Nothing will awaken us to the state of the American Church like spending a week with Christians on the other side of the world.
I met a Lebanese man named Adel last week. I’d met him before and he hadn’t made much of an impression on me.
He seemed uneducated but kind.
He had brought me coffee in the afternoons on previous trips to the Middle East, but he’d never been much of a conversationalist.
But last week, he became our designated driver. I ended up seeing a whole lot more of him than I’d ever planned on.
He still seemed rough around the edges and not so young in age, his wife about 20 years younger and full of energy. I inevitably heard snippets of his story. He’d lost his first wife to illness, then at 55 he met a woman who introduced him to Jesus. He ended up marrying her.
It didn’t take long for her to figure out that he didn’t know how to read.
Desperate to read the Bible, he asked her to teach him how to read and she did.
In the last 10 years the Bible has become the only book Adel reads.
He doesn’t read bestsellers and doesn’t have a favorite Christian author.
He doesn’t follow Twitter or Instagram.
He doesn’t have a blog or a website.
But he reads God’s word every moment that he can.
On the way to the airpot, I learned another little secret that my friend Adel had kept.
In the last 10 years since learning to read, Adel has committed not just verses and chapters of the Bible to memory, but entire books – like James, and the Peters, and Mark and Job, and Hebrews and on and on.
I asked him why. I asked him how.
He was baffled by my questions. “I can’t get enough of it,” he said. “I fall asleep listening to it, and wake up thinking about it. It is my life. It is my joy. It is everything.”
You will likely never meet Adel on this side of heaven. You will never read anything he’s written, and you might never even notice him.
Yet on an average day in Lebanon, a 65 year old man who couldn’t read until he was 55 is striving towards holiness, seeking after God, and has found intimacy and peace such as many of us here in the western world will never know.
While we in western Christianity argue about homosexuality in the Church and whether females should blog and teach the Bible, our brothers and sisters in Christ overseas are actually living the Christian life.
They have forsaken all and are following hard after Jesus.
They have counted the cost and have jumped all in.
Instead of worshipping their pastors, they respect their pastors and worship the Lord.
Instead of striving for riches, they give away what they have for the glory of God.
Instead of ranking their favorite Christian authors, they make lists of passages in the Bible they still long to memorize.
In a country where you might expect opposition and resistance to the gospel, the very opposite is happening.
We went to the ice cream store for dessert and ended up leading the owner of the store to Jesus.
My friend Tamar took a cab ride home after a week of serving the refugees and ended up leading the cab driver to Jesus.
We took care of people displaced from their homes having lost everything and saw in their eyes a hunger for Jesus.
In a world where material comfort is wanting and rare, and where pain abounds and personal loss rules the day, people have awakened to their true need.
They are searching for Jesus.
Yet here we are in our comfortable American houses striving after more – more money, more fame, more followers, more success, more book deals. More of everything.
We argue the merits of a new health care plan forgetting that we serve a God who heals. If only we spent as much time praying for healing as we do complaining about healers.
We argue the rights of illegal immigrants all the while neglecting to point them to the true source of freedom and riches in this life.
We argue with each other about everything while the watching world smirks at us underwhelmed by this message of love we claim has saved us.
We justify our sins instead of forsaking them.
We defend our rights instead of yielding them.
We fight, fight, fight, never satisfied, always striving for more.
Yet in a world where islam has ruled the day, an awakening is happening, a movement of God’s spirit turning people’s hearts to Jesus.
They’re doing it not because of someone’s book or tweet, but because in quiet desperation people have quit talking about God and started talking to God.
Help us, they’ve prayed.
Show us, they’ve begged.
And He has. He most powerfully has.
What if we too stopped for a minute and did the same?
What if we quit chasing after our own comfort and our own version of an American dream and started running after Jesus?
What if we asked the Spirit of God to move our hearts deeply towards him, changing us, reviving us, uniting us?
What if we made it our life goal to know God and His word like my friend Adel has?
I’m learning that nothing will awaken us to our desperate need for God like our pain.
Help us, we can pray.
Show us, we can ask.
Awaken us, we can plead.
And He will. He most powerfully will.