Meaning behind Norfolk churches 'stick binding'
Pastor Phil Thorne explains the background and meaning behind the symbolic binding together of sticks from two dozen Norfolk churches on January 6.
We have so appreciated the continued support of pastors and churches as we enter the fourth year of monthly Prayer for Revival events. We met together, Norwich, Fakenham and Carleton Rode on Monday 6th January at NFLC, Mason Road, Norwich to action a prophetic word taken from Ezekiel 37 and having been previously discussed with a number of pastors early in December.
Ezekiel’s vision and prophecy applies uniquely to Israel, but there are certain prophetic principles we drew from it that we can apply to us across Norwich and Norfolk today.
We Shape our Future with our Words
Words matter. They are full of power. Our words shape our world. If we can change our words, we can change our world. And if we can decide to think Kingdom, then out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak Kingdom. Are our words shaping our future? Yes, in a good way or a bad way. But can our speech about one another take us in a direction of mutual honour and respect as essential parts of the Body of Christ? Yes if we make that our aim.
What we were doing prophetically on January 6th in part was deciding to send our words out in the direction we want the whole church in Norwich and Norfolk to go, and as pastors and leaders, we recognise it begins with us. God gave Ezekiel a glimpse of what He was going to do. I believe God has given us a glimpse of what He is going to do in this city and region. But like Ezekiel, we have to speak life into it, to prophesy it, to talk it up and shape this future that God has for us with our words. Ezek 37:7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them.’
Let’s watch what God will do as we speak it out, as we prophesy. It’s as if God is saying, “It’s your move!” Nothing gets accomplished by just sitting back and watching, but by speaking life into it, shaping our future with our words. Ezekiel shaped the future with God’s word and so we must do so too - shape our future with our words.
We Connect With God’s Plan
There’s a new sound. The church is rising from its knees. The church is being re-formed and re-invigorated, re-aligned, re- commissioned and re-empowered. Why? Because God’s plan is that, Isaiah11:9 the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’
This season is a great opportunity for us all to re-connect verbally, relationally and vocally with God’s plan. There’s nothing more life-producing than being connected with the source of abundant life and making room for that life and love to flow out and reach people. And there’s nothing more fulfilling than the corporate church shaping its future with its words – so connected with God’s plan that the outflow brings healing to the nations.
God’s plan is us as ‘tribes’ rising up together, with all our God-given distinctives and assignments, to become a great territory-taking army, but we need the breath of God—the Holy Spirit in us to be that great army. Ezekiel 37:10The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.’
I believe this is the era to collectively shape our future with our words and connect with God’s plan.
We Take Territory Together
Ezekiel 37:15-17 God’s Message came to me: “You, son of man: Take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, with his Israelite companions.’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph—Ephraim’s stick, together with all his Israelite companions.’ Then tie the two sticks together so that you’re holding one stick. 18-19 “When your people ask you, ‘Are you going to tell us what you’re doing?’ tell them, ‘God, the Master, says, Watch me! I’ll take the Joseph stick that is in Ephraim’s hand, with the tribes of Israel connected with him, and lay the Judah stick on it. I’ll make them into one stick. I’m holding one stick.’
The joining of these two sticks symbolises the eventual reunion of the Northern Israel and the Southern Judah under one king, ultimately bringing healing to the separation that had begun in the days of Rehoboam who succeeded Solomon. The first phase of this reunion was fulfilled when Israel came into Canaan as one people; and the final phase of it, their allegiance to ‘one King,' is still future.
Ezekiel 37:21 “Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; 22 and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. 23 Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God.’ Politically speaking, they never had a king from that day to this, and won’t until Jesus the King of Kings rules over them.
Prophetically, for us, to experience fully what it is to live corporately under the reign of King Jesus and to see His Kingdom come more fully, we need to co-operate together under His command as an army. It speaks of a fresh commitment to the King, contending for the cause and connected for influence. Unity is vital in any army. Jesus prayed specifically for us His longest recorded prayer in the Bible in John 17:20-23.
What territory are we to take? Spiritually, the territory of the home and household; the territory of the neighbourhood; the territory of the workplace; the territory of institutions; the territory of education; the territory of the city and the region. We can choose to speak into and connect to see established a fresh sense of community across a region. We can choose to acknowledge the priority of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we might be one. Unity is key to taking territory together - unity in the church, unity across the churches. It takes a united us, connected to an awesome God, to turn our world upside down. Interestingly, Psalm 133 unity commands God’s blessing—life! ‘Life’ according to Strongs, means “Alive, sustenance, appetite, revival, renewal and community.”
We can together choose to shape our future with our words, connect with God’s plans to take the territory together. Ezekiel’s ‘mighty army’ speaks of a territory-taking people of God under their Commander-in-chief. It could be Biblically pictured this way: all the tribes with all their various strengths, giftings and particular callings operating together as an ‘army’ fulfilling all God wants to do.
January 6th Response
I think we all agree there has been much talk and activity over recent decades in bringing us to where we are today. There is so much to be grateful for when we consider all the parachurch work that has been initiated including the more recent nationally-acclaimed Foodbank that has brought together Christians from many denominations serving together.
We are thankful for Transforming Norwich, Unite, Network Norwich and Celebrate Norwich and the efforts of pastors and leaders to keep lines of communication open and work together where we can. Prayer for Revival is part of Transforming Norwich and Unite and remains committed to those endeavours.
The call is for church leaders in this new era to step up beyond a theologically understood ‘unity of the Spirit’ into a theologically maintained ‘unity of the Spirit,’ the kind that fulfils Psalm 133’s commanded blessing – life forevermore. The journey we, as the church in Norwich and the region, have been on has over the last twenty years been very beneficial, but with so much talk of unity and togetherness across the nation, we have a great opportunity to see even greater things across this whole area. We could, through the momentum of this prophetic action, see established a spiritual undergirding framework for those greater things.
24 Sticks were bound together as pastors stood shoulder to shoulder in agreement with the declaration of:
• Kingdom thinking and speaking: while we are to involve ourselves in cooperating with Jesus in building healthy church impacting communities, we are also called to seek and bring in the Kingdom, which establishes the rule, the reign and works of King Jesus across the city and region (and beyond). It is about His Kingdom and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
• Choosing to honour one another: “Your success is our honour” is a kingdom value that emphasises the words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” It is an “in honour preferring one another.”
• Speaking well of one another: ‘bigging’ one another up, encouraging one another (Lit. putting courage in), refusing to entertain gossip or backbiting.
• Praying for each other: praying for one another’s success, for salvation and growth and blessing in every church across the city and region.
• Standing together as brothers and sisters: rejoicing in the successes of each other, helping one another through the challenges and disappointments of ministry, recognising we are all working to the same end under the same Commander-in-Chief.
Why did we do a ‘bind sticks together’ prophetic action? There is something dynamic and memorable about a prophetic action. We see examples in both Testaments of the Bible. For us, it serves as a point of reference, a memorable signpost of the agreement we stand together in. It is also something that we can explain to people who ask what it is. In Ezekiel 37:18-19.
Churches, whose pastors added sticks on 6th January, were: City Church Wymondham; Call to Prayer, Norwich; City Church Norwich; Wroxham Rd Methodist; Norwich, Sprowston CofE Parish Norwich; Christ Embassy, Norwich; Liberty Church Frettenham; Liberty Church Bungay; NFLC, Norwich; Victory Villages Church, Nth Elmham; Radical Church, Norwich; Rivers of Life, Norwich; Burn, Norwich; Cornerstone Church, Norwich; The Way, Hunstanton; NCBC, Norwich; Firerunners, Norwich; St Stephens CofE; Norwich, Mulbarton CofE; Tas Valley Team CofE; Bowthorpe Church, Norwich; Gateway Vineyard, Nowich; Fakenham Baptist Community Church; Salvation Army Norwich Citadel.
There is already a momentum with church leaders asking to borrow and add to the 24 bound sticks. Adding a stick simply needs to be done at a public meeting with a prayer of blessing and a declaration of intent as in the five points above. The stick should be added to the outside and bound with new rope, a digital photo taken so that it could be reported on for Network Norfolk along with a quote from the pastor.
At the Prayer for Revival meeting in November, having talked about this prophetic word briefly and the sense in which it could apply to us all across the city and region, Hilda Gordon sent through a prophetic word given in 1954. David Obbold, who wrote ‘Ploughboy to Pastor,’ said, “Before continuing with the main purpose of recording the events and experiences which changed me from a plough boy to a pastor, I would like to record something else I believe the Lord showed me when, in 1954, I was earnestly seeking his enabling power and grace to obey the Saviour’s command to “follow me”.
When studying and praying over Ezekiel 37, and seeking its fulfilment in my own soul, I was given a strong persuasion that not only would the Lord send revival to me, but that, if I lived to the average age of my forebears – about 82 years – I would also see revival on a worldwide scale such as has never been witnessed before.
It came to me in this way; that as bone came to bone, so there would be a revival of interest in the doctrines of grace, which are surely the framework of the true church, but this would not bring revival itself. Also, as the sinews and flesh came upon them, so there would follow a revival of true biblical order and experimental spiritual life, but neither would these things bring revival. Following this there would be a mighty movement of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, and the church would be raised from its lifeless state to that of an exceeding great army.
When this persuasion came to me there was presented to my mind the figure of twenty year periods; twenty years for the bones to come together; twenty years during which Bible-base churches of born-again believers would be established on a worldwide scale; and some time during the next twenty years (i.e. from 1994 onwards) a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I can give no reason for these twenty year periods other than to repeat that they were presented to my mind at that time” (Chapter 7 – Vision? or Dream?).
Vision or dream? Well both. It has been a dream of numerous pastors and intercessors over the years to see tangible unity across the churches. It’s been the subject of much prayer. It’s been the focus of Transforming Norwich, Unite and Call to Prayer. It’s also a vision. We look for the day when the Kingdom of God comes more fully, where the unity of the Spirit truly commands life, where the prayer of true agreement is the norm and as a result, where a spiritual awakening sweeps countless people into God’s Kingdom. Could 2014 be that significant year?
Some quotes from the pastors:
Daniel Holland, pastor of The Way Christian Fellowship, Hunstanton, said, “There was a wonderful sense of the love of God and hearts drawn together.”
Craig Deal, leader of Gateway Vineyard, Norwich, said, “We are told that Jesus is returning for His Bride not brides, in His eyes there is one Church, all different, all doing different things and all sent to reach different people. The Church isn't in competition with each other, we are all part of one church under Jesus. On Monday night the churches of Norwich and Norfolk made a commitment to honour and bless one another. All different, all with their own vision but together we all make up the Church that Jesus calls His Bride."
Rev Nigel Fox, pastor of Wroxham Road Methodist, said, “With the leaders of over 24 churches (from Norwich and the surrounding area) coming together in this way, it had to be a significant evening. It certainly was. The simple yet expressive action of binding together of sticks for each church said so much. Prayers were offered to bless churches represented, as well as churches not represented, that they may be a blessing in all our communities. That has to be a good thing.”
Tony & Jane Field, leaders of Victory Villages Church, North Elmham, believed God was saying, “You see many sticks but I see only one.”
Mark Fairweather-Tall, pastor of Norwich Central Baptist Church, said, "There is blessing in the diversity of our churches in the city, yet this is greatly enriched when we recognise our unity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. The act of binding together sticks representing different churches is a visual statement of intent - that many across the region desire our unity to be displayed ever more strongly in the year ahead."
Jill Gower, leader of Call to Prayer, said, "It was so encouraging to see so many leaders coming together on Monday night, for several it was the first time they had come to Prayer for Revival, but they came because they had a genuine desire to stand together for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. I had felt this is going to be a year of reconciliation and restoration and Monday night seemed to confirm that, and I believe we all came away with a great sense of hope and anticipation of all that God is going to do in 2014."
Rev'd Canon Simon Stokes, Vicar of Sprowston with Beeston St. Andrew, said, “I think Monday evening was a great success. Coming together for the symbolic binding together of the sticks, is a timely reminder for us all, that it is the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit that binds us together. It is not about who we are or what we are, but that we, as the churches in Norfolk, represent the Body of Christ. We are the Body of Christ, by one Spirit we are baptised into the one Body. This Monday we have taken a huge step forward in standing together in the power of God's Spirit. I look forward to being privileged to seek God’s blessing on all of the fellowships.”
Rev Mark Elvin, pastor of Bowthorpe Church, said, “In 2010 I read a book by Ed Silvoso called `That none should perish.' In the book Ed Silvoso describes a city in Argentina that had a completely divided Church, 68 of the 70 churches were a result of church splits. But the Pastors started to meet regularly for prayer. When they met, God met with them and began to work in their lives and a deep bond of love soon developed. There was a real sense of needing each other and no-one wanting to do it alone. They shared the Lord's Supper and even helped one another financially. But more than giving money, they had given themselves to each other. The group quickly expanded and soon more than half the city's pastors had agreed to reach the entire city for Christ. Soon enough revival broke out and thousands gave their lives to Christ and joined the Church. Just as Ed Silvoso saw a few Church leaders start the ball rolling, I saw this evening that by joining our sticks together, we have made a statement in the public realm and also in the spiritual realm. We have made a prophetic act and declared a prophetic word. I do believe the bond of sticks, signifying our unity in Christ, will become a forest. I know the Lord brought me to Norwich and has placed on my heart a great desire to see many lost people saved. If that is to become a reality, we, the church leaders and the churches we lead cannot afford to maintain any past hurts and suspicions. Disunity is not an option. Love keeps no record of wrongs. I do believe we will see a city that defies the headlines. I do believe that Norwich will be blessed because the Church is united. A city united in Christ. A city united by the love of Christ. This is the time of God's favour. May we stand shoulder to shoulder in unity, in love and for the sake of Norwich.”
Pastor Trevor Pimlott of Norwich family Life Church, said, “It was a great night. I believe history was made in our city with so many of our beloved pastors and leaders in our city and county as we stood together to demonstrate with the sticks our pledge to honour, love and support each other. I am so blessed to be port of it.”
Click here to read a shortened news report version of this story.
For more details of adding a stick, please contact City Church office (01603) 632901, firstname.lastname@example.org.