I visited Passion City Church on a Sunday night in October last year. Because that’s what every Christian tourist in Atlanta must surely do.
I had a blast.
The welcome was almost hotter than the free chilli con carne they dished up for everyone afterwards. The place hummed with people overwhelmingly glad to see us. The vibe wasn’t fake or manic. Just genuinely friendly.
I headed for the bookshop in the foyer – bought this devotional for my boys – got chatting to the woman at the till and made a new friend. (‘Wow! You’re from South Africa? You came for Catalyst?’ et cetera.)
I was with two other friends, one of whom decided we should sit a couple rows into the back section of the church. Random, anonymous seats.
Kristian Stanfill led worship. Of course. I played it cool, like, I’m so chilled right now and not at all star-struck…
The thing is, it really was all very ordinary and normal and wonderful, like my church is and every church should be and I felt so totally lucky to be singing with Jesus-family on the other side of the world from where my Jesus-family had been singing six hours earlier.
Then Louie Giglio came up to preach.
Christians shouldn’t have gurus. We have Jesus. Gurus fall off pedestals so it’s always dodgy to put them there in the first place. (Even Jesus didn’t put Himself on a pedestal. He put Himself on a cross.)
But I do rate Louie.
He’s imperfect like all of us, but he’s passionately committed to God’s Word, God’s glory and the growth of God’s Kingdom. (John Piper dedicates Don’t Waste Your Life to Louie Giglio. ‘Nuff said.)
Louie was midway through an expository unpacking of Habakkuk, and jumped right into chapter 3. This wasn’t stagecraft in a stadium. This was just a shepherd with his flock.
He kept coming back to the importance of personal Bible study. To illustrate the point he took out an envelope. He said there was money inside.
‘$102,’ he said. It was a really flat envelope, but in it was $102 and that could keep the lights on in a person’s life.
‘I wonder if this money is an answer to prayer for someone here tonight,’ he said, walking off the stage, human and humble.
He walked past the first section of students and dissed them amicably for being on their phones.
Walked on some more.
Walked up to our section. Closer.
Leaned over the people in the row in front of us and handed me the envelope.
He went on to explain that if I just kept the envelope closed – if I never took out the money – the money would be useless. But if I opened the envelope – took out the money – used it – it could switch the lights on.
His point was that God’s Word can’t just be a (useless) (unopened) book on the table. It needs to be a sword in our hands. We need to brandish it in the world so that its truth can switch the lights on.
One of the friends I was with was keen to buy a book, but before the service she’d decided against it. After the service, I was flush! I insisted on buying her the book, so I went back to the bookshop, and my new friend was like, It was you! I can’t believe Louie gave the money to you!
Then she did the insisting and gave us the book for free and my bowl of blessing and chilli con carne ran right over.
So the $102 stayed in its envelope that night and when I flew home I left it on my hosts’ kitchen counter because they’d pretty much paid my way in Atlanta with insane generosity.
And because I don’t think it was about the money.
It was about God reminding me and everyone to take His Word out of the envelope and use whatever means He’s entrusted to us to switch the lights on in this world where crazy, terrible things happen and people desperately need Jesus.
It was about being seen. We’re all just small ordinary people living small ordinary lives but God can find us. He could even find a small ordinary girl from Africa in a big crowd on another continent.
It was about how sometimes we can’t see what God is doing. His work in our lives seems random. His ways aren’t always perfectly symmetrical, with neat edges that make sense. (I mean, one hundred and TWO dollars? Why didn’t he stop at a hundred? I have no freakin’ idea.)
And that too-much amount was also about how, not only are God’s ways and thoughts higher than ours, His ways and thoughts are always abundant. Not health-and-wealth-claim-your-car abundant. But abundant-life-in-Christ kind of abundant.
It reminded me of John Newton’s hymn –
Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much…
Maybe – like it was for Habakkuk – the fig trees in your life have no blossoms. There are no grapes on the vines. Maybe your olive crops have failed and the fields lie empty and barren. Maybe your flocks die in the fields and the cattle barns are empty –
But maybe you can say with Habakkuk,
‘Yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.’ (Habakkuk 3:18-19)
Because maybe you can’t find God in the mess but He has already found you.
Perhaps there’ll never be justice earth-side for what you’ve had to endure, but God still has abundant life for you.
And it’s ok to ask Him to switch the lights on.
. . .
Have a brilliant weekend.
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Thanks for sharing! Such an phenomenal story, I remember vividly listening to this sermon online the week it was released and thinking about the person whom he blessed with that envelope. Wondering, hoping, that it was someone to whom that envelope would makd a differnce. Awesome to know it was indeed and that you were able to share the experience and everything the LORD showed you through the encounter. I’d love to attend the service at 515 in Atlanta one day too 😉
Oh my goodness, how amazing is that?! Thanks so much for sharing!
Very nice. i’m also a fan. Although not so much of John Piper so his endorsement didn’t seal the deal.
Brilliant stuff – glad to see you’re keeping it coming,
love brett fish
Thanks Brett! I’m a fan of Piper, Giglio and YOU 🙂 much love to you and tbv