Weekly Thoughts

Taking God’s hand into the coming year

By Rick James

Every New Year, I’m reminded of this poem by Minnie Louise Haskins quoted at the outbreak of World War II by the British King George VI. I really like the image of taking God’s hand and walking into the uncertain year ahead.:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.

And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

You can read the rest of the poem here. It may be helpful in the next few days or couple of weeks, to make some time to prayerfully contemplate the year ahead and commit it to God. As I enter 2023, I know I need to still my striving, busy and all-too anxious soul and take God’s hand into the darkness. To help me do this, I’m planning to go for a long prayer walk this weekend with my wife.

How might you still your soul at the start of the year? What will work for you?

Thankfulness in 2022

By Rick James

Gratitude is such an incredible asset. Scientific research studies tell us that it brings:

Mental, psychological and spiritual benefits such as:
– Making us happier (by 10% in the long term according to studies)
– Improves our mood, making us more positive and optimistic
– Increases our self-confidence and self-esteem
– Helps us deal better with grief and trauma and protects us from depression
– Makes us more forgiving and less prone to envy or jealousy
– Strengthens our relationship with God

Being thankful also brings social benefits according to the research:
– It makes people like us more, increasing our social support circle
– Improves our friendships
– Helps our romantic relationships
– Strengthens our family support, especially in times of stress

Gratitude also provides some surprising physical benefits as it:
– Improves our sleep quality
– Increases the likelihood of us taking exercise
– Reduces our blood pressure
– Improves out immune function
– Increases our lifespan with 7-9% less risk of heart disease

Who does not want all those benefits?

As I reflect back on 2022 with all its challenges and trials, what specific people and events can I be thankful for?
How can I make gratitude more of a habit, so that it becomes part of my character?

Space for Grace wishes you a blessed Christmas. The next Weekly Thought will be published on Monday, the 16th of January 2023.


By Henrik Sonne Petersen

Working in the field of mission and theological education for many years I am repeatedly faced with a feeling of being useless, a kind of fool. The work is not progressing significantly. Looking back, I realise people were dealing with the same issues 20, 50 and 100 years ago – sometimes in more progressive and eloquent ways! Furthermore, I am reminded again and again how little I really know and how little I have achieved despite all my efforts. It makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, especially in an urbanized, modern society, where status and success are highly valued.

Looking back in time even more, the Apostle Paul knew the feeling of foolishness. “We are fools for the sake of Christ,” (1 Cor.4: 10), which gave rise to the movement of “fools for Christ,” the ascetics and monks of the early church known also as holy or blessed fools. This Godly foolishness is not, however, about giving up thinking. If things are not going as hoped, it could be a vital reminder that we can do better. We must act in line with solid evidence and viable action plans. Yet this sense of foolishness could also be related to our fellowship with Christ – a fellowship of being (following him that emptied himself, serving God and humankind). It can look inefficient and foolish in the world’s eyes, but may be a transforming expression of God’s love for people.

This week, are there places you feel useless and inefficient? Is this a reminder to do better? Or should this be embraced as a consequence of fellowship with Christ?

Seemingly small things

By Richard Lister at Coaching to Thrive

Do you remember your first days at work? For Rev Mark, appointed ten years ago to pastor in one of the most deprived areas of Belfast, it was an unforgettable shock. The night after his appointment, his parish experienced the worst sectarian rioting Northern Ireland had suffered in years.  ‘Bullets, blast and nail bombs, petrol bombs and bricks and bottles rained down as tensions between the communities exploded’ (The Times). As Rev John says, with wry understatement, ‘God has a habit of calling you out of your comfort zone’. 

Over the last ten years, his church and wider community organisations have tackled the problems in the area in a range of ways. They’ve set up and run foodbanks, cross-community film clubs, drama classes and football games and prayer meetings with up to 800 people. Rev John has been quietly and faithfully serving and building relationships. 

He has also met the nearby Catholic Priest for a coffee every week in a local café. This seemingly small thing has proved to be deeply symbolic.  The situation is now much calmer.  He says ‘as we speak, in my church hall deep in loyalist territory, there are 15 Catholic people rehearsing a play.  There’s no way that could have happened before’. They’d have been barred entry or beaten up.

Small things matter. Building relationships across divides are important.

This week, what you could do, however small, to overcome divisions and make a lasting difference in your community?

Leading in love

By Elise Belcher

I can’t believe my first contribution to these weekly thoughts is linked to royalty. I like to think of myself as a British Republican, not wanting to have a monarchy as part of our constitution (perhaps so I can stand out from the crowd!), but often find myself swept up in the pageantry, drama and history of a family that commands attention. During the Queen’s funeral, Archbishop Justin Welby boldly went straight to the point when preaching to the global dignitaries gathered in front of him:

“The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory…Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are rarer still. But, in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privilege will be long forgotten.”

A few days later the American poet Amanda Gorman spoke to government representatives at the United Nations General Assembly. Despite the obvious differences in context, the power of her audience was similar and her message was powerfully similar too:

” To anyone out there, I only ask – That you care before it’s too late; That you live aware and awake; That you lead with love in hours of hate.”

It’s made me think – this week:
How can I make my leadership more of a loving service?
How can I better love those I lead and serve?

Where is my own mind set?

By Rick James

In my consultancy work, I talk a lot about changing mindsets – in communities, churches, organisations… But where is my own mind set? If I am being brutally honest, at the moment my own mind oscillates a bit between seeking my own comfort and worrying about what is going on in the world and with family and friends. It feels a long way from Romans 8:5 which talks about having ‘our minds set on what the Spirit desires’. My mind is not naturally ‘in step with the Spirit’.

But when I do intentionally create spaces to re-set my mind onto what the Spirit desires, then my perspective on everything changes. The burden I feel when thinking about preparing and leading groups at church shifts. Work priorities no longer feel so onerous. The global and national news does not provoke so much anxiety. My mind is a battleground. I need to try and take captive my thoughts, not be taken captive by them. The only way I can do this is by pressing the re-set button every day.

How do you re-set your mind to focus on what the Spirit desires?

Daily choices of character

By Rick James

“It is not what you achieve in life that matters, but who you become”. I was struck by this statement a few weeks ago in the wake of a friend’s death. Andy had certainly achieved a lot in terms of leading various organisations and churches, but in the end what mattered most was who he had become. He gave a short talk ‘In thin air’ after his diagnosis with a brain tumour, in which he said that in one sense a terminal illness changes nothing – after all we are all going to die one day.

He said, the choices we face today are the same as ever:
Are we going to follow Jesus today? Walking with him and looking for direction and guidance.
If so, then we choose to recognise God’s goodness every day, not give in to despair, darkness or discouragement.

Making these simple choices influenced who Andy became.

As I consider the week ahead, Andy’s example challenges me about where I put my attention:
Am I more focusing on what I achieve, the tasks ahead of me this week in my to-do list?
Or do I need to focus more on who I am becoming? How do I deliberately choose hope over fear?

A Christ-centred federation

By Rick James

Last week I facilitated a governance review for a global fellowship of 30 different leprosy missions. Such federations are notoriously difficult to manage. Large NGO families tend to be characterised by frustration, bureaucracy and division. But this one was different. The motivating glue that held them together was trusting relationships and highly impressive servant leadership. But at the heart of this network of organisations was a shared commitment to being genuinely Christ-centred.

This commitment went way beyond easy Christian jargon, but it was displayed through their behaviour and actions – particularly at times of crisis. To make it happen, they had created a diverse, global steering group of members to plan and guide implementation; wrote it explicitly into their strategy and measured it with indicators; invested considerable time and resources into a variety of prayer initiatives; ensured their sources of funding supported this and modelled forgiveness and servant leadership.

Considering that ten years ago the international board was concerned about losing their Christian identity, this is a testament to what is possible. I heard of another faith-based NGO this week, who calculated that they spent 14% of their work hours in prayer. These examples make me think:

How much time do I spend praying and listening to God in my work?
How will I model Christ in my inter-actions at work this week?