Being Greek-Cypriot I still struggle with British winters: those low clouds that lower the spirits, the rain that chills the body and the wind that batters everything. This winter, with ten named storms since September, has been particularly challenging.
Turbulence is, so to speak, in the air and those pummelling winds seem to echo much that is happening in the church in Britain and elsewhere. I could write a long blog on the troubles I know of: the defections, the divisions, the deviations, the discouragements, the derision – and that's just under one letter of the alphabet! These are such turbulent times that even the Church of England – that weighty old tortoise long assumed to be immobile in any gale – is wobbling unsteadily. Oh yes, I could write a very long and very dark blog.
But I'm not going to. Why not? Two reasons. First, the enemy of our souls loves to spread discouraging news, whether true or false. As getting cold and damp increases your chance of catching some virus of the body, so discouraged Christians – weakened in faith, love and hope – are vulnerable to every sickness of the soul. The second reason is simply that, beyond the noisy buffeting and chilling winds of our day, there are many encouragements. Let me offer you four.
First, that the faithful church finds itself struggling against the harsh winds of the world should surprise no one. It is exactly what our Lord promised his people long ago: 'In this world you will have trouble' (John 16:33 NIV). Older generations of Christians, many of whom grew up shuddering at the horrors detailed in Foxe's Book of Martyrs, knew that Christians should be prepared for opposition.
An appropriately meteorological comment is in that old hymn of John Bunyan's 'To Be a Pilgrim', with its lines, 'One here will constant be, come wind, come weather . . .' No, for the faithful follower of Jesus, storms are normal. Indeed, I would be more upset if our church did not face turbulence. I'm not trivialising matters by suggesting that, with so much opposition, we must be doing something right.
Second, in a fallen world it's inevitable that bad news gathers more publicity than good. One failing pastor gains more press coverage than a thousand who do their duty faithfully. And if our cultural climate plays up bad news, it downplays the good. Steadily and quietly, evangelical Christianity continues to make gains, sometimes explosively. Here in the UK alone, there are now thousands of Iranians who over the last few years have come to a committed faith in Christ. In France, the homeland of scepticism, it is reliably reported that a new evangelical church is being planted every ten days. I could go on.
Third, as the saying goes, it's 'an ill wind that blows nobody any good'. In the Bible lands grain was often threshed on the tops of high ground where there were the best winds to blow away the light and useless chaff. Sadly, there are many bodies and individuals that while claiming the name of Christ, are in fact working to hinder the gospel. While we must pray for a change of hearts and minds here, we can't help but think that if the 'Lord of the harvest' (Matthew 9:38) were to let the wind of our time blow to give us a church richer in wheat and poorer in chaff, then it might be a very good thing.
Fourth, we need the right perspective. Many of us have taken off from some rain-drenched and storm-lashed British airport and, within minutes, found ourselves blinking in the serene sunlit world above the clouds. There's an obvious spiritual parallel. Through prayer, through Bible reading, worship and fellowship in our church, we need to ascend through the murky turbulence of current events to the sunlit, eternal lands of heaven. It's vital to remind ourselves that God reigns above the clouds of this life and, one day, will reign here.
So be encouraged. But I must say more than 'cheer up!' In the face of turbulent winds that can bend and break, we who trust in Christ must stand firm. We must keep the faith and to do that requires three things.
We must believe the faith. We must not just simply assent to facts but, in a way that governs every area of our lives, we must constantly remind ourselves who God is.
We must live the faith. We must reject any frail Christianity that only creeps out for an hour on Sunday. No, we need a faith that shapes and guides all that we think, say and do.
Finally, we must share the faith. If these are turbulent days for Christians, can I point out that they are even more so for non-Christians? There are dark storm clouds over the whole world and 'wars and rumours of war' are widespread. Today we have a perhaps unprecedented time to share the good news of Christ with our troubled and fearful neighbours, family and friends.
In this winter weather, the world may reassure itself that spring is just around the corner. We who are Christians have a far better hope: for us a glorious eternity lies not far away. In the meantime, let us look up beyond the clouds and believe, live and share the faith.