For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. (1 Thess. 1:4-5)
The one truth that sustains us, that sends us to the end of the world, that keeps us going when in the midst of great darkness, that gives us direction when counseling people overwhelmed with deep pain, that give us confidence when praying for our children, that gives us hope when our world seems hopeless, is the promise that God’s Word will not return to him void. It will accomplish all that he has purposed. (Isaiah 55:10-11) When we put God’s words on our lips and proclaim them in faith in Christ’s presence, lives are changed, forever! Here are a couple of examples.
1. My Bible students have several challenges. First, they have little education. Most have not gone beyond primary school. Most do not know English and so cannot engage with books that are written in English. Second, they have little theological knowledge. How could they when they don’t own Bibles? Third, they come from an oral culture. They are hard working farmers and don’t have the time or see the need to learn how to read. Consequently, they have a hard time with abstract thinking and logic. Some of my most elementary questions are met with silence or incorrect responses.
So, in my first class in our new school, I was taken back by the responses of one of my female students. When the other students responded to my questions with blank stares and wrong answers, she got them right. Over and over she would answer my theological questions with answers that displayed an unusual grasp of Biblical content. I began to refer to her as my “star student.” At one point, all of the class pointed at her with their hands, waving them with a “woo woo” sound. I was told that gesture was given to honor somebody with flowers.
The next day, I sat with my interpreter who was from her village. He said to me, “You know that girl you kept referring too yesterday?” I said, “Yes, what is her story? Has she had an education? Has she attended Bible school? Has she attended college?” He responded, “No. She has had no education. She was a prostitute.”
I was flabbergasted. I could not believe it. “Are you kidding?” I asked. “No,” he came back. “My wife and I met with her several times. At first she would not listen to us, but we kept coming back and would not leave until she would talk to us. Then, through tears, she placed her faith in Jesus. Since then, there was such big change in her life that all of the village can’t believe the difference in her.”
The Gospel does that. The Word of God, falling on good soil, produces a miraculous harvest. I was looking for a human explanation. There was none. This little lady was, and is, a work of God! I wonder what the Lord Jesus has in store for her life.
2. It was our last day of instruction. This was the first class of our new school called, ACTION Malawi School of the Bible. I had deliberately chosen to teach the Doctrine of Salvation to my friends and pastors from the village. Although the statistics report that Malawi is 83% Christian, I know that is not a fact. There are thousands of churches and prayer houses through out Malawi, but I have observed that church buildings and singing and dancing do not make a new creature in Christ. Witchcraft, evil tribal practices and unrighteousness are woven throughout the fabric of what is called Christianity in Malawi.
So, during the week I went into great detail what it means to be a believer. I explained that being a Christian is a miraculous work of God. If and when we place our faith in Christ, it is because the Spirit of God gave us the faith and opened our eyes so that we saw and wanted Jesus more than anything else in the world. It is a personal answer to the call of Christ who bids us to leave all and follow Him. It does not happen because of our associations or traditions but because we are addressed by God. I went on to explain in detail election, regeneration, conversion, atonement, justification, sanctification and glorification. I wanted them to hear the full gospel. They needed an opportunity to hear and to respond to the life-changing truth that is found only in the Word of God.
On Friday we all joined in a prayer. For those were saved and knew it, they thanked God for his gracious work in their lives. And for those who were not sure, who had never heard the gospel fully, I asked them to confess their sinfulness and express their faith in Christ for their salvation. I left confident that we did something that was a necessary start if we were to disciple the church leaders of Malawi.
The next day, one of my leaders shared tragic news with us. One of the pastors left our study to go to the local hospital to visit a sick friend. In the parking lot of the hospital, a new ambulance driver was attempting to exit when he stepped on the gas peddle instead of the break. The ambulance plowed into the pastor and he was pinned against a cement wall causing massive injuries. He died a few moments later. According to witnesses standing beside him, his last words were, “I praise God. Today I committed my life to Jesus.”
Those two incidents are examples of some of the dramatic ways the power of the Word has impacted the lives of the Malawians. It is absolutely crucial for them to know who Jesus is, what he has done for them, what he has promised to do and how they can apply his truth to their lives. The Word of God does not return to him without bringing change in the lives of those who hear, understand and obey.
3. The Word not only strengthens us for what we are going through today, but it prepares us for what will come against us tomorrow. We have written on numerous occasions that the most important thing we can do for victory in battle is to prepare for it. Games are won not on the day of the contest but in the days of practice. Wars are not won on the battlefield but on the training field.
When we returned last year, we were struck at the number of mosques that had sprung up across Malawi. The evangelists of Islam have a very aggressive and effective strategy that they follow in Africa as in the rest of the world. They focus upon the most vulnerable and impressionable. They use their money to win the loyalty of impoverished youth. They build elaborate grounds to attract the populace and then pour large amounts of money into the community surrounding the mosques. Once inside and enlisted, the new converts are given intense training in the beliefs of Islam. Some are sent to other countries for advanced studies.
The question that must be asked is “Why do so many ‘Christian’ youth fall for the false teachings of Islam?” The answer must be that they were never fully Christian and that they had never hid the Word of God in their hearts. They were easy prey for the recruiters who offered money and comfort.
What power can withstand the power of money and the tactics of the Muslims? God’s Word! That is why we are here: to strengthen the faith of believers; to challenge the “faith” of pseudo believers; and to prepare the Malawian Church for the battles that lie ahead. God’s Word is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. But, it must be proclaimed; must be explained and understood; must be memorized and treasured; must be practiced and in the arsenal, ready for the times of conflict that are sure to come.
Believers in the US are faced with the same kind of challenges. We were surprised at the how far our country had deteriorated in the six months we were away in Malawi. We are in the “terrible times” Paul predicted in 2 Timothy 3:1. Our faith will face increased hostility from government and the general public. Christianity will continue to go to the top of the list of despised religions. If our kid’s faith is to survive, if the Church is to remain strong, if our hope is to endure, we must learn how to treasure God’s Word in our minds and in our hearts. His Word not only transforms lives, it makes our faith unshakeable. When God’s Word is in our head and in our hearts, we will stand strong in the face of the enemy’s all-out attack. Through endurance and the encouragement of Scripture we will be given the divine strength necessary to finish well. (Romans 15:4) It is no longer an option for us. Either we hide the Word of God in our hearts or we will fail. It is as simple as that.