Open letter to George Osborne

Dear Mr Osborne,

You have spoken a lot of rhetoric about “people who want to work hard and get on”. It sounds fine. Few people would argue with supporting those who want to work hard and get on. But this language automatically excludes as at best insignificant or at worst worthless one particular category of people.

There are some people who, by reason of severe, usually multiple, disabilities, will never be able to be gainfully employed. My daughter is one example. She is in her early thirties and lives in a residential care home. She has quadriparetic cerebral palsy, a learning disability, autism and partial sight. Please don’t feel sorry for her. She has a very good quality of life.

I read a policy document which your government has published on the subject of disabled people. It was called “Fulfilling Potential”. In many ways it was a laudable document. It had much to say about enabling disabled people to take their rightful place in society, work in fulfilling jobs, pursue excellence in sport and so on. But there was a glaring omission in this document.

There was no mention at all of those people whose contribution to our society will never be an economic one. How are they to fulfil their potential? My daughter is incapable of carrying on any form of employment. She has to be washed and dressed, supervised while eating and drinking, carefully watched to ensure that she does not do anything injurious as she has no sense of danger, and accompanied everywhere she goes. She cannot stand up or even sit unsupported. These are the things she cannot do.

But the things she can do are wonderful. She can tell you the name of any piece of music she hears, with its composer or artist and also what key it’s being played in. She can play on the piano with her right hand any tune she has ever heard even once. She can remember and recall almost anything you might care to ask her about any event in her life. She can express deep affection that is more uplifting to the recipient than you could ever imagine. She can be hilariously funny, with or without words, and she brings immense joy to everyone who has any dealings with her. We recently took her away for a weekend and when we returned her to the care home, the staff said her absence had made them realise how much she influences the atmosphere in the home, that it had been much less fun without her and they had really missed her.

But in your brave new world she is almost a non-person. Her contribution to society is not an economic one. It cannot be measured or quantified. It is, in both senses of the word, an immeasurable one. And for you, that means it does not count. I can assure you she works hard. Every single thing she does requires an exhausting effort. And she wants to get on. She absorbs new information and ideas like a little sponge. She never saw the end of formal education as a reason to stop learning.

When she was a child, everyone thought she was very cute. She sat smiling in her wheelchair with her little pigtails and stole everybody’s heart. So how is it that in Tory Britain she has suddenly gone from cute and adorable disabled child to skiving benefit scrounger in one bound?

If you think I’m exaggerating, here are two verifiable facts: Firstly, she has been fined for fraud for trying to claim free prescriptions. This was extremely surprising to me, as she is entitled to free prescriptions. I was asked to provide proof of her benefit, so I contacted the DWP to obtain this proof. I was told that she is not entitled to free prescriptions, as she is on contributions-related ESA instead of income-related ESA, and only the income-related version of the benefit would entitle her to free prescriptions. I pointed out that she has never paid any National Insurance contributions, and should be on the income-related benefit. I innocently suggested that there had been a clerical error. I was assured that this was no clerical error. It was DWP policy to transfer people onto contributions-related ESA even if they were entitled to the income-related version, as the income-related version would normally give them more money. It was for the disabled person to find this out and challenge it if they wanted to be put on the income-related benefit. The lady offered to send me the forms so that I could apply for the income-related benefit for my daughter. She apologised that the form is “about twenty pages long”. It turned out to be forty-two pages long. She then checked my daughter’s records and told me that I had in fact completed and submitted this form eighteen months ago but it had not been actioned. I asked if they couldn’t simply action it now and was told no, after deciding not to action it they had not kept it and I would have to fill it in again. So now who is committing benefit fraud? Not my daughter. It seems the DWP is fraudulently withholding from her a benefit she is entitled to.

Secondly, every time my daughter has an annual review, or applies to go on an assisted, accessible holiday, I am asked if I want to write “Do not resuscitate” on her medical notes. Three social workers and a nurse have told me that this is an NHS requirement. I have two other daughters who are neurotypical – they are physically able and their intellectual function and social understanding are unimpaired. All three of my daughters are in good health, and all three have a normal life expectancy. So why is one of them being singled out for the suggestion that we should write “do not resuscitate” on her medical notes? She is a cheerful young woman with, as I have already indicated, a great sense of humour and wonderful musical ability, and everyone who works with her falls in love with her. She is a much loved and very valued member of our family. No one would ask my other two daughters to consider refusing resuscitation. I find it offensive that society assumes that disabled young people have such poor quality of life that they should not be given proper care if they become ill. It is the ultimate disability discrimination, giving the message that if someone’s life is different and more limited than average, he or she is disposable.

Mr Osborne, bad things happen when people are valued only for their economic contribution. People are of intrinsic value in and of themselves. When we lose sight of this we lose something fundamental of what it is to be human. There are some people who will always cost the country money and will never repay it in taxes, national insurance contributions or in any other way. This is why it is so important that we celebrate the other kinds of contribution they make to society. My daughter provides employment for a small army of carers, and makes their work pleasurable and fulfilling for them. She brings real joy into the lives of everyone who comes into contact with her. She is capable of deep love and fierce loyalty. She makes our great country a better place. And your policy towards disabled people considers her at best a burden and at worst a scrounger. Unless we reverse this terrible way of looking at people, Britain will become a very unpleasant place to live. Please find a way of recognising that, as Jean Vanier recently told an audience in the House of Lords, the strong need the weak, and that people like my daughter make Britain a place worth living and show us that money cannot buy the things that really matter in life.

Yours sincerely,

Rosamund Bayes

If you also care about this, please sign my petition here

“Accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2. 15)

I was recently berated (I won’t say by whom) for “giving disability permission to exist” in my daughter, and told that I don’t have to wait for God’s timing to heal her – His timing was at the cross. Also, because I had made reference in something I said to God’s sovereignty in healing, I was directed to an article (again, I’m not going to name the author) about Paul’s thorn in the flesh and how, allegedly, people misuse this passage to suggest that Paul had something wrong with his eyes from which he was not healed, which, the author maintains, is far from being the truth.

Let me start out by saying that I do believe God’s timing was at the cross in the sense that Christ’s atonement included healing as well as forgiveness; and that as far as my daughter is concerned, God has given me a very specific promise in a way that was quite unmistakable about her healing (although I’m not going to tell that story here, either). I don’t believe the passage of time negates the promise of God, and am still expecting to see the things God promised me.

I also believe that healing is much more the norm than we realise or expect, and one reason we don’t see more of it is something to do with our corporate lack of faith as the body of Christ (note I am not saying a lack of faith on the part of any individual). However, I have seen far too many people who have been blamed for their own disability – something which Christ never did, unless we include the case where He said, “Go and sin no more”, indicating that He clearly had knowledge not shared by the onlookers. I have also (sadly rather often) seen people so desperate to get a disabled person healed that they have given that person a clear message of “You’re not acceptable the way you are” – and I’m convinced that Jesus never made anybody feel like that.

So having briefly set out my own position, I would like to analyse the article I was sent. The author asserts that Satan has used the story of Paul’s thorn in the flesh to convince people that since Paul wasn’t healed, neither can they expect to be healed. He goes on to assert that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not a physical disability and so this application is unwarranted. I believe this is going beyond what is said in the text. I recently took issue with a publication which stated that “Paul the apostle prayed repeatedly for some unknown disability to be removed but had learnt to delight in his weakness” on the grounds that this goes beyond what is in the text – we are not told that this was a disability, and though it may have been, to assert this as truth goes beyond what the Bible says. In the same way, to assert that this was definitely not a disability (although it may not have been) also goes beyond what the text contains. We must make sure not to impose our own biases or preconceptions on our reading of Scripture.

The author next points out that Paul’s thorn came about because of the abundance of his revelations, and that unless we have received similar revelations we will not have a thorn in the flesh. This seems to me just silly. There is not an absolute level of revelation above which we qualify for opposition. I’m sure we have all experienced a degree of opposition in accordance with our degree of revelation.

The author disputes the interpretation that the thorn was given in order to keep Paul humble, because it is when we humble ourselves that we are exalted; but rather it was given by Satan to try and stop God from exalting Paul in the eyes of the people so that his message would not be received by so many. But again the text does not support this.  Paul’s assertion is that the difficulty came to prevent him from being exalted “above measure” (or more accurately, to translate from the original Greek, from being ‘ϒπεραιρωμαι (huperairomai) “overly lifted”. This word indicates being exalted or lifted to an inappropriate height. It seems much more likely that Paul is referring to something which Satan originated but God allowed to prevent him from being so overly prominent that attention focused on him rather than on the Christ whom he was preaching.

He next claims that this messenger of Satan, sent to buffet Paul, must have been not a physical ailment but a demon. However, in the book of Job we have clear evidence that a Satanic messenger can take the form of destruction of property, bereavement and physical affliction, so there is no Scriptural reason why this could not also have been so in the case of Paul.

Next, the author makes reference to the words “weakness” and infirmity” in verses 9 and 10, and states that although these words can mean a physical condition, they do not have this meaning exclusively. I find it both interesting, and understandable, that he quotes entirely from the 1611 King James Version of this passage. Understandable, because he needs that particular translation to support certain aspects of his exegesis, aspects which are not supported when we examine the Greek text. In fact the Greek word used is ασθενεια (astheneia) – a word which literally means absence of strength. This is the word used in the Greek record of Jesus’ description of a woman with a physical disability in Luke 13.11 – where the physical disability is attributed to the activity of a spirit.  In other places the word is translated as sickness and as disease.  The root of this word is also used in Romans 15.1 to refer to weakness of faith. So it seems that it was normally used to refer to a physical state of weakness but could, by analogy, be applied in other ways.

But in my view the worst piece of exegesis in this article occurs in reference to the verse which says, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He bases his interpretation of this passage on the meaning of the English word “glory” which, he says, means to have dominion over or command. I don’t know if he is being disingenuous in order to support his pre-determined interpretation of the passage, or if he is simply unaware of the Greek behind this translation. A literal translation of this verse from the Greek would go like this: “Rather, then, I shall be boasting in my lack of strength, that the power of Christ should be erecting a booth (or “tabernacle”) above me.” The picture here is not at all one of Paul having dominion over or commanding whatever is causing him to lose strength; rather he is painting a very clear picture of how, at times when he has no strength of his own, the power of Christ is like a booth or tabernacle over him, offering him shelter and protection – a very different picture from the one which this author gives. To Jewish readers, the mention of the tabernacle would have symbolised the place where the presence of God dwells, so this was also a promise of God’s presence in the absence of one’s own strength.

Finally, he disputes that Paul had an eye problem. It may or may not be that Paul’s eye problem was his “thorn in the flesh” but that he had one is indisputable – the evidence for it is so abundant. The author refers to Paul’s words in Galatians 6.11, again using the KJV to support his interpretation: “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.” He asserts that this is not a reference to large handwriting, but to a long letter. Since the epistle to the Galatians is one of his shorter letters, this interpretation seems highly improbable.

Again, we are more likely to see the true meaning if we read the Greek rather than the KJV. The Greek word for a letter in the sense of an epistle is επιστόλη (epistole). The word used in this passage is γραμμασιν (grammasin). This is a plural word and means letters in the sense of letters of the alphabet. “You see with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand.” It can only mean that Paul is drawing attention to the fact that this is his own handwriting, and is abnormally large. No other interpretation is admissible from the text. This makes sense in the light of the fact that Paul used an amanuensis to take down the dictation of all his letters, and did not normally append anything in his own handwriting; on this occasion it was necessary to do so to authenticate the letter, as counterfeit epistles purporting to come from Paul were by this time beginning to circulate.

There is further evidence that Paul had a sight problem; he failed to recognise the high priest, and spoke against him in a way in which he would not have done had he realised whom he was addressing (Acts 23.5). There is also Paul’s passage in Galatians 4. 13-15 (I am quoting from the NASB which is both clear and accurate): “You know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”

The author of this article acknowledges that this refers to a physical eye condition (it would be impossible not to, since the text is so clear) but claims that it was a temporary state of runny or puffy eyes resulting from a beating. But taken together with all the other signs – the failure to recognise the high priest, the use of an amanuensis to write for him, and his own abnormally large handwriting, all the evidence points to Paul having a longstanding sight condition, and to avoid this conclusion one really has to impose a predetermined interpretation on the text.

None of this, of course, proves that Paul’s eye condition was his “thorn in the flesh”. It may or may not have been. To assert either that this thorn was or wasn’t a physical ailment is to go beyond what the Bible tells us.

I agree with the author of this article that God has given us authority, including authority over sickness, and that we do not always understand or use this authority. But please let us not use this to justify a form of victim blaming where disabled Christians are concerned.

We can learn much from Jesus’ attitude when he healed Jairus’ daughter. He threw out all those who thought they knew what the situation was but had no emotional engagement with it (the professional mourners) and allowed only five people to be present – the three who believed in His power (Peter, James and John) and the two who loved her (her parents). Yes, faith is involved in healing, including miraculous healings of disability which do indeed take place, but let us not forget what Paul tells us in Galatians 5.6, that faith works by love. Scolding disabled people for permitting disability to exist in their bodies is not only something Jesus is never recorded as doing, but also does not display the kind of love that releases faith for healing.

Let me finish by quoting Brian Gault who, as a result of the drug Thalidomide, was born without arms, and has learned to do almost everything adeptly with his feet: “God knit me together in my mother’s womb, and He doesn’t drop any stitches.”

Public Service Announcement: Your Freedom is Terminated

Suppose the next government passed a law which stated that citizens are not permitted to go to work to earn their living, that they must only bath or shower at times when they are told they may, that they must not visit friends, go shopping or have trips to the cinema, and that they are no longer allowed to choose the times of day at which they eat their meals. How popular do you think that policy would be? How would you feel and react if such a law were imposed on you?

You may not know it, but this administration has passed just such a law. Oh, don’t worry, it doesn’t affect you, so that’s all right then. It actually affects around 19,000 of the most severely disabled people in this country. When this government came to power in 2010, a pot of around £330,000,000, the Independent Living Fund, was being shared between these people – that’s a little over £17,000 each – to enable them to employ carers whose role would be to support them in getting to work, managing daily living tasks and having a normal social life.

And our wonderful coalition government has decided that from June 2015 this fund will be abolished. There will be no requirement on local authorities to ring-fence any money to compensate these people for the loss of support from the Independent Living Fund. In fact, this is the government’s own assessment of the effects of the measure: “a large number of users will experience some reductions to the current funding they receive.” The truth is that most will be left without the means to go on employing the assistants they need.

Against that sum of £330,000,000 we can set all the money paid in tax by these 19,000 employees, all the money paid in tax by disabled people who were being enabled to work, and all the tax raised in VAT by people being able to go out and spend money in shops, cinemas, etc. – meaning that the saving to the country from this measure will be paltry, while the effect on the lives of severely disabled people will be devastating.

Nice one, Dave. I’m not a party political animal at all, even though I care passionately about justice. But this measure alone is enough to ensure that I don’t vote Conservative in the forthcoming election. The problem is, the Labour Party has now finally admitted that it will not reverse this decision if it comes to power. So I won’t be voting for Ed either.

This government has happily talked up the idea of “work-shy scroungers” as opposed to “hard-working people”. As a result of the media coverage of this ideology, hate-crimes against disabled people have escalated in the past 4 years. You are 3 times as likely to experience violence in the work place if you are a disabled person. The ATOS assessments intended to judge which disabled people are capable of work have been characterised by ignorance and prejudice on the part of the people carrying out the tests. And yet the richest people in this country have been cushioned against austerity.

God is a God of justice, and I believe that if we don’t rectify this ourselves, and start protecting and caring for the most vulnerable in our society, He will do something about it: “Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins – you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate.” Amos 5. 11-15

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it

je suis charlie

We have all been shocked by the attack on French journalists, and indeed, on all free speech. We stand in solidarity with our friends in France, and also with all peace-loving French Muslims who must be anxious about the consequences for themselves of actions they abhor just as much as the rest of us do. Personally, I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with every French person who stood tonight with a placard saying “NOT AFRAID”, “PAS PEUR”, “Je Suis Charlie”.

But as the responses begin to flood Facebook and Twitter, my heart sinks. Christians on the one hand queueing up to denounce Islam, and on the other hand to beg for the return of Jesus very soon. I have problems with both of these.

I agree that Islam is not the truth, that by its denial of the death and resurrection of God the Son it is leading people away from the hope of salvation. But I cannot condemn it wholesale. Many Muslims have come to Christ through reading the Qur’an. Check out this video. I cannot accept that Muhammad was a prophet, but I respect people’s right to believe something that I disagree with, even while I pray that God will reveal the truth to them. I have Muslim friends and all of them reject the violence which is being carried out apparently in their name.

But I am still more disturbed by this “beam me up Scottie” theology which believes that the only important thing is that Jesus should appear here and now and remove me lest any inconvenience or unpleasantness should come my way. Jesus will come the second time, as He did on the first occasion, “when the time was fully come”. One of the reasons for the delay, Peter tells us, is because God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to salvation.

There can be no greater blasphemy than being merciless in the name of ar-Rahman The Merciful One, and causing conflict in the name of as-Salaam, The Source of Peace. But those who behave like this are precious, albeit corrupted, souls for whom Christ died. What if God is waiting for some of them to find salvation in Jesus? What if my ennui with the world and my wish to be removed from it are less important than God’s plans for the Muslim world? After all, who was the first serial killer of Christians? The Apostle Paul.

And anyway, longing for the second coming in this way is just bad theology. Now don’t misunderstand me; I absolutely affirm that Jesus is going to return in majesty to rule forever over the whole world, and that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. But what this whingeing for the rapture overlooks is that Jesus is already here, all over the world, wherever there is a real believer indwelt by His Spirit. We ask “God! Why don’t you do something about the state of the world?” and He replies, “That’s funny, I was about to ask you the same thing.”

The last command Jesus gave us was to go – into all the world. But most of us (and I hold my hands up here and say mea culpa) have stayed right where we were, not really caring whether Muslims ever got to hear the Gospel or discover the love of Jesus, God’s Son. Not until they started coming over here and bothering us, and then we respond by asking God to wind it all up, take us to heaven and consign them to hell.

Does that really sound like the spirit of the One who laid down His life so that “no one should perish, but all should come to repentance”? This world can be transformed. It’s meant to be transformed. But it isn’t going to happen by us sitting on our hands and whining for a medi-vac to heaven. It’s going to happen by us giving ourselves sacrificially to intercession, loving our enemies till it hurts, declaring the counsel of God until the demons run screaming away with their hands over their ears and giving up our home comforts to take the Gospel to the places where it’s not yet known.

I’m sorry if that sounds more of a rant than my usual writing style. But I feel strongly about it.

Are you excited?

Excavated remains, believed to be the site of John’s baptisms

Excavated remains, believed to be the site of John’s baptisms

This was originally written for Through the Roof ( and is reproduced here by kind permission

Over Christmas I have been reading and thinking about the ministry of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. As often with the Gospel narratives, we have to fit the whole jigsaw together from the four different Gospels. Sometimes these Bible passages are so familiar that we have to picture them as though we were there in order to catch the real spirit and flavour of what happened.

John the Baptist as portrayed in the Gospels has a holy boldness that renders him fearless. He has a message which he will deliver to whoever will listen, and will baptise those who are willing to repent and amend their lives in line with his teaching. He even dares to call the religious and legal leaders of his day, “a brood of vipers”. Affronted, they send a delegation to investigate the fiery young preacher. I can picture the priests and Levites coming to ask John just exactly who he thinks he is, and, as the conversation progresses, his growing alarm at the thought that some may be mistaking him for the long-promised Messiah (much as Paul and Barnabas must have felt at Lystra when they were mistaken for gods).

John first explains to them who he is not, and then goes on to define himself in Isaiah’s words as the voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” So why, then, they want to know, is John baptising, if he is not the Messiah? I can imagine his face radiant and his voice fired up with excitement as he tells them of the One he knows is coming, even though he doesn’t yet know who He is: “I baptise with water, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

I see him on tiptoe, a-quiver with excitement, his eyes aglow, trying to convey to his hearers the momentousness of what God is about to do. And all this is a matter of faith, because he still has no idea who the coming one is, he just has one clue that the Holy Spirit has given him: “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” He doesn’t know exactly how this will look, but he knows for certain that he will recognise the moment when it comes.

And then comes a day when John looks up and sees his cousin, Jesus, coming to be baptised. John is troubled. He’s known Jesus all his life, and for a start, he can’t think of one single thing Jesus might have to repent of. But more than that, he has a sense of being in the presence of one far greater, more righteous than himself, and he looks at his cousin with a combination of curiosity and unease as he blurts out, “I need to be baptised by You, and do You come to me?” Questions fill his head, as he looks at his familiar cousin through new eyes. Things he has been told of Jesus’ history begin to fall into place. Jesus assures him, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.”

And so, filled with a sense of anticipation, yet not knowing exactly why, John steps down into the river Jordan and baptises his cousin. And suddenly, the sign he has been told to look out for manifests right in front of him: the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends on Jesus as He stands dripping on the river bank. And to remove any doubt that this is the One whose coming he has been sent to foretell, a voice resounds out of the heavens: “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”

And at once John understands his own reluctance to baptise Jesus. All the excitement he has felt as he has been describing the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire now finds its realisation in the person who stands in front of him. His whole life has been building up to this moment; his faith in God has not been in vain.

Jesus goes on His way, leaving John changed forever; he has seen the Messiah, the long-awaited promise of God. The next day, as Jesus walks down towards the Jordan at Bethany, John cannot contain himself. He points to Him. “Look!” he calls to the crowd. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And maybe a voice from the crowd asks him how he knows, and still with that tone of wonder John replies, “‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know Him, but the One who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

John’s enthusiasm must have seemed fanatical and out of place to a society that had grown weary of waiting long centuries for God’s promise. It was much more sensible to live a life of resignation than be at the mercy of hope. Hadn’t many previous generations longed to see Messiah, and died with their hopes unfulfilled? Why set yourself up for disappointment? But John refused to be conditioned by the spirit of his community. God had ignited a flame of hope inside him, which he was going to nurture and not let anything extinguish it.

We, too, live in a world that is weary and has to a large extent given up hope of seeing God come in any significant way. More than that, many of the woes of the world, the wars that cause suffering, destruction and starvation, are caused by religious fanatics who think they are espousing God’s cause. The rest of the world can be pardoned for thinking they would rather not be visited by such a God.

And yet we who know Jesus have a twin hope of His coming. We have an expectation of His ultimate return to bring justice and peace and to establish His reign and rule. And we have the hope of His promise never to leave us or forsake us. (Are we as excited about these as John was about His first coming?) Whatever circumstances we are currently facing, Jesus is certain to appear in the middle of it all! I remember being told by a preacher that an old Quaker Bible rendered James 5.8 “The coming of the Lord is at your elbow”. Do we really believe He is that close?

I love J B Phillips translation of 1 John 3.2: “Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is!”

Suppose the reality of Christ were to break in on you right now? I would like to encourage you, whatever your personal circumstances, no matter what difficulties or struggles you may be facing, not to lose your excitement over the ways in which Jesus is going to come to you this year. You may not yet know how that will look, or what difference it will make, but like John, you can be sure you will recognise Him when He comes. Don’t allow the general pessimism in the world around to rob you of that excitement. We have His word, the apostle Peter tells us, “made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place”.

No one in their right mind would turn their back on the beam from a lamp and step out into the darkness; and yet I know there have been times when I’ve done exactly that, focussing on the conditions around me rather than on the promise of God. But if you keep your focus on the promise of Christ, He will illuminate all your surroundings. So whether you are starting 2015 with a pleasant prospect of good things to come, or whether the outlook is grim, pay attention to the promise of His presence, His coming in your circumstances, just as you would pay attention to the beam from a lamp shining in a dark place. Soon enough you will discern His presence and see His transformation in your life.