Journey of a Church Planter: Emma Whittall in Stockholm

I’m delighted to welcome Emma Whittall to the blog today. Emma and her family planted a church in Stockholm 3.5 years ago, no small thing I’m sure you’d agree. A while back I asked if she would tell her story of church planting and what the journey towards it was like, she generously agreed. 

It’s valuable to hear what it’s like for an individual to discover life is probably about to take a massive turn in an unexpected direction. 

We can tend to assume that our lives will progress much the same as they always have, but sometimes God moves in on us and does one of His special ‘and then God said…’ moments which He seems to enjoy. Listening to such a story may open a door in our thinking and cause us to ask: ‘What if God said something similar to me?’

  I was seven months pregnant with our second child when my husband first told me that he felt God was saying we should church plant in Sweden. My first reaction wasn’t entirely holy – whaaat? Really? I have to think about this now? But after I got over the initial shock, I began to realise that this was a very real proposition for our soon-to-be-increasing-family and I began to sense God’s leading too. Not all the time though! Some days it seemed like a ridiculous idea – me? Start a church? In Sweden? Come on, you can’t be serious. I don’t do that sort of thing! And other days, I felt a bit irritated by it all. I wanted to think about our baby, choose a name, plan, feather my nest. This felt like a bit of an inconvenience. But I had to let those thoughts go and let God take care of some of those things. It was as though there was only space in my head for one thing at a time. 


We know that it had to be a decision that we made together, just one of us being certain wasn’t enough. We both had to be settled and sure. So we began to pray, to talk to a few trusted friends who were wiser than us, to keep an ear tuned to God and keep an open heart. I found that God was faithful. 


He led me in ways that were personal to me. I’ve found that in major events in my life, whether full of joy or full of sadness, He uses His word to guide me, often it can be just one or two short verses that settle my heart about a matter. That was how He comforted me when my dad died suddenly. That was how He led me when I was thinking about marriage. And there have been other times in between. This time was no different. All of a sudden, out of the blue (although I suspect God may have had a hand in it) up popped ‘Be still and know that I am God’, (Psalm 46:10) in my quiet time. That was the verse God used to settle my heart when I moved to Shrewsbury, so instantly I was taken back to that time, remembering God’s faithfulness and provision for me in that move. So why not this time too? Another quiet time, another verse – ‘Here I am. Send me’ (Isaiah 6:8). This immediately reminded me of a prayer and desire that I laid before God in my 20’s. ‘God, I want to be one you can send, I want to be willing to go.’ I hadn’t thought about it for years, and here it was, right in front of me again. Was that still true? It’s easy to say yes when it’s theoretical, but this was a very real possibility. Was I really willing to go? Would I rest on God, be still in Him and know that He is God in the midst of all the uncertainness and newness? But as I meditated and chewed on these verses, my heart grew less anxious and more settled.


We saw God use scripture, prophecy, input from friends, and even Facebook to lead us. My husband’s Facebook page randomly opened in Swedish just after we’d had a conversation about moving – it’s never done it before or since. Over the summer, the evidence for moving began to stack up. It felt like driving though a town, and every time we got to a set of traffic lights, they turned green. Our question changed from, ‘should we go?’ to, ‘why would we not go?’ and that was a question that we didn’t have a reasonable answer for. Our daughter was born. We took a quick trip to Sweden. Our hearts and minds were made up – which isn’t to say it didn’t feel scary and huge, and at times, still a bit ridiculous (us – really?!). But underneath it all, we knew we could trust God, if He was telling us to go, then Sweden was the best place for us to be.


So now it was time to tell people. We were settled, our closest friends were settled, now we had to put our money where our mouths were and tell our family, our friends, our church. Now it started getting real. One of the conversations that I was nervous about was with my mum. Not because she wouldn’t understand, I knew she’d be whole-heartedly for us, but because my dad had died suddenly a few years before and the years in-between had been full of challenges and difficult for her. The last thing I wanted was to add to that, so the idea of leaving mum felt like a high cost for me. But God had been leading her too. She left Oxford around the same time that we moved to Sweden, and went to Bethel in California for a year, then came out to join us church planting in Stockholm. Now we share a house and are church planting together. I highly recommend church planting with your mum – we have our own personal cheerleader when things are tough, a babysitter on call 24/7 and a faithful pray-er. She is everyone’s granny and our little church is richer for it.


We’ve been in Sweden 3.5 years now and have seen God continue to bless us, to stretch us in many different areas, to provide for us and our children, to grow his church in our city. It’s a roller coaster adventure, but through it all, ‘Be still and know that I am God,’ is never far from my heart.


How about you, what do you recognise in Emma’s journey? Do you have particular verses which have helped clarify a decision and settle your heart?


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What Of Written Prayers?

Is spontaneous prayer the highest and best method of prayer?

A non-liturgical Christian resists written prayer (but not songs) and we don’t tend to easily take advantage of other traditions in the church. As I have discovered the benefit of some of those traditions it’s become apparent how unnecessary such resistance can be. I think I, along with others, had suspected praying set prayers or working your way through a prayer book simply meant you weren’t praying your own ‘real’ prayers. What a pity. I have no problem singing songs which have been worked on and prayed over as the songwriter has poured themselves out onto paper, so why should I balk at praying the prayers of those who have done the same as the songwriter? 

I know when I am called upon to sing my own songs, expressing my own heart, then however full my heart, I can find I don’t have the skill necessary to form a beautiful song, not often anyway, when Holy Spirit comes on me in a powerful way then yes I can, but He isn’t a tap to be turned on, He comes and does special things when He chooses. I see the value of written songs, they facilitate worship, they enable me to pour out my full and grateful heart to the one I adore. 

Now I have discovered the beauty and value of prayers written by lovers of God from days long past. 

I find that on days when I have no time to dwell long, I can use these prayers and soon I am in the flow of a river formed oh so many years ago. A river often ignored, yet still in full flow. A river which can sweep me into a sense of His presence when, left to my own devices, I might be struggling to find the words to express the as yet unformed thoughts of my inner being. 

Do I use these prayer every day? well, no, but on a day when time is short and thinking is abbreviated, then they are a rich blessing for me. 

I’m thankful God knows my heart and listens to my half-formed thoughts and sometimes half-baked ideas, but I am also grateful that someone took the time to put on paper what I might pray if I was able to think in depth that day. What a mercy it is, not to find myself floundering or inadequate in my words, but slowly to whisper my way through the prayers of a sister or brother who is some place else today, and who, one day I will thank for their work, much as I would thank a worship leader when they have helped me express my heart in song. 

If you’d like to explore this aspect of prayer, then Divine Hours by Phylis Tickle is a great tool to use. The link is to a Church website which has the prayers for particular times of the day set out all ready for you. Perhaps you might like to see if you find it helpful.

In all your ways, KNOW Him: Up close and personal.

I listened to a talk by Bill Johnson the other day, he speaks in such a way as to bring fresh vibrancy to familiar passages, after all who doesn’t know and love the verses which say this:

Trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

Even though these may be some of our old familiar favourites, we might not know just how special they could be if we heard them in a way other than we are used to.

‘Acknowledge’ can seem to imply a relational distance, like speaking to a person you’re only vaguely acquainted with, or at least not close to, a bank manager or stern headmaster, for example. Bill said it isn’t to be read like that, instead, it should be read like this:

In all your ways KNOW Him’, now that puts a different spin on it doesn’t it.
It’s more like we should understand it as sitting across a small table from The Lord, looking to Him in each situation, up close, intimate and personal. Not a distant nod, politely acknowledging His presence, hoping for His help, but companionship, intimacy, a knowing closeness, rather like the confident trust between a husband and wife.

Know. Only one word, yet to know someone rather than simply acknowledge them makes a world of difference in a relationship.

Give it some thought:

Imagine yourself in a place where you and He are sat alone at a small round table, you’re leaning in, you have something on your mind and you’ve told Him about it. He has heard you, you know He has. His eyes are surrounded by crinkled skin, made so by love and laughter, He is smiling.
Now know with a deep and solid trust that He will make it clear what you are to do. Meanwhile carry on confident that you know Him, He is good, and He will draw you in the right way.

Doesn’t that change the way the verse might be understood and experienced?

The talk is called ‘Giving Honor’.
(It’s a conference and Bill Johnson comes on after other speakers.) 

If you enjoy this talk, there are many more by Bill Johnson on YouTube, and there is also a Bethel app, ibetheltv, which has worship services as well as talks. Enjoy!

Encountering Jesus

Daily through this week I’ve been reading a gospel snapshot of Jesus.
I like to do this sometimes as I find I notice particular aspects more clearly than if I plough on through chapter after chapter.

This time it was simple, Jesus is all about relationship.
He was always with someone, if he wasn’t walking somewhere with his friends, he was in a home healing a family member, if he wasn’t doing that, then he was teaching in a meeting place, or freeing the demonised.

It is stating the obvious, but encountering Jesus makes a difference.

Anyone of these people could have heard of him, and possibly had, but it’s not until they met him for themselves that their lives were impacted. This brief interaction made all the difference for some, less so for others.
Maybe Simon’s mother-in-law didn’t feel her whole life had been impacted, I’ve no doubt she was grateful for getting over the fever more quickly than was normal, but imagine those who had lived long years being tormented and distressed by demonic spirits. How free must they have felt after the intensity of gloom, accusation, compulsion, and the looming threat of death was lifted from them? How they must have loved him.

Just a day in the life of Jesus.

No one can spend time with Jesus and remain untouched. Even those who find they aren’t willing to go along with him are changed, sadly, probably not for the better, just ask Judas, Pilate, or the rich man who wouldn’t make the changes Jesus said were necessary for him to inherit eternal life.
Each of them was more firmly convinced their own way was right.

I want to make a difference to those I come across.

Last time I looked, I classed myself as a disciple, and I’m sure if asked, you would describe yourself in a similar way. We are called to be like Jesus, he was most definitely an influencer of those around him, we want that too, don’t we?
I think we have more to experience if we want to have the sort of impact we could be happy with.
This develops out of being with Jesus, spending time with him, hearing what he has planned for particular people or situations and then going and doing what he has said in the power of the Spirit as we carry his presence with us.

I know when I soak in his presence I hear him tell me things which I would miss if I was in a rush. It’s not about not being busy, it’s about using the time I have in ways which bear the most fruit, knowing it will make a real difference. It’s not a religious tick box, but genuine interaction, I encounter Jesus and I am changed.

So, what was it I read this week? Here you are, perhaps you’d like to try some slow reading and see for yourself how it speaks to you.

Directly on leaving the meeting place, they came to Simon and Andrew’s house, accompanied by James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed, burning up with fever. They told Jesus. He went to her, took her hand, and raised her up. No sooner had the fever left than she was up fixing dinner for them.

That evening, after the sun was down, they brought sick and evil-afflicted people to him, the whole city lined up at his door! He cured their sick bodies and tormented spirits. Because the demons knew his true identity, he didn’t let them say a word.

While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. Simon and those with him went looking for him. They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.”

Jesus said, “Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come.” He went to their meeting places all through Galilee, preaching and throwing out the demons.

Mark 1:29-39 The Message

Believing Believers? Take a Risk…

Recently I discovered this note to myself from some years back. I recall the moment when I felt this challenge to become more of a believer and less of a sceptic.

I felt yesterday as I listened to talks by Ruth and Greg Haslam (Westminster Chapel, London) that I had a new tenderness of heart and was being encouraged to trust and believe what other people say they have seen and experienced, like Mary when she went to the disciples and said that she had seen Jesus, I would have been among those that didn’t believe her, at least you would expect so given my usual response to things. I know I’m not being asked to be gullible but I do need to be accepting of God and his various ways of working.’

It’s odd isn’t it, to speak of being challenged to be a believer when that’s exactly how I would have described myself for the last thirty-five years. But God sees our hearts and knows we have a long way to go before we believe Him in the way He deserves.

We need to take meaningful strides for this to come about, we can’t afford to be passive, hoping we will soak up some sort of ability to trust just by being in church meetings or hanging around other Christians.
We need to be willing to engage purposefully if we are to make progress and become those people we wish we were.

We do want to be trusting, don’t we?

What’s so attractive about being sceptical?

I don’t mean to say we should be gullible, that doesn’t honour God either, but to be biased toward unbelief isn’t our best trait.

We will find deepening trust if we will only open these hearts of ours and talk to our friends, letting them know we aren’t quite such hot stuff in the believing department as perhaps we seem.

Fear of being dismissed, or disapproved of by those around us, is a killer hurdle on our way towards trust, yet how can we grow if we won’t be open and real with those we say we are friends with? Those friends who love us and love Jesus, those who want the same sort of growth for themselves.. crazy isn’t it?

We also need to take our reserved little hearts and sceptical attitudes to Him who loves us and ask Him to do what only He can.
He is the only one who can genuinely transform our thinking for the better. It is a supernatural event to meet with Him and to have Him show us something more true than we had previously thought of Him. We can’t do this on our own, but we can begin the response to Him and start to make the progress we long for.
Thankfully, He doesn’t wait until I am how I should be, or you. He loves us as we are in the here and now.
He listens to the prayers we whisper in the night, He answers the half developed thoughts which have no right to be called real prayer, and shows up with them fully realised, fleshed out, kindly imagined in full for us.

What a Father He is.

When we see this happening our response changes, becoming something more tender than it has been before.
Even our worship will change, after all, worship is our response to a revelation of who He is, when He shows us more of Himself and His ways, we can’t stay the same, we find our hearts called up higher, we discover a need to express our love, trust, and worship, in new ways. We find a generosity of spirit towards others’ stories of the Spirit at work, a willingness, and a growing hunger, to experience more of a life in the Spirit for ourselves.
Jesus said:
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

We can afford to take the risk to ask, and keep on asking, He has said He will answer our heart’s cry with more than we can imagine.
We may find we become believing believers. Then what might happen?

A Perfect Day

It was a perfect day. We left the house early for our longer than usual trip to church. We’ve wanted to visit this particular church for a long time. They say of themselves that they are a community shaped by the presence of God, you can see why we would be drawn.

We drove between fields still crisp white with frost and softened by mist. The hedges and furrowed fields brought deep breaths of relief, of homecoming, of sweet memories. Amazing what the sight of true beauty can accomplish in moments. It prepared me well for meeting with God.

Over the course of the day we heard both Julian and Katia Adams, if you’ve ever heard them you know they are amazingly gifted communicators, if you haven’t, then find out where they are speaking next and go hear them. Yes, they are that good.

As I listened to Katia I found I was reminded of certain aspects of what God has called me to. Due to recent changes and pressures I’d not been mindful of these and had let them slip to the back burner, how can it be so easy to do this?
Funnily enough, only a couple of days before, we had spent an evening with friends and as we chatted about hopes and dreams and the practicalities of seeing them come to fruition, I found myself describing other scenarios which have been planted deep in me and are yet to come about. Stirring the pot of all the gifts and prophecies given over many years is essential or we can find those words of direction or calling gather dust, and details become less clear.

During the break between the two talks we went to the coast, we walked, and talked, and pondered, trying to imagine how events might look, finding what we knew already, that we won’t see clearly enough for a while yet, so we must wait.

Julian’s talk in the evening was a provocation to change the atmosphere of the areas where we have influence.
Katia’s had been about making sure we know who we are in Christ, what is true of us and how to work that out with each other. She mentioned accountability groups, not my favourite type of gathering, so my interest was piqued to see what fresh point of view she might bring. I wasn’t disappointed. She spoke of sin habits we would want to be rid of and how we could approach this. The usual accountability group tends to be sin focused, but Katia’s heart was more for us to spend time together calling out the gold and encouraging each other toward our destiny in Christ.

I knew she was truth telling. I have held this sort of group and seen the difference it can make to individuals and groups of people, drawing them into rich friendships, and even to dramatic life change, which may not have been embarked upon if they hadn’t heard what others saw in them.

If we had spent time focussing on faults we might still be gathering around them, rather than endeavouring to see great God-adventures come about. Instead we spent time digging into what God had put in each other and what that could lead to.
(Well, short and sweet, without enough detail, but that’s kind of what we have done.)

Later, when Julian referred back to Katia’s point on accountability, he agreed with her, saying the lowest form of accountability is policing sin, that a much higher form of accountability is to draw out the gold, stirring each other to greatness in God.
These points are only tiny samples of what Katia and Julian brought to us, I wish I could tell you more, but I’d rather you discovered them for yourself.
They are each a gift to the church. They could easily stand alone in their gifting but together they are even more of a force for breakthrough in kingdom living.
I would love to see more people working in this way, honouring each other, making room for each other, being delighted at the other’s success. Beautiful.

We left to travel home tired but inspired, reminded of God-dreams which had gathered a little dust over the last month or two, and ready to see what the next step will be.
So we say, ‘More, Lord.’
Check out their website Frequentsee, and search for podcasts online, you won’t regret it.
Julian and Katia were speaking at Kings Church Horsham, the church website will tell you more about what the heart of Kings Church is, and of course, you’ll find talks, etc.

Turning Away From His Love

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the love that could be theirs”
Jonah 2:8

This little verse, hidden away in the Old Testament, was said by a desperate man, a man who had heard from God and yet angrily rejected what was said to him, because his priorities weren’t the same as God’s.
God wanted to express love and mercy to his enemies, and this man most definitely didn’t. You may recognise him as Jonah, a man in the most miserable of situations….


God being as kind as he is, had brought Jonah to a place where he just wanted to get back close with God, you could say he realised in running away from God he really wasn’t in the best place… Many of us recognise that feeling.

We are made for love, the best most genuine love we can ever know is that of God for us, yet if we insist on putting other things in his place we will, in effect, like Jonah, be turning away from his love for us and will find a deepening sense of isolation and loneliness.
This isn’t what is intended for us.

The hunger we all know for something more can only be satisfied by knowing the love of God for us, experiencing his presence, and walking in the plans He has for us.

Do you think this is something you can experience for yourself?….

…or do you assume this is just for superstar believers? those who are able to sense spiritual things more than you and me?

I want to say to you….It is available, and for all of us. This is the life intended for each one of you.

Listen to this, it was written by a young man who spent a lot of time alone, he could have been and probably was, very lonely and afraid at times, yet he learnt what it was to practice being aware of the presence of God. You will have heard it before, but listen to it with the writer’s feelings in mind..

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the dark valley of death,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord

When I say David learnt to practise being aware of the presence of God, I’m not talking about anything eccentric or whacky, Im talking about being mindful of the truth of God’s loving presence here with us…right here right now..
Knowing the presence of God with us isn’t weird or freaky, it’s what Jesus came for,
for us to have an abundant life now,
not a parched life waiting for a life after death,
but a life of intimacy with him now.

Are you aware of His face turned toward you, even now?
Are you aware that He goes before you and is beside you….always?
Are you living with an awareness that He is for you, not against you?
Are you aware He has been pursuing you all the days of your life, following you with love and mercy?
…Being present for you saying, ‘come, turn round, turn to see my face, I’m smiling at you and want us to walk together?’
Are you living the life intended for you?

I’m going to pray for us…

If you could put your hand on your heart…

Lord would you help us to be aware of the love you have for us.

That loving Fatherheart.. that decided our heart is a good place to dwell..

Lord would you help us be aware of your presence here with us now.

Lord we don’t want to be like those who by persisting in turning away from you miss out on the love you have for them.
We want to be those who know the love you feel for us.
Those who live the life you have intended for them.

Lord thank you for the amazing love you have for us.. We come before you now and pour out our thankful hearts of love to you…what can we do but love you when you have loved us so well.

Abram’s Vision and His Neighbours

Abram’s neighbours were no more likely to have believed him when he told them what God had said, than ours would believe us.
At least that’s how it seems to me.

Can you imagine their response? I don’t think people have only recently become sceptical, humanity has almost always been reluctant to believe on someone else’s say so.

Abram hears news from God which, once he has recovered from the shock and regained his composure, leaves him in no doubt that he will be a father, a father of so many he won’t be able to count them, not even if he is meticulously careful.
When he tells Sarah, she has nothing encouraging to say, and she too has trouble keeping awkward laughter quiet within.

She knew for sure nothing could be further from the truth. After all, when was the last time they’d crept close in the warm of the night?
The expression on Abram’s face was odd, not a familiar one for sure. Maybe he did think it was possible.
Perhaps she should entertain the idea too…no, it’s too ridiculous.
She laughed.

I often wonder about Abram and how he felt through all that time of waiting. He heard from God it is true, but he didn’t hold his own children for many years.

We can have a word from God and after a while fret and wonder why we haven’t heard more. Abram may well have only ever heard about his family those times we read of, yet he continued in faith.

This story’s provocation to me is to keep going on the strength of what He’s already said to me. I do wonder whether He thinks ‘I’ve told you already!’ when I’m yearning for a confirming word, yet again, just to keep me encouraged.
Thankfully, when we are in need of encouragement, God doesn’t turn away in irritation but draws us in, reminds us of His heart, equips us for the journey, and sees us through to its completion.
Not only is He faithful in this, but He delights in the process…what an amazing Father He is.

Genesis 12:1-21:7


I’ll leave you with this quote from Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust:

‘Based on the lived experience of God’s relentless faithfulness, a confidence blossoms that God is with us to continue and finish what He started.’


Not a Missionary…. well that was my plan!


This is the first post on the new blog of a dear friend of mine. She is someone to listen to and be inspired by so I’d love it you’d read what she has to say.

Originally posted on Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven:


So where to begin… I am not going to deny it feels a little pompous writing about myself and what I am doing. I decided to get over myself and realise that I am actually really blessed, I have many people in my life who I get to share life with and it’s because of you that I decided to write to share a bit more about what my plans are. To share and hopefully value you, the people who are part of my life. Hopefully give a bit of insight into the inner workings of my mind!!

I this summer went to Mozambique to go to Harvest School run by Iris Global. This summer really has changed my life, on both a very personal level and also in terms of how I plan to live out my life. I had experiences; seen people…

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Walking with the one we love

It is a strange thing to know He knows me, yes really knows me, including absolutely every single flaw, and, oh, there are so many, and yet He still wants me to draw near, to listen, and then to get on with it, whatever ‘it’ is that He has said.
I’m so grateful for this.
To be aware of myself and yet to know I am loved utterly and extremely by my Father God is a truth that makes its way into the depths of me and sets me free, gradually heals me, and provokes a desire to do whatever He wants.

After all, we do love to please the one we love, don’t we, and when that One is one who loves us too, we are done for. When we know that One was the initiator in our relationship, then we have no hope of resistance, we are truly undone.

When Jesus said ‘Those who love me obey me’, He was truth telling, He set a marker, it gives a genuine measure of the value we place on our relationship with Him.
Do we value Him enough to walk in step?
To change this or that way of life, so that if He was living our life He could do what we do and it not look out of place?

I know I am not able to imagine Jesus doing and saying all that I do and it not look rather odd at times, but I do want to see change and so for this to become something I can imagine more often.

Thankfully though, God isn’t waiting until I’m perfect, He has intervened, reconciling me to Himself, and now as my divine Dad, He gets me to do stuff alongside Him, and for some reason only known to His kind self, He is happy to share the joy of this with me and to receive some sort of delight from it too.

I wonder:

What does He want me to do with these things until I see them come into being?

How does He think I will get on now He’s planted these seedlings, watered them and watched them grow?

What does He think I will do? He has more faith in me than I do. I’m not patient. I’m not anything I think is needed for the job. Yet He has called and I have responded with a resounding ‘Yes’.

How about you?
What seeds of ideas and dreams has He sown into you? What do you need to do about them?