The seats in the small conference room located on the second floor above the Christian bookstore were filled well before our session was scheduled to begin. Thirty women, mostly young twenty-somethings, gathered to listen and learn.
Peggy was up first with her topic, “Not trusting the plan but the One who made the plan.” As she exhorted the women to trust God when His plan did not make sense or when He felt absent, I sat there in amazement, knowing that neither one of us knew what the other was going to say. What I had prepared for my talk on idolatry would be a perfect follow up to Peggy’s presentation! Not only that, it dawned on me that God had granted my desire to receive a special word for the women I was yet to meet. Last weekend before my departure on Wednesday I had spent several hours in solitude and prayer.
I wanted to create space for God to give me a message, if He had one to give me, before I got to China. This had happened once before when I went to Uganda in 2002. A complete sermon had come to my mind as I was praying about going. I don’t claim any prophetic gifting, but it wasn’t until the last day of the conference that I saw the relevancy of that sermon. Without going into detail, it was not an easy message to give because of the disturbing things I saw in the African churches. And instead of the normal morning attendance of around 200 people, my last sermon ended up being to an evening crowd of nearly 600-800 people.
When I spent the time last week seeking God with a listening heart, my intent was not to demand a similar experience, but to provide the opportunity if God so desired to give me a special message. If not, I was content to just pray for the women and for the talks I had prepared. Again, I don’t say with confidence that I “heard” from God, but one line kept going through my mind over and over again. The line was actually one spoken to me by a friend who had come to my house for coffee just a few days prior. Gena told me how she felt prompted to write a personal note to a woman that was new to our large church. The only thing the note said was, “I see you.”
“I see you.” That sentence kept flashing in my mind as I prayed for the Chinese people. Though I wasn’t sure this message was from God, I could imagine that in the midst of 1.3 billion Chinese, each woman and individual heart needed to know that God did see her. But like I said, I wasn’t sure. That’s why I didn’t say anything previously. I figured if I was wrong, you wouldn’t know. If short message was relevant, I could tell you after it was confirmed. I’m being honest here. I suffer from a lack of confidence.
So this is what happened this afternoon in that small conference room. My talk in its final form was finalized just yesterday. As I shared in an earlier blog, I told the story of that dark time in my life when I doubted I was still a Christian (despite my Bible school once-saved-always-saved indoctrination). I shared that my idol was success and it had come between God and me. I then told the story of Israel’s first test after their deliverance from Egypt – the making of the golden calf while God and Moses were absent (Exodus 32). I explained that an idol (the Hebrew word means “image) is an attempt to make visible what is meant to remain invisible. However, before Israel made the decision to create a visible god, they had already made a fatal mistake which opened themselves to that sin. This mistake is exposed in Exo. 20:18. The Israelites refused to come near to God. Instead they responded to the presence of God on Mt. Sinai with a fear that was not one of awe but of unbelief, and they ended up distancing themselves from Him. Consequently the space created by this distance was filled with the golden calf. Inevitably any space created by unbelief will be filled with idols.
Eventually I took them to Hebrews 11:1, faith “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And then we read Hebrews 12:18-25 where the Exodus experience at Mt. Sinai was transformed into a experience of godly fear that drew one toward worshiping God, not away from Him. This was all possible because of Jesus and the blood that was shed. Jesus’ incarnation was the one time in history that the invisible God became visible.
The words above are a summary of what I presented. I concluded with an exhortation to expose and reject any idols that might be stealing their affections and to trust the invisible God by fixing their eyes on Jesus, the only visible representation of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3). It was at this point the words from Gena pressed into my spirit and demanded to be spoken.
I told the women what I had done last weekend. I told them I had prayed for them – they gasped and their eyes responded with appreciation. Then I took a breath and told them I believed God had given me a special message for them. I said, “Though we trust a God who is invisible, you are not invisible to Him. He sees you!” My heart swelled and my eyes filled with tears at the depth of that truth, even for me and certainly for each woman sitting in front of me. I felt the air thick with the presence of God. It was a profound moment for me. I then closed with a passage from 1 Peter 1:3-9 as a prayer for them.
Peggy concluded the afternoon with a wonderful presentation on becoming beautiful to God. During the breaks between sessions and after everyone was dismissed, I was able to have significant conversations with three women who confessed struggles with specific idols. There is one I would like to ask you to pray for as she may call sometime to meet privately with Peggy and me while we’re still in the city. She revealed her anger at God and described her spiritual state as being similar to what I described at the beginning of my talk.
I’m exhausted but happy right now. I definitely see Jesus on the face of these beautiful women. I see desire to follow Jesus faithfully. I see questions wanting to be asked (I did have another difficult question thrown at me today: If Jesus is the only “son” of God, why does Genesis 6 say that the “sons of God” married daughters of men?). I also see pain and longing for hope.
Thank you for all your prayers for me today. I felt them and I saw God use them. Keep it up! Tomorrow Peggy and I have a free day. We have been advised to avoid the house churches for now because of some recent trouble between the Chinese government and a specific local church. I think Peggy and I may conduct our first “hotel” church.