Last week I was interviewed by Victoria Park Baptist Church in Bristol about my song Where Are You God? This was used as part of their online church service and helped to inspire their prayers for the coming week. They asked me some deep, soul searching questions such as “do you think any good can come out the pandemic?” and we explored my reasons for being so honest with how I felt about the current global crisis. You can see the interview below.
The title of my new song, Where Are You God? is no surprise to any of us given the current pandemic situation. The turmoil of our fragility and the feeling that God is generally silent in this era is something that has crossed most of our minds. This song was a bit of a surprise for me, I was reticent to write it as I was unsure that I could do justice to the topic. In fact, I told God that I wasn’t going to write it. I think you can tell who won this argument. The lyrics are the raw, awkward truth of how I saw things in that moment. But sometimes the raw, awkward truth is what we need to hear. The Psalms are full of unfettered emotion and passionate pleas for help, and in some senses the essence of this song lie in the same roots. Sometimes our prayers are cries that come from deep within us.
There are two videos: a lyric video and the second version contains photos that fans of my music sent in from their lockdown walks over the last year. The track is available from Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Bandcamp.
Where Are You God? Trapped by the storm of the sickness We hide inside our cosy worlds No end in sight of this tragedy That’s holding back our daily lives Our backs against the wall, we ask Where are you God? We need you flowing in our hearts We need you speaking in our dreams to us Where are you God? We need you growing in our hearts We need you moving in our lives today Where are you God? Trapped in a world of our making We try so hard to heal ourselves Plans without faith robbed our children The unbelief has left us blind Our backs against the wall, we ask Minds high, and hearts low How far will we go? Some truth and half lies How long till we cry ©2020 Words and music by Helen Sanderson White.
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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.
The journey to becoming you is a lifetime process, and the same can be said about becoming a musician or artist. It’s an amble through trial and error, followed by readjustment and acceptance. If you can navigate through the pitfalls well and learn from them, then you can become more resilient and focused on what you are supposed to be doing. You have to learn not be to discouraged at each hurdle but to pick up the pieces and get going with your vision. And there’s the crux of being an artist… VISION. It gives us a reason to create, a message to deliver and a community to focus on.
Very few creatives reach the pinnacle of their career with their first project; if they do reach the heady heights quickly, the harder they fall. If you gain access to a public platform, you need to be prepared to have a good message for your audience. You also need to have the character to bear the weight of the responsibility of speaking into situations that need wisdom, to give hope and not despair, to be positive when others are negative. Character develops under pressure, through perseverance, by overcoming obstacles and be willing to admit that we aren’t always right. If your character is weak, you will struggle to carry greatness and influence a world that is easily swayed. People are looking for a consistent, strong message that brings light into darkness; that type of maturity doesn’t develop overnight, it is born out of adversity and longevity.
Often it’s in the seasons of “no” and “not yet” that we find out who we are. Like a seed planted under the soil, we grow in the dark seasons of our lives. The disappointments become fertiliser for our creative outlook. Even though the soil buries us, fresh green shoots spring up and bloom in the sunlight: something new is born. The tender shoots push the dirt away and reach out of the light. Those difficult seasons may seem to have no purpose but ultimately our personhood gets chiseled away by our experiences, and walking through fire helps refine and define our character. We are more than the sum of our experiences though, we are divinely created with a unique spirit, mind and purpose. We have a reason to be and a reason to do.
Being an artist requires the gift of prophecy, to see what could be and call it into being. Most of us have been inspired by a song, book, or painting at some point in our lives, something that gives us vision and inspires us to be more, to push the boundaries. Each artist has spent time thinking about how to convey something new to their audience, using the opportunity to impart wisdom and infuse hope as part of their legacy to the world. It can be a lonely role, to move forward with a vision that others don’t yet see. It requires tenacity, perseverance and a willingness to sacrifice comforts to make the vision come to pass. You have to grow the vision and then give birth to it.
So be encouraged wherever you are on your artistic journey, that the highs and lows are all part of the process of becoming who you are. You are becoming the artist that you want to be. A diversion doesn’t mean that you won’t reach your destination, it means you have something to learn along the way. The journey is often more important than the destination. Don’t be impressed with everything you see and hear, but work on being unique and find your own voice. No-one can be who you are. Rejoice in your uniqueness and work on your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who support you but don’t pander you. Find your message and be the voice crying out in the wilderness. Speak change into a dying world and watch as your art makes a difference: a difference that only you can make.
We live in a society that expects everything instantly. Everything is on demand: TV, films, music, food delivery within the hour, 24 hour shopping. Nothing is out of reach. You want it, you got it. This translates into several other areas of our lives too – we expect to have a good life from a young age. At 18, you should know what you want to do with your life and have the school grades to open doors. By 30, you should have a career, financial security. And so it goes on: marriage, mortgage, kids and life sown up by 40… Modern life wants us to have everything when we’re young; prosperity is a sign that we’ve “made it” and have “success”.
However, what modern life doesn’t account for, is that we might not be ready or mature enough to receive the things we want. Character and strength take years to develop, and not necessarily through times of ease and joy. Perseverance and wisdom come through trials and times when our backs are up against the wall. If we don’t have the right character, there’s no way we can carry the new in depth experiences or the rewards that we have worked for. We have to learn to steward these things, and steward them well. This means accepting that there is more to life than us. Others may benefit from our experiences and blessings. It’s good to share the joy and rewards as this spreads encouragement and hope.
If we have everything now, there’s nothing to look forward to later. Life events need to be measured out at a life long pace. It’s not that these events will be equally spaced out, but divinely placed for the right time. Often we have an inkling or desire that is an indication of our destiny, a foretaste of what’s to come that keeps us on track and moving in the right direction. The world wants us to have the mentality of the child in a sweet shop, while God wants us to look to him and trust that he will bring good things at the right time.
A few weeks ago, I was sketching some ideas for a project and when I started to draw the featured picture. I knew immediately that it was for one of my friends who supports my work, so I sent it to her the next day. She was amazed because she had been discussing the idea of God “saving the best till last” the very same day. In John 2, the wedding party are expecting to have the best wine first but when they run out of wine, Jesus surprises them by turning water into the finest quality wine. He uses a dead end situation to perform a miracle, and to create the miracle, he uses the most mundane thing, water. If he can do that at a joyful event such as a wedding, he will do the same for us in the most dire of situations too. He can take our “nothing” and turn it into a miracle.
It’s OK to take our time and wait for good things rather than mediocre things. We often settle for what seems good but actually isn’t God’s best for us. Long term these things can harm us, or stunt our growth and relationship with him. All that glitters is not gold, and we can miss out on some exciting things by taking matters into our own hands. Sometimes things end suddenly or don’t end well and we’re shocked at the change of path. A bad season isn’t forever, everything has an expiration date and life can turn around for the better. Patience and discernment lead to good things, character strength and an exciting future. God is always saving the best till last.
Illustration: Save The Best Till Last by Helen Sanderson-White (Copyright 2018 Helen Sanderson-White. Do not reproduce without permission).
Every time New Year’s Eve rolls around, I have two little rituals. Firstly, to have the biggest clear out known to man, which everyone in my house fears as I can be quite ruthless! It’s therapeutic to clear out the old in readiness to welcome the new. And secondly, that I exchange Bible verses and words with friends and family for the coming year.
Four years ago, a friend sent me the phrase “Do not be afraid”. On receiving this, I was non-plussed but rather excited about what might happen. Over the following week, I received the same phrase and some accompanying Bible verses from other people, one of which I didn’t know very well, so I was pretty sure that God was trying to say something to me. What I didn’t know at the time was that God was taking me on a journey, some of which I had not expected.
Over the next four years, God reminded me of words and dreams he had given me twenty years ago. A lot of these I had long abandoned as they didn’t seem to materialise and I presumed that I had got it wrong or that God had changed his mind. Nevertheless, throughout 2014 God kept telling me that he meant business with his promises and that he is in the process of bringing them about. This turned out to be an essential period of encouraging and building me up for what was come. However, sometimes for God’s plan to prevail we must be realigned with his plan…
Time rolled on and life became difficult and not what I was expecting. A drunk driver smashed into the front of my house and we had to move out in the middle of the night; we landed up moving house four times in fourteen months. Due to the endless moves and other issues, my business collapsed and on top of that a joint business venture ended when my business partner walked out. And the final straw came when my fifteen year marriage ended quite dramatically. It was a rock bottom time; I was abandoned, abused, ridiculed, homeless, and I left my marriage with two my children and £85 in my pocket. I didn’t know what would become of me. Looking back now, I can see that God was having a clear out out in my life so that he could bring me into line with his plans.
What sustained me through this period were the promises that God made me and his encouragement to keep going. Most days I just wanted to lay down and die, except you can’t really do that when you’ve got two children! You have have to keep going and as time has gone on life has improved. I’m still waiting on God to come good on some of those promises. One in particular has already come to fruition and came quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Sometimes to get to where God wants us to be, we have to allow everything to die, so that he can do a new thing. I’m looking forward to God doing new things and bringing about what he promised. Guessing how he is going to do it just makes it all the more exciting. Sometimes it’s good that we can’t see everything in advance. Through all of this, I had plenty to be afraid about: a court case, finding a job, relocating yet again, moving my children to their fourth school. But in the end everything has eventually fallen into place. And now I walk on into the future and wait for God to do the things he promised all those years ago… DO NOT BE AFRAID.
On Christmas Day, the last thing I wanted to hear was that George Michael had died. In a year where we have lost so many well loved and exciting musicians, this seemed like the last straw. It’s no secret that I was a massive Wham fan when I was growing up, and that I followed his solo career closely. It’s taken me awhile to write a tribute to him, mainly because I just needed to go off and be a miserable git about the whole thing for awhile. My musings have led me to this realisation though: the press have often portrayed his life as tragic yet over the years I’ve garnered hope from his watching his life and career.
In the last month, I’ve pondered on what George’s legacy might be for artists and music makers in general. His artistic progression from bubblegum pop to jazz and dance, shows his ability to compose without limitations. I have wondered that if he had not died, where his art would take him next. Over the years I’ve had many an industry professional struggle with the fact that I produce music from a variety of genres; to them it’s not marketable and they “can’t work out who I am”, but in George’s case, it was his strength and give his career and work depth and credibility. Surely we want to see the artists we love grow and develop? So if George can do this, there’s possibility for the rest of us.
His courage and tenacity were demonstrated during the early 1990s, when he fought an industry that treated him unfairly. He stood up for what he believed in and was prepared to see it through whatever the consequences. It was a classic case of art and business colliding; where there is talent, there are people who want to capitalise on it. Though he did not win his court case, a precedent was set that encouraged other artists to speak out in a difficult industry where “fairness” isn’t high in the agenda. Through all of this he kept going. Even the incident in a Beverly Hills toilet didn’t hold him back; he turned a faux pas into a hit record.
After his death, we have also learnt of George’s spiritual development and philanthropy. For years I prayed that he would have an encounter with Jesus, and in the last few weeks we have learnt that he was in regular contact with Christians and that they would pray with him before shows. His financial generosity has shown us that he loved to help others and see them fulfil their dreams. He understood the responsibility that comes with wealth and the opportunities it creates to change lives. In the short time since his death, we have learnt more about George Michael as a person that we had in the previous thirty years.
I’m so glad that I had the opportunity of seeing George live in November 2006 at Earls Court on the Twenty Five Live tour. I discovered that his live performance was far greater than his recorded performances and that despite his protestations that he is not a natural performer, his performance was in fact mesmerising. Though George was generally shy of public life, and admitted that he lacked confidence about his music, his legacy proves that he was a man who grew and matured creatively, spiritually and emotionally. If we can learn anything from George’s life, it’s that we should throw off the past and keep moving forward, after all, it’s something that he did time and time again. Setbacks and knocks, don’t cripple us, they help to reinvent who we are and make us stronger.
How I helped to change the life of a 90s pop star…
In 1993, I was 16 (yes do the maths and work out hold I am…) and obsessed with music. There was one particular single that I was desperate to hear. I can remember going to Woolworths in the seaside town where I lived to buy it and then running at full pelt to my friend’s house the other end of town to play it. My friend greeted me at the door with a copy of Smash Hits in her hand (for those of you under 20, this was the magazine you bought to get song lyrics long before Google was ever invented); she showed me an interview with the very same pop star… The interview was sad. This singer was in trouble. It was distressing. Then my friend piped up “we should pray for her!”. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew about the power of prayer but at 16 I thought I was too cool for all of that. However, being young I thought “OK what’s the harm? Let’s go for it.” I had no idea what we had started…
A few years later that same pop star became a Christian and her life changed for the better. I can remember reading an interview at the time and being amazed; I had no idea that the tiny prayer I prayed with my friend would change someone’s life so dramatically. I’m not claiming that we were the only people who prayed for her, I’m sure there were many others, I just didn’t realise how powerful the effect of our actions was.
In 2012 I got to meet this 90s pop star and I decided to pluck up some courage and tell her what my friend and I had done. To be honest, I thought that she would be nonchalant and thank me politely and walk away thinking “Helen is a total looney”. I had no idea what was coming next… She threw her arms around me and burst into tears, shouting “thank you, thank you, I knew someone was praying for me when things were so bad!” I was shocked and so was she; she couldn’t believe that two teenagers cared enough to pray for her. The moral of the story is people always need our prayers no matter how small.
Recently I’ve had some moments where I’ve felt my prayers are ineffective and God isn’t listening. Maybe God is out, maybe his voicemail is on, maybe He thinks I’m insignificant. And when I was moaning at God about this, he reminded me of this story and that He is always listening and interested in what is on our hearts. So be encouraged: prayer changes everything!