In Downey UBF, I used to serve the Wednesday worship service message every week. The most powerful message I remember delivering was based on Acts 7, Stephen’s martyrdom. Usually I would finish the message on Monday, and then spend Tuesday and Wednesday practicing and praying to digest the passage properly. I served this particular message at the Wednesday worship service with a fearful and trembling heart, and God used it powerfully. In this passage, Stephen was challenging and rebuking the Jewish people, telling them, “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: you always resist the Holy Spirit.”
While I was serving the message, the Holy Spirit overtook me and the message was really powerful. I concluded and prayed, then sat down. No one said a word – usually the whole audience would say “Amen” together, but no one responded! I felt a little awkward. Then the presider came up and said, “Let’s sing hymn number __ together,” and the pianist played, but no one sang. The presider then said, “Now let’s have prayer topics and announcements by Missionary Isaac.” Missionary Isaac came to the podium and began to speak, coming up with some jokes, but no one responded – they just stared at him, frozen in their seats. As he struggled, finally people began to respond one by one, and eventually that moment was over. We prayed and finished the meeting. After this, all the disciples were really excited – they had seen the power of God’s word, the Holy Spirit working in the church. “Now what?” they asked eagerly, anticipating the amazing things that would come next. I too was amazed, wondering what would happen in the following week.
The next passage in the book of Acts was chapter 8, the persecution in Judea and Philip evangelizing in Samaria, along with Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. As I struggled in message writing, God helped me greatly, and two divine messages were given to me – one about Philip’s evangelism in Samaria, and the other about the Ethiopian eunuch’s turning to God based on Isaiah. “In his humiliation, he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” This passage was about Jesus’ death on the cross, but it seemed that the Ethiopian eunuch was very intrigued by this verse because he himself had no hope of ever having descendants. So he was asking Philip who this person was. Based on that, Philip preached the message of Jesus’ death on the cross, and there the eunuch was very touched and received baptism. Those two parts were really great and very touching, but the message was overall very long – it was about ten pages, maybe 5000 words.
That Wednesday morning, I went to the church and stayed there, practicing and praying all day long. 7:30 pm was our message time, so I stopped practicing around 6 pm and focused on praying, asking the Holy Spirit for His seal of approval upon this message, His confirmation that He would be with me in serving this message. I was looking for that confirmation in my prayer struggle.
While I was praying, I suddenly remembered God’s grace upon my life and began thanking Him and praising Him with all my heart for the amazing things He had done for me. It was such a wonderful time that I shed tears, so happy and satisfied. I assumed this meant that God was confirming His approval, so I said to God, “Thank you for giving me your seal of approval on this message.” But when I said that, it seemed that God rejected those words. I sensed that and was a little confused. But anyway I moved on, and as I was expressing my thanks to God with all my heart, I was so happy and satisfied. It was a really beautiful thing to enjoy time with God in prayer. God’s presence was so real to me, and because this fellowship with Him was so great, I boldly asked God, “Lord, I want you to give me your confirmation that you will bless the rest of my messages on the book of Acts after this.” Up till then, I had been individually struggling with each passage and praying for God’s confirmation each time, so I hoped to get it all at once for future messages. Amazingly, God gave me His confirmation – He said, “I will do it.” I was so happy and thankful. Wow! Praise God!
From the depths of my heart, I praised and thanked God, saying, “Lord, thank you so much for giving me your confirmation for all the messages from this week on!” I was overflowing with happiness. Then when I said that, suddenly, God replied, “When did I say ‘from this message on‘?” When I heard that, I was really embarrassed. I thought I had misheard. So I just prayed a little more and then concluded. Then my time to serve the message came.
The written message was really great, but when I served that message, it was terrible. I was there all alone. I felt like I was just all by myself in the middle of the ocean. What was worse was that the message was so long, killing me slowly. I was saying the words, and simply God was not with me. It was the worst message ever. I felt really miserable, and it was very lonely – all by myself in front of all those people. In hindsight, I know now why it did not go well – it was because I was just lecturing the audience, as if I knew something that they did not know, instead of struggling to serve the word of God. That Sunday, 4 days later in the missionary testimony meeting after worship service, one missionary openly shared his testimony, blaming me. He had brought one sheep from USC, expecting that the Wednesday worship service would be good, but it was the worst message! And as he blamed me during the testimony meeting, I could not say anything – I just hung my head low because indeed, it was the worst message ever. He was right.
After that Wednesday worship service, I went to God in prayer, feeling like a flat tire in spirit. I had no strength left and I asked God, “Lord, why didn’t you go with me? It was so hard. It was really difficult.” I was crying and expressing my sense of failure. God remained silent. At that time, as I was praying, what comforted me was that He had given me His confirmation on all the messages on the book of Acts from the following week on. There were 15 more weeks to go in the book of Acts, and I knew a lot of things could happen, many unexpected challenges. So I wondered how God would help me.
But in the following weeks, indeed God was there in each of my messages – in both preparation and delivery. Each message was divine. There was one challenge – one week I was knocked out and could not write anything, even though Wednesday was approaching fast. I wondered how God would help me write this message. He had promised He would, but how would this work when I was knocked out and could not write a single word? Time was ticking…then during Bible study on Sunday when I shared my difficulty, one disciple volunteered. Usually no one volunteers for this because message writing is burdensome. But he volunteered! The next day, he sent his message to me. Curious, I checked it out. Then as I read the first page, suddenly God’s inspiration came to me, and right there, I opened another window and began typing, quickly finishing the entire message in 2 or 3 hours. It was really great! I talked to that disciple and explained what had happened. “Since God gave me His message, I think I must serve this week,” and he said, “Okay, no problem!” It was very miraculous and mysterious to me. In this way, God helped me with all the messages on the book of Acts, just as He had promised.
It was very interesting… the most powerful message one week, and the worst message the next. What I learned is that I must never try to lecture anyone, but struggle to serve the word of God, so that what that passage talks about may become clear.
AHH!! sooooo cool missionary John! What an amazing journey and lesson that you went through. I really enjoy reading the behind the scenes work of God in your life. It’s like reading history – I pray God may give you his seal of approval to share many more blog posts 😊
I remember on my very first symposium message, you also commented how I must not lecture any points. Now I know it is because God showed you first hand 😂 thank you for sparing me from making the same mistake and embarrassing myself.
Same here Jean! Not lecturing, that’s my struggle. I share the same prayer topic with you now haha.
This is so cool – Msn John was telling you that from personal experience xD Lessons learned the hard way! I also learned the hard way when I was just starting out as a shepherd…a student bluntly told me that I was talking down to her as if she was a kid. I was shocked and realized that I need to really learn how to teach the Bible in a way that helps the student understand and enjoy the passage, instead of lecturing at them. Your messages were always super alive and joyful and touching! Praise God for helping you serve the word of God in a glorious way
Msn. John, I feel speechless right now! (In a good way, haha). I did not know this reality and behind the scenes struggle to prepare weekly messages for the church. Growing up in the church, I took for granted what pastors/messengers have to go through, thinking “meh, today’s message was boring”. (How foolish! *shakes fist*)
Honestly, I have been praying for a while how can I effectively deliver God’s words to college students. I felt like the way I was teaching before needed to change, but I didn’t really know why, how or what specifically that needed to change.
Seeing your practical struggle, I learn:
I feel like, there’s so much for me to learn… I might ask you some follow-up questions! Haha
Thank you for sharing your learnings and insights! I really needed this blog post today, the timing was PERFECT!
Wow it’s so great to see you on here, I love your name, crying prophet.
Ohhhh you changed your name too! It was something like Nini before, right? xD
I did, LOL that was my Khmer name, if you prolong the “Ni and say “Knee—–tha,”
Ohh nice very cool 😀
God’s heart for students and the prophet Jeremiah definitely inspired me for the name! 😀
Thank you for sharing 🙂
“How foolish” HAHAHA! There are so many different applications for this verse LOL
It’ll be my “how to humble myself” catchphrase. Not calling others ‘how foolish’, but this time, to myself LOL
Oh man!! That’s a humbling thought…next time I do something dumb or arrogant, I’ll hear your voice crying out in the wilderness, far away in the distance……….
………….”ughhh how foolish!!!”
LOL! I was actually JUST thinking about John 1:23 – how can I be like John the Baptist AND stay humble, be nothing but a voice for God. To be known for “How foolish!” was not what I had anticipated at all… but as long as it only brings glory to Jesus, then YAY! hehe
Wow! That is very encouraging. I remember bits of pieces of that story when you told it before, but it is great to have the full story in writing! 🙂 I liked the photos, they made me laugh, especially the one where the guy is flat out on the ground. (I could feel that personally lol). Also the relationship between you and God at that time was quite funny and endearing and real. God said “when did i say, from this message on?” Lol. I think I, too would think I misheard.
Still, that worst message became a teaching moment and I believed it was used for God’s glory in your life. But it was also really amazing that God helped you throughout the book of Acts to preapre the messages. I thank God for using you even till now to serve us divine messages and to teach us many valuable spiritual truths. Thank you for posting.
I like the photos as well, especially the photo of frozen. It reminded me of my bible studies. As I teach my students they are frozen, but not because of the same reason as that of Missionary John’s post. But just because they are frozen with anticipation to leave the bible studies. LOL. just kidding.
I do agree to your comment, “that a worst message became a teaching moment…” This is the joy of learning in this new life.
Wow missionary John, I am so touched, thank you for sharing regarding your successes and I would love to reframe “learning moments, or teachable moments.”
That’s such a great lesson and great reminder how the goal is making the lesson clear. That’s a great prayer topic. I’m encouraged again to not serve the same type of food, but to make gourmet food for my sheep, and when I teach group bible studies.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since God called me to be a shepherd. How can I not lecture people but communicate with them? Lecturing pushes away people, while communicating opens people’s heart. I’ve grown that way since my parents occupied positions at work and that’s their style, giving directions, public speeches…
But at the same time, God’s message must be delivered. So there’s not other way than God speaking through me. Learning……………
It hard not to lecture when our parents have been that way towards us. Maybe we can just use the AI to teach our students from now on. lol
It is a good struggle not to repeat the lecturing mistakes from our past. It is a learning experience… Amen.
Thanks for sharing this! I was very touched and inspired by your struggle. One thing that stood out to me the most was your very real relationship with God, even having conversations with God in prayer. It encouraged me to seek real fellowship with God in prayer so that I can enjoy these kinds of conversations, even having real confidence that God is with me in each Bible study rather than just showing up to teach.
So true! I wonder how God’s voice sounds in prayer. I’m also thinking that I have a lot more praying to do, so I can have real fellowship with God…imagine going to teach Bible study after He just spoke to you and gave you the answers to a student’s deepest issues 🙏 how amazing it would be to really meet with God and closely work together with Him that way!
It is very hard to find that balance between lecturing and delivering the word of God. I can understand the “flat tire” analogy or feeling like falling flat on your face. When Bible study goes that way, I feel like my students are more drained afterward and I just want to curl up into a ball. Haha – that one missionary whose sheep came and was disappointed with the message! 😅 I hope his student remained anyway. This was encouraging and helpful. Thanks for sharing your very real struggle.
I know what you mean about curling up into a ball. I am curling up right now as I think about some of those bible studies. It is indeed a real struggle that brings great joy. I hope that one student also remained and is now a shepherd.
Wow, this is a powerful message / blog / teaching. And it has also come to me at a good time. I see that instead of just remaining in my mistakes I need to continue to preach the message and have the right attitude as I do so. I need to teach instead of lecturing. This is something I really needed to hear this year. Thank you Missionary John for sharing.
True, we’re going to make mistakes as we do God’s work, but we learn as we go! God is our teacher, and because of Him we rise again from our failures and climb up to higher ground 🙌