On first arriving in Japan in February 2015, I was expecting to do many things—learn Japanese, eat okonomiyaki, join a church, build a snowman, and make friends with very patient Japanese people. While I have done all these things (some more successfully than others), I have been surprised at the spiritual lessons God has also taught me—lessons in humility and weakness.
I remember talking with an OMF leader about his time at language school. His remark was telling: “At language school, I learned that I was a great, big sinner.” I can entirely relate! I’d entered a cross-cultural context where I couldn’t communicate, had to adjust to huge social and cultural change with a young family, and was constantly tired. This brought out sin, weaknesses, and character flaws.
Instead of living out the fruit of the Spirit, I more often than not sighed in confession, “What a wretched man I am!” (Rom 7:24 NIV). Often, my heart cry has not been for the Lord’s strength to be shown in my weakness, but rather “I just want to be able to do it myself.” I recall going for a prayer walk one evening when I was especially frustrated at learning Japanese. I cried out to God in great annoyance, “You did a really good job at Babel!” Yet ironically it was something I did in English that brought me to my lowest point.
Last year, I preached in English at an international church. I love preaching and did so regularly when I was working at my home church in Australia. I was very grateful for the opportunity, I prepared my sermon, but afterwards I felt it had not gone well. Later that week, I sank to a new low. If I couldn’t do anything well in English, what hope did I have in Japanese?
It is often at our lowest points that the Lord teaches us the most important lessons. That week, as I sat on our apartment balcony in (rather depressed) prayer, the Lord spoke to me with clear and powerful words. It was true—I would never do anything well for the Lord, regardless of the language, if I did it in my own strength. It was a paradigm shift that hit me like a bolt of lightning.
It is often at our lowest points that the Lord teaches us the most important lessons.
Without humbly and prayerfully seeking and submitting to the power of God in our lives and ministry, we will never produce lasting fruit. As Paul proclaims: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor 2:4–5).
This is an age-old lesson, of course, but God needed to bring me to my knees to force it from my head to my heart! And on our knees is surely the posture we need to maintain. As church historian Earle. E. Cairns reflects: “Prayer ranks first in the coming of revival . . . There cannot be revival unless Christians pray for it.”1 How we long for revival in Japan. But revival surely starts within us, as we humbly and prayerfully render our hearts and ministry to God. JH
1. Earle E. Cairns, An Endless Line of Splendor (Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 340-41.
Paul Jessop arrived in Japan in February 2015 and has since been studying at the OMF language school in Sapporo. Paul is married to Melissa and they have three girls, Heidi (5), Pippa (4), and Annie (1).