Editor’s note: This series comes from a sermon given at a recent conference on discipleship for Chinese house church leaders. This sermon is addressed to the persecuted church, and is intended as a call to joyfully persevere through hardship, knowing that, in Christ, the victory has already been won.
Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership. This sermon has been translated and edited from its original version.
In everyday life, we face real failures and feelings of failure every day. We must honestly tell everybody that we have often failed. There is a sickness called clinical depression. I have never consulted a doctor, and I do not know if I have clinical depression. But the worst kind of disease is that which a sick person does not know he has. Suppose you are sick and don’t know it. You say, “I’m healthy.” This is a dire situation. It is actually good to know you are sick. I don’t know much about clinical depression, but I think I have probably had it because someone who had depression told me that my experiences were similar to his.
In the past year, I have experienced three things. Last year about this time, I was ministering away from home when my wife suddenly texted me two lines: “Daughter is in surgery. Come home quickly!” Our communication had never been so brief, so I immediately rushed home and found my wife. The doctor said to us, “Your child has brain cancer.” She was only nine and a half years old. Of course, I had never experienced such a thing before. If you research on the internet about the surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy that follows cancer, you will completely lose it. But man is strange. Knowing all this, you still want to look this information up. After that, you imagine all sorts of things.
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This did not end up being a huge obstacle. We were able to deal with it for a period of time through our theology, by trusting in the sovereignty of God. But I thought to myself, “If God is sovereign, why did he allow this to happen? Why couldn’t his sovereignty bring me something good? Why did this illness befall us?” What’s even more exasperating, you begin to reason with yourself, “You are risking your life to serve God. How could he allow this to happen to you?” This was the most difficult thing for me. At the time, I was asking myself, “Who am I, honestly? If I truly lose my daughter, then I am not a good father.” Then I began thinking that I was also a bad husband. Immediately after that, I thought that I was a failure. I could not even protect my own daughter. There is an idiom in Chinese: “Blessings never come in pairs; misfortunes never come singly.”
I am often depressed, and I cannot even pray sometimes, so I keep myself busy. We preachers have many books, and we flip through them often. But our theological ideas cannot relieve us of real suffering. I can talk about them with others, but when suffering comes to me, I experience real struggles daily. I pray in hope, “O Lord, maybe you will perform a miracle tomorrow.” But I still have to experience his healing every day.
This incident did not make me depressed to the point of death, because I am standing here today. But as I continued to serve, a second thing happened. In the spring of this year, a church invited me to their mountaintop retreat. It was very beautiful. I consider that retreat to be the most successful one I have ever been to. Almost everyone who attended repented in tears. They refused to sleep at night in order to continue repenting. Their pastor was very moved and told me, “Come again every two months.” I told him that the retreat was not even over yet. He said that it was too good, and that we had to continue.
Two weeks after the retreat, another pastor called me and said, “Did you see the news recently?” I said, “What news?” He said, “Did you know that a husband killed his wife and then committed suicide? They were at the retreat where you spoke.” I nearly collapsed that day because the retreat had left such a strong impression on me. I could see that couple standing there before me, confessing their sins together and repenting. And then, in the blink of an eye, the husband murdered his wife and killed himself, leaving behind their child. I thought, “O Lord, maybe I am not suited to preach.” Over the previous decade or so, I had only missed one or two weeks of preaching. But after that incident, I couldn’t preach for about two months straight. I thought to myself, “Who am I? I am a servant of God. After my sermon, they killed themselves.”
Was I depressed? Are you depressed? Yes. That is not even the end. After this, when I was away on business, I suddenly woke up one night in a hotel. After I woke up, I sat there and didn’t know who I was. Have you ever had an experience like this? I suddenly woke up and was confused. “Who am I? Why am I here? What is this place? What is my name?” I don’t know how long it must have been—maybe one or two hours—but it was excruciating. There is a sickness called Alzheimer’s where a person doesn’t know who he is. During those one or two hours, I realized I was really in trouble. I didn’t know who I was. I really didn’t know who or where I was. It was a truly fearful moment. If you do not know who you are, how are you going to introduce yourself when you open the door? “I’m sorry, do you know who I am?” After you’ve suddenly forgotten who you are, you no longer think it’s strange when you meet somebody like this.
We experience this reality in our lives. We live in the midst of failure. The world tells us: “You have failed in this life!” Life consists of either dying slowly or dying quickly. Your life consists of dying sorrowfully, dying as a failure, or dying victoriously. In other words, living is dying. The difference is how you die. Some people are even more pitiful—they don’t know how they are going to die. I think those who don’t know how they are going to die are like me when I woke up that night. “How did I get here? Where am I going?”
But as disciples of Christ, when you think about this question, do not forget that you are victorious. Your life here, now, consists of dying victoriously, not as a failure. You are a victor. It is not your abilities that make you a victor. You are a victor because you belong to Jesus. Jesus accomplished all of this on the cross. He made us victors. He counts his victory as our victory. This world is full of failure, and this world tells you every day that you are a failure. But the Lord says, “Remember, I was crucified.” Paul told the disciples of his generation, “Does not the crucifixion of Jesus Christ live in you?” He meant that you are a victor; you are victorious. Our duty every day is to live victoriously.
One of the most important characteristics of a disciple of Christ is that he lives victoriously and faces death victoriously. In English, the word “Christian” is “Christ” with an “i-a-n.” I like to explain it like this: “Without Christ, I am nothing.” So who are you? You are a disciple of Christ. And if you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a victor. Without Christ, we are nothing.
May the Lord help all of us. Let us pray:
“Heavenly Father, we give thanks to you once again. Lord, the experience of failure is real. The suffering failure brings is heart wrenching, and the tears it brings are unavoidable. Lord, you know the situations your children are facing. O Lord, we come before you. Lord, we pray that your Spirit himself would comfort those among us who often experience failure, especially those of us who are serving you. We often fail, Lord.
We are not good at preaching. We are not good at exegesis. We cannot love others well. We are often incapable of dying for others. When we are unable to do these things, O Lord, we realize that we are failures. People often criticize us and say that we love the Lord, but that we are not like him. Lord, you know that we are failures, and our spirits are often downcast. Even though we try as hard as we can, in the end, we still must confess that we are failures, O Lord. Lord, you know all these things. You know that we have failed. We have failed to the extent that we are not even able to acknowledge our failures. We are very sick in this world, so much so that death is near to us, yet we are oblivious to its presence.
But you, Lord, have helped us to understand one thing: Jesus Christ has won. He freely gave victory to us failures, and let us know that the last leg of the race is already finished. Help us to embrace our victory. No matter what kinds of suffering or failure we experience, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Lord, we come before you once again and ask that each of us would clearly understand that, regardless of the time, or place, or circumstance we find ourselves in, we are victors. We belong to the winning team—we belong to Christ. Help us also to be humble. Because no matter what talents or wisdom or management skills we have, we are nothing without Christ.
We give thanks and praise to you once again. Help your children! We come before you and give you our thanks. Christ has won! Amen! We pray in the precious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!”
This author says that “living is dying.” What would it look like for you to die (i.e., live) victoriously today?
What must you believe in order to die victoriously?