Best Christmas Advice: Act One and Act Two

by Amy Young on December 14, 2015

Act One: several years ago

In a meeting with a Chinese pastor my colleague and I asked her how foreign Christians in the vicinity of her church could support her and the church. The church is in sort-of a rural area (a relative term in that part of China) and most of the foreigners don’t speak Chinese. The foreigners hadn’t been attending church often.

It would be tempting to judge them. But, as you know, it’s exhausting not to understand what’s going on around you day in and day out.

So, to weekly sit, stand, bow, wonder the topic of the sermon, try to quiet children, try not to look at your watch too often, try not to appear antsy and remind yourself this is supposed to have some elements of worship. Knowing that this isn’t a onetime event, but you’ll be back here next Sunday. It’s easy to ask yourself is it worth it?

So, back to the question asked the pastor: how can we serve you?

Her answer was painfully simple. Just show up. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

Just show up.

Power of your presence

Yes, yes! I say. But then I realize I prefer Nike’s just do it! Doing something seems active and easier to measure the difference I’ve made {um, yes, it’s back to being all about me, all about you, not all about them}.

Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

Bam, and just that like the incarnation is summed up in a modern proverb. Emmanuel, God with us. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

I hadn’t thought of Jesus as being bored. But I bet he was. Or that he’d fidget when something didn’t capture his interest or try not to wonder how much longer he’d have to stay at an event until he could sneak out.  I’m not trying to be irreverent and I know that Jesus was able to be bored without sinning, something I am wholly incapable of doing consistently.

But when Jesus washed the feet of his friends before he died and told them to “go and do likewise,” I think he was throwing in some boredom too. Go, and serve one another, yes. At times I need to remember that serving can include just showing up.

Act Two: several weeks ago

In November my friend and I visited the pastor and her church.

After the service there is a small group who meet to practice their English by going over the sermon. One of the pastors will be present, but it’s mostly lead by the college students. The students take turns summarizing key points of the sermon and then the group discusses it and asks questions. I was able to sit in on one and can imagine pastors the world over would love for these kind of groups to be going on. For believers and explorers to review what was shared, what it means for their lives, and questions they might have.

At dinner that night we asked the head pastor how the group had come about.

“One of the students came to me with the idea. The foreigners had been showing up for several years, even when they didn’t understand. Each year it might be different foreigners, but they still come. I learned last year that the foreigners find out the scripture and read it in English during the service. On Sunday night when the team gets together, they study the scripture from that morning. When I heard this, I knew the kind of people they are. So, when the student asked, I was ready to say yes.”

Is her advice to “not underestimate the power of your presence” more powerful because of this obvious demonstration of where it could lead? I don’t think so. Instead, I see it as a mercy from God as he has lifted up the curtain and allowed a peek behind the mystery of much of what we do.

Sometimes we are the servants who sit in the pews, week after week and never got to reap this harvest. Sometimes we are the servants who get to see the obvious outworking of the Spirit.

Too often listen to the whispers that as what I’m doing and question the value of my contribution. Instead, this is also the voice of the Good Shepherd:

Just show up. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

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Where have you benefited from others’ presence these days? Where do you need to just show up?

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About Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. Often the only words needed in life, right?! She is known to jump in without all the facts and blogs regularly at The Messy Middle. The tag is “where grace and truth reside.” People tend to be drawn to grace, grace, grace OR truth, truth, truth. Either side doesn’t require much discipline, do they? Instead they foster auto-pilot living. But real life happens … in the messy middle, with both. It can be maddening, right? But also exhilarating! She also works extensively with Velvet Ashes as content creator and curator, book club host, and connection group coordinator. Her book Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service was written with you in mind. It also has two companion resources: 22 Activities for Families in Transitions and Looming Transitions Workbook.
  • Elizabeth Trotter

    “But when Jesus washed the feet of his friends before he died and told them to “go and do likewise,” I think he was throwing in some boredom too.” LOVE that Amy! Never thought about it that way. That idea changes a whole bunch for me.

  • Alicia

    Loved this! Thanks for sharing! I’m still sitting in the pews, trusting Him. Thankful that He is trustworthy.

    • Thanks Alicia! Yes, and yes. Good for sitting in the pews, and thankful He is trustworthy!

  • This takes so much pressure off to know that simply showing up means something. Love this. I just started reading Practicing the Presence of People, by Mike Mason, so this fits right in. (Have you read it? I think you’d really like it!). Thanks for this.

    • I haven’t read it Leslie, but it DOES sound like my kind of book from the title. You know I love a good book suggestion, thanks :)!

  • Bes

    so many of us need to be reminded of this. Not just at this time of year, but in life. Be present in the community in which you live (I should say the communities, as there are multiple aspects of our lives). When someone dies, take part. when someone gets married, take part. When someone is ill, visit. When a special event takes place, join in. I have seen many missionaries live in their own bubble and never take part. While others actively get involved. Those in the bubble are quickly ignored and their teaching not as valued.

    • Bes, you’re right, this isn’t just for Christmas :). Maybe we should report this in July! I know it’s a reminder I need again and again.

  • Anna Wegner

    I think we can encourage other believers even in the US just by showing up and participating whenever we can. I’ve seen this in the US when I was in ministry or just someone in the crowd. As an introvert who would really rather just stay cozy in my home, I have to remember this.

    When we were in Congo, I would go to the church on our hospital compound (practically in our front yard.) I didn’t always enjoy it- sometimes it was HOT, HOT, HOT, and there were times that I didn’t understand that much. But I did feel like showing up was something: setting a good example, worshipping with other believers, prioritizing fellowship, joining in where I could, and things along those lines. There were people who let us know that they were encouraged by our consistent attendance. But there were many times that I realized the blessing was for me. Those times I did understand, saw God working, enjoyed sweet fellowship. Towards the end of our time, when other things had become weird and awkward and it was made clear that we weren’t wanted by some other people, I realized that I could find comfort in this greater body of Christ who had accepted me in spite of our differences in language and actions. I guess you could say that I was the one blessed by them showing up.

    • I think you’re right Anna, the blessing is a two way street! Thanks for that reminder!

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