Rite of Passage: Of giants and grace
In this journey called life, I have had the privilege to meet some of the giants of the Kingdom. I am not sure what God considers a giant, though. I imagine some of His choices will surprise us. Humans tend to look for people who have made a mark on this world. I believe God looks for someone who has made a mark on His heart.
You may have read about 19th-Century evangelist Charles Finney. When he preached, the Holy Spirit swept across a city and thousands came to Christ. But if you read far enough, you will learn about a man named Abel Clary, saved in the same meeting as Finney. Without telling him, this man traveled to a city where the great evangelist was speaking. There, he found a home where he could pray for the salvation of others while Finney preached. Clary often became so burdened during his prayer times that he could not stand, but lay flat on the floor instead.
Sometimes, I wrestle with the methods God uses to proclaim His Word. Does the obedience of a gifted speaker call forth salvation, or does God hear the prayers of a man who cries out to Him with a broken heart? I have to admit that on this side of Heaven, I am not smart enough to know the answer. I understand only enough to realize that God works in many ways, and we will be surprised at how and why He did things. I guess that’s what makes Him . . . God.
I’m grateful to have known some of God’s giants. As a young preacher, my life intersected with an incredible man of God. Avery Willis retired in 2004 as senior vice president for international operations of the International Mission Board. I used to travel with him to present a discipleship process he wrote called MasterLife. Willis’ life left an incredible mark on mine, and I have patterned much of my ministry after his teaching.
One day, I was with him in China, helping present MasterLife to the vice president of China and his entourage. The Communists figured out a way to shorten the meeting. Willis was only a few minutes into his presentation when they stopped him. They said, “This so-called discipleship material is based upon the American culture and would never translate into ours.” I saw the smirks on the faces of the Chinese leaders. They knew the meeting was over. I thought so, too—but where most men see a wall, a great man sees a door.
Willis turned to the Chinese vice president and said, “This discipleship process wasn’t written for Americans. I wrote it while I was a missionary in Indonesia, and we had to translate it for American culture. It is Asian at heart.” Heads snapped back and forth, the meeting continued, and for the next hour, Willis shared the life of Christ in that room.
This week, Willis celebrated his 76th birthday and 58th anniversary in the ministry. He has recently undergone treatment for leukemia, but that hasn’t slowed his passion to orchestrate salvation for the world.
I know another side of this man because I also knew his mother, Grace. For years, I led her WMU Bible study. She and the other ladies, of whom most have gone home to be with the Lord, took on this young preacher as their mission project. The longer I taught them, the more I realized: they knew the Bible better than I did. They sat, their arthritic hands holding Bibles they’d read for more years than I’d been alive, and listened as though everything I taught was brand-new.
Grace told one of the other ladies that she saw me as a young Avery. When I taught MasterLife in our church, she informed me with a twinkle in her eye that she had called her son to ask if I was doing it right. Even when she lay in a nursing home, she prayed over me, encouraged me and held me accountable to the Word.
The other thing I remember about Grace is the loaves of homemade bread she brought me, each baked in a coffee can. I can’t tell you how many of these loaves I ate (and I’m not sure I want to), but the thought brings back many warm memories.
Grace was someone who prayed in the way that Abel Clary prayed. She knew the inner workings of the prayer closet. And I was the recipient of many of her prayers.
Ask God to allow your children to have a giant like Avery Willis in their lives. At the same time, pray that they will find balance with a heaping helping of . . . Grace.
Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827.