Twenty-four years ago I was given a promise by the Lord. I was walking across the common to church when the Lord started a conversation with me that would change the course of my plans for my life. At the time, (and being very young) I presumed that this promise would manifest quite quickly in my life, however as time went on, I wondered if it would ever happen. For decades I felt that I hadn’t reached the correct timing of this word as the right people and circumstances weren’t in place and quite frankly neither was my maturity, character or faith. I parked the word and assumed that it would be something that happened much later in life.  

Earlier this year, a series of closed doors led me to a dead end with seemingly no way forward. If it hadn’t been for a relative encouraging me to review that word from 1997, and a significant conversation with an old friend, I might never have considered moving forward into new territory. Sometimes the Lord sends a difficult situation into our lives to drive us forward to our Promised Land. Without that, we get comfortable in a place that is no longer suitable and it can rob us of reaching our God given destination. In Exodus 9, 10, 11 and 14, we are told that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart; this happened so that a) the Israelites were so uncomfortable they had to move and b) so that God’s glory could be displayed. The misery that Pharaoh inflicted on the Israelites literally pushed them to seek the Lord’s help and go after the Promised Land. In this we can proclaim that all things work for our good under God’s authority and will (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28). The Lord quite literally gave me an “Almighty shove” that moved me into position.

The unfamiliarity and strangeness of the new can make us think that we’ve misunderstood the word. In recent weeks I have questioned what the Lord had said to me. Perhaps this isn’t what the Lord said? Have I got this wrong? Is this new season meant to be this difficult? Hebrews 11:9-10 tells us that Abraham was a stranger in the land that had been promised to him. He stuck out like a sore thumb in the place that was promised to him as home. The land was still occupied by someone else and wasn’t yet his, but the Lord clearly asked him to move there and set up home. Yet after he had settled in the promised land, the promise of a child was fulfilled, and the long time promise of many descendants began its course.  

I think what we can now see is that through the pandemic, the Lord has ended some seasons ended and begun new ones. He has moved people around and opened new doors. In my case, the new door was quite literally an old one that had been waiting for the right time to be opened. Although the new may not be what you’re expecting, in time the Lord will deliver what he promised. I am now in place, waiting for what the Lord promised me. And that’s the key, positioning ourselves to receive what was promised: mentally, spiritually and in some cases physically. The promise will not come about until we are ready to receive. There is a kairos moment for all God’s words and when the conditions are right, the timing becomes opportune.  

For Abraham, the timing was slower than he anticipated, and the new home was not handed to him on a plate. His promise may have been slower than he would have liked but in the fullness of time, it came to fruition and God’s purpose was worked out. If anything, this should encourage us that God is in control and that he always delivers on his word.  

Promises are not so much about receiving what was offered but they are about developing our character in order to receive what was promised. Equally our faith must grow to accommodate God’s blessing, and this is the most crucial part of the process. If we keep going under pressure, our faith develops greater than we can ever imagine, and that is God’s ultimate goal for us. All God’s promises bloom in the fullness of time. 

(Painting: Bright Rainbow Flower by Helen Sanderson White. Copyright 2021 Helen Sanderson White)

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I just love it when a news headline brings the truth of a matter into sharp focus… Over the last nine months, the state of the arts and its significance in the British economy has been hotly debated. I’ve mentioned before the importance of the large contribution the arts sector brings both financially but also culturally to society. One headline caught my eye recently, Dolly Parton partly funded Moderna Covid vaccine research, partly because I wondered what her motivation for donating to such a cause was but also because the donation came not from the business sector, but the arts. 

I find it ironic in a time when the arts sector feels abandoned by the government that a musician should make a financial gesture of this magnitude to a cause that is so pressing. Often the press portrays superstars as egotistical or fame-hungry, and I will admit that at first the cynical side of me wondered if this was a publicity stunt, however, Dolly’s reputation goes before her in this arena. What we know is that she loves to give back to as many charities and organisations as possible. Her impoverished childhood gave her a good understanding of caring and looking out for others; not only does she regularly donate but she has also set up her own charities. Her business acumen has put in her in position to to give to others, and it is evident from her philanthropy that she takes great delight in doing so. 

So what better than a vaccine where the research has been funded by the proceeds of music! Where someone people are driven by greed, Dolly has used her platform to influence and help others for good. I would even go as far to say that the Lord put her in a position to help others in this very time of need. God always knows the desires of people’s hearts and the timing needed to bring peace; he knows how to make it all work for our good, he is never late but right on time. It’s a wake up call to all of us as to what our motives our for creating art, and what we want to people to take from our creations. It’s about putting others first and then taking the opportunity to give back. And it seems for Dolly that working 9 to 5, made a way to fund a vaccine…

It has been said that it takes a crisis for people to see what they truly value. Never has this been more evident in our generation than through the COVID-19 crisis. The national lockdown may have brought people to a stand still but also to a place of deep introspection on personal and national level. We are continually in awe at the NHS response to coronavirus, and as a nation, I think we can see how deeply passionate we are about keeping our uniquely funded National Health Service. In the past key workers have been treated with a lack of respect, however, their true value has now been seen: the least have become the greatest. 

We’ve also realised how complicated our lives have become and discovered that simplicity can lead to contentment. The fact we can’t go out or see our families and friends has lead us to rethink what is important in our lives. We’ve discovered that the internet is not luxury but a necessity in life; everything from schooling, work, business, and relationships has been diverted into online formats. I do believe that something good comes out of every situation. Sometimes it takes us a long time to see it but something good always pushes the ashes. In our crisis situation, a new world order is forming and to be fair, it is long overdue. 

The lockdown has hit the arts sector hard; most arts practitioners are self employed and the work has dried up overnight. The government has put together a package for self employed workers who currently are unable to work and the arts community has come together to support each other and provide new ways of connecting people together for projects. There has been a mixed reaction to this government deal, but to be fair an offer of financial help is better than no offer at all, even if it doesn’t come as quickly as we would like it to. I also speak from a very different point of view, in the last 13 years, I have had two major low points where my business collapsed and the circumstances that surrounded these low points were totally out of my control. There was no government help, no union support and a lot of colleagues fled. For me, the good that came out of it was a resigned resilience and I learnt who was really for me. It left me with a small but extremely committed group of friends and colleagues which is better than what I had before. If you’re going to work in the arts, you need to be resilient, focused and flexible. 

It was during these low points that I began to pray that things would change in the self employed and arts sectors. I do believe that the crisis we are currently in lead us to a new way of working and will also open the door for artists and musicians to campaign for a better working conditions and deals. The plight of artists has been publicly acknowledged and this platform will help to campaign for better working conditions and employment deals in the future. 

The necessity for the arts and its role in society has been brought to people’s attention during the lockdown. How many of us has listened to some music, read a book or watch a film or TV show during this time? Yep all of us. Without the arts, life would be dull, lack colour and also insight. Not only are the arts part of our entertainment, but they are also essential for good mental health, understanding concepts and culture, and provoking thought and conversation. The arts are often seen as frivolous and expendable, however they need to be protected for their philosophical and spiritual values. At some point everyday, we reach for something creative to inspire and motivate us. 

In recent years, the financial and management sides of the creative industry have been abused and ripped apart. Much of this is being exposed and brought to light; we’ve watched as major figures have fallen from grace and organisations have collapsed. Artists have had to work for free, and I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been asked to perform for free or to give my music away. Creative enterprises have been devalued to zero. Maybe this period of introspection will bring a realisation that this can’t continue; we have to build an industry that is sustainable and fair for artists. There’s an opportunity to raise up pioneers who are passionate about encouraging and developing a wide range of genres disciplines and creating new platforms. Whatever we feel about this dark season, it won’t last forever. The temporary cessation is harmful to the arts industry in the short term, but in the long term it could actually bring about good for creatives. 

IMG_2106We all assume artists will go on forever, that the muse will constantly demand some creative output. However, a few days ago I read a quote from Carole King stating that she no longer writes songs and prefers to write novels instead. I wasn’t shocked but I was intrigued; she claims that she feels that she’s just writing about the same topics over and over again. Notably she hasn’t stopped being creative, just channelled it into a new form. King isn’t the first musician to do this and she won’t be the last, but it can be hard for fans to understand why their favourite artist no longer wants to create in the same way. This got me thinking about seasons and how life changes and evolves…

Well it turns out the that The Byrds were right, “There is a season… And a time to every purpose under heaven.” Some people love change, while others hate it. Change often helps us to refocus and try something new; what seems unwelcome can actually be the making of us. Who knows if Carole King is the next big novelist? Only time will tell…

Seasons are necessary for shaping our character and making us more robust. Without challenges and successes, we wouldn’t know what we are capable of or how strong we are. What’s meant to throw us can often be the making of us. Seasons also bring variety and colour into our lives; without it, life would always be the same.  One thing we can be sure of though, is that no season lasts forever. If you’re in a difficult situation, rest assured that it’s not forever, things will change and improve. What I admired about Carole King is that when she faced a wall in her creativity, she found a way to climb over it and start something new. She hasn’t wasted her talent, just shifted her focus. And of course, she is still touring and delivering stonking shows.

It’s knowing how to respond to change that dictates how successfully we will navigate the mountain high and low valley. The composer Aaron Copland retired from composing when his health started declining. He gracefully bowed out on a high and also went on to write a two volume autobiography with help from another writer.  Failing health did not stop him! So next time the season changes whether it is for better or worse, find a way to be positive and find a route through. You may find you’ve got hidden talents! The the show isn’t over until the fat lady sings!