THE LOOP

Long Read: NAVIGATING CHANGE

by | Jan 3, 2024

PSALM 125

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
    which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

The sceptre of the wicked will not remain
    over the land allotted to the righteous,
for then the righteous might use
    their hands to do evil.

Lord, do good to those who are good,
    to those who are upright in heart.
But those who turn to crooked ways
    the Lord will banish with the evildoers.

Peace be on Israel.

2024 is going to be a year when we as a church need to navigate lots of different types of changes. For those of you who were at the AGM, you heard briefly from me about the wide-ranging things that I’m currently working on (see below). As a result I thought it would be useful to help us prepare for, and have a biblical roadmap for, how to navigate change together. 

CHANGE AND INSECURITIES

I think most of us have a slightly turbulent relationship with change. On the one hand, most, if not all of us have made thousands of decisions, some big and many small, that have brought about good change in our lives. Let me give you just a few examples: changing your hair colour (I guess that’s positive?), deciding to get married, going to your first gig and subsequently falling in love with music, buying your first house, buying an even bigger house because you’ve now got a growing family, switching from CDs to Spotify, starting to play an instrument later in life, taking up a sport or getting a promotion at work. At the same time, there are also loads of decisions, some big and many small, that have brought about unpleasant seasons in life: getting a promotion at work and then feeling swamped and out of your depth, getting married and then subsequently divorced, trying seafood for the first and last time, trying for a baby and then miscarrying, starting to exercise and causing yourself an injury, putting yourself forward to serve in a particular area of church life and then feeling like you have apparently belly-flopped off the ten-metre diving board or putting yourself forward for promotion at work and then being passed over (again). 

On the one hand we love the new opportunities, experiences and sense of fulfilment that change can open the door to, whilst at the same time we hate and resist the insecurities, pain and disappointment that it can also bring into our lives. 

Am I painting a picture that seems to correspond with your life and who you are? 

You see, at a basic level, change is about disrupting the status quo and venturing into the unknown.

If you’ve experienced some significant detrimental results because of change, you are going to have to need some pretty compelling reasons to willingly abandon the status quo (even if you are not that happy with it) in order for you to step into the unknown. The reason that change is so very difficult for so many of us is that it can flood our hearts with insecurity, uncertainty and anxiety. Put another way, people don’t dislike change. What they dislike is all the insecurities that change stirs up in their hearts

Another vital part of thinking about change is thinking about it in the context of a church community. You see, dealing with change on a personal level is tough, however, change within a community adds greater levels of complexity because there are a whole bunch of other people in the equation who all bring their own insecurities (some verbalised, most not) to the picture. 

I want to encourage us that:

  • We can grow to become a church where change is normal. 
  • We can grow to become a church where handling our insecurities is just a normal part of church life. 
  • We can grow to become a church where navigating change is something we’ve become accomplished at. 

However, the route to that place is probably very different from what we might anticipate. Shall we look at this Psalm together?

THE CONTEXT

Psalm 125 was written in the context of overwhelming insecurity. Like I’ve already said, change is one of the greatest generators of insecurity! As Josh Moody put it: “How do we find a sense of confidence [in these seasons], not blindly ignoring real danger, or covering up your private insecurities with overblown arrogance, but having confidence in the face of real insecurity?” That’s what this Psalm is all about and that is why it is so helpful in instructing us on how to navigate change.

PSALMS ARE FOR COMMUNITY

The first, simple but important, principle that this Psalm highlights for us is that these Psalms are ‘songs’ to be sung in community. God’s design is that we handle change and our insecurities together. When mountain climbers are navigating dangerous or fast-moving circumstances, they rope themselves together. Why? Because there is strength within the community of climbers. If one slips, the others are able to drive their ice axes into the ice and create a stopping mechanism for their climbing buddy who is in trouble.  

My observation is that for many, when change starts to uncover insecurities in our own heart, we withdraw, and by withdrawing we are actually moving away from the provision God gives – the church community!

TRUST: THE CURRENCY OF CHANGE

v1 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion…”

One of the things that I loved about leading Life Church (in Peterborough) was the way the church community matured in trusting the Lord through perpetual change. Let me try and give you a flavour: we outgrew our Sunday venue four times in eight years; we grew the office team from 1 and half people to 12-13; we had numerous interns working with us; we had new people taking on significant areas of ministry at quite some speed;  we faced huge financial challenges; we reshaped almost every area of church life – ran new programmes, stopped successful programmes, flipped things around on Sundays, went for some things and failed spectacularly, pushed the boundaries of creativity. We did things that people said were impossible. And here is the key point, the beautiful thing in all of this is the way, during constant and (at times) rapid change, people became Mount Zion-like in their trust. 

The Psalmist uses the word “like” to help people see, using their imagination, something about the nature of the trust that he was trying to speak about. Mount Zion was a solid, immovable, elevation. This was not flimsy. No, there was something robust about this Mount Zion-like trust. One of the vital dimensions of being able to navigate change well and overcome our insecurities that get triggered by change is a deep and deepening trust in the Lord. 

My encouragement to you is that change gives you a context or environment for both testing and then deepening your trust in the Lord. What does it mean to trust the Lord in seasons of change? It means allowing who God is, and his nature, to overwhelm and overshadow any and every insecurity that we might feel. Trust rests into the nature of who our God is. Our circumstances may be screaming at us, our insecurities might be deafening us to everything else around, but a community who navigate change well are people who have learnt to root themselves into the very nature of God. People of trust say, “this is who he is and he never changes so whatever we are facing he is more than able to lead us through”. Those who navigate change well are those who trust deeply in the Lord.

PEOPLE SURROUNDED BY GOD

The third aspect of learning how to navigate change and our insecurities is to know that we are people surrounded by God. I think, if I only had verse 1, the fear that would grip my heart is, “Is my faith more like the fens than a mountain?”, or, “Is my trust in the Lord like fractured shale, that when the frosts of oppression and setbacks get in, it starts to break apart?”. However, this Psalm says way more. It says, “as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people”. Geologically, Jerusalem is a wonderfully strategic place to fortify because it is surrounded by the mountains and they make attacking the city a very difficult feat. This Psalm, that they sung to each other, is a reminder that we are not just people plodding through life. No, our God is active in the fortification of who we are! We are people protected, we are people not at the mercy of the raiding parties of the badlands. We are secure in the city of God with our God himself surrounding us! This makes change and navigating our own insecurities that much easier.

So how does this help in times of change? It adds confidence to who we are as people. When we start to advance into new areas and we feel inexperienced and a little vulnerable, we need to remind ourselves that we are being surrounded by the Lord. He is protecting this church community. The New Testament puts it like this: the gates of hell itself will not prevail against the people of God, because Jesus himself is the head and chief architect of the church! 

WE ARE PEOPLE OF PROMISE & PRAYER

People who navigate change well are people who hold onto God’s promises and then turn them into the fuel of their prayers. Notice how verses 3 and 4 are this strange mix of promise (“The sceptre of the wicked will not remain…”) and prayer (“Do good, O Lord, to those who are good…”). Navigating change without the promises of God bubbling in our hearts is almost impossible. Promises come through scripture). These are his promises to every church on planet Earth! We need to be people with these promises burning in our hearts. However, promises in and of themselves is not all this Psalm shows us. Verse 4 is really the turning of promises into prayers. People who navigate change well are people who take hold of promises and turn them into the prayers of the community. 

Promises that become prayers are a sign of Zion-like trust in the Lord.

WE BELIEVE AND WANT THE BEST FOR OTHERS

“Peace be upon Israel”. (v5b) 

Praying for God’s shalom, or his holistic wellbeing upon his people, gives us a really important conclusion to how to navigate change well. So often, in seasons of change, our own insecurities overshadow this big-hearted desire to see others flourish. Our own insecurities can lead us to the place where our primary concern is, “but where do I fit and what about me?” 

I think another aspect of praying for the peace of God to be upon his people is learning to believe the best in one another as a default position. Change throws up insecurities – we’ve just got to get used to it. Change also means things will get dropped and missed. Expansion causes that to happen. However, if we are all choosing to believe the best of one another, we are creating a culture where we want, and pray for, God’s holistic best for one another. We fight against cynicism. We choose not to listen to gossip or hearsay. We choose to be people who want and pray for God’s peace to be upon all of God’s people and by doing so we choose to give God’s holistic best for every person in the community.

So 2024 if is going to be a year of change, let’s walk it together as Psalm 125 lays out a road map for us!

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