Not by might
Well, hello, my name is Bella. You probably have guessed from listening to my voice that I might not be from Dallas, but I actually live in London and it’s a real pleasure to be here today. I have been a school teacher for 17 years, and now have the joy of working as a consultant supporting school leaders looking at their journey trying to develop metacognition, so thinking skills. I had the wonderful opportunity to grow up in a Christian family. My family went to a big, charismatic Anglican church in the city of Oxford where I grew up. And I’m one of four. So I’m the eldest and I’ve got three younger brothers, which for many years was a total nightmare. As you can imagine, all your stuff mucked around, stolen, all their obsession with Lego and football. They’ve given up the Lego but they’re still obsessed with Arsenal today.
But you know, we are, we’re a close family, and we all get on really well. So yeah, I think that’s probably a big thing about who I am. When I was having the chance just to sort of sit back and think about, you know, the unseen story, and who am I? It made me just first remind myself that I know that God has made me as an adventurer. And that probably looks like an evangelist, someone who is passionate about connecting with others, encouraging and teaching. I want to be with people, I want to spend time with people. I love listening to people and stories and encouraging.
As a teenager, I really struggled with making friends. I really struggled with, Who was I? And, what did I look like? And how did I need to behave? And I really found it hard to connect. Often I’d be like, I’m trying to be your friend and I don’t know what that’s supposed to look like. Then there was a sort of time where I really felt God speak to me. And God was like, “This is who I’ve made you to be. This is who you are.” And I just prayed. I was like, Yeah. God just took away that anxiety and that timidity, and gave me a boldness and a sense of purpose.
It actually came at the time, I don’t know if you, some of you might have encountered or heard about the Toronto Blessing that sort of took place in 1995. Suddenly, my Anglican Church, which had always been, you know, great worship, and we used to pray for people. But suddenly, the whole place was on fire, praying, and hearing people give words of knowledge. People who had just moved in the Spirit. People who were letting things go, laughing, crying. Also, for me, it was like, I have a place. I have a place to pray. I have a place to come alongside people. I think that sense of boldness, and, you know, feeling like yeah, this is a sense of purpose. This is what it looks like.
Now, of course, things don’t always continue that way, do they? And you know, off I went to my next big adventure, going to Zimbabwe and I had all sorts of extraordinary adventures out there. I was working out in a school there teaching, which was the first time teaching, you know. Suddenly, there I was standing in front of a classroom of, I was working in an all girls school. But it was something obviously, like lit something in me. And I, you know, and I looked back and there were so many different encounters with different people. We went to all sorts of extraordinary different churches, which were very different to my tradition, but I met people who talked about their faith and you go out and you’re experiencing, and you just have that sense of like, okay, who am I? Who am I meeting?
So, you know, that was a great opportunity for sort of teaching and I came back and went to university. I studied theology. I ended up doing my honors in Ecclesiastical History which I was passionate about. Mainly the 19th century looking at the rise of the social gospel. So actually, how did the church respond to poverty, particularly in England at the time, like the industrial revolution, but also what did that look like across the world, bringing the Word of God. But that was something that really opened up and made me start thinking about, “What does it mean to speak the word of God?” But also, you know, the history going back, like when Jesus died, and the founding of the church, and you know, God’s mission being rolled out, across, you know, going right from starting Israel, and then moving out on to where it is today. What have we gained from our forebears? What do we learn what can we bring that into?
So obviously, I was probably doing it in more of an intellectual way, and not connecting it necessarily with my heart. But it’s been something that I was able to then use. My vicar, at the church I go to London, St. Mary’s, always talks about faith raising. He’s like, you know, “We have to seek out, we have to share stories of faith, we have to share stories of healing, we have to share stories of God’s power.” And he’s like, “Often, they might sound trite, but actually, each time, it raises people up.” And I’ve just been reminded of one of my favorite verses, Zechariah 4:6 and it says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”
We always start our church time after our time of worship, with a time of people coming up and sharing. So people come up, and the spirit will maybe move them and they come up, and they share something. So it could be a word, it could be a word of knowledge, it could be a verse, and the amount of times where you see these connections between them that are so abundantly clear. And I, just being in that community, that we encourage one another, by stepping out and saying what we think might be totally stupid, or, you know, not much that we can’t really give somebody else. And that’s the hardest thing is because we all want to be well, I say we, I, let’s be honest, I want to be the person that is great, and saves people and sorts things out and makes things happen. Often I’m like, Lord, give me a word for this person, make me change their whole life. You know, that’s what I want to be. But actually, all we are as a conduit for the Spirit.
When we are humble, and just let things happen and just bless what the Lord is doing, we’re reminded, aren’t we, that it’s not by my might, it’s not by my power, but it’s by the Spirit. That’s when the power to change, that’s when God encounters people. I have seen that in so many ways where I have prayed to God for other people, or I’ve prayed for people, and I don’t think I’ve got anything to give.
So I don’t know if I can share one story, but my church goes to a conference called New Wine in England and there’s often like a Holy Spirit ministry of time, and my vicar often leads that. So, you know, a few times he’ll do like a demonstration. So he’s talking about, this is the way to pray. Basically, don’t be a weirdo. Don’t wave your hand around. Don’t sort of be conducting electricity. Just be really, you know, all you’re doing is somebody’s come up either to ask for healing, or to be prayed for. Just bless what God is doing. They are encountering and they are connecting. Your job is just to bless. Bring more of the Spirit. Bum, bum, that’s it.
Anyway, I was praying for this woman, she’d asked for very specific healing about something. I started praying and I was like, Oh, Lord would have, what have we got here? What do we got here today? And I was like, Alright, just praying, just bless. Bless. Then eventually, I then had a picture and I was like, Oh, I see, like, a ring of white flowers in her hair. You know, you’re again, I was like, Am I just making this up? So eventually, after time, I just went, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna say it. So I did say it to her, and she just sweetly smiled and was like, “Thanks so much. That’s great.” And off she trotted.
Anyway, cut to two days later and she came and found me. The next day, she had been walking out of the main conference area, and someone had come up with a white flower for her and said, The Lord prompted me to find you and give you this. Someone she didn’t know at all. So she had come to tell me this and I was like, Oh, my goodness. I was like, Forget your encouragement; I am blown away by this because this is, this is it!
This comes back to when we step out in faith, when we do things which we think are totally idiotic, and stupid, or make us feel foolish and that’s it, isn’t it? It’s like, you know, my brain says, you know, and this is what happens to teenagers, isn’t it? Their brain really carefully says to them, you know, protecting their limbic, don’t do things that make you look foolish. We don’t want to be that. That’s not what we’re supposed to be doing. That’s our human self. God’s just says, “Go and have fun.”
When we start doing that, and like, take off the kind of, I suppose the armor or the weight of performance, or metrics, or is this right, is this wrong, then suddenly, we free ourselves up for something. We have enjoyment and engagement. We’re like, okay, if I’m blessing you, brilliant. And I look back, and I read through different things where people have prayed things for me or said things and I’m like, Oh, wow! You know, other people have taken that courage and they’ve spoken that over me. And that has made such a difference. So yeah, that has been such a joy and a freedom. And I think to be part of a church and community where we’re just like, Yeah, have fun. Be expectant for things that you cannot even begin to imagine are possible.
As Jesus says, “All things are possible with God.” Particularly when the disciples were trying to pray for that young chap who had epilepsy. It wasn’t going particularly well. And you know, and I’m sure I’ve prayed for people who have asked for physical healing, or ask for something to change, and it’s not gone particularly well at all, but I can’t let that stop me.
Just thinking of a specific time, you know, I was praying for somebody at breakfast, and a friend came to mind while I was praying. I hadn’t spoken to her for a bit, you know, I wrote down certain things and didn’t know the context of what was going on. I remember some of it was about that, she was lying down, and God was standing around her as if she was on a hospital bed. And that God, God was there and holding her hand. I very much sort of saw, kind of saw that. Then there were other words as well that came to it. Anyway, so I ended up sending this long text and actually, then I ended, I think, following up with an email. But I didn’t hear anything for a week at all. And then I got back from her that she’d actually been going for tests at a hospital. This has been an unresolved something that hasn’t been healed, that she feels that she’s been going forward for healing and been praying into for years.
So obviously, that for me, I was like, Oh, wow!, that’s timing, you know, wow! And I think again, she felt encouraged by it, because that hasn’t been healed. It’s still, it’s still something that she is battling and it’s still something that she is carrying. But again, it’s that sense of like, you know, God is here, God is present. And that’s sometimes where we also need to be reminding ourselves, as that community of believers, is that sometimes we feel that because the one event that we’ve been pushing into, wanting to shift, has not shifted, does that mean that God’s favor is not there? We, you know, we throw these little words around. Or that, you know, we haven’t prayed hard enough, maybe. You know, if we, it’s a bit like John Wesley has said, like, you want to look for a person whose knees are worn out rather than the seat of their bum. I’m coming to the Father. I’m praying. I’m asking the Holy Spirit. And I’m praying into that, and I’m gonna pray again, I’m gonna pray again, I’m going to pray again. And I’m going to pray again. And that’s good as well for me to remind myself. It’s like, Yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m listening to your word, Lord, and I’m standing in it.
There are situations where I look back and I’ve been praying into, and fasted for, asked other people to pray for, and I don’t think that’s shifted. Maybe it has and I just don’t know. But I still don’t feel like it’s worth just giving up. It’s like, actually this is something that one continues to do and I think that’s also the joy, being able to pray with other people and pray for other people. Again, it’s that raising, raising faith, encouraging one another. You know, walking together and saying, This is our fundamental values. We know that prayer changes, prayer makes a difference. But it also softens us and softens us. It softens us to be receptive to things that we might not have seen, but also softens us to just be like, Yeah, I’m connected to the Father.
And you know, I know I’m excellent in many things and I can always come up with a plan and action, but is it the right plan? You know, am I the General of my own life? No. Sometimes the battle plan doesn’t look like the way I think it should be. Maybe there’s not even a battle to be fought this time. But I want other people to encounter God. And I want them to encounter the true and living God. I don’t want them to encounter my version of it or one that’s slightly distorted because wherever I’m at or something. But I also want them to see the fullness of me and I want them to see the highs and the lows.
Sometimes I have to do those prayers as well. Whether it’s with a tricky pupil, or a tricky parent, or a friend where things have gone wrong, or something else, and [I have to] say, Lord, show me the word or give me a key to understand that person better. Take me out of my stroppy angry self, that’s like, How dare you treat me like this? But also realizing in that, how do I draw people in and say, There is so much more and come and see. Going back to a beautiful verse, as well that sounds like that, you know, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I don’t need to make that happen, but I just need to be there in their presence.
I was reading a book yesterday, and it’s talking about, love should be like a watering hole, where people can come freely and choose and go away refreshed. I think that’s just such a beautiful picture of what Jesus’s love should be like. That people should be able to come and freely choose. They do not feel that they, you know, if they come in then suddenly it’s like, Yeah, great, you’re all caught up now, whatever. But they can come, they can test out, they can find out, they can ask, but also they go away refreshed. Even if they go away and they don’t come back for a long time, or never again, you’re like, I’m still here, I’m still participating. Then just having that pleasure of being part of your community, and stepping out and being that adventurer. And you know, you’re like, Yeah, I just want to meet other people and I want other people to feel that they are loved like I am loved. I want them to feel that they are championed, and there’s a place for them.
You know, that there, that’s the richness. When we come back to that whole idea of community and what is church? You know, church is not the building, isn’t it? Is that collective group of people coming together.