By Sammy Jordan, Project Lead HOPE For Every Home
Join Sammy on a journey from the ‘now’ to the ‘not yet’ as she explores how we live in an in-between world and points to the hope that we have.
In-between. I love how even the word on the page has a rift in the middle. It’s like the hyphen is shouting, ‘I can’t decide!’
It’s March. (Already?!) March feels like an in-between month to me. We’re no longer in the depths of Winter, we know Spring is coming, but it’s not here yet. September is another in-between month - in fact, I think it’s worse than March, because in September we’ve said farewell to Summer and are bracing ourselves for the cold, wet and darker days.
I like certainty. I love a plan and so I find in-between times tricky to navigate. The weather is unpredictable during these in-between months, so much so that this planner, (and keen clothes shopper), never knows what to wear!
Back in March 2018, we were modelling the latest hat, scarf and gloves in freezing temperatures, thanks to the Beast from the East! But two years later, in the March Lockdown of 2020, we were stripping off our winter woollies, and instead, enjoying a taste of Summer!
It’s not just March…or even September. I don’t know about you, but to me, the current time we live in, feels ‘in-between’. I know that as Christians we have long acknowledged these in-between times. We live in-between the now and the not yet. In a time when we know the outcome, that the recreation and restoration of all is assured… but it’s not here yet. We celebrate what Jesus has already achieved on the cross and see glimpses of God putting things right today, but we still live in a broken world and long for Jesus to return and complete what he started.
When I’m trying to explain this to children, I compare it to a football match. One team are winning 10-0 with three minutes of injury time to play. It’s pretty clear which team is going to win the game – there’s no comeback after conceding 10 goals! But nevertheless, the remaining time still has to be played out. I go on to explain that God is playing out time because he wants as many people as possible to have the chance to follow him.
The in-between feeling is heightened for me when I look at the challenges facing our world today. Even before Covid-19 turned things upside-down, God started talking to me about doing a new thing. I’d hear these verses coming up time and time again:
In September 2018, I was sat in a bishop’s garden (as you do), praying with someone, when a small piece of branch, with leaves and Beech nuts still attached, fell to the ground. ‘Ahh, that’s why Autumn is also called fall,’ I thought. (Apologies if that was already completely obvious to you!) At the same time, another Bible verse popped into my head:
‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.’
I recognised that God wanted to speak and so took the nuts (still attached to the branch) home to reflect on. I put them in my office, in preparation for the first day of term, which happened to be the following day. (The only other preparation I was doing for the rest of the day was running around, getting my kids ready for school!) The first day back was busy, and needless to say, I had no time to ponder Beech nuts. Day two fared no better. On day three, the time had come for me to retrieve the nuts for my spiritual reflection, only to find that the hot September weather (what did I say earlier about in-between months?!) had dried them all up. Now they were nut-ting but a shrivelled mess (excuse the pun, I couldn’t resist)!
‘Oh no!’ I was so cross with myself. My busyness meant I’d missed my opportunity to hear what God was trying to tell me through these nuts. And it was then that I noticed something… in drying up and shrinking back, the seeds inside had been released. Each of the three nuts contained around five seeds. Dying back had brought the promise of more - more seeds and more to come.
God was highlighting my call and journey from the church where I’d been on the leadership team for over a decade, to the new estate and church plant where I live and serve now. In fact, a year after I’d sat in the bishop’s garden praying, I started working for said bishop! And to my surprise, I realised that my office window looked out onto the exact patch of grass where I had been praying.
The call from old to new meant leaving our home of 16 years, my job of 12 years and the church my husband and I had been at for over 25 years. It was a big move. I intuited that each of the Beech nuts represented one of these changes: church, home and job. Just as the old nuts produced new seeds, I was to trust that there would be much more fruit to come in my life, once I had allowed the old to die back.
Little did I realise then that this beautiful analogy was not just about me but, as I now think, for the UK too. During Covid, so much of life stopped or changed and even now, it hasn’t gone back to how it was before. (Video meetings are here to stay!) Covid has had a profound impact on life and the historian in me observes that we are too close to the pandemic to properly grasp the magnitude of it.
Since the pandemic, we’ve also had to face the cost-of-living crisis, the death of the Queen, the war in Ukraine, general destabilisation of the international status quo, crises in our own government... and, of course, The Church has had to navigate the impact of all this change and volatility. Disruption is often a catalyst for change. We are not where we were in 2019 and neither are we where we want to be. Just like the month of March, we are in-between times.
So how do we live as Christians in these in-between times? For me, the challenge is to see with eyes of faith rather than fear, like courageous Caleb reporting back to the grumbling Israelites.
‘And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’ Numbers 14:9
We need to look beyond the turbulence of now and spot what God might be doing through it. I sense that he is decentralising processes and institutions. What emerges might be more local and relational. That’s certainly what we are exploring on the estate where I live. How can we create community by turning ‘me’ into ‘we’? How can we, together, resource and support each other better?
I think it’s also key to live out of the hope that we have. Choosing to look for, and trust, that a new seed will emerge, even though the old nut dying back is a painful process. The Talking Jesus research suggests that the top question people in the UK are asking is, ‘Will everything be ok?’ Our challenge is to live as people of faith in the promise that everything will be okay, because God is making all things new. We know that God works for good in all things, even as we, creation, and the Spirit within us groan in prayerful anticipation of the age to come (Romans 8). That’s why Hope Together wants to share that hope we have in Jesus by partnering with others in a united year of mission from September 2023-September 2024.
Hope’s United Year of Mission starts with prayer. There’s no point planning a mission until we’ve heard what God wants to say. Prayer prepares the ground for the seeds of mission that God wants to plant. So I invite you to pray and listen to your community. What questions are being asked? How might we, as Christians in this in-between time, offer hope to those around us and point to the new age to come?
o Pray for 5 friends and neighbours who don’t yet know Jesus
o Pray for your community - you might want to prayer walk the area where you live and pray for the homes, schools, shops, and offices along the way
If you’ve never prayed for your community before, check out this great video from our partners at Local Houses of Prayer
This invitation is to individuals, communities and local churches joining together to unite in mission in 2023-2024.
And in these ‘in-between times’, let’s not grumble or look back to what has already been, like the fear-filled Israelites after the Exodus. But full of faith, let’s point to the ‘not yet’ that we hope for. After Easter, we are providing lots of exciting resources to equip you for mission, whether you want to make a year of it or a day of it. For now, you might want to check out our Hope 23-24 webpage
to whet your appetite!
Hot off the press, our Easter edition of the ‘Hope for All’ magazine
is available for just 15p per copy from the Hope shop. The magazine is perfect to give to non-Christian friends and neighbours, especially those who are very aware of the in-between times we are living in. With the theme centred around wellbeing, Bear Grylls draws on his recent book to give tips on looking after ourselves; Louis Theroux interviews Stormzy about the impact his faith has on his wellbeing; Katherine Jenkins shares how her faith was impacted when she lost her dad and how the journey has given her hope; plus a feature on the coronation of King Charles and the ‘coronation’ of King Jesus at the very first Easter. The magazine is designed to be a conversation starter pointing to the hope we have in the ‘not yet’ to come.
Younger children don’t need to miss out, as ‘Jesus Fixes Things’
(the Easter story) is available from the Hope shop. This is the latest in the ‘God’s Big Story’ series, using Happyland toys to tell stories through the lens of the big story of the Bible. With a free animation, action song, all age church resource and a toddler group resource, it explains how Jesus fixed the broken world. Even though we can’t see this fully yet, the world is being fixed and one day will be like new.
So finally, in these ‘in-between’ times, let’s grasp the hope that we have, trust that God IS doing a new thing; and live as people of the not yet even in the now.