In this exclusive extract from his new book Here I Am, Seek Me, Andy Hawthorne reflects on how our journey through Isaiah has shaped our priorities.
At The Message we make no apology for the amount of work time we spend in worship and prayer.
It’s not just our monthly Prayer Days – every day starts with at least half an hour set aside to sing and pray. It’s part, I believe, of what makes The Message what it is. On Tuesdays, we gather the whole team for worship and prayer and one of the Message leadership team usually shares from the Bible. Over the last three-and-a-half years, whenever I’ve spoken on a Tuesday morning, I’ve been chugging my way through the amazing book of Isaiah. And it’s stunning to look back over what God has done in and through us in that time.
Among other things, we’ve launched 12 new Eden teams; put together two new bands; stepped up our prisons work and launched the Message Enterprise Centre to provide work, homes and supportive community to some of our region’s most troubled young men and women who have come to Christ. We’ve stepped out with new Message ministries in the Midlands, Wales and Scotland. We’ve launched the Higher Tour, the most ambitious youth mission in the UK for a generation. And we’ve opened our first international hub in South Africa which is now delivering the full transformational ‘Message package’ in prisons, schools and tough communities around Cape Town. You can read more about all these things in the following pages.
About a couple of years into our Isaiah journey, I got a phone call from my friend John Bunjo who, as well as pastoring his own church in Uganda, oversees a major prayer movement and network of churches bringing transformation amongst the poorest of the poor. He is also a guy who, I know from my own experience, really hears the Lord. The phone call was to let me know that he was coming to the UK – he had been fasting and praying and really believed that he had a word from the Lord for us. So, full of expectancy, a few days later I gathered the team and John let loose on us.
His words stopped me in my tracks. In short, he said that everything was about to go to the next level for The Message. He prophesied that we were about to enter a tremendous ‘season of open doors’ (and over the next few weeks, I received exactly the same word from other people I respect four more times). He also said that Isaiah 60 would be very important – saying, ‘Get ready to arise and shine for the glory of the Lord is upon you!’ Finally, he said, ‘You, Andy, need to get away and seek the Lord over all of this’.
I have to confess that my heart sank a little on hearing this, knowing that John was probably thinking about a full 21 days of fasting and prayer in the desert, and that when I looked at my diary I would probably struggle to find a spare day in the following few weeks. But with some juggling, I managed to find a couple of days and set off for a short retreat in the Lake District.
On the way up the motorway I listened to a talk called ‘Keeping Your Vision Hot’ in the car, from my friend Paul Hallam, the irrepressible leader of Lighthouse Church in Manchester. I was so encouraged that his whole talk was based on – guess what? – Isaiah 60 and so much of it seemed immensely relevant to where we were at with The Message.
During the day I walked in the hills, talking to the Lord, then came back to my hotel room and knelt down by my bed to read the Bible. I was planning to read from the book of Romans as this was where I had been studying, but as I placed my Bible on the bed it fell open to – guess where? – Isaiah 60! In the following few hours I had what can only be described as an extraordinary time with the Lord in his Word. It was as if the past 26 years of The Message was unfolding before me…
‘Arise, shine, for your light has come…’ as John Bunjo had already said.
‘The righteousness of your cause will shine like the noonday sun…’ – This was one of our touchstone scriptures since the beginning of The Message.
‘The least will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation…’ – Our heartbeat as a movement from the very beginning.
‘They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands for the display of my splendour…’ – again, right at the start of The Message, God spoke to me through Isaiah 43 in particular promising that the wild animals (a good description for some of the young people we were working with) would come to honour him.
‘Those I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise…’ – it was all brilliantly encouraging stuff.
As I prayed these words back to the Lord, I was particularly drawn to Isaiah 60 verse 4 – ‘Lift your eyes and look about you, all assemble…’
I felt like the Lord was saying it was time to ‘go big again’ – in other words, to book some big venues, put the lamp on a stand and preach the gospel loud and clear. Of course it’s not like that’s anything new for us. The Message has always been well known for bold, ‘big stage’ evangelism, right back to the days of The World Wide Message Tribe and even before that. But I wonder if it’s fair to say that for the last few years we’d been concentrating our attention mostly on grassroots work, reaching the hardest to reach young people with Eden and our incarnational work with prisoners and ex-offenders.
I clearly felt God saying it was time to shift the balance back, and it was on the back of this that the vision for the Higher Tour was developed. We plan to travel the length and breadth of the country, praying hard and preaching the good news, believing for a culture-changing number of new disciples – you can read all about it in Chapter 7. The other thing I sensed the Lord saying during this time away was that as much as I would love to, I wasn’t to be the main preacher at any of these large events. The best thing I could do was to train and mentor a bunch of multiplying, younger evangelists – hence the Advance evangelists network.
This is the second book I’ve written on Isaiah. The first one which also included many ‘only God’ testimonies was called Here I Am, Send Me. As I prepared the material for this book, it hit me afresh that the only hope we have of serving the Lord and saying ‘here I am, send me’ is because he took the initiative in the first place and invited us to change the world for good on his behalf. Hence the title of this new book, Here I Am, Seek Me.
I love Isaiah 58, particularly as the Lord promises that if we will get off our own agenda and be concerned with the things that are on his heart – the least, last and lost – then ‘our light really will break forth’ and our ‘healing will quickly come’ (v.8). The Lord himself will say ‘Here I am’ when that happens in and through ordinary people like us, and the world won’t know what hit it.
In the time it took me to teach through Isaiah week-by-week so much happened in the life of The Message. God has been so good. We began working in Scotland, Wales and the Midlands – and South Africa! We got four new Eden buses on the road. We launched Edens in Latchford, Parkhead, Partington, Shoreditch, Southwick, Tremorfa, Walsall, Weoley Castle and Wyrley Birch – not to mention Salt River, Pelican Park and Nyanga in South Africa. We trained and commissioned two new bands BrightLine and Vital Signs, both of whom have already won loads of souls for Jesus. Four years ago we hadn’t even thought about The Message Enterprise Centre. And we certainly hadn’t dreamt we’d be doing The Higher Tour.
I hope this book encourages you to seek the Lord for the things that are on his heart, and to expect greater things as you go in his name.
As a special thank you, we’re giving away a free copy of the book for everyone who signs up to be a new £25 a month supporter of The Message. To find out more about setting up a regular gift go to: message.org.uk/donate.
Or it’s available for £6.99 (RRP £7.99) from our online shop.