(Our family recently spent time in Scotland with a team focused on reviving local churches and planting the gospel. This article is an attempt to briefly unpack that experience.)
She radiated an intensity and passion that was simultaneously comforting and also unsettling.
A native of Scotland, Carla serves diligently in a local church and prays fervently for her nation, persevering in a secular and at times, cold country. During one of our worship sessions, she extended her hands toward a group of women on our missions team and prophesied,
“May God bless you as you return to America and may he give you the warrior spirit and bold courage of the people of Scotland”.
The warrior spirit.
I rarely hear this phrase in America but the intensity of her words, her wrinkled smile, gray hair, and blazing eyes piqued my interest. That night at our revival services she picked up a flag of Scotland and began dancing in the field behind us sending up prayers for revival.
What was it that possessed this woman?
It was a spiritual intensity able to withstand the overcast skies and cold rain of northern Scotland. It was a persevering spirit willing to believe by faith that God would break through the secular and hardened people that lived in Thurso, the northernmost city on the mainland.
God would establish his kingdom.
I left that country with many vivid memories but it was the zeal of Carla, the steadfastness of Rob, the courage of Stuart, the prayers of Martin, and many more like them that left the deepest impression.
The Culture of Scotland
Embedded into the social fabric, history informs the cultural psyche of a place. Without history and the people that make it, there wouldn’t be culture.
The people of Scotland are often described as a warrior people and their history is both fascinating and complex.
From tribal Celts and face-painted Picts, to Roman conquerers and Viking warriors riding the stormy seas from Norway and Denmark, the Norse heritage of this people is thick. It is a history of fallen monarchs, powerful warrior-royals, noble clansmen, great explorers, and a history of castles, kings, and war.
The “Greatest of the Scots” is none other than William Wallace, the brave warrior that fought back the English occupation and began the Scottish Wars for Independence.
If you have seen the blockbuster movie Braveheart, you know his story.
Scotland is a place of bravery and courage personified in Macbeth, Mary Queen of Scots, and John Knox, the great Scottish reformer who famously proclaimed,
“Give me Scotland or I die”.
The land reverberates with passion, courage, ruggedness, and what Carla described as “a warrior spirit”. It extends from the cold North Sea to the island coastlines, the Highland regions, and all the great cities in between.
This “warrior spirit” has historically been used by the enemy to bring conflict among warring clans, fighting, and internal division.
But when channeled for good, it can bring incredible renewal. We see this transformation in the life of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. The zealous Pharisee became even more zealous for Jesus.
This transformation was on display in the lives of many Scottish believers.
H. Richard Niebuhr, the great Christian theologian believed that Christianity’s relationship to a culture goes through a series of distinct stages. I will quickly summarize his scheme.
The first stage is the “converted church”, a time when the church and culture are at odds with one another.
In this stage, the church is radically different from the culture and emphasizes that distinction with high standards for baptism and high accountability within the community. It presents an alternative community and undertakes aggressive evangelism.
The second stage is the “allied church”, a time when the church enjoys cultural influence.
This is often the result of government leaders, artists, and other cultural influencers becoming people of faith. However, this stage typically causes the church to lower its standards and accommodate the culture. Because the church is no longer a spiritually dynamic force, the culture drifts from its Christian roots.
The third stage is the “renewed church”, a time when the church renews itself and reengages the culture.
This renewal according to Niebuhr requires an initial withdrawal to help the church reclaim its distinctiveness in society. This provides an opportunity for the church to offer itself as genuine salt and light in a dark world. It is here that evangelism must come back to the forefront.
This third stage is where we find ourselves in the West and requires what Carla calls a “warrior spirit”. It might also be called “spiritual intensity”, “persevering love”, or “Holy Spirit power”.
Whatever you call it, it’s required for renewal.
Warriors for Jesus
The “warrior spirit” was on display this past week in Scotland, personified by the men and women that met us for this great adventure.
It was the spirit of Martin (picture on right), a man in his 70’s (?) who lives four hours from Thurso in the community of Perth. He made it a priority to join us last week and his spiritual vitality is unmatched.
Martin shared with me one afternoon that he swam in the frigid North Sea (50 degrees) earlier that morning.
“It was cold brother”, he said. “But I beat my body to make it surrender to Jesus. Haha! Glory! Hallelujah!”
He’s quite a character.
We spotted him long boarding up and down the streets one afternoon. He has a vitality and energy about him that he channels toward prayer. I joined him one afternoon on a long walk around a local soccer field. He was relentless.
The “warrior spirit” looks a lot like Stuart (picture on left), a local pastor in eastern Scotland. Stuart desires more than anything else to see his country won to Christ and his boldness, courageous evangelism, and thick Scottish accent were infectious.
“Be bold!” he would declare, “and when people push you aside, remind them of Jesus”!
These people and their “warrior spirit” together with the fifty or so team member we brought to Scotland created an environment for the gospel to take root. Thirty or forty people made professions of faith that week, and yet it is a young man named Calvin who keeps me awake at night.
A Final Story…
Calvin was born and raised in Scotland.
He’s 13-years old, comes from a broken home and he’s been labeled a lot of things. He’s “a problem” according to his grandpa. He “has ADHD and can’t focus” according to his mom. He’s “a troublemaker” according to his friends. I asked Calvin what he enjoyed doing and without skipping a beat he said, “Probably looking at pornography.”
By God’s grace, Calvin gave his life to Jesus on Thursday night. On Friday we spent a few hours discipling him (not nearly enough time) and on Saturday he was baptized in the frigid North Sea. That evening our team departed Thurso, Scotland and began the long journey home.
What will happen to Calvin?
In Matthew 24:13 Jesus tells us,
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Will Calvin stand firm to the end? How will he keep the love of Jesus from growing cold? To use the parable of the sower, will the seed of the Gospel remain? Will his faith be choked out by the thorns of the world, the increase in wickedness? Who will help cultivate his new faith?
I think I know what Calvin needs.
He needs a group of believers with “white-hot faith”, prayer warriors and disciple makers who will help him foster the seeds of faith that were planted. He needs people that won’t give up on him and will help him persevere.
Will he find that kind of community in Thurso?
I’m not sure. There are plenty of churches in the city. Most were built hundreds of years earlier and they feel as cold as the stone used to construct them.
Calvin doesn’t simply need to find a church. He needs to find a people with a “warrior spirit”.
If our team had stayed longer, we could have been that kind of people for Calvin. We could have planted that kind of church.
Before our trip, one of our team members had a vision of sticks in a blazing fire and an image of renewal. At the end of the vision she heard the words, “What does your fire look like? Is it a blaze or a flicker”.
It’s a good question for self-reflection.
John Wesley once said the same, “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”
We need more women and men with a “warrior spirit”. I’m embracing the call in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Scotland.
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What a fascinating read. I really liked when Martin described beating his body for Jesus (who we all know was very into showing faith through displays of violence and gore - stigmata, anyone?) I also liked that Calvin was shown how to forgive God for placing him in a broken home, with a grandfather who struggles to embody Jesus’s love for his grandson, and with a neurological disability, and how (as Martin proved) all one needs is a good beating off in the North Sea. Thank you for visiting Scotland, if the churches are cold, sometimes there’s a small electric heater which can be put on for you. There’s also candles. May you receive the treatment in the next life that you embody in this one.