Philip from Uganda preached in church yesterday. His message beautifully translated across cultures and accents. At the end of it, Judy, the older of our international students, turned to me and said, “I really liked that. I understood it.”
His focus was all about how our salvation does not, cannot rest in our works but only in our faith in the work of Christ.
Ironically, though, I left a little discouraged.
Philip is an evangelist. That’s his gifting. I’ve known that for a long time, ever since I walked streets in Uganda with him when I was working on Patrick’s adoption. I watched conversations between him and others go straight to Gospel without the other person feeling coerced. During his sermon yesterday, Philip told of how he is using this gift on Chicago’s transit systems. He prays for opportunities, he sits next to people on the Metra or El, and pretty soon he has their history with God (or lack of it) and he’s sharing about Christ.
After the main service, I talked with Ray, one of my oldest friends in our church—really, he’s in his late eighties, with grandchildren almost my age. He shared some of his latest conversations with me. Ray’s always had a “gift for gab” (as my mom says it), and in retirement he began walking the Prairie Path every day and stopping total strangers to ask if he could pray for them. In all the years he’s done this, only two have ever told him no. More often people tell him their struggles or their life stories and thank him for praying.
I left church knowing that Philip was headed to the train station and Ray to the Prairie Path—and probably both would have Gospel conversations with a total stranger before the day was out.
I left knowing that I probably would NOT have one of them.
I grew up always feeling vaguely guilty about not enjoying sharing the Gospel on street corners or with salespersons. I used to beg God for boldness, for opportunities. I reviewed conversations I’d had with acquaintances or unbelieving friends, trying to find spots at which I could have turned the conversation toward God, beating myself up for “failing” to witness.
About seven years ago I joined an ongoing writing workshop class. Almost none of my classmates would have called themselves “followers of Jesus.” I watched and listened a lot the first couple of classes, and then my guilt set in. I began praying for boldness and opportunities as I drove to class. I didn’t hold back when people asked about me—answered with “Christian school teacher, husband teaches Bible,” but no “opportunities” opened up, though I had plenty of conversations. Then, one day on the way to class, the Holy Spirit interrupted my frantic praying. “Be quiet. Wait. Listen. RELAX!”
Really? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But I tried it, began to listen more than talk, began to learn about people’s lives. I focused on giving really good critique and willingly took the advice of others about my writing. I worked on excellence in my writing and humility in my attitude.
A year or so into the workshop I considered many of the other members to be friends. One night, as we chatted late after class, one of them said, “You talk about God so naturally, Jen.”
“I do?” I asked her.
“Yeah. You’re always talking about the things you’re learning, what He’s teaching you.” She saw the look on my face and hurried to say, “No, it’s okay. That’s what I mean. It doesn’t seem forced. It’s just part of you.”
Thankfully I was grateful rather than proud—amazed more than anything. I didn’t realize that had happened! God had made me comfortable with these people, had knitted friendship between us. He’d put love in my heart for them. He had done the work; I had just listened. So though I still prayed for them on my drives to class, it was no longer forced but natural, with concern, specific to their needs. God did that, not me. Even now, though it has been years since I’ve seen many of them, I still pray for them, not out of duty but out of love.
God brought all this to my mind in the middle of my guilt yesterday, in the middle of my comparing myself with Philip and Ray. It was a good reminder. I DO want to pray for boldness and for opportunities, but I need to do so with rest, with confident trust that He will provide both, and that the opportunities He has picked out for me are especially chosen to use the ways He’s gifted me. My opportunities may not make for great stories, but they still testify of His Gospel work and His redemption—both in other people AND in me.
And speaking of my different kinds of opportunities, at one point yesterday afternoon, I realized that, somehow, Judy and I were home alone together (Dave had carted the younger ones along to Em’s soccer practice and Kelly was still at the b-day party). I sat down next to her at the dining room table (aka the “homework table”) and asked, “How are you?” We talked without a single interruption for thirty minutes, about relationships, adjusting to four siblings, all the “new” that she and Kelly have encountered in the last seven weeks, small ways we can accommodate and care for each other better. “You know,” I told her, suddenly seeing truth in that moment, “this is grace! We have eight very different people all lumped into a house together. It’s God’s grace that we actually desire to grow in relationship with each other, that we want to love each other well.”
Oh, I have opportunities all right. They may look different from Philip’s and Ray’s, but that’s okay.
I just need to see them for what they are.
And I need to celebrate the work God is doing in and through me.