A few weeks ago, Paul Gibbs from NoteSpire radio interviewed me about faith and being creative. We discussed using life experiences in our songwriting in order to help others, the post creatives blues, creating the Thaw painting and the role of music teaching. We also talked about my song I Won’t Rush You which you can find here.
NoteSpire radio is based in the USA in York, Pennsylvania, so we had challenge with the time difference, and the interview was recorded at midnight here in England. However I was wide awake!
The interview is being broadcast live on the radio station from Wednesday 7 June, however it is also available as a podcast to listen to now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and all main podcast sites. Grab and a cup of tea and enjoy!
Painting: Thaw by Helen Sanderson-White (Copyright 2023 Helen Sanderson-White. Do not reproduce without permission).
A few months ago, I was asked to create some artwork for an exhibition that my church is hosting in Holy Week entitled The Journey. Over the last ten years I have been on a journey. It has taken me through many low valleys, difficult circumstances and tested my character to the hilt. I survived domestic abuse, divorce, the loss of a career, the death of many friends and the list goes on… What kept me going was the fact that at some point this season would come to an end. The Lord made me a promise in the autumn of 2013, that if I walked with him through this difficult time, the new season of singing for joy would eventually come. That new season has taken a decade to materialise.
Just before Christmas I was sat at the piano working on some new song ideas, when I sensed that the Lord was saying the word “thaw” and he gave me the verses from Song of Songs 2:11-12:
See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…
I immediately I had an image of a garden thawing out after a freezing season covered in snow. Everything changed from frozen to flourishing, and there was a vibrancy to the new colours that were shining through in the spring sunshine. A new season has begun after a long, dark winter; life is sweeter in the newly revealed season. I wasn’t sure about the image so asked the Lord for confirmation that I really was leaving the long, dark season and that change is coming. Twelve hours later I got it! I was in a prayer meeting later the same day when someone had a picture for me of a winter snow scene that suddenly turns to spring and a beautiful garden is revealed!
So why has it taken so long for the season to change? Firstly, the Lord is always working on our character; we need to be God-built so that we can carry the new things he has for us. If he promoted us before our character is strong enough, it would crush us. Secondly, sometimes the Lord has to position us for the new to begin. This may mean stepping out and doing something scary or leaving things behind that are no longer fruitful. All of this takes time and obedience before we are in the right place at the right time.
In the painting, I wanted to reflect the ice from the last season melting away to reveal the new season’s beautiful garden with new, fresh flowers and fruit to enjoy. Although we can’t see what the future holds, we know that God’s hope does not disappoint and that he is always moving in our lives. Difficult seasons come to an end, and bright futures begin.
The best is yet to come.
The exhibition is free to view at Gold Hill Baptist Church, Chalfont St Peter, Bucks from Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th April from 9am-8pm and Wednesday 5th April 2.30-8pm.
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Earlier this week I was feeling discouraged about my prayer life, mainly that I haven’t seen many answers to my prayers over the last year. Having moaned at God for his lack of communication, I decided to dig out my journal to see what I was talking to the Lord about this time last year. I always write down the situations and people that I am praying for, plus how I feel and what I think God might be saying. Looking back through last year’s entries was revealing; it’s amazing how much I have forgotten and how quickly life moves on. It’s easy to get caught up in the detail of everyday life and forget where I was a few months ago and what God has done for me.
This time last year I was asking the Lord for several things that needed his help and advice. Although some of the situations did not change immediately, over the last year things have slowly started to move and improve. Some of the answers were small and could have been easily missed, whereas others were much clearer. If I hadn’t had written down each incident and response from God, I would have missed what he was saying and doing. Looking back, I can see how he was working behind the scenes to bring me to the point of understanding what he was doing and what he was asking me to do next. And although the whole answer may not be fully visible yet, there are signs of change.
There’s so much more that comes with God’s answers; our mindset changes, I could see in the pages how my thought processes have changed and how I’ve grown in faith. My beliefs about who God is and his involvement in my life have changed for the better. He uses our prayers to develop us mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as bringing breakthrough to our petitions.
By journalling I can see God’s participation in my life, it encourages me to keep persevering and walking with him. By rejoicing at what he is doing, I remember to be thankful for what he has done. Our praise creates a way for God to do more in our lives as it keeps our hearts and minds in line with him. In Joshua 4:6, Joshua builds a memorial marking the miracle that God performed when they crossed the river Jordan. He did this so that future generations would remember their relationship with God and learn more about his character. God knew that the Israelites would soon forget this miracle, and that they would become focused on their daily lives, so he asked them to continue to rejoice at what he had done for them.
Journalling keeps us on track with our requests. Some situations require persistent prayer over a period of time; by writing down our thoughts and the changes we can see, we maintain our focus on our prayer requests. One of the most common reasons that we don’t see answer to prayer, is that we give up too soon or our commitment to asking for change fades away.
If you’re struggling with your prayer life, try writing down your requests and keep track of God and what he is saying. You may find it that you’re much further into the process of change than you thought.
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When we think of miracles of healing, it’s natural to think of these occurrences being instantaneous. We’ve all seen films where there is a “suddenly” moment and the character’s life is changed forever. We expect our petitions to be met with a grand act of healing that is life changing and immediate. The Bible is full of examples of Jesus healing people on the spot; all these acts were designed to point to the glory of the Lord. However, there are also examples of healing being a process that takes time.
I wanted to write a song that reflected my own experience of healing; one that was a journey of highs and lows, a continual conversation with myself and Jesus. One thing that I have learnt is that the Lord is never in a rush. He takes time to walk with us on our journey, stretching and developing our character, tenacity and strength. My own journey of healing has taken years, not because the Lord wanted me to suffer or because I wouldn’t cooperate, but because the Lord is gracious and patient. He allowed me work through the process at my own pace, patiently waiting for me when I wavered, and encouraging me as I made progress. Would I have liked him to heal me instantly? Yes of course. However, because of the journey that I have travelled, my relationship with Jesus is stronger and deeper, and I now know how to help others in the same position because I have direct experience of this particular situation.
The days, months, years of praying are not wasted; those prayers do a deep work within us. While we wait for our moment, the Lord is also changing us through our petitions. We gain far more than the healing we ask for; the miracle comes with the benefit of becoming more like Christ, an understanding that he alone is in control, and a dependency on him that gives a solid foundation to our faith.
We see a similar progressive healing in 2 Kings 5 where the Lord tells Naaman to bathe in the river 7 times to cure his leprosy. This isn’t instant healing, it’s a journey of faith as Naaman holds onto the promise of a miracle. At first, he was angry that his request hadn’t been granted with immediate effect, but we later learn that his servants encourage him to be humble and accept what he is being asked to do. We don’t always like the what the Lord asks us to do, but it always has a good end and benefit for us even when we can’t see it. In Naaman’s case, trusting in the Lord and doing what he was told to do produced his healing. This process inspired his faith journey and he learnt more about the Lord’s ways of doing things. The result brought about victory for Naaman, and glory for the Lord, and as a result the Lord’s reputation spread throughout the region.
When it comes to healing, whether it’s instant or a journey, the Lord wants to heal us. For some of us that will be in our lifetime, and for others it comes when we die and receive our heavenly bodies. Some of us are healed by the miracle of medical science and others by the miracle hands of God. If we learn to see the world through God’s eyes, we can see his hand working through everything. When it comes to learning about God’s ways, he says “I won’t rush you…”.
We are standing at the edge of a new season. We’ve never lived in this way before, and we don’t know how life will work out over the next decade. There is still a lot of fear and anxiety coupled with “are we ready to move on?”. We are mourning for people, situations and things that have gone, yet longing to move onto a new season of joy and hope.
Earlier this week I was reading Matthew 9:17 (CEV) when something struck me that I hadn’t noticed before:
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. The wine would swell and burst the old skins. Then the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined. New wine must be put into new wineskins. Both the skins and the wine will then be safe.”
Safe. That’s something that we haven’t felt in a while. The Lord impressed on me that this new season is a new wineskin and that as we move with him into this new wineskin, we will be safe. Without knowing, he has been preparing and equipping us throughout this trial for the new season. Carefully drawing us closer to him and making us more tuned to his voice and leading. We have become flexible, and the shake up has helped us to see life in a different way. The shaking has removed things that we no longer need to carry and has helped us to retain only what we consider to be important. The old wineskin is finished and the old things can’t come into the new with us. We have mourned but we are being encouraged that joy is coming!
What I feel the Lord was impressing on me is that the new wine that we carry within us, will be poured into a wineskin that is SAFE. Everything that we value is safe if we keep trusting the Lord. Things that are precious to us: our worship, communities, families and future are protected and secure as we continue to trust him. This may mean accepting hard choices and difficult situations, we may need to surrender what we don’t fully understand, but God sees things differently and we are protected in his cover. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) tells that God’s thinking is different than ours:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
If you’re concerned about your future, be assured that you are under God’s protection. He will not be pouring the old issues and problems into the new season, that has been left behind. What worked for us before, will no longer work now. He is always doing a new thing, and we need to be attentive to see what good things he is doing in and through us. I am not suggesting that the issues will totally disappear, but I do believe he is calling us into the new and giving us the invitation to join with him in what he is doing. The Lord only does good things that are in our best interest and if we move forward, we will see his goodness and grace in this new world. We need to dare to say, whatever happens the Lord’s ways are good. Be encouraged that the Lord sees the people, dreams and things that you consider to be valuable, and he will carry you through to safety on the other side.
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We talk a lot about the joy of open doors, fresh opportunities and a sense of a new direction but we don’t always mention the joy that comes from closed doors. In the last month two doors have closed for me, one unexpectedly, the other was not surprising in the slightest. As with all beginnings and endings, there are mixed emotions and more questions than answers. Confusion is normal in these circumstances but once we have come to terms with the decision, it can be a great release to have one less option to think about.
Although these closed doors have different outcomes for me, they have both given me a sense of relief and a “what now?” question with them. We live in a society that actively promotes open doors and Christianity also shares this positive outlook for opportunity. However, the Bible is also clear that closed doors are a positive movement in our lives. The provision of the brook and ravens dried up for Elijah, so he moved on to the next calling which was helping the widow at Zarephath. Elijah was taken into heaven which released Elisha into a ministry that was far more powerful than his mentor’s ministry. Paul was shipwrecked and landed up preaching in places that he never would have travelled to otherwise. Ruth was widowed at young age but landed up remarrying and running a successful business.
So what can we learn from a closed door? Although it may be disappointing, it’s not always denial. God is simply removing the choices that aren’t profitable or helpful for where you are going next. He refines our vision by narrowing down the choices. I always think that it is quite exciting when a door closes as it means the Lord is preparing the way to a greater door, the door of opportunity. He is refocusing our attention on what he wants to do next, this could be something we have been praying about for a long time or a surprise from the Lord.
The hardest part of this journey is the corridor of “in-between”. Sometimes we can stand in the corridor waiting for a long time before another door opens. We are happy to receive an open door, but the waiting period between a closed door and the next one opening, is where our faith is tested. The “in-between” is the place where we most feel like we want to give up; the pressure of believing for more can push our faith to the limits. This is an important part of the process, the growth and depth our of faith is more valuable to the Lord than reaching our destination. If we are to go through the open door, we must have the strength, wisdom and character to steward what is on the other side of it. These qualities develop best in unsettled times as the uncertainly helps us to cling to the Lord and develop the deep roots needed to support the growth. The waiting time is not wasted or fruitless, but an adventure in developing ourselves and our relationship with God.
So when encountering closed doors, it helps to remember that they are closed to protect us from bad decisions, wasting time and paths that weren’t meant for us. They also indicate that there is something much greater and more exciting waiting for us, and that the preparation time is essential. If we wait patiently, a new door will open and our greatest moments will arrive.
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Many moons ago I started writing a series of blogs about being a resilient artist but the time never seemed right to publish them. I even wrote out an idea for a business called Resilient Creative but life took over and the idea stayed in a notebook. Then the pandemic hit, the world turned upside down and changed the arts arena as we knew it. One evening I was chatting to my long time colleague and friend Rachael Forsyth about the state of the arts and we pondered on how we might recover as an industry. She mentioned some thoughts she was writing about, I mentioned the previous blogs and voilà, we had a book idea.
If you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of creating, then How To Be A Resilient Artist is for you. You may be looking to boost your creativity in some way, to find a new way of working or regain some areas of your art that have fallen apart. You’re not alone, many people go through a “wilderness” period with their creativity. It’s all part of the artistic journey. Life is full of difficult twists and turns; recession, divorce, death, illness, failed businesses and of course, the unforeseen pandemic. All of these situations are tough for anyone working in business, however the unpredictable nature of the creative industries can make this a lot tougher. For others it could be that boredom and lack of direction has brought you to a halt and you’re now not sure how to kick start your enjoyment of playing your instrument or picking up your paintbrushes. These “wilderness” periods can be confusing, disorientating and draining. They also give us the opportunity to assess where we’re going and what we want out of life and ultimately, our music. The trick is not to let the “wilderness” journey overwhelm you but redirect you.
This book is designed to give you some hope that your setback is only a season and not a life sentence! Better times will come and eventually you will feel stronger from what you have learnt through this experience. There are plenty of ideas to get the creative juices going, and stories of how we overcame obstacles and found a new way to make things work. It’s always possible to recover from the pressure and regain a rhythm of working and performing.
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, this book has insights and tips on how to reinvigorate your creativity and regain your focus. Whatever season you are in, you can make a fresh start and discover the creativity within you.
One area of life that artists are good at tracking is the change of seasons, not just in the natural world around us but in our life seasons as well. In the UK we are heading into springtime but there’s also something in the air of new spiritual season emerging. There’s excitement in the air!
I have been in a wilderness period for a long time; this season of my life has been about pruning and getting rid of things that I no longer need. A time of evaluation, contemplation and preparation in readiness for new life and waiting for opportunities and breakthroughs to come forth. Over the last few months, there have been signs in my life of a new season blowing in; little changes that seem fresh and unfamiliar. Often we feel the advent of a new season before it begins, and I certainly felt this change coming about 18 months ago. Recently, I have been offered some interesting opportunities from my music work; some things that I have waited for a long time to be asked to do. They are only small opportunities, but I realised the other day, that a prophetic word that I was given 5 years ago was beginning to show signs of fruition through these requests.
When we enter a new season, the old way of doing things no longer works. We have to move on and try new ways of doing things. The pandemic opened up a world of online concerts, church services and meetings in a way that we hadn’t experienced before. This for me was the turning point as I have been able to meet new people via Zoom without having to travel. It presented a new way of doing something I was well used to, but I had to change the way I worked to make it happen. It has broadened my audience and made meeting new audiences much easier for me.
These new music opportunities have made me excited about my work for the first time in a very long time! And I’m holding on to the things that God promised me many years ago and that he will complete the work that he started in me. Whenever new growth appears, we need to remember not to take our old wilderness mindset into the new season. For me, that means holding on to the fact that things are changing for the better and that there are great things around the corner! So rejoice with me, my season is changing! There is a season for everything, and this is a season to grow and flourish.
One of the questions I have asked over the years is “why isn’t God answering my prayers?”. There have been many occasions where God has asked me to pray for someone and yet I’ve never seen the results of those petitions. Sometimes I wonder why God would ask me to be involved in prayer for situations that are seemingly impossible to change.
A few years ago the Lord asked me to pray for someone that had fallen away from their faith. It was a gut-wrenching situation watching a friend change and become someone different to the Christian I knew. At first, I met this prayer challenge with gusto and great hope that God would do great things. The years past by and my prayers began to wane as the task became harder, I could see no result to my requests and I lost contact with my friend. Doubt was creeping in: had God really asked me to pray for this person and is he going to do as he said he would? After a couple of years of praying, the Lord gave me a Bible verse that is a promise of an expected good outcome to this situation. It renewed my passion for prayer and reminded me that God is in control of the situation.
However, a few more years past, and the Lord started to give me specific information on what to pray. These nuggets of information would challenge me to look at what the Bible says and line up my prayers with God’s word. However, one day I kept having a picture of this person in a wheelchair, it made me panic-stricken that this person was going to have a serious accident. Was God asking me to pray for protection? The Lord reassured me that this was not the case, but the picture persisted for awhile so I began to ask the Lord what he wanted to me learn from this picture and what was its meaning.
One night after I had put my kids to bed, I crashed out in the armchair, picked up my Bible and came across the story in Mark 2 of the friends who carried a paralysed man to Jesus. They were so persistent in their request for an audience that they tore open the roof of the house Jesus was in and lowered their friend down right in front of Jesus’ face. I can remember being stunned as I immediately knew why I was seeing my friend in a wheelchair, when the reality was quite different. Jesus was indicating that my friend was spiritually sick because they had fallen away and that my prayers were bringing this person to him on a regular basis. Jesus was hearing my persistence and he honoured it in the following verse (Mark 2:5):
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, “son your sins are forgiven”.
When Jesus saw my faith, he reminded me that he would indeed answer those prayers in his timing and in his way. The actual phrase he gave me was “because you believe” and because I believe that he can work wonders in this situation, he will move in power through the stirring of my prayers. It is often in our weakness and doubt that God send us a gem that inspires us and spurs us on to pray his will.
Interestingly if we look at Mark 2:3, Mark mentions the friends before the paralysed man. The friends aren’t insignificant in this story, they are the lynch-pin and central characters to the message that Mark wants to get across. In other gospel accounts of the story, the friends are also mentioned first; this is about bringing our friends and family to the Lord in prayer with diligence. It’s about the importance of intercession and more than anything, it’s about belief and faith in what God can do even when things look bleak. I always think that verse 12 gives us hope that God’s glory will be displayed in our situations, as the crowd exclaim “we have never seen anything like this.”
The friends weren’t worried about being seen the paralysed man, they got their hands dirty and publicly carried him to the Lord. They tore down the structure that was getting in the way of them reaching Jesus, and we should repeat the same through prayer, asking the Lord to remove everything that is stopping our loved ones seeing the Lord’s face. It’s never our place to judge the people who God calls us to prayer for, but its our responsibility to carry them to God in prayer and leave the outcome to him. It’s likely that those prayers will change us before they change the person we’re praying for, certainly the friends had to develop faith an belief for their request to be granted.
So be encouraged today, that God is lifting our situations up and moving in ways that we cannot see. The paralysed man could not bring himself to Jesus, his friends had to do that for him, a true indicator that we should do this for those who are blind to God or cannot do this for themselves. Our prayers move the heart of God and he will answer in the best way, when the timing is right. But more than anything, he will answer them because we believe.
Earlier this week, while I was walking into the bank, a woman approached me and asked me outright “this won’t last forever, will it?”. While I was a little taken aback with her directness, I sensed an opportunity to speak the truth about hope and replied with “no, it will pass, things will get better”. And with that, she looked relieved and walk away. While it might sound flippant to say that in the middle of a pandemic, the truth is that everything comes to an end at some point and life moves on. The longterm effects of the stress of the pandemic can be seen in the nation’s outlook and mental health. Eurythmics once sang “everybody’s looking for something” and right now, we’re all looking for HOPE.
So how can we feel hopeful when everything around us looks bleak? Hope is something that has to be worked at; sometimes it flows easily and other times it seems far off and inaccessible. It is not some magical element that is unobtainable though. The truth of the matter is that we have to foster a hopeful and expectant mindset. Hope is sparked when we recall how something worked out well in the end, or we look on the positive side of a situation. We have to train ourselves to believe and expect good things for our lives; human nature tends to believe that bad seasons hang around forever, when in fact it is just a passing season. We live in a world where fear and negativity is prevalent, but if we believe that God is love then we have nothing to fear, as he has our best interests at heart and a plan for our lives.
The media is full of hearsay, doom, gloom and negative views; provocative headlines sell newspapers but they don’t necessarily represent the truth. A huge amount of damage can be done by scaremongering: it divides and isolates community and focusing on despair will corrode the nation’s attitude and resolve over time. What we know from history is that the human race has survived some of the most horrific events; the human spirit has found resilience and strength to keep going. If you fill your mind with bad reports it will affect your perspective on life, and in the long term make you depressed, and to some extent this all becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You get out of life, what you put in.
Everyday is one day nearer to the end of the season and new beginnings. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us that there is a time and season for everything; nothing is forever, and an end to difficult seasons will come in time. What we can do is work together to make things easier for each other. Spreading fear and gloom does nothing to help people, it leaves them in a place of despair and helplessness. We have a duty to ourselves and others to be agents of hope; the change starts with us. What we know from the Bible is that the Lord always comes through for his people, and he loves to bring new life to dead situations that have gone way past the point of no return. If nothing is too hard for the Lord, perhaps we need to remind ourselves not to limit him and his power. He can do far more than we ever dreamed of and that in itself is reason to have hope. If we hand our own situations and even the pandemic over to the Lord, we release ourselves from carrying the burden on our own and give him the opportunity to bring our chaos into his good order. Letting go requires bravery and courage but it leads to a place of peace, and in that peace is the small spark of gritty hope.