If you drove past junction 7 of the M62 at about 10.40am last Thursday you would have seen a man standing on the bridge with his arms outstretched. That was me. Let me explain how that happened.
I had gone for a jog, taking my new favourite route up to “The Dream” – a huge, and frankly bizarre piece of art that resembles an Easter Island head. Seriously, check it out:
Anyway I was listening to a talk from a conference that my friend had recently attended. It was by a woman from the Salvation Army (and if you want your preconceptions about the type of people in the Salvation Army blown away, listen to her talk). She was sharing crazy stories of how her and other folk had worked to free girls from the sex slave industry.
Now In the morning I had been thinking and praying about what “to live is Christ” means. I was thinking about how in my life I’ve gone kinda full circle from being a really hyped-up excited 21-year-old who was all, “I’m going to give my life for Jesus!” And then I got called to Japan – possibly the safest country on the planet – and my friends started to get married, and settle down, and I felt pressured a bit to do the same. But now I feel I’m back at a more balanced version of “to live is Christ.”
Anyway, I’m on the approach to “The Dream” listening to this talk about what it really means to give your life for the sake of taking the gospel to the nations. And it hit me pretty hard. I realized that to live for Christ in Japan would mean a lot of being misunderstood, and even hated, if I was to be a faithful witness to Jesus. I mean, simply trying to make a difference is enough to annoy some people. Doing it in the name of religion? Goodbye friends!
Then, as I was running back along a path by the side of the motorway the talk ended and she started doing a prayer bit. She was talking about confessing and letting go of the stuff you’re holding onto. The “As long as I can have this, I’ll be happy to live for Jesus” stuff.
Now… I have had a few times in the past when I’ve been praying whilst out jogging, or just walking, and felt prompted to kneel and pray where I was. But I always reasoned my way out of it – “That can’t be God,” “It’d just weird people out,” “What would be the point?”
But today I was listening to the talk and praying about wanting to let go of a desire to have people think well of me, or at least not think bad of me. Like, I’m happy to not have people think I’m amazingly cool, and stunningly handsome. But to have people think I’m crazy, or bigoted, because of Jesus – I’m not so much down with that.
So when I felt prompted again to kneel and pray, I realized that I needed to let go of this desire not to be thought bad off.
So… I knelt and prayed by the side of the motorway. And I felt so free!
Afterwards I was running along thinking, “Yeah, I can kneel and pray in public and I don’t mind.” And as I was coming up the hill to the motorway bridge I felt a prod, “How about praying on this bridge?” And I was like, “Bring it!.” And the voice was like, “Yeah, but not kneeling. With your arms outstretched. You know, like people pray in the Bible!”
For about 10 minutes I stood on that bridge. Do I? Don’t ? I even tried to fake God out by doing some stretches where my arms were up in the air for about half a second. But it turns out God isn’t so easily fooled. So finally I did it. I prayed with my arms outstretched over the M62.
OK, so what was the point? What did I learn from this experience, more bizarre than that giant stone head?
3 main things:
- I need to care less about what people think of me – people in Japan will inevitably think I’m mad, especially when I try to explain myself to them in my sketchy Japanese. The only way to avoid being misunderstood in Japan is to not go!
- I need to care more about what people think of Jesus – Japan won’t be changed by people thinking I’m a great guy. Jesus is the hero of this story. What people think of Him is much more important than what they think of me.
- I need to care most about what Jesus thinks of me – this is what frees me to follow the first 2 points. Because the truth is that before I knew Him I was proud and stupid. When people misunderstand me to be crazy or arrogant, they underestimate me. And yet, Jesus died for me. So I think it’s safe to say that He likes me. And that’s enough.
Except I still struggle to trust that. It’s why there’s people I love deeply that I haven’t really ever spoken to about Jesus (you know who you are!). It’s why I deliberated about publishing this post (because if you didn’t think I was crazy before, you certainly do now!). And it’s why I, and other missionaries like me, need your prayers and encouragements.
So if you pray, then please pray for missionaries in Japan. Pray that we would be free from our desire to be though much of, so that we can make much of Jesus, and keep loving Japan even if we don’t get loved back.
Also if you’ve got 4 minutes to spend I’d highly recommend this spoken word piece. It’s called “Beautiful Feet” and pretty much sums up how I feel.
Oh, and if you’re interested, here’s the link for the talk I was listening to.