Finding hope in unexpected ways

At last week’s Fellowship conference there was a report about a youth ministry in a poor, urban area. A teenage girl had been attending the church’s youth group meetings but her attitude was terrible and unfortunately it had spread to other young people in the group.
One week the leader took the youth to an evangelistic event geared towards young people. The speaker asked for a volunteer but no one offered to take part, and so he pointed to someone in the crowd and asked for them to come forward. The person he chose was the teenage girl that had been causing so much trouble in the youth group. He offered her a folded piece of paper. Before handing it to her though, he crumpled it up, rolled it in some dirt and stomped on it. He turned to the crowd and asked whether they felt she would still want the folded paper in such a ruined condition. They all yelled, “No!” But he handed her the paper and as she unfolded it she was taken aback to see that it contained a $100 bill. At that point all the youth were asking if they could volunteer next! The evangelist went on to explain that some things may appear useless but are in fact incredibly valuable. And He went on to talk about the love of God who seeks us and values us as precious no matter how we seem, no matter where we’ve been, and no matter what we’ve done.
Later that evening the teenage girl who had volunteered approached her youth leader to talk. She shared, “You may have noticed that I haven’t been showing much interest coming to your youth group.” She continued, “The reason may not be what you think. The reason for my attitude has been that we’re going through some hard times as a family, and so to help my mom, I recently sold myself to a man for $100. I have felt horrible, depressed, and undeserving of God’s love. But I kept coming to youth group because your message of grace kept drawing me. Tonight God gave me back the $100 to remind me that He does love me. And that I matter to Him and can become His child – I’m not worthless!”
It was a powerful story, but it was even more moving knowing that it had come from one of our own Fellowship churches. As I reflected on the message three things stand out to me:

  1. God is sovereign. As we’ve learned in the book of Esther, we’re never alone. God is sovereign over all of our circumstances and orchestrates everything according to His good and perfect plan. He can choose the amount of money used in a sermon illustration and who gets chosen as a volunteer if it means forwarding His plan to rescue and redeem a lost soul.
  2. Ministry is never superficial. Whether you’re parenting, preaching or leading a Sunday School class, it’s easy to get caught up with externals like attendance and behaviour. And those things do need to be observed. But at best they’re just indicators of something deeper going on beneath the surface in a person’s life. Until we get to a person’s heart (or deal with our own!), lasting change will be elusive. Deep change occurs from the inside out.
  3. God’s grace changes people. It’s human nature to try and regulate growth and dictate behaviour. But it’s the love of God that draws people to Him and the grace of God that transforms people through the Gospel. We’re prone to turn to frustration, argument, or pressure to try and change people but it’s the love and grace that we’ve received in Jesus that needs to be at the centre of how we relate to others both inside and outside the family of God.
 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

                       - Zephaniah 3:17 

May you rejoice this week in the conviction that you matter to God. And may God give you eyes to see the preciousness of those whom He has made.
In awe of Him,