rebelling against low expectations

God Saves People (We Don’t)

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A wave of noise washed over me. I was fresh off the plane to intern with a church planting team in a country on the other side of the world, and I had just walked into a room full of kids.

We chatted and drank tea as I eyed pastries I’d never seen before. Slowly the students filtered out, and my teammate and I squished into the tiny kitchen in the back to wash the plates. However, one student lingered behind, drying the dishes, and talking. And talking. And talking.

He told us about his life: His amazing mom. His not-so-amazing stepdad. Bullying and loneliness.

He left and I took a deep breath. “God, I don’t think I can handle this. He shared some really hard things.”

But the next week, he came up to me. “Isciena?”

“What’s up?”

“Can we read the Bible together?”

I was in shock. “Yes, of course we can!” I didn’t even know how to grocery shop in this new country yet, and already someone was interested in Jesus!

It wasn’t my winning smile or my not-so-winning culinary endeavors. It was God Himself pursuing Adrian.

You see, I wasn’t the first believer Adrian had met. God had brought a chain of believers into Adrian’s life to love him and share the gospel with him. Even though he lived in an unreached country, Adrian had been in relationship with at least four believers before me.

One after another, they had shared the love of God with him. And one after another, they had faded from his daily life. Each person played a vital role as a chain link, but God was the One who connected the links until He pulled Adrian to Himself.

We see this pattern in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, Paul writes, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.”

So, Adrian, another teammate, and I began to read the Bible together.

As we read Genesis, Adrian marveled at creation. “God is real!”

When we got to the 10 Commandments, he said, “To give us all these rules, God must really love us.”

Isaiah was confusing, however, with the poetry and complex words. When we read about the lamb led to the slaughter in chapter 53, Adrian looked at me, confused. “Who is this talking about? Is the prophet talking about himself or someone else?”

Then it dawned on him.

“Wait, Isciena, is this talking about Jesus?”

“Yes!” I was just as excited.

A few days later, I was reading in Acts 8 about Philip. The Spirit tells Philip to go walk the desert road, and he does. On the road, he encounters an Ethiopian man reading—get this—the prophecy in Isaiah 53.

Confused, the Ethiopian man asks Phillip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:34b-35)

My eyes did a double take. What? I had literally just had the same conversation with Adrian about the exact same passage.

At the next gathering, I held my phone out to him with no explanation. “Read this!”

I watched as Adrian’s eyes zoomed back and forth across the screen, his mouth falling open. “Isciena! This is about me!”

God was revealing things to Adrian that never would have sunk in through my explanation. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:17, that God sent him “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” I was seeing the power of the gospel and the frailty of my eloquence firsthand. I began to pray that God would allow the end of the Ethiopian’s story to come true in Adrian’s life too: baptism.

It was when we got to the gospels and started reading about Jesus that he hit a life-changing realization. “God loves me.”

He was getting it. He was right on the cusp. And then . . . we all left. My coworkers and I were whisked away due to various tasks and commitments and not one known Jesus-follower was left in the town.

Yet God Himself remained, whispering truth to Adrian.

When we returned, my friend and I got coffee with Adrian and asked how he was doing. Without our prompting, he talked for thirty minutes straight telling us about how he had written a prayer about his sin and sorrow, about how he had asked God for forgiveness, and how he had felt a peace unlike anything he had experienced before.

My friend and I were exchanging looks of awe. We hadn’t told him to do any of that, we had simply read the Bible with him.

While we were all away, God Himself had brought Adrian to salvation, invited him to forgiveness, and given Adrian peace.

God is the One who pursues people. He is the One who “randomly” connected Adrian with believer after believer, when there were so few in the country. God is the One who prompted Adrian to ask me to read the Bible with him—I didn’t even know the guy, and I didn’t think I was qualified to walk with him through his trauma, it wasn’t my convincing! And God revealed His love to Adrian through His Word in ways we could never have explained with our words.

Then, while everyone else was busy with other things, God met Adrian in the dark of the night and gave him a peace and hope he had never experienced before.

Maybe you are a planter. Maybe you are a waterer. But praise God, none of us are the growers! It is sobering and freeing all at once. As we plant and as we water, let’s remember these things:

1. You don’t have to save anyone.

We can’t save anyone, and trying to is putting ourselves in the place of God. Instead, we get to join God in what He is doing, like a toddler helping his aunt bake brownies. He may give us flour to dump in, but God is the One with the recipe and the ingredients.

2. You are one link in the chain.

God pursued them before you arrived and will pursue them when, like Philip, you leave. May we honor those who have planted before us and pray for those who water after us. And may we trust God to be steady in pursuit when we are finite.

God is the One who pursues people. And in Adrian’s case, the one to baptize him with water. We stood in the water, shivering, and as Adrian came up from the water, a new brother . . . rain began to fall.

“It’s like God is baptizing me too!” he beamed.


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About the author

Isciena Grace

is a young adult who enjoys crafting, reading, and deep conversations. You can find her hammocking by the river or adventuring in a fictional world.

5 comments

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  • Oh, my goodness, Isciena, your article encouraged and convicted me so much! You have such a heart for people, and after reading your article, I share your joy and love. Thank you so much!

  • Praise the Lord Isciena! Just reading this is such an encouragement to me as a fellow brother in Christ. How true that it is not us that does the work, but God. Be encouraged! You are making an impact, even through just this article. I am thankful that I was able to read it.

  • Dear Isciena, I want to thank you so much for writing this article. It was a convicting reminder to me, and God ended up using it to touch several other people. Thank you for listening to Him and planting your own seed.

  • Wow, I really needed to hear this. I’ve been struggling with a non-Christian friend’s disbelief, and it is so relieving to remember that God is the One who makes the seeds grow. Thank you for writing this article. 🙂

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →