Read Time: About 8 mins.
The Southeast Asian sun beat through the car window, the heat outside battling with the overworked air conditioner inside the old van. Outside, packed along the palm-dotted shoreline, were hundreds of huts, their corrugated tin roofs gleaming in the early-afternoon light. “I hope it will not be far now,'' John encouraged. Quick-witted and impetuous, the Chinese youth pastor was deeply passionate for God, and a true evangelist if I had ever met one. As he turned the van and entered the village, my friend Thea breathed a relieved sigh from the back seat. The usually generous, outspoken and friendly Danish girl wore a look of mild exhaustion.
Wondering again how I had found myself in a remote Malaysian village on such a hot day, I asked John for more details about where we were going.
“A man from one of the outlying villages called the church this morning,” John said in his always direct manner. “I decided that you and Thea should come with me to meet him. He said that he would like to know more about Jesus.”
“Has he visited the church before?” I questioned.
“All I know is that his name is Festus”, John winked.
As the village unfolded in front of us, it suddenly became clear that it may be a lot more difficult to find Festus than any of us had first thought. The people living there had erected their dwellings largely wherever there was space to do so, creating a complex maze of unmarked “roads” that wove in and around fishing boats, clotheslines, and driftwood livestock pens. A local child picked up a ball and waved his friends aside as we drove unceremoniously across their soccer pitch. “If we don’t find his home soon, we’ll have to turn back”, John mused. “I have to pick my daughters up from school.” Thea shot me an incredulous look. On the other side of the soccer pitch, we passed a woman hanging her laundry. John shrugged, and rolled down the window, rattling off a question in Malay. To my amazement, she responded with what seemed to be directions! “She knows Festus!” John translated. “He lives just up here.” Thea and I looked at each other suspiciously. How likely was it that this Festus was the one we were actually looking for?
Not a couple of minutes later, we were climbing the steps of a wood and steel hut. Entering what looked like a living room, we came upon a young Nigerian man sitting on his couch.
“Hello?” His greeting was understandably cautious.
John nudged me. “Urhm… hello,” I began. “Did you… uh… call the church this morning?” The question seemed utterly ridiculous. I felt like the world’s most incompetent missionary.
“Oh! Yes, I am Festus!” His face warmed with excitement. “Please sit… so sorry, let me get my shirt.” He got up quickly and left the room. My jaw dropped. What was God up to? I looked over at John, who had presumptuously made himself comfortable on another couch in the corner of the room. He motioned with his hand and put his feet up. His job was done, and it was my turn. I felt completely unprepared. Festus returned, now wearing a soccer jersey, and sat down across from Thea and I. He looked at us expectantly.
“Umm… thank you for having us to your home… perhaps... you can tell us why you asked us here?” I tried to hide the nervous waver in my voice.
Festus nodded. “Oh! Yes. Jesus asked me to call you.”
“Jesus? Is that your friend? Is he here too?”
“No no no.” Festus corrected. “Jesus.”
“Jesus Christ? Do you know Jesus Christ?”
“A little. For about a week, I have had dreams each night. Jesus is in my dreams. Last night, He gave me the phone number to call you.”
I didn’t know how to process what Festus was saying. It was crazy enough that we had actually found this guy. Now he was telling me that Jesus had directly given him the phone number to the church? All of this information was completely beyond my frame of reference. What’s more, Festus was relaying his story like this kind of thing wasn’t at all out of the ordinary. “... He said that people would come to share about Him if I called.” I snapped back to reality as he finished.
I tried to hide my shock, but was doing a hilariously poor job of doing so. “Ok, um… sure…” I looked over at Thea, who by this point was speechless and just shrugged. Festus leaned forward in his chair, obviously anticipating what I was about to say. I paused, trying to collect my thoughts. I cleared my throat nervously, and cracked open my bible in search of a good “Gospel verse”.
Without warning, I felt Holy Spirit building in the room. His presence became so strong so quickly that my arms and legs began to quiver. Before I could think, I started to speak, and began to preach to Festus. However, the way I was expressing the Gospel was completely unlike anything I had ever heard. It was as if the whole thing was being constructed just for him on the fly, using symbolism that I had never considered before. I opened my bible, only to find that I had opened to the exact pages that held the verses I needed. I was on autopilot. Jesus was going to bring Festus Home, and I was along for the ride. After about 20 minutes, God had finished his appeal. “What do you think?” I asked simply. There really didn’t seem like there was anything to be said except that! Festus looked at me, and silently knelt beside his chair. “I think I would like to know this Jesus”, he said. The presence of God was so thick that it seemed as though the air around us was hazy. John, Thea and I placed our hands on his shoulders and he began to cry softly as he received Jesus.
As we left Festus’ home, I felt the Lord drop a simple statement into my heart: “I love to make you a part of what I’m already doing.” I suddenly had the humbling realization that He had chosen us. He could have done this entire thing Himself, yet we had all shared in this incredible moment with Him. I also felt convicted. Up until this moment, I had thought that if I didn’t go and find people like Festus myself, that they would not hear about Jesus. But Jesus Himself had just refuted this assumption directly. If He wanted someone, He would get them, regardless of my involvement. The only reason He included me is because it pleased Him to. How else had I placed limitations on what God would or wouldn’t do?
The gap that we perceive between what we need and what God supposedly will or will not do is the gap that we notoriously fill with religion. “If God won’t, then I must have to.” There are a lot of assumptions being uttered about God out there (yes, even in the beloved church), that seem reasonable enough until they’re really boiled down. After my experience in Malaysia, I suddenly began to become aware of more of these assumptions. “If you don’t confess the promise that God has given you, it won’t come to pass.” “If you don’t give to the church, God won’t bless your finances.” “If you don’t have faith, God won’t heal you.” Just like how I assumed that evangelism was something that was solely my responsibility, if we take any of these statements as hard and fast rules, we quickly risk misunderstanding what God might actually be doing instead. Now, I want to make sure that you understand. I’m not saying, for example, that if you have faith that God will heal you that He won’t. These statements are not wrong. They’re just not the only option! I’ve heard and experienced many incredible stories of God springing healing upon people who didn’t believe at all that it was going to happen!
Abraham is considered one of the fathers of our faith, and he laughed at God when God said that He would bear Abraham a son in his old age (Genesis 17:15-17). It can’t be said that He had faith in the promise at all, yet we all know that he ended up with a son regardless! He may not have believed to begin with, but he sure did afterward!
Like Abraham, if God is going to give you the thing He promised even if you don’t believe that He will, what then is the point of “confessing the promise”? It’s a reasonable thing to wonder. He may have asked you to specifically (and if He did, he likely has a wonderful outcome in store), but He also may be saying and doing something completely different than that. In all of this, we need to understand what Papa God is really after. Is He really just after your healing or your financial well-being, or is He after more? Could it be that what He considers to be most important is the revelation that his actions towards us give about His Heart, and the joyful removal of religious assumptions that result? After all, isn’t the point of being in Him so that we can see Him as He really is, and so then realize who we are? As long as we think that God is limited in the way he goes about bringing goodness and revelation into our lives, we are as limited as our picture of Him is.
Friends, I invite you to consider new possibilities in Him. Perhaps you currently find yourself in a situation or circumstance where you thought that God was going to come through in a certain way, but didn’t. Perhaps there have been voices in your life that have suggested some sort of activity on your part to fill the “gap” made by unmet expectations. Turn your attention back to our Papa God. Such times are prime for a brand new revelation of how unlimited He is!
THIS BLOG’S RECIPE
Take the opportunity to ask God where He may be doing something in your life that may be beyond your current frame of reference for Him.