Oh no. He’s refuting my sermon points before I even speak. Jesus, there’s either going to be radical transformation today, or I’m going to be chased to my car. I shouldn’t have worn flip-flops.
Those were my thoughts as the service began this morning at my friend Lordwick’s church here in a South African township, when John, the “emcee,” was up front. He excitedly talked about enjoying a prosperous life as a Christian. At one point he said, “If you are in trouble, if you are suffering, there is something wrong with you. You need to get close to God.”
The demonic prosperity gospel has an enormous stronghold here in Africa. I wanted to confront it head-on. I wanted God to do a mighty work and reveal the true nature of the gospel. I knew that because of what I was going to say, suffering could come my way.
While I sat and listened to John’s pre-sermon ‘sermon’ and the loud, keyboard-driven praise music, I prayed that God would come with power to preach boldly — even if the message would be unpopular. I prayed for transformation. And by God’s grace, I think we saw the beginning of transformation by the time we were done.
Let me be honest: after the service, I tried to avoid John. But he found me (it wasn’t hard, there were only about 40 people, and more than half were children). He grabbed me and shook my hand and said, “James, you have opened my eyes up to something I didn’t know about. I thought when I have Jesus, the money should flow in. But I realize that I wasn’t believing the real gospel. Your message, it was the real gospel.” I was floored. All I could say to him was, “Praise God.” I gave my manuscript to John, and over lunch, we talked about getting him more resources that will help him be shaped by the real gospel.
With this response, God answered my prayer. All week I had been praying that God would open people’s eyes to see. I can’t do that. Yet, that is exactly what God told Paul to do in Acts 26:18, “I am sending you to open their eyes.” How can we do this impossible thing? It is only by God’s grace that he works through us. Anything is possible with him. He is the one who says, “Let light shine!” (2 Cor. 4:6). And he did today. In fact, he’s doing it everyday.
John was just one man, during one service, after one sermon, in one small, sweaty, school room in South Africa. But it’s a testament to God’s grace and power. It’s a testament to his kindness in answering prayer. It’s a testament that he is the one who opens eyes, and that he uses nobodies like me to do it.
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Thanks to Rylan for the pictures! Preaching with a translator is never easy (this was my second time). It’s difficult to get in rhythm because I have to speak very simply (he’s not a professional translator) and sentence-by-sentence. But by the end though, Lordwick and I started to feed off each other. Listen to or read the message.