“Ross, you don’t realise how significant your card has been!”
Yesterday Jacqui and I travelled the nine miles over the moss to Formby, to visit Mark Stanford who served with us as curate 1998-2002. He had kindly offered to show us around his newly-re-ordered church, Holy Trinity where he serves as vicar.
It is always encouraging to see the outcome of Christians taking a step of faith together, one which honours Jesus and creates space for ministry. And certainly they have done an excellent job at HTF.1
We were talking about how it all came together when Mark suddenly made his statement about my card.
For the moment I had no idea what he was talking about. However, those of you with a memory may recall me blogging about it at the time, just over four years ago when Mark and Sam made the move from Toxteth to Formby.
This called for a greeting card, more precisely a “Enjoy your new parish as vicar” card.
We couldn’t find one in the whole of Ormskirk. So we settled on a blank card with an appealing photograph. Jacqui lacks confidence in my judgement and so she picked out a card showing a beautiful mountain scene. She simply ignored my observation that Formby has no mountains, just a few sand dunes.
However, it was now my task to find a suitable Bible verse. I probably just typed “mountain” in a Bible search and then copied Matthew 19:19:
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
I posted the card – and really thought no more about it.
Until Mark’s induction service during which he introduced his prayers with his new congregation with a remarkable video clip and then showed a Bible verse on the screens.
This read (maybe not the entire verse): “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Essentially God simply gave Mark the faith he needed to see this particular mountain moved, a gift given by grace. Mountains do not move easily. In fact, it is something which only God can do: he enjoys rearranging ranges.
Looking back Mark is clear that in our card was God at work. And God worked here through the normal processes of life. Certainly Jacqui and I had no sense of being guided by God: no warm glow, no angelic whisper. It was just something we did, probably in a hurry.
But more, God was giving Mark both an encouragement and a direction through giving this particular Bible verse.
And this has been my own experience. In fact, only this Sunday Jacqui and I celebrated the 40th anniversary of God giving me a particular verse to help us at a particularly difficult time of testing. At the time altogether amazing – but that will take too long to describe here.
Soon after, in 1979 we moved to Heswall; it was a high-risk move. I had actually turned the job down but God overruled. And he gave me a verse, one which looking back was spot on, an ongoing source of encouragement.
John 15:16: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”
And lasting fruit is what happened, as witnessed by a recent visit to our Ministry Centre by a team from my former church.
Similarly just before our move to Rochdale in 1984. I was reading to our daughters the story of David and Goliath when unexpectedly and for no obvious reason one verse jumped out of the page.
1 Samuel 17:45. ‘You come to me with sword and spear but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts,
And again, with the perspective of time, that is what happened. We walked into a battle zone but God gave me a confidence and poise to see this through. Revisiting St John’s last month it was wonderful to see God at work, particularly through two people, now ordained, who could have easily become front-line casualties.
In a word, read your Bible. Regularly and with reflection. It’s God’s preferred means of communication. He enjoys highlighting particular verses from this priceless resource.