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QTM Episode 91 - Samuel James and Digital Liturgies

Digital technologies, the internet, Facebook, and many other means of connection are having their effects on us. They don’t just tell us what we should believe. (And that’s bad enough!) They also shape how we view ourselves, our world, and our God!

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Welcome to Questions That Matter. This is a podcast of the C.S. Lewis Institute. I'm your host, Randy Newman. I get the pleasure of talking with people all around the world about discipleship and how we grow in depth in our spiritual walks. And I'm delighted today that I get to have a conversation with Dai Hankey. He’s a church planter in Wales, and he's written a great book about hope and handling times of burnout or being weary. He also has started a great ministry called Red Community, a Christian charity that fights human trafficking in Wales. Dai, welcome to Questions That Matter.

It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Good to see you. Well, first, this is just… it's embarrassing on my part, but I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one. We need a little bit of a primer about Wales. We know it's somewhere in the UK. We know that we see it on a map, sort of tucked in in England somewhere. But you are a separate country and a separate culture, really. Give us a little flavor about Wales.

So Wales differs from the rest of the UK, in that it’s God’s favorite part of the UK.

That’s good to know!

Yeah, it’s good to know. It's just on the western side of the UK, between England and the Irish Sea. It's got an ancient culture, the oldest language spoken in Europe. Famous for poetry. Famous for song. Famous for rugby and coal mining. And generally a very warm and welcoming and hospitable people. I think a lot of people comment, when they visit the UK, that the Welsh are among the friendliest and the most warmhearted people that they'll meet. And I think that's probably fair.

Dai, you've written a book called Hopeward: Gospel Grace for Weary Souls, and it's about hope. And you outline what you call a hopeward trajectory, starting with “come,” and then you have these steps: Come, receive, abide, feast, grow, walk, run. And your book moves through there, rather quickly. It’s a nice short book, but you start with, “You need to just come to the Lord, come to Jesus, and admit where you are.” Tell me about “abide,” because that's a word that I think a whole lot of Christians—we know that word. It’s in John 15. We often say it with the sort of this affection of, “Ah, yes. That’s what I need to do. I need to abide in Christ.” But I have a feeling a whole lot of us don't really know what that means. What does that mean? What does that look like?

Yeah. So the concept behind the book came from a time when I personally… I guess I ran out of steam. I collapsed at the feet of Jesus. I felt like I had nothing left to give. It was at the end of 2020. COVID had probably played a part in it. There's a whole world of other factors that I think conspired against me, to the point where I felt like I’d collapsed at feet of Jesus at the end of 2020, with nothing left to give and emotionally and spiritually exhausted. And as I sought to recover from that moment, which took months, not days, I guess there was a process of rehabilitation, theological rehabilitation, as well as personal refreshment, that took place. And so that hopeward trajectory starts with coming, and then it goes through these different steps.

I think abide is a really key one, because abiding doesn't sound like you're doing anything, and I think that Christians are often hardwired to want to do stuff for Jesus, to be activists, to be involved in ministry. Ministry was part of the reason why I burnt out, having had to lead a church through COVID, among other things. I think that when we're called to abide, I think the Lord is basically saying, “Stop striving. But let Me serve you. Let Me be your strength. Let Me be your source of joy. Let Me be your source of all that is good. Let Me satisfy you, and your job is to remain in Me and to let Me remain in you.”

And so I think that's the challenge for all Christians who are wired towards activism and towards doing stuff, is to realize that actually the key to not burning out and the key to not getting worn out doing ministry is to remember that we actually add nothing to the finished work of Christ. All our ministry is only ever an overflow of what Christ has already done for us.

You know, that is so easy to say. It's almost an alien foreign concept for a lot of us, of just, “Be still. Stop. Who am I in Christ? Who is God at this moment? How is He sovereign? What is He doing?” I do sense that the more we get into the practice of asking those questions, the more they will come. But you're right. I think, for a whole lot of us who are very activity oriented… it's not just that. It’s active. We’re active. And I don't know how this compares with Welsh culture. In American culture, we get things done. We see a problem. We come up with a solution. We solve it. That's America. And there's a lot of great strength and a lot of great things that God has enabled us to accomplish, thanks be to God. But there's also a whole lot of times where we need to say, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What is God doing? What is God wanting us to do? Where does God want us to focus?”

Let me read for our listeners part of the very first page of this book. If this doesn't grab you, I'm not sure what will, but you write, “This is a book for weary pilgrims, discouraged disciples, brokenhearted believers, and faltering followers of Jesus. It's a book for the deflated and defeated, for the done in and the burnt out, for people who secretly want to quit, or who have already. It's a book for doubters and skeptics whose minds are a frenzy of unresolved questions. It’s for fearful friends whose hearts are crippled with anxiety. It's for prodigals, rebels, and wretches who know exactly why their faith is in tatters but are not sure if there's a way back. It's a book for people who are holding it together, but feel like the string is about to snap. It's for people who are well past breaking point already, who find themselves in a crumpled heap, with nothing left to give and nowhere left to turn, people like me.” That's the last line of the first page. People like you, Dai, who wrote this coming out of realizing, “Oh, I had nothing left to give, and yet I saw the Lord take me, lift me out of that.”

Tell us more about the process of getting lifted up. What else was involved for you?

I think that, when I went through that season of just feeding emotionally and spiritually exhausted, I was graciously given some time off ministry by my church, so I had a couple of months just to breathe out. That was helpful. I had an incredibly supportive wife. I still do have an incredibly supportive wife, but back then she was really, really supportive, and she was helpful as well. But I think one of the most important things, from my perspective, was the daily discipline that I almost have like regimented into my life was to sit there in the morning every morning with a cup of coffee and the scriptures open. Regardless of whether I feel like I'm getting anything from it or not, regardless of whether or not I feel I’m hearing God's voice. And I just think that that process of sitting there with the scriptures day in, day out, at least wanting to hear God's voice was a really important part of that process as well.

I think there's also a degree to which, when you've been humbled, when you've been brought to a place where you don't feel particularly strong and particularly able and particularly glorious, that, despite the fact that that can be an uncomfortable and an unpleasant place, but if you don't wrestle against that but you accept that, you accept your smallness and your limitations and your weakness, I think God can really meet with us in those moments. He says in His word, doesn’t He, that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. I think sometimes we have to humble ourselves. Sometimes we are humbled. And I think, for me, the dawning realization that I'm not as strong as I thought I was, I'm not as wise as I thought I was, I'm not as together as I thought I was, they’re not all bad things to realize about yourself. In fact, you mentioned earlier, about the abiding. You mentioned the abiding passage in John 15. I think one of the most important verses in my life is in John 15, but it’s not the bit about abiding. It's in John 15, verse 5, where Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” and I think that's a really healthy place for a Christian to be. But it often takes something colossal and something significant for us to face up to that.

Reading your book and reflecting on it, in light of some recent circumstances in my life, was very good but very humbling. And so if I can share an experience for me, because I really think this is going to change a whole lot of things for me. And again, I'm helped by your insight and your book. But I do a bunch of speaking in different places and, almost always, I go to a church or a ministry or a conference or something, and they say, “You have X amount of time to speak.” Let's just say, “We’re going to be up at 11:15, and you need to stop at 12 noon, because 12 noon is lunch, so it's a hard stop.” I go, “Okay.” So I prepare for 45 minutes, or I prepare for 35 minutes and allow for 10 minutes of Q&A. And then, not always, not even most of the time, but a fair number of times, the schedule will get messed up, and I'm looking at my watch, and I'm not getting up to speak at 11:15, or 11:20, or 11:25. And now I'm scrambling, and I need to change my presentation. And for a very long time, I have found myself really, really frustrated by this. And if I'm totally honest—and I'm doing this on a podcast, so I'm admitting this out loud for people to hear. I'm sitting there thinking, “You invited me to be the speaker. Don't you value me? Do you know who I am? I have pearls of wisdom that you must need to hear. Don't you realize that you're cutting into my time?” I mean, I can laugh at it now because it's so hideous-

That’s so true, though. I can relate to that completely.

Aha! Yeah! Well, so it's happened enough times that one time, not too long ago, I thought, “Wait a minute. This happens often enough. I think God is trying to teach me something.” And I say trying. It's not His problem. It's me. I'm thick headed. But I think He’s trying to teach me, “You know what, Randy? I'm in charge of this meeting, and I want people to hear the things that are going on that are delaying your speaking. I want them to hear those things. And I want them to hear from you, but I'm not as dependent on you, Randy Newman, as you think I am.”

That’s so true, Man. Yeah.

And in a recent presentation, I got up and I told a story about a young woman who went to a meeting, a Christian meeting, and the speaker got up and spoke for 35 minutes, and she didn't hear a word of it. Nothing. She was so distracted. She just thought it was weird. The only thing she remembered from the whole entire evening was that somebody, toward the end, got up and made an announcement about joining a Bible study, and they read a Bible verse, and she heard a word in the Bible verse and said, “Oh, that's me!” So she didn't hear anything at all that whole…. She didn’t hear the speaker. Zip. She heard one word in one Bible verse, and that changed her life. And I wasn't the speaker at that meeting, but if I was, it would be the Lord saying, “See? I was in charge of that meeting, and I selected that announcement by that minor player.” Anyway, I think the idea of pausing, reflecting, abiding, and saying, “Yeah, God has called me to do something here, and I want to do the very best job and do it to His glory, but He’s the One Who chooses what He uses and how He uses it.”

Absolutely. We just get to choose whether or not we want to have some of His glory or not. And He doesn't share His glory with earthlings like us. Our role isn't to receive glory. And I just think it's so subtle how, in ministry especially, that can be a temptation, but I don't think it's only those who are in ministry for whom that’s a temptation. We all want our lives to matter, and I think our Western world tells us, you know, “Be a world changer. Be a go getter. Be a difference maker.” And those kind of aspirations have their place, but ultimately there's only one Savior. There’s only one Lord. And it’s not me. Which is great news for the world.

And it's great news for us as individuals, because when we try to be the one who gets the glory, it's pretty ugly. We're presenting a really horribly distorted message.

Indeed.

God is the one who says He will not share his glory with another. And that includes us. Well, I want to dig into something that you say that's much more on, I don't know, the positive side, as far as encouragement in the midst of this. Toward the end of the book, you remind or instruct us of some lessons we need to remember about failure. And you say, “First, your failure is not final. It wasn't the last time, and it won't be the next time. Second, should you fail again, your Redeemer will not forsake you. Third, His gospel has lost none of its power, and fourth, God's desire is for you to grow in the strength of His love. And then finally, Jesus has not given up on you, and He never will.” I just think those are such simple statements, and yet we forget them completely, so that when you have failed and then you read those, they feel like, “Oh, how did I ever forget that?” or, “How did I lose sight of that?” 

You know what, Randy? When I hear you reading it, it sounds even better than I thought it sounded. You’ve got a great voice for podcasts. Maybe I should have got you to do the audio book. That sounded great.

I don't quite have the right accent, but I appreciate the encouragement.

But I think you're right. The gospel is simple. And so, yeah, they are simple statements. I agree with that. In many ways, I'm a simple man, and I have a simple faith. And I think that it’s the same grace. That same simple faith in Christ that saves us is the same simple faith in Christ that sustains us. It's His grace and His grace alone that saves us and gets us across the finish line, and I think sometimes just a simply put truth can be helpful, especially when you don't feel that you’ve got a lot left.

Have you thought about your spiritual legacy? If you were to die tonight, would you leave behind a clear message to your family, friends, and the whole world about your faith in Christ? Your love for them? Your hope for them? If not, what do you need to do to prepare for your leaving this earth? We have a resource on our website with answers and guidance in a new video by Joel Woodruff, our president of the C.S. Lewis Institute. And I think it's really helpful, and it gives guidance and insight about how to think through these issues and then how to prepare for them. And there's an informative, easy-to-understand format laced with, I think, some really good stories. So check it out at our website, under Spiritual Legacy. Or if you like, cslewisinstitute.org/spiritual-legacy.

And especially if you can get to the point of, “Okay. I don't need to dig down inside myself to find truth.” It's not like, “Okay, okay. What do I need to tell myself right now?” Well, you need to tell yourself something that God has already told us, so rather than, “Okay, let me look within. Let me try to… let me dig at…. What am I feeling? What can I come up with?” No. It’s, “What has God said?”  What has God's word proclaimed in numerous times in various ways? What do I need to just remind myself of a very clear statement from the scriptures that maybe is a verse that we've read a million times and even have memorized. But we just need to reread it again. “God so loved the world that He gave,” Randy, pause, stop. You've said that verse so many times that it can become a mindless cliche. But no. Let’s just zoom in. What does that mean? What kind of love does God have? It's the kind of love that gives and gives for the purpose of salvation. Just breathe in and allow that to wash over your anxiety and fear and sense of burnout.

Amen.

So your book is really helpful. I want to shift a little bit, because on the very back of the book, in your very brief bio, it says you're the founder of an organization called Red Community, a Christian charity that fights human trafficking in Wales. We need to hear about this. So what kind of work does Red Community do, and how did that come about?

Yeah. It’s ironic, really. I think, in the book, it lists several ministries that I'm involved in, and so people are probably not surprised that I got burnt out. So there's a degree of irony in that. But back about eleven years ago, the Lord really grabbed hold of my heart around the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking. And I was seeking Him, “What’s something that I could do to respond to that? How could I be part of a gospel-centered response to this issue?” There are a lot of very good secular organizations that do various degrees of relief work and rescuing et cetera. But, as a Christian, as a church leader in South Wales, what could I do? And because I didn't really know what to do about it, I started a prayer meeting, a monthly prayer meeting, for anybody in South Wales that was interested in the issue. And for a year we just gathered on a monthly basis to pray and to get people to come in and speak to us about human trafficking and modern slavery. And that grew into a charity, a not for profit, which essentially is a very simple charity that aims to offer a gospel response to those issues in Wales. But Wales isn't a big country, it's a small country, and we certainly don't have the same scale of human trafficking as you would in the States, and even in England the numbers are much higher. But there is still a significant number of people who are either trafficked into Wales or have had been moved into Wales to recover from being trafficked into England. So we just started praying, and then, through praying, we started seeking God, what would a meaningful ministry response look like, and so that's now a ministry with several different pockets attached to it. You can read more about it at redcommunity.co.uk. I think the most beautiful thing that we do is a project called Embrace, where we train up Christian women from local churches to basically offer the gift of friendship to women in safe houses or women who are trying to rebuild their lives, having been rescued from trafficking. And they simply just get alongside, go for coffee, go for walks, just become friends with these women. I think we've seen over eighty trafficking survivors being given the gift of a Christian friend who helped them to walk through their recovery and their rehabilitation. So that's been beautiful.

In a little aside, off the back of the charity as well, is myself and one of the trustees then ended up setting up a business called Manumit Coffee Roasters to provide employment for men and women who have been trafficked, so we can give them a safe and a supportive working environment to try and get back into the world of work without fear of exploitation. So we got the charity and then we’ve got the coffee roasting business as well which came out of that. Yeah. None of it is massive. It’s a small business. It’s a small charity. But at the heart of it is the Christian message that we've been set free from slavery to sin. And so anything that we can do to help others be free from slavery is, A, an expression of God's heart, and, B, it’s a way of demonstrating, if you will, the gospel that set us free.

I love it. I love that! And we're going to put a link to your ministry in the show notes. What you just said: If the very heart of the gospel is we have been set free from slavery, then what a great expression of that ministry is if we can find people and help them get set free from slavery. And, you know, I do a fair amount of traveling in my speaking, and I hear about ministries just like this that are doing really, really great, revolutionary work, but they're not famous, and they're never going to be famous. And they don't want to be famous. They don't want to be famous beyond just, “Well, we want people to know about us, so they can get involved and they can help out and donate money.” But it's not going to be worldwide famous. It's a million different pockets of God's people being faithful to go into some of the darkest parts of the world and get people brought out of darkness into light. I think it's really beautiful. But I imagine that there's plenty of discouragement there, too, and so I'm sure your book came out of some of that as well.

You're not wrong. You’re not wrong. Yeah, absolutely.

Well, this has really been great. And I think I want to kind of draw to a close before we have any more technological problems. But I really appreciate your encouragement for people who are tired and weary and burnt out, and rather than people just sort of beating up on themselves. “Come on! What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know the joy of the Lord is your strength?” which doesn't usually work. But rather to examine and dig in and to rest and to abide and to focus. All of your book… each of your chapters begin with a stanza of a poem, and it's a poem you've written, and then at the end of the book, you wrap up the whole poem. I wonder if you'd be willing to read that poem to us. I know that poetry is a part of Welsh culture and song, and so it's not by mistake that you just threw on a poem at the end. In a sense, the poem really shapes the whole book. So would you would you be willing to do that for us?

I'd be glad to, yeah. Don’t worry, I won't sing it. I'll just read it. I'll read that out.

I lay in a crumpled heap
Not strong, but weak
A pitiful mess but blessed
To collapse at the Master’s feet.

My troubled soul was weary
My heart was cold and heavy.
“Come, receive my rest,”
He whispered to me gently.

His words were kind and true:
“I know what you've been through.
I've got all the grace you need
and I'm giving it to you.”

Such mercy in His face
as He lavished me with grace.
My weary soul found rest
in the warmth of His embrace.

I feasted on His gospel,
and where before I'd crumpled,
fresh strength began to rise
as hopeward faith was kindled.

Emboldened by the saints
and powered by the Spirit
I began to grasp the love of Christ
a love that knows no limits.

“Follow me,” the Master called.
“Just take a step, however small.
Don’t be afraid, I'll be right here
to catch you when you fall.”

So press on, weary soul,
roll on by saints of old.
Fix your eyes on Christ the prize.
Keep running hopeward, home.

Amen. What a great place for us to stop. Dai Hankey, thank you for the time. Thank you for your work. May the Lord bless and strengthen you. The book is called Hopeward: Gospel Grace for Weary Souls. We'll put all those links in the show notes. We also hope you'll check out other resources we have at the C.S. Lewis Institute. Until the next time, we hope that all that we do can help you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.


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