She stood, slight yet strong, surrounded by a circle of foreign faces, and recounted her story in softly accented English that hesitated only for the finer points of grammar. Her meaning was clear and her words played like the music of a harp on our heartstrings. Here it was: the goal for which we had all come to this stubborn, silently dying land.
“I tried to find my way to God myself. I did everything my religion demanded. I prayed five times every day, I fasted, I tried to do nothing wrong. But I did not find God; I only found that I could not please Him. Then I found Jesus, and this week I gave Him my life. Now I see that before, I was really following Satan, and I want nothing more to do with him and his lies. Now I have true joy in my life.”
Her testimony left no doubt as to whom she had chosen to follow, and what she understood that to mean. Among the families gathered for worship and Bible teaching that Sunday morning were three more national believers. They stood to join her, to affirm her faith and to pray over her. As they did so, I too began to pray.
As I prayed, the image of her standing among us in her worn but clean jeans and a pill-balled blue sweater slowly faded until I saw her transformed by the redeeming power she had described. Now dressed in soft white, she stood beyond reproach among us. The dress was of a fabric well beyond her means, a flawless gossamer silk, with simple, elegant lines created by the hand of a master designer. It was a gown that neither she nor I. would never own in this lifetime, except perhaps in our dreams. There she stood, blameless and pure, in spotless white, glowing in the majestic glimmer of Christ’s saving grace which she had done nothing to deserve.
As I looked at the circle of believers that surrounded her, I sadly recognized in myself and the ‘workers’ around her that straining of effort that she had just described. Though we firmly believed in salvation by grace, we too often carefully measured the value of our lives and achievements by numbers and hours spent in the work of the Kingdom.
“Oh, God,” I breathed, “save her from learning from us that she must please You with all her best efforts, though now for Your gain. May she not replace the five calls to prayer and the mandatory month of fasting with a new slate of requirements!”
Once again I saw her in the flawless white gown, yet this time with a radiant bouquet of loosely bunched flowers—slender lilies, delicate orchids, dewy roses—a breath-taking display of the glory of God’s creation. And I waited for the meaning of this.
Gradually it dawned on me: these were flowers from the Father’s garden, placed in her hands by the Father Himself for the ‘work’ of distributing them as gifts. He was responsible for planting the seeds, cultivating the soil, and for attending them into full bloom. She would go into the garden of His presence and receive the bundle of flowers. From there, she would go out with the beautiful fragrance of His garden and effortlessly pass them on to her family and friends. This would be her new ‘work.’
This picture of God’s grace in her redemption and in the redefining of her life was awesome to me. Nothing she had done or could have done earned her the beauty or joy of this new life. Nothing that she would be called to do in her lifetime would come about by her own effort.
The power of this image was left to linger in my thoughts for many days. It was given to me, perhaps for her encouragement, or perhaps for an accurate prayer for God’s will to be done in her life. I became very much aware that it was also given to me for my own benefit. She did not stand—nor should she have stood—alone in the exquisite radiance of this wedding gown. She had, in making this choice, become one member of the Bride of Christ.