United We Shine
“It is the Christ-given Christ-likeness in each which knits believers into one. It is Christ in us and we in Christ that fuses us into one, and thereby makes each perfect. And such flashing back of the light of Jesus from a million separate crystals, all glowing with one light and made one in the light, would flash on darkest eyes the lustre of the conviction that God sent Christ, and that God’s love enfolded those Christlike souls even as it enfolded Him”
-MacLaren Expositions Of Holy Scripture, John 17:21
Last week we had the privilege of having a living miracle visit and stay with us for a week. This girl is quick to tell me that she is convinced God sent our family to Europe (in our first term overseas) to tell her the Good News. Is there anything more humbling? Sometimes part of being a missionary is staying the course even when fruit is not visible and continuous rejection of Truth tempts you to wonder why you even do what you do. But sometimes, the Lord allows you the privilege of not only seeing a soul ransomed, but the gift of playing a tiny part in His redemption story. Sometimes you not only get to plant and water seeds, but you get to see, with your very own eyes, the miraculous harvest that God made grow. This former atheist, now daughter of the Most High, is a testimony of how God opens eyes and calls one to Himself. Her story spurs me on to keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that God is always working and always pursuing hearts among the most unreached peoples of the world. Yes He is always working, but I am discovering that His plan is often more creative than I can even imagine.
While we were living in Europe during our first term, there were moments when I felt like I was failing. Learning two very different languages simultaneously, dealing with multiple transitions across continental lines, cultural stress, giving birth overseas, parenting 4 young children, barely holding onto my hope at times, and continually seeing the Central Asians I was intentionally living among reject the gospel about caused me to completely give up on this whole missionary thing. But then, just as we were packing up our life to leave Europe and relocate back to Central Asia, we received a letter. A letter in which this European girl, this living miracle, told us that watching us live our lives showed her love without borders. And watching this love sparked a curiosity in her that wanted to know our God. We weren’t even necessarily sharing with her, but she saw light shine through our good works and like scripture tells us, glorified our Father in heaven.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16
You never know who is watching and where God is working. Sometimes you don’t even understand just how powerful the rays of light are that shine forth from you are, dear brother or sister. When life feels hard, and your faith is barely that of a mustard seed, there is still a light within you as a believer that those in darkness really do see. Often unbelievers I meet overseas say things to me like “I just like being around you guys because there is something different about you. There is a different energy – a light in your eyes.” This is not us, this is Jesus. We are ordinary jars containing a radiant treasure, and the onlooking world, where He is working, sees this treasure. Even when your eyes see no fruit, hidden away seeds are breaking open and roots are forming. Stay the course. Shine where you are planted. Fruit is coming.
So this miracle, this beloved daughter of our heavenly Father, flew all the way to Central Asia to visit us for a week. Seeing her faith grow is a beautiful thing. Watching her joyfully accept my husband’s challenge to pray out loud for the first time over a meal gave me indescribable joy. What an honor to witness such a moment in someone’s life. We had fun exploring our city together, taking about life, and even saw the Lord open doors to share stories from the Bible with Muslims who crossed our path around our city.
But as we walked together one morning in particular, the Lord reminded me of a prayer I prayed nearly 4 years ago. The two of us were going into the metro station when I received a text message. I read the words from a best friend on my phone screen… “I want you to be here!!” and felt so very loved and remembered. But at the same time, I felt an unwelcomed wave of homesickness wash over my heart. I wanted to be there too. It was the annual ladies retreat that women from our church back in America attend. I could not help but imagine all I was missing – the food, the worship, the lessons, the girl talk. Even after over 3 years of doing the Lord’s work overseas, and truly feeling content in this calling on my life, I am still confronted with the question: “is it worth it?” Some days it’s a loud and smiley YES! Some days it involves continuing to carry the cross I picked up. It only took one second of looking back to feel the familiar temptations to go home come back in full force. What once was a fun, yearly event I looked forward to has only grown more cherished and desired as loneliness has been woven into my overseas story. I started to tell our visitor about the text I got and as I explained what a ladies retreat looks like in the United States, a forgotten scene vividly flashed in my mind. I remember it was my last retreat before we would be leaving it all and moving to Central Asia. In preparation to go, the Lord had opened my eyes and expanded my vision for the world. I remember standing quietly in the middle of a room of hundreds of women praising the Lord. I remember noticing just how many believers I was surrounded by and imagining countries like I live in now where national believers spend much of their lives struggling with isolation. I thought about other girls and women who were wandering through life in darkness because no one had told them that there was a Savior who loved them. And I remember starting to pray for all the ladies He would bring across my path in my future life abroad. It was joyful sorrow – sorrow as I was savoring fellowship of this magnitude in my heart language for the last time, but joy as I was seeing His purpose clearly revealed to me. I remember feeling a reverse culture shock in a sense – in that moment, I didn’t feel at home among the masses. I knew I would be giving up times of worship among hundreds of sisters, so that eternity could be filled with worshipping around the throne of God alongside sisters who would love Jesus because I said yes to His call. I didn’t know who I was praying for at the time, but I was praying for those the Lord would put in my life. I was letting go of my life and saying yes to Him. I was, in a sense, dying – dying to self, and trusting that as I lost my life for His sake, that I would truly find it, resulting it others finding Life too.
That brief wave of homesickness was quickly subdued under the mighty love of God as He showed me that walking with this new sister in Christ today, was walking with my prayer answered. I had prayed for her while standing among the hundreds of women praising Him. I hadn’t known her name, story, or nationality, but I had prayed for her. How beautiful is His attention to detail? How beautiful is His timing to bring her to encourage me by reminding me what my life is all about while the annual weekend of temptation to go home was upon me. In my journey with Jesus overseas, I’m continually amazed that as my heart feels tattered by discouragement, He doesn’t fix my situation like I initially want Him to. His encouragement always comes, just never like I expect. He doesn’t fly me home to be with my best friends and He doesn’t remove the ache to live in a comfortable setting. Instead, He leaves me planted right where I am, provides the grace to endure, scripture to encourage, and glimpses of His fingerprints all over my life, making persevering a joy. While putting my arm around my answered prayer as she and I walked into the metro station, homesickness sorrow was held within supernatural joy. We all think about our purpose in life – I was walking next to part of His purpose for mine. I thought about John 17 and how before Jesus died, He had the future believers God would give Him on His heart and in His prayers. In a way, my experience of praying at the ladies retreat in the past was a reflection of this scripture. And nothing encourages me to keep going like seeing my imperfect, yet redeemed life bear witness to the perfect life of Christ. Having a prayerful heart for others and obedient submission to the Lord’s will is where joy is discovered even in dying – dying to self, dying to fleshly desires, or in some cases, physically dying like Christ and the martyrs blessed by such a calling. I want to share with you part of this beautiful prayer recorded in John 17. These words that Jesus prayed before His death are deep and could take a lifetime to unpack, but I love that while His death was near, He chose obedience. He prayed for those who would someday follow Him. He prayed for us and He prayed for the girl who miraculously saw His Light shine from our imperfect lives and said yes to His love…
Jesus Prays for All Believers
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
“Jesus then emphasized the fact that He was not praying just for the 11 disciples, but for “those who will believe in Me through their message.” You and I, and our local fellowships, along with all believers throughout the centuries are included in this great commitment of Jesus and His Father to all who belong to Them.
The society of those who belong to Jesus is a community that grows in love and then multiplies. Jesus is still reaching out, through you and me, to rescue men and women lost in sin.
There is, of course, one source and one source only for the strength we need to live a God-glorifying life. This is our union with Jesus Christ. Jesus lived in union with the Father, drawing on Him for strength and power. As we are “brought to complete unity” with Jesus and the Father, then the world will know that Christ has sent us and that He loves us still.”
-The Teacher’s Commentary on John 17:20-26
Tucked away in my bible is a well loved picture of when the woman who has deeply influenced my life for Christ visited me in Central Asia several years ago. As my feet stood on Central Asian pavement next to my new sweet sister’s feet last week, I was reminded of this picture and saw the beauty of one generation pouring into the next for the glory of God. I’m so thankful for experiencing being poured into so that I can be poured out…
Around the neck of our new sister hangs a symbol of her new found hope which anchors her firm and secure. This necklace is the same as the one given to me by the woman who took my basic knowledge of God and taught me how to live as a disciple of Christ. All three of us women live in different countries, but in God’s perfect wisdom and timing, crossed paths. We are separated physically, but near in heart. We are connected by one Spirit and unified in one purpose to shine where He has planted us so that others may see Him. As my new sister holds on to her new hope, my prayers hold her, all the while knowing I am held in the prayers of women who have loved and shaped me. How precious and powerful is this family in Christ that God has given us.
“For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.”
-Colossians 2:5, NLT