The guest speaker at last week’s Sydney Prayer Breakfast was former top New South Wales bureaucrat Amy Brown.
She was head of Investment NSW and the NSW Department of Enterprise Investment and Trade, but lost both jobs last year after accepting responsibility for the controversial appointment of former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro as NSW trade commissioner in New York. He never took up the role.
Ms. Brown faced intensive questioning on three separate occasions by a parliamentary inquiry into possible political interference in the appointment.
On her departure she wrote: “As the CEO and Department Secretary, I have learned that leadership can, at times, be difficult. Courageous leadership is not always comfortable. But it is a necessary part of how the public service performs its professional role in support of responsible government.”
She told attendees at the Prayer Breakfast that her strong Christian faith since the age of eight helped her through that ordeal.
“God very intentionally brought this verse into my path. When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers and sisters don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends. That’s James 1:2 Phillip’s edition. Now, you’ll no doubt notice the sentiment of that verse is if you’re having a hard time, put up with it because you know it’s good for you, but welcome trials as friends? So I thought I’d consider the role of prayer in times of trial and whether it’s even possible in the midst of our troubles to actually find peace.”
“I went through a time of trial last year. Early on I worked out I was going to have to put my own words into practice. All the speaking at school, chapels and words of wisdom to friends and youth groups and Bible studies. Did I really believe it when I was the one in the firestorm? And if I did believe it, how did my belief in the God who made me and saved me for a personal relationship with Himself, make every part of my life, including how I walk through tough times different than if I didn’t believe that story. Well, months of 5 am walks with my puppy dog when I couldn’t get back to sleep, gave me plenty of time to ponder and pray.”
“So I thought I’d share with you the issues that I had to grapple with through that time. How was I going to keep standing as I faced this? And why was God letting it happen to me?”
“If you looked at my life from the outside, you may well have gotten the impression that my job or my career gave me a sense of identity, satisfaction and purpose, and that if that were compromised, I could very well fall into a heap. And maybe you can relate to that because there’s an element of truth in it. We’re called to work as though working for the Lord, and we’re made in the image of our God who works. So there’s a purpose to work.”
“When we do stop and sometimes tough times literally force us to stop, and it’s just you and who you are at your core. Where does your true identity, satisfaction and purpose come from? Well, as it so happened, when God put us all in a big timeout during COVID, he helped me re-anchor — quite possibly in preparation for what was about to happen — around what it means to be created by God in his image and loved enough to die for. Now, I didn’t deserve anything about that. None of us do. But that wonderful never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love that the Bible talks about and that sent Jesus to the cross to take our place and had him rise again, that’s who we are at our core. So no matter what happens in this world, even if we lose our job — our true identity, satisfaction and purpose is unchangeable and unshakeable because it’s based on Jesus and the very God who made us.”
“That changes everything about the ground we are standing on during tough times. During my darkest point of 2022, and it’s always darkest before the dawn, a dear friend of mine sent me a text message that simply read Stand Tall, Oh daughter of the most High King. God doesn’t say He’ll give us an explanation for every tough time we’re going through. But we’re not standing on explanations. We’re not standing on our own strength. We’re standing on the promises of God, on the promises of the most High King. And amongst those promises includes the fact that he will protect us if we seek refuge in him. And our prayers are a form of seeking refuge in him.”
“Psalm 91 says If you say the Lord is my refuge and make the most high your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guide you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Amy Brown told how her 13-year-old son encouraged her earlier this year when he knew she was going through a hard time:
“Things hadn’t worked out with my job and I was having trouble seeing what it was all for. He came rushing in from school one day when he must have been considering life’s biggest questions and said, ‘Mum, I’ve got it. I know why God let you go through that hard time last year. Why is that? I asked, intrigued. And Zac replied confidently: Because He gives his hardest challenges to his strongest warriors. I may be a very imperfect warrior, but Gosh! that was encouraging to hear, particularly from a teenage boy.”
“Why was God letting this happen to me? So we know that God has sovereignty over all things, and that includes the good things and the awful things. Nothing can happen to us by chance, but only with the divine arrangement of our loving Heavenly Father. Now, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find that a comfort. And sometimes I find that petrifying. But when I went back to what I knew, we know that God is good all of the time. But if God is always good, why would He choose affliction for us? Well, I did a bit of reading and Lamentations 3:33 says that God does not afflict from the heart. Or another translation says that He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”
“But you’ll remember Exodus 34 when Moses asked God to show him his glory and God revealed himself so that Moses could only see his back. God proclaimed who He is in this way, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. And while he doesn’t desire affliction for us, he as the perfect sculptor, is using those times to chip away at the bits of us that are not like Jesus. He’s refining us like a precious metal. A very old school hymn by John Rippon puts it this way: When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie. My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee I only design. Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”
“I think sometimes as Christians our preference is for a nice view and views can be peaceful and serene and calming, and there’s a place for that. But in God’s upside down Kingdom, valleys are often better than views. That doesn’t mean we just have to put on a brave face and walk through our valleys alone. The biggest piece of evidence that God doesn’t stay at arm’s length from our pain was Jesus’s willingness to enter it. He came into our world when it was broken, entered our pain and bore the consequences of our brokenness so that we don’t have to. And when Jesus was on this earth fully human and at his weakest, what did he do? He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said, Father, if it is possible, let this cup be taken from me. But if it cannot be taken from me unless I drink it, let Your will be done. Jesus was crying out in anguish to his Father.”
“Read the Psalms. There’s so much crying out in anguish to our Father. And that’s okay. He’s God. He can handle it. Tough times are never going to be easy. But in the midst of them, we can find peace. Peace isn’t about being in control. Quite the opposite. Peace is about knowing someone else is in control. That’s why one of my favourite verses is Philippians 4 where it says, Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Then you will experience God’s peace which exceeds anything you can understand.”
“When I was at church having a lament about my valley, a friend of mine looked me in the eye and said: I know this is really hard, but it is well, it is well with your soul. I’d rather be in a valley with the God who’s taking care of my soul than on a mountaintop, but not really knowing him. Well, I feel like I’ve let go of the misconception that we’re somehow in charge of our own destinies or writing our own stories. Because if I wrote the story, it’d be about a girl in a job, but it would be in the form of a flimsy puppet show. But when God writes the story, it’s got its twists and turns, but will turn out to be immeasurably better than anything we could ask or imagine. And the theme of God’s story? Triumphant hope. The kind of hope where all things will be right in the end because God wins.”
“One of my favourite preachers says this: If we trust our lives to an unseen, but ever present God, He will write our lives into his story and each one of them will turn out to be a great read with a grand ending, not just in spite of our catastrophes, but often because of them. We might not know how this part of our story ends, but we do know how the ultimate story ends that one day. God will walk us through the wardrobe and into Narnia. And we will stand there, overwhelmed with joy and unscarred from the imperfections of this life. And in the meantime, it is well, it is well with our souls.”