Read Genesis 39.
For Joseph, slavery, Potiphar’s wife and prison were not detours from God’s will for his life. In fact, they were God’s will for his life. They were the path to the palace. They were not in the way; they were the way.
Circumstances and the people around you are not your enemy. They are God’s servants placed there to sanctify you and take you to higher ground.
Chinese pastor Zhang Rongliang realizes this truth. Rongliang, a founder of one of China’s largest churches of over ten million members, is also one of China’s most prominent pastors. The Chinese government fears and despises him — or perhaps, they fear the way God uses him.
God uses this man wherever he goes. He was released last month after seven years and six months in prison, convicted for a crime that usually only receives a six-month sentence.
Two major things happened during this time. You see, Chinese Christians are not allowed to visit prisons or start prison outreach ministries. So Rongliang took advantage of this opportunity. He ministered to everyone he could – prisoners, prison guards and officials he could never have met outside prison. Over 5,000 men lived in prison with Liang, and many of them were able to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
While Rongliang ministered inside the prison, outside the prison, people throughout the world acted. Thousands of people wrote letters, the U.S. State Department worked to secure his release, and China Aid Association ardently supported Liang while also trying to gain his freedom. Even more people — countless people — prayed for his release.
I keep reading and re-reading something Rongliang said in an interview after his release; I can’t seem to stomach it.
“I am happy that you and others tried to arrange for my release, but in one way, I am happy that you failed. You almost made a big mistake. If you had been successful, there would be no church in that prison today.”
As I sit and ponder, I ask myself, “Was it a mistake to pray for his release?” I struggle with this idea — questioning my intentions, but the Holy Sprit speaks the undeniable, “I have a better plan,” into my heart.
If what I thought was best had actually happened, China would be without a significant ministry inside one of its prisons today. A pastor might have fewer problems, but 5,000 Chinese prisoners would not.
I should not have been so close-minded to think that the only answer God had was release.
When we pray only for someone’s release, we pray for what we think is best. However, His plan often looks much different than ours. We must depend on God and pray for His plan to be fulfilled.
Our activism, the letters we write and the petitions we sign may not have the effects we have in mind, but it does strengthen the church. Before Rongliang was released, he knew that he was supported. In an interview with a VOM contact, he mentioned multiple times how much the West supported him through prayers and letters.
Perhaps, all our activity on the outside kept him alive on the inside. We don’t know what our actions are really doing for someone. We do not know how God uses our activism.
I am more determined than ever to live as an activist.
If God uses my prayers to reach 5,000 people versus one person, let it be. After all, He is sovereign. He knows what needs to happen much more than I do.
So, what would you do if you knew you would fail?