Lessons from a Jordanian Christian
by Jason Duncan
The hardest part about searching for authentic worship was first realizing that I had never truly experienced authentic worship in the first place.
It wasn’t until I actually met someone who had authentic worship that I realized that I was mistaken. By American church standards, I was considered a “super-christian.” I attended everything I could, for the right reasons (or so I thought), I studied my bible, I took notes, I listened to mid-week sermons, I volunteered outside of church, I organized bible studies, I did all the things you should without indulging too much in all the things you shouldn’t. Generally I felt good about myself, and that was exactly my problem. I had mistaken those works for worship. I wasn’t on my knees at the feet of my Lord with those works. I was building a resume to vouch for myself on the day of judgement. Believe me, I know the right words to say and the thoughts to think, but when push came to shove, in my heart, those works were not for Christ, they were for me.
In September of 2013 I traveled to Jordan to Visit a missionary my church supported. Near the end of our trip he introduced us to a man who had converted from Islam to Christianity. For nearly 3 hours this man poured his spiritual journey into our lives and it was through his testimony that I realized how much he loved God and submitted to His will and how much I didn’t.
This man lived his whole Christian life in secret. He prayed for hours on end each and every night while putting a brush to canvas creating paintings of his prayers to God. Each one an ode to how much he loved God, and each one a cry for rescue from this earth. He prayed desperately to God to allow him to reveal to his family that he was a Christian. That doesn’t seem like much to us in the States, but if he revealed his identity in Christ he could lose his job, his family, his house, and his friends. If his family chose to show mercy and allow him to keep his life, he would at the very least be considered dead to them. They would hold a funeral for him as if he had passed on.
The hurt in his voice increased when he talked about a girl he had met in his 30’s. The girl of his dreams, beautiful and seemingly perfect for him. His secret Christian life wouldn’t allow him to marry her. To him it was clear, either God or the girl, and he chose God. He ultimately broke off the relationship. As he recounted the story I could feel this women’s anger through his tears as he sat speechless in reply to her cries for an answer. She wouldn’t have understood his relationship with Jesus and what that meant for his life.
In addition, the secret police, underground spies bent on arresting and outing Christian converts, were hot on his trail. Each day of worship he parked at the mall parking garage where he would then walk 6 miles to his church so he wouldn’t be found out. Some days the secret police were there waiting for his return asking him where he had been and probing him as to why he shopped for so long and didn’t make any purchases.
Each day was a battle for this man, he pleaded with God to tell his family and lover the truth, but yet each prayer was answered with a subtle indication that it was not yet time. Understand, a confession would likely cost him his life, but it was clear God wanted him to remain alive until His timing was right, and that time had not yet come.
Hours of prayer, countless paintings, tremendous toil, moving about in secret, setting aside marriage, all in the name of the Lord. I heard his story and I realized that this man had given up on his life in reckless pursuit for a relationship with God, and it was a no-brain decision. This man didn’t thrive on a set of do’s and don’ts, he lived for intimacy with his creator.
I felt so fraudulent. I didn’t have a relationship, I had a religion. God wasn’t alive to me, he was no more than a good luck charm. He was a rabbit’s foot in my pocket. I did the works and Jesus was the insurance.
Through this whole experience, I’ve learned that wrestling with God may be the closest thing to genuine worship that you can experience. At the very least a recognition that struggling is healthy. Like Jacob, we need to wrestle with God. Often in life your best relationships are built around struggle and the God who created you, who knows the words on your lips before you speak them, wants a personal relationship, not a list of accomplishments and deeds. Jesus already accomplished everything for you, God already has all the evidence he needs through his Son to justify your entrance into fellowship with God! Genuine worship doesn’t begin with accomplishments, it begins with struggle.
As for me, I fail daily, but I can confidently say, beginning with the comfort of Christ’s works, the wrestling match with God is on.
For more on our search for authentic worship, read our other blogs or episodes in this series:
Episode 5! From Tenacity Brewery in Flint
Jason is a co-host on Not Your Pastor’s Podcast you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org