This post is mainly dedicated to my good friend, Johnny Williams. (It’s also dedicated to the rest of my Korea fam!)
I met Johnny on Easter Sunday in Changwon, South Korea. I’m pretty sure the first thing he told me was that I had a good voice, and we bonded over our mutual love slash obsession with Coldplay and music in general, and then he proceeded to insult me for the rest of the night. He even followed me home just to make fun of me longer. I instantly knew he would be a pretty good friend… and I was right. It only took one life group at Starbucks and another walk home from church for Johnny and I to begin to have really deep conversations: we learned early on that we are awfully emotional and dramatic and we have been close friends ever since!
I was telling my mom the other day how special my relationships were in Korea because of how specifically similar of circumstances each person was in. You just kindof fall into this country and fumble around looking for the good foreign bars and the closest McDonalds and people who speak your language- or in my case, Mexican food, Blue Moon beers, Starbucks, and an English-speaking church. I didn’t ask for much, but I remember pleading with the Lord before I left the country that he would give me just one friend: just. one.
And if you followed along with my Korean journey at all, you will know that just like he loves to constantly do, God blew my prayers right out of the water (Yes, He provided Mexican food, Blue Moon, and Starbucks). He not only gave me one really good friend, he placed me in a community that became a family. He gave me multiple friends. He gave me brothers and sisters.
So believe me when I say, I miss them. I miss them terribly. The longing to be with them came on gradually; during my first several weeks back in America my thoughts were just flooded with, “YES! I’M BACK IN AMERICA!!!!!!!!” Korea felt like a far away dream. Then, the newness of this country started to gradually fade as nostalgia started to creep in, and next thing I knew I was scrolling through every single picture I had taken in Korea, wiping tears that were overflowing from a heart that just longed to be back with my friends. I miss the mountains, I miss the view from my apartment, I miss the long walks home from school, I miss bulgogi, I miss Dan Collin’s sermons, I miss taking communion in a coffee shop, I miss Wednesday morning life group, I just really, really miss my friends.
But as I wallowed in Korean memories, it struck me that what I miss most, what I miss because I miss all of these things, is the closeness and sweetness of Jesus in that far country. Since I walked away from my family at the airport, since I boarded the plane, and since I first stepped into my apartment 1409 in Changwon, Korea, Jesus was abundantly more precious to me than ever before. For some reason, once I landed back on American soil and walked the floors of my Carolina home, the fickleness of my heart won over the rest and peace and abundance of Jesus himself. Ah. It is so foolish to admit it, still. Still, this is what happened, and it got worse and worse over the past few days.
Intertwined with this slipping into ungratefulness, dissatisfaction, and my constant, “No, thanks,” to my Creator, I was however, convicted of something else. To put it simply: I realized how much I lack treasuring the gospel in my day-to-day living. So around Tuesday or Wednesday, I decided to simply just start preaching the gospel to myself on a regular basis. Paul Tripp once said something about how you are the one who speaks to yourself the most, so you have the power to speak good or evil to yourself, it’s your choice. I’ve had a constant prayer in my heart since I lived in Korea, which is that God would show me more and more what it means to be his Daughter, what it means to be a child of God, what it means to be loved by Him. Perhaps by preaching the gospel to myself as much as I could, it would deepen my understanding of both what it means, and how to live like I really am one of God’s beloved kids.
Still, my heart is fickle, and I can hardly meditate on the greatest, truest, most beautiful news in the world for more than a few minutes without complaints and ungratefulness creeping in. Sadly, my complaints and ungratefulness went from sneaking in, to full on rushing through the pulses of my heart.
Praise God for his Holy Spirit that started raising red flags throughout my own spirit; red alerts that something is terribly, terribly wrong.
Last night, I went on my Korean church’s website and found the recording of the sermon from the day I left Korea. I couldn’t make it to church that day because I had to catch my flight to Guam. It was so strange and so difficult to comprehend that while I was on a bus headed out of the city, the people I loved were gathering together in the opposite direction to worship. The sermon was the second to last in a series on 1 John, on the verses about prayer:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
Of course, I wept through the first few minutes, completely overcome with equal parts sadness and at this point, anger, that I couldn’t sit under this teaching in real life, that I couldn’t be surrounded by my friends, that I couldn’t have this community enriching my life on a daily basis like I used to. But here is the truth and the goodness from that message:
We have confidence before the King of heaven. And because we have full, free, confident access to the Maker of heaven and earth, God hears us and God gives us what we ask, if and only if we ask in accordance to His will. And how do we know his will, and how can we ask in accordance to it? My pastor pointed out from a number of places in scripture, that it’s through the Word of God that we understand the will of God. Much like Jesus praying in the garden before His crucifixion, “not my will but Yours be done,” the Father aligns our will with his… through prayer. “Prayer has a sanctifying necessity,” my pastor said. And then he reminded: it took the death of Jesus to bring about even the possibility of prayer. It took the death of Jesus to bring about the possibility of sanctification. It took the death of Jesus to give us access to the Father so He could make us more like Jesus.
How sweet it is that he makes it so simple for me.
Yet, how foolish I am. As soon as this sermon was over, I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to admit that this place of life I’m in is where His will has me. I didn’t want to be sanctified, so I sulked about it for a while. I texted Johnny as I wallowed, because I knew he would understand and deep down, I knew he would point me back towards the light.
I spent this morning exchanging messages with Johnny. Because he is a good brother, because He loves God and heeds the Holy Spirit, he actually pointed out the exact — THE EXACT — same thing I had heard in the sermon last night.
“Christ knew his father’s will would be done, because it meant the redemption of the sins of man and the grace of God being fulfilled. [This pain] is pursuing a glory we cannot comprehend, for God said he will finish the good work he started in us…what ever turmoil is upon you, praise God that it afflicts you because it will bring you closer to our savior, Gods will, and his plan for your life…”
Then. Then. He sent a video of him and my friends, standing outside the cafe where they gather for church, bundled up in coats and waving and jumping (haha Apa) and simply telling me hello! It was so wonderful, so beautiful, so sweet, so humbling.
Johnny helped to point out that my life is still so rich and bountiful, even if the blessings look different than they did in Korea. He also helped to point out that most of all, I was being a huge baby about sanctification. I was refusing to see that the blood-bought access to the King of heaven, to my good, good Father, was being squandered as I pushed against his will.
Ah, friends. We serve a God who is not limited by all the ways I try to block Him out. He still comes after me. It’s funny how this week, God foreshadowed this by reminding me of my need for the Gospel. Funny how He used the preaching and teaching I miss so much to remind me that it’s through the Gospel that I’m sanctified. And it’s funny how God used the people I miss the most– the very people I was pouting over not getting to be with— to extend to me His great, deep, joyful love.
This is the gospel! This is what I’ve been praying to comprehend more and what I’ve been asking God to reveal to me. Just like my friends on the screen of my phone, he’s here, he hasn’t forgotten me! And I act like a huge ungrateful child but I 1000% believe my God is a friend and Father who is all but jumping up and down and waving for my attention! He loves me. He wants to make me more like Jesus, and I can approach Him with the confidence that He will indeed sanctify me according to his good and perfect will.
I think it’s safe to say that the same friends who once showed me how to treasure Jesus are showing me Himself, still. It just looks a little different, but now I’m learning how to see it. How good he is, that it took a 10 second video to show me Himself through his people, thousands of miles away. How good he is, that though the process be painful at times, he is pursuing in us a glory we can’t comprehend.
PS — thanks Johnny for being extremely thoughtful & making this video, & thanks for being a really, really, really good friend.