All those God-words don’t return empty

Back in 2007, I was involved in the management of an art gallery called William Street Studios. This was a rather unlikely development for me, since I have never studied art, nor aspired to be an artist. But together with a band of friends, some of whom were artists, we set it up in a beautiful old Baptist Church building in Manly (pictured above) and hosted regular art shows and classes. 

As a result we made great connections not only with local artists, but also with local art dealers.  While in some respects we represented competition to these dealers, they realised we weren’t serious art dealers, but a community of Christians committed to supporting the flourishing of local neighborhood.  

One of those local dealers was a woman named Teresa. She and her partner Shane had a little art gallery called artsConnect on Manly Corso right above a Royal Copenhagen ice cream franchise, opposite the Steyne Hotel. We saw Teresa and Shane regularly at Artichoke Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant frequented by artists, and they came along to the openings of a few shows at William Street Studios, as we did at artsConnect. 

I had the impression Teresa liked our informal faith community and our commitment to fostering creativity, social justice and spirituality. 

Then, one day, Teresa made an odd suggestion. 

“How would you feel about holding a meeting, say, once a week, in my gallery, where we could read the Bible, pray, and sing spiritual songs?”, she asked. 

We were taken aback. Did she want us to start a church service at her place? 

“No,” she laughed, “not a church service. Just a gathering of people who could read the Bible, pray and sing spiritual songs.”

That sounded like a church service to me, but I wasn’t going to quibble.

And so we did it. 

Together with a small group from our faith community, Small Boat Big Sea, we’d turn up every Wednesday, where we’d lead the ‘congregation’ of Teresa’s friends in a strange liturgy of lighting candles, responsive prayers and readings, short teaching segments (I taught from John’s gospel), discussion, singing, and, most strangely, the breaking of bread and wine. We weren’t sure where Teresa stood when it came to Christian faith, and her friends seemed to be either unchurched or post-church people with varying degrees of interest in Christianity. 

But we broke bread and drank wine in Jesus’ name with them every week.

Eventually, the energy to keep meeting ran out of steam and we stopped gathering at artsConnect and launched a trinitarian meditation group back at William Street Studios. Teresa and Shane moved out of town and we lost contact with them. And that was that. 

But I’ve occasionally reflected on that time in our lives.

I miss the spontaneous creative energy that propelled us into strange and unlikely places like hosting a not-yet-Christian Eucharist above an ice cream store. I once asked a theologian what do you call it when you eat bread and drink wine in Jesus’ name with unbelievers, and his reply was, “I don’t know. It sounds wonderful, but just don’t tell anyone you’re doing it.”

I’m not dismissing the concerns people would have about the conduct of the sacraments or ordinances (depending which tradition you come from), and I’m not wanting to suggest it’s cool to play fast and loose with much loved and cherished traditions. But when a group of artists ask you to conduct a meeting like this as they journey toward faith, what are you to do? Say no? I couldn’t, and I’ve often wondered what came of that daring, experimental service at artsConnect all those years ago.

Well, last week, out of the blue, I found out. Teresa sent me a message request on Messenger. I began to tear up as I read her beautiful words: 

“Short story, God gracefully opened the hearts of me, my partner and my stepson. We celebrated our new birth and baptism in the waters of Port Stephens last year. Would you pass our love to all those at Small Boat Big Sea who took the time to love and serve and tell us about Jesus? It’s been a bumpy journey for each of us in our little family. Looking back I am so amazed at how God thru his Spirit brought us into his Kingdom, through the love and grace that he poured out, thru his Son, and through this beautiful little church up on the hill. Thanks Mike, I hope this message reaches Small Boat, and they remember us, and I hope they are encouraged to know the absolute truth that God’s word does not return empty. Isaiah 55:11.”

The verse she quoted, Isaiah 55:11, reads:

“…so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

God’s word does not return empty. Like Teresa said, it is an absolute truth. All those God-words we used — verses of Scripture, prayers, responsive readings — they took root. Like seeds scattered to the winds, they found purchase in the soil of Teresa’s and Shane’s hearts.

Stay the course, my friends. Keep speaking truth with love and gentleness, full of grace, seasoned with salt — delicious, nourishing, life-giving words, even in the most unlikely places to the most unlikely people.

You may never know their effect.

But I pray that you will.

 

 

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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19 thoughts on “All those God-words don’t return empty

  1. What a lovely example of how God’s time is not our haste and His strategies are so often outside our boxes. Always a precious encouragement when God lets us hear how we have been part of Jesus wooing others to himself.

    It reminds me that God is working in so many lives long before they come across my path and will go on doing so long after my small part is done. Always a good perspective.

  2. This has made my week. So good.

  3. That is just an awesome story. How good is God! What a great reminder to keep going. As I turn to finishing my sermon off for the coming Sunday I’m encouraged by this. How often the inadequacy of my message seems to overwhelm. Very encouraging. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Michael: This is so life-giving and encouraging; a firm reminder that God works in and through the “means of grace”. It reminds me of a phenomenon on the 19th century North American frontier – The Camp Meeting, which, as you know, was sort of like Woodstock and an evangelistic crusade in @ mash-up. One historian said that perhaps, “more souls were conceived than s@ved” as a result. The Camp Meeting had another commonly used name: S@cramental Revival. Your experience in Sydney is a wonderful ex@mple of the importance of proximity and patient listening, combined with a willingness to move beyond convention and trust the Spirit. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Hi Mike. I often remind myself of this verse when struggling and praying for my unsaved family and friends. It particularly comforts me with my own children who once loved Jesus and knew His Word. Your post has brought me encouragement. Thanks.

  6. A few years ago our youngest daughter went to a twentieth school reunion, her first. A young women came up to her. “Remember me? I came to your house one night for tea, that was the beginning of my journey to becoming a Christian.

  7. Fantastic story. Thanks Mike! And thanks Teresa for getting back in touch and sharing too!

  8. I love this story, and it offers me encouragement in my walk with those who don’t yet know Jesus. I remember a few years ago when my son, Will, came to me and asked me a difficult question. He asked if it was discouraging to me to pour into the lives of his unbelieving friends and see no change in their spiritual journey. My response was that, while discouraging at times, I often reminded myself that I was being obedient to Jesus in loving others with His love. The outcome did not lie at my feet but at His. Your beautiful story illustrates that so well. Planting seeds can sometimes take years, and often, I don’t see the “results.” God’s Word is Truth and Power, though, and as I love people in His name, He is working in their hearts.

    Thanks for the reminder and encouragement!

  9. I really needed to read this today. Thank you Mike for taking the risk to minister beyond the walls of the church building in the first place and then staying the course to be around to tell these stories.
    We do need to be reminded that God is in the long game.

  10. I love this! Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our theology – our “church-y” way of doing stuff – that we don’t let go and let God do His stuff in the way He wants to work – even if it disrupts the norm.

    I think sometimes we forget that the heart of the Gospel is relational – somewhat more than it is theological.

  11. thank you SO much for sharing

  12. And did you know that you were also instrumental in my coming to know Jesus? You let me sing worship with a group of lovely Christian teenage girls as you travelled from church to church in the early 90’s. I was extremely sceptical about all things Christian but I loved to sing so could put up with all the God stuff! You preached on the woman at the well and just like that, I suddenly realised that Jesus might really love me. I’ve never lost that revelation and He has stuck my life together more times than I can count since. You were the first person I’d heard preach in church who sounded like they might actually know God.

    1. Wow. Thanks for letting me know that. It’s so good to hear from you.

  13. Fantastic story! Thanks for sharing. Great things happen when we get out of the way of the Spirit of God.

  14. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing Mike. Praise God!

  15. Beautiful story Mike – gives hope to all of us lousy evangelists who wonder if we are actually making a difference. The spirit does his thing both because and in spite of us.

  16. Such an encouraging story Thank you. Sometimes we have to hope in the whole picture knowing God say’s He does. Remember not too much salt!

  17. Beautiful! I needed this today! Thanks for sharing!

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