any need for anything more.
  • The Apostles and St Thomas himself, needed to experience the direct presence of the risen Jesus before believing.
  • For St. Paul it took God to knock him off his horse on the road to Damascus, and to be blinded for three days and then miraculously healed, before he could believe in the risen Jesus.


In my life as a Christian I have seen all of these models. I have met people who as soon as you share with them the good news of Jesus Christ, they respond directly “I believe, count me in!” For other people it’s much more complicated. Their journey to faith is often long and sometimes painful. Some even need God “to knock them off their horse” – that to bring them into some difficult, painful experience that disrupts their lives – illness, relational problem, redundancy – in order for God to get their attention, break through their cocoon, to open them up to His love for them.

To me these examples show us that God respects us in our individuality, in our difference and in our doubts; as we are. For those who need proof, God is more than willing to give them such proof as they need. Jesus did not leave St Thomas in his unbelief and in his doubt. He wanted to bring him to faith. If St. Thomas needed to meet Jesus, Jesus is ready to show himself to him. If Saint Paul needs to be knocked off his horse, Jesus is ready to do that for him. Jesus has not changed. He still has the same desire to help us come to faith – the way in which we get there is of no importance.

And you, where are you today? Maybe like Saint Thomas you do not yet believe. You are still missing something. You need that personal meeting, that face to face encounter with Jesus.

What help can you find in the story of St Thomas?

First, you need to be reassured, if you feel a desire for God that is already an infallible sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. Any desire for God is created by God. And God is not evil, he does not playing “hide and seek” with us. If God gives you the desire for himself, it is because he wants to satisfy that desire.

In addition, note the place where Jesus appeared to the disciples – it was in the midst of the Christian community gathered together. So at the heart of the Christian community is the best place for an encounter with Jesus – at church, at an ALPHA course, at gatherings for prayer and praise. If you have the desire to meet Jesus, these places are the most favorable times. Put yourself in the places where such encounters with God most often happen – amongst his people gathered together.

And for those of us who believe. For those who have received the grace to believe in Jesus, what does the story of St Thomas tell us?

I ask you to imagine how the community of disciples reacted to the disbelief of St Thomas? Do you think they left him alone with his doubts? Do you think they said, “Okay, you have made your choice, now get out of here, you have no place amongst us true believers. If ever you do come to faith, then you can come back to us.”

No, I think it is much more likely that they helped their brother St Thomas with their prayers. I am sure that they prayed to God with insistence during those eight long days, “Lord Jesus, show yourself to our brother so that he can believe!”

Imagine their delight when they finally heard St Thomas exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” What a party they must have held that night!

So for us believers, we should take up the challenge to pray for those who do not yet believe – and I emphasize the word ‘yet’. This is our duty and our privilege. Pray asking God to do whatever is necessary in order that our brothers might come to believe. And what a party we shall haven on that day when we can say together, “My Lord and my God!”

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

I will be found by you, says the Lord” Jeremiah 29:13

God bless you. Amen.

Stephen J. March

Sermon, 2nd Sunday of Easter 2011, preached at ​​Vitteaux and Sombernon.

And up to now…


In the Confessio of Saint Patrick, written around 493 AD, the old missionary bishop reflects on his life and ministry. He identifies the key lessons he has learnt in his experience of living with God and, with great honesty, he writes them down for the benefit of those who also seek to live well with God.

Somewhat surprisingly, the first thing Saint Patrick attests is the inherent fragility of his faith.

But I do not trust myself, ‘as long as I am in this body of death’ C44: 105/6

Here, Patrick quotes Saint Paul in Romans 7:24, where, again with absolute transparency, St Paul lays bare his own struggle to live in a manner worthy of a Christian. A challenge that his own body, with its inherent tendency for sinfulness, opposes.

Saint Patrick also makes clear that his struggle is not merely against recalcitrant flesh, but also against an opposing spiritual force that works in and through this weakness,

 …he is strong who strives daily to turn me away from the faith

and from that chastity of an unfeigned religion which I have

proposed to keep to the end of my life for Christ my Lord. C44: 107-109

He acknowledges the activity of a powerful spiritual adversary who uses Patrick’s own fleshly weaknesses to try and turn him away from the faith he has embraced and the God he has vowed to serve.

The hostile flesh is always dragging towards death,

that is towards allurements to do that which is forbidden. C44: 110

Whilst he does not state specifically what these ‘allurements’ are, we can well imagine the possibilities. Patrick has been called by God to leave family, friends and homeland, to exile himself in a foreign land, to minister to those of a different language and culture and to seek to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and establish a Christian Community amongst them.

Patrick faced opposition, which was sometimes violent. He was no doubt often lonely, tired, dispirited, discouraged. The temptations that might then be rained down upon a man are self-evident.

Patrick also identifies a more subtle struggle,

And I know in part wherein I have not lived a perfect life. C44: 112

Not only are there fleshly and demonically inspired temptations there are also the constant reminder of past failures, ever-present weaknesses. These present themselves to his mind and manifest his failure to be what he should be. He has to live with the reality of his own hypocrisy, which undermines his commitment, saps his morale.

Patrick also speaks of the opposition to his mission, sometimes even active opposition, which came from within the Church.

…many were trying to hinder my embassy.

They were even talking among themselves behind my back

and saying, ‘Why does this man throw himself into danger

among enemies who do not know God?’

Not out of malice,

but it did not seem wise to them,’ C46: 137-142

The idea of an organised mission to a pagan people was, to this point unprecedented. Many within the Church considered this ‘novelty’ unnecessary, unwise, and inappropriate.

In the light of all this, we might well ask, what is it that keeps Patrick going? In the face of these opposing forces, the inherent tendency to sin of his own body, the actions of a maleficent force opposed to his faith, the constant hardship and struggle of a difficult life in a foreign culture, the harsh reality of personal failure, even the active opposition of other church leaders who question the validity of his missionary approach; where does Patrick find the courage to carry on?

Well, fortunately Patrick reveals his secret to us. He says he can say with honesty before God,

…there grew in me the love of God and fear of him,

and up to now, with God’s grace, I have kept the faith. C44: 118/9

Patrick can look back over his life and see that he has come to love God and to live in fear before him. This fear is not a negative, servile fear, but rather the proper respect and bearing towards God that is birthed in a man or woman when they have come to glimpse something of God’s majesty and grandeur, his power and holiness. The contrast between this and our own evident weakness and sinfulness is such that it engenders a holy ‘fear’. This, in turn, becomes a motivating force in our life with God. This ‘fear’ is expressed in a life that worships God in all it does.

The reality of this love for God, and this holy fear, are evidence to Patrick of God’s grace at work in his life. He testifies that this grace has enabled him, however imperfectly, to keep the faith until now. But he is not complacent. His testimony is only, ‘up to now’. He is conscious of his utter reliance upon God to bring his life of faith to a successful conclusion.

It strikes me that this spiritual advice is as helpful now in the 21st century as it was in the 5th. The spiritual realities of human existence and not changed one iota in the intervening millennia and a half.

Like Patrick, anyone who seriously tries to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will immediately find himself / herself in the midst of an heroic struggle of epic proportions.

The spiritually twistedness of our human flesh will, like those shopping trolleys with wonky wheels, reveal immediately its unfailing tendency to shoot off in the wrong direction.

If this were not bad enough the situation is worsened by a spiritual adversary who will stoop to any base level, try any underhand trick, in order to knock us off course. One of his favourites being to simply remind us of our imperfection, of our manifest hypocrisy, that we are not the perfect Christians we try to be and know we should be.

We may well also encounter, alas, opposition from within the Church itself, people who don’t understand our calling and who cast doubt on our work for God.

There is only one thing that will keep us on track and help us bear up in the face of such trials – the reality of a love for God and a holy fear of God that is growing, however slowly, in our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.

None of us can ever say more than,

‘And up to now, with God’s grace, I have kept the faith’ C44: 119



The three divine revelations everyone needs


“When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:

about sin, because people do not believe in me;

about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;

and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (John 16:8-11 NIV)


Jesus is here telling his disciples what the Holy Spirit is going to do in the hearts of human beings to enable them to be saved. This is presented as a re-playing of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilot, to whom the Jewish leaders had presented Jesus demanding his death. However, in a surprising twist it is revealed that it was not Jesus who was on trial – but the world itself.


Three things are presented – three divine insights – which are essential if anyone is going to come to salvation.

All three of them concern Jesus and the understanding we have of him.


“about sin, because people do not believe in me”

The first divine revelation is concerning the identity of Jesus. The world refused to believe in Jesus. His own people the Jews rejected him. The Roman empire – the great pagan world power of the time – crucified him. This is the world’s basic sin – it has refused to recognize that Jesus was God. No salvation is even possible until people realize that Jesus is God, that Jesus is their only hope.


“about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer”

The second divine revelation concerns the character of Jesus – was he a criminal, an imposter, a fraud? Is he now in hell being punished for his sins, or is he in heaven at the right hand of God the Father?

The Jews portrayed Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard. They condemned him for being willing to eat in the company of the insalubrious. They pointed to the fact that his disciples were not drawn from the great and the good, but from the common stock of fisherman, tax collectors, even terrorists. The Romans suspected him of being an insurrectionist, a threat to the Roman military conquest of the Jews. Thus the world in its entirety – Jew and Gentile – judged Jesus guilty. But in actuality he was the only really innocent and just man that ever lived.


“about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned”

The third revelation concerns the outcome of Jesus’ trial. Jesus was pronounced guilty, but in actual fact in doing this the world pronounced judgement on itself; in its rejection of Jesus.

Pontius Pilot famously washed his hands before the Jews in order to express his innocence of the blood of Jesus – he claimed he was merely doing what the Jewish leaders wanted. The Jewish crowd were whipped up by their leaders to cry out that they accepted that Jesus’ blood be on their heads.

In this false and erroneous judgement of Jesus the World system condemns itself not only as blind but as guilty, they knew Jesus was innocent, still they condemned him. In condemning an innocent man they condemn themselves.


The only salvation that the Christian faith knows to be possible is based on an understanding of the reality about Jesus, a reality that we can only grasp by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in us. It is only he who can help us understand that Jesus was God himself, incarnate amongst us, the innocent who chose to die to save the guilty.


These revelations also apply to ourselves.

We have to see that we have also refused to believe in Jesus, that he is God himself, and so we stand guilty before God.

We too have refused to accept his innocence and that he told us the truth about ourselves and about God.

We too have rejected him and by so doing pronounce our own guilt.


It is only when that miraculous insight is graced to us by the Holy Spirit that salvation becomes possible.