Many of you know that I partnered with a couple of local Christian organizations last week to put together a community prayer meeting here in Tallinn. We sent out invitations to all of the Christian leaders we knew in the city, even had information shared through a local radio station. We invited leaders to come together for one evening last Thursday, and to pray together that the community here would experience healing, and that the Lord would pour His love into our lives and relationships. I had been asked to share a message on prayer and unity that night, and so had prepared a short teaching focusing on the prayer of Jesus in John 17.
Once we arrived at the church, however, it became quite clear that God’s plans for the evening were a bit different than our own. First, besides the 2 charities hosting the prayer event, not a single Christian leader from a single church or other Christian organization showed up for prayer that night. Not one.
But, it turns out that the point of significance that evening was not who did not show, but who did. The Salvation Army in Tallinn runs a rehabilitation center for recovering addicts, and so attending our Tallinn community prayer meeting last Thursday instead were about 30 recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
A few points of confession here:
When I noticed the men from the rehab coming in the door, my first thought was “Oh, no – I wonder if these men will make the leaders coming from the churches uncomfortable?”
My second thought was, “Many of these men do not even know Jesus. Will my teaching mean anything to them?”
My third was, “OK, so how will translation work? I was planning to teach in English, and have translation into Estonian. But now we will have to have a 3rd translation from Estonian into Russian for these men. This may really interrupt the flow of the service.”
Finally, just a few moments before the service was to start – after I finally accepted that none of the leaders we had invited would be showing – I decided to take a moment, and to ask the Lord what He wanted us to do. Immediately my mind went to the notes from a healing service I had done in St. Petersburg in October, which were saved on my laptop (which I decided strangely to bring to the service, even though I knew I would not need it). I quickly went to my bag, pulled out my laptop, and opened the old file. After a quick scan through to remind myself what it contained, I felt a clear affirmation in my spirit, “This is what I need to do tonight.” I folded up the notes I’d printed out for the teaching I’d thought I’d be doing that evening, and put them into my bible. “For another time,” I said to myself.
What should be amplified here is the grace and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, which He so wondrously displayed that evening, as well as His passion for those men from the rehab which had been greatly lacking in my own spirit. I had walked into that church with my heart set on gathering with the “important” and “influential” and “respected” among the Christian community here in Tallinn. I saw the rehab patients as potential “disturbances” to what I had planned to do (“in the name of Christ”). Now it is clear to me that they were His desire all along.
A few more things about that evening, which are clear to me now:
I had looked into a few different locations for holding this community prayer meeting, none of which had worked out. Now I see that God desired specifically for us to meet at the Salvation Army location, so that these men would be there, and would have an opportunity to experience His love for them.
Almost everyone in the room spoke only Russian. The few who did now know Russian spoke very good English. So in the end it was decided that I would speak in English, and that the message would be translated directly into Russian. I had been so worried that the Russian translation would interrupt the Estonian translation, but it turned out that no Estonian translation was needed at all.
If even 2 Christian leaders from the community had shown, I do not think I would have sought the Lord’s will to change my message that evening. It was only the clear, blatant message of no leaders showing at all that prompted me to take time and listen for the Lord’s will.
The Lord is still cutting me free from the chains and blinders of my own “plans” for spreading His gospel in this place.
Last Thursday evening at that prayer service, the Lord’s presence was clear, and through the message and a wonderful time of prayer He ministered beautifully to the men from the rehab, as well as to the organizational staff and volunteers who’d joined the service. But, those details aren’t for me to share in this setting.
Recently I read again the story in Mark 2:1-12 about the 4 men who lowered their paralytic friend down through the roof of a house to get him close to Jesus. As the story goes, there were so many people gathered around Jesus that there was no way for the paralytic to get near Him. So his four friends decided to go another way, carrying him up to the roof, making a hole in the roof, and then lowering him down with ropes right to the spot where Jesus sat.
A striking point for me in this story is regarding the actions of the four men. When they walked up to this house carrying this paralytic man, and saw the many people gathered inside and out to see this famous Jesus they’d all heard about, I wonder if the men tried to get through the people first. Maybe they tapped some shoulders and said, “Excuse me, please. Can we get this man in to see Jesus?” I wonder if the crowd would have let the paralytic through them if he’d only looked and spoken and smelled a bit more like they did. Climbing up on the roof meant the battle would be much more difficult, even dangerous for the paralytic and the four men carrying him. But mostly, it meant that they would have to break from the trend. The people in the crowd around Jesus were not willing to give up their place in order for the paralytic man to be able to get near Him. Therefore, these four men would have to take even greater, riskier, bolder steps of faith in order to get their friend to Jesus.
This story and the actions of those 4 men also prompt some very difficult questions for myself. First, I wonder, am I a member of this crowd of people standing around Jesus, wanting to see some sort of neat show, waiting to see what I can get for myself or my family from Him? Am I so concerned about sticking with the ” well-accepted in-crowd” of the church that I am not only turning my back to those who are suffering behind me (to be sure I won’t lose my own privilege and honor near the front of the crowd), but I am actually making their ability to experience Jesus more difficult? Do I look at the suffering of these people, think to myself, “Well, you probably won’t really be healed anyway. You’re too damaged – too far gone,” and then just turn my back to make sure I haven’t missed anything in my own little experience of Him?
Or am I breaking free from the crowd, in faith giving up my position of honor in the Christian circles, and going un-noticed over to those who need me to help them carry the paralytic up to the roof so that He can be healed and have freedom in the Lord? Mark 2:5 reads, “When Jesus saw their (the friends’) faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” It was the faith of the paralytic’s friends – their willingness to break away from the more comfortable, socially-accepted and acclaimed Christian circles and agendas, their devotion to getting their friend past the crowd, and directly into the arms of Jesus Christ – that saved him, and themselves.
Thank God that He does not turn His back on the suffering behind us. Thank God who always will be found by those who seek Him. Thank God that He Himself makes a way past the crowd so that no suffering soul will be unable to get to Him. Thank God who humbles us, and strengthens us, and honors us to be the very hands and feet that may carry our suffering brothers and sisters up to the roof when no other way can be found. Amen.