Every time I talk to Mrs. Yue about Christianity, she predictably retells me how she faithfully helps her extended family (and two other persons who died without descendants) by performing the twice-daily ancestor rituals for them at the god shelf in her home. As I have probed and listened to Mrs. Yue’s heart over the course of the last five years, I have concluded that being able to perform these rituals makes her feel deeply useful to others. Feeling useful brings the security of knowing that those she has helped for so many years can be counted on to assist her in the future as she gets older (80+) and weaker. Since Christians don’t worship ancestors, Mrs. Yue quickly dismisses any talk of Christianity. She understands that the Christian way of life would forbid the actions she depends on to make her feel useful and secure.
How can I bring the Word of God closer to my friend? I’ve been praying and planning… and here is my next step: I will invite Mrs. Yue to join me (and several other Christian couples with a burden to reach the unreached in Taiwan) on one of our weekly Sunday afternoon hikes (yes, she still hikes at 80+!).
While we hike, I want to initiate a discussion with her (and our group) about “getting the help one needs” and “being useful.” I’ll start with some questions to bring her thinking to the surface so it can be engaged, and to stimulate her to realize that there may be other options in these areas. Questions like: “Why is it that people need so much help from others? How did things get to be this way?” and “What is the best way to determine a reliable source of help?” and “What makes someone useful?”
As we’re walking and discussing these things for a while, I’ll suggest we pull off the trail for a rest break. Then I plan to tell the story of Gideon and, in doing so, flesh out God’s perspective on what it means to be useful and secure. Some ideas I want to highlight as I proceed: 1) Problems come to us because we are foolish enough to look to others (rather than our Creator) for help; 2) God is a reliable source of ALL the help we need; and 3) people are useful, not in order to gain the help they need, but because God—to fulfill his purposes in the world—makes them so.
Gideon’s story in found in Judges 6-8, but this is the short version I will share with our hikers:
The Israelites were in a bad place—their enemies were brutally oppressing them to the point that they were starving and hiding in caves to stay alive. Created by God to depend on him for everything, these Israelites had cut themselves off from him and sought out the help of Baal, a god that other nations around them said was an awesome source of help. It was this foolish choice that had brought them into their current predicament. They desperately needed someone to help them to defeat their enemies and to get reconnected with God again.
At this moment—as their desperation reached a climax—an amazing thing happened. This all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly righteous God reached out his hand to them in mercy. He opened their eyes to recognize their foolishness and guided them to find the strength they needed to call out to him for help. And then, almost before their cries had left their lips, God set his rescue plan in motion.
And what a plan it was… God starts by sending an angel to visit a man named Gideon at his worksite, announcing to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Really? Mighty warrior? Are you kidding me! “Fearful,” “weak,” and “useless” are a few of the words that come to my mind as I watch this fellow in action in the ensuing days.
First, Gideon blame-shifts, accusing God (the One who has NEVER done anything wrong) of being the source of Israel’s problems. Next, as if success depended on his own status and abilities, Gideon questions the plausibility of God’s plan (the One who made everything in the world out of nothing) to make Gideon a hero. Once this “warrior” finally gets going on his first assigned act of rebellion, he fearfully works at night, acting as if the all-powerful God who is sending him cannot protect him. Before long, he famously conditions his continued cooperation with God’s plan on God being able to perform two miracles for him. In a final flourish of foolishness, as the battle against Israel’s enemies looms, he gathers as many people as he can find to help him, as if the all-powerful God needs his help. Gideon should have known better!
When the battle is finished, Gideon and a mere 300 Israelites, using only trumpets, jars, and torches as God instructed, have defeated a huge army (120,000) of their enemies. It is obvious that it was God who won the resounding victory, and that when Gideon heard people call him “a mighty warrior,” he should only have said, “It was God who made me a hero, to accomplish his purposes.”
When the story is finished, I’ll sit back and watch as the other Christians in our group add some important details to help Mrs. Yue connect better with God’s perspective. I love being able to partner with them!
What will happen as a result of our efforts? I’m not sure. A couple of things I do know: 1) The Word of God is powerful and the Holy Spirit is at work; and 2) just as God used Gideon, God will use me (us!) in the way he wants, to accomplish his purposes.
Will you pray for Mrs. Yue (and others like her) as we have conversations together? Pray that she will allow God’s Word to engage her heart and, instead of looking for help elsewhere and thinking she needs to earn the help she needs, she will turn to him.
Ethan Christofferson is a pastor and a cultural researcher seeking to reach the unreached in Taiwan. Ethan and his wife Sandy live in Qionglin (Q=Ch) in northwestern Taiwan.