Imagine an actor winning at the Oscars. They come up on stage to the cheering of the audience, are handed the trophy, and take the mic for an acceptance speech. Everyone waits to hear who the actor will thank for helping them succeed. The actor opens their mouth…and says “I have nobody to thank but myself, I put myself in this spot. Thank you, me!” and walks offstage.
If someone did this, we’d think they were 1. nuts and 2. incredibly selfish. No one gets anywhere in the race of life without a myriad of people, seen or unseen, pulling you along. It’s just a fact.
But the Christian life takes it a step further; sometimes, the people who pull you onward can be people you’ve never met.
We spend a lot of time in Grafted articles challenging and exhorting each other as Christians to do better, to be clearer mirrors of Jesus. This is a healthy and needed thing; the Bible often talks about believers “building one another up.” But those challenges can carry an edge of rebuke or disappointment, because if a challenge is needed in the first place…it kind of implies we’ve messed things up.
So I think it’s worthwhile, every so often, to stop and celebrate the many, many, MANY times that the followers of Jesus get it right. Especially if you’re feeling cut off from healthy Christian community, or wishing you had a mentor figure, or discouraged that it’s hard to find older Christians you want to emulate.
The good news is, those Christians are out there. There are lives that have been lived surrendered to Jesus and so full of Light that they’re almost too bright to look at. You just might have to look outside your church circles and into history to find them.
And yes, they’re strangers. You’ve never met them or had a conversation face-to-face, and you won’t until you step into eternity. But still, you know them. There’s a kinship, a likeness from soul to soul that can’t be explained or denied. And through that kinship, they shape you. They become friends, big brothers and sisters in the faith, even across time and distance.
How amazing is it that God not only writes a beautiful story of redemption for each of us, but He intertwines our stories with those of others? There’s so much power in how the testimony of someone who lived hundreds of years ago on a different continent can be an integral part of your testimony today.
If you think about it, the church is beautifully weird. A family spanning millennia, distance and every language or cultural barrier? There’s nothing else like it on the planet.
And yet it makes sense, because even though we don’t know each other at all, in the race of following Jesus, the great Story that all life boils down to, we’re intimately alike. We’re like hikers on a mountain path. Everyone on that path is different, but they’re all racing towards the same summit, crossing the same streams and arming themselves with similar boots and backpacks to handle the trail.
Or as John Piper writes, “This is the way all the witnesses of Hebrews 11 are helping us. They have gathered along the sidelines of our race and they hold out their wounds and their joys and give us the best high-fives we ever got: ‘Go for it! You can do it. By faith you can finish. You can lay the weights down and the sins. By faith, by the assurance of better things hoped for, you can do it. I did it. And I know it can be done. Run. Run!’”
We get to share our race with amazing people. Why would we not want to get excited about this? So in that spirit, I’d like to share five of those running partners, the Christians that have impacted me most and why.
C.S. Lewis – Lewis needs no introduction; he’s the most beloved Christian figure of the twentieth century. All the same, I can’t overstate the impact this man has had on my life. Lewis has a gift for speaking to both the heart (like the longing for something we’ve never known) and the mind (the rational case for faith) of Christianity. It’s like someone telling you that you can go somewhere you’ve always dreamed about and then handing you the ticket and map.
Amy Carmichael – British missionary who spent 55 years in India fighting child prostitution and rescued hundreds of orphans. She’s probably best known for her signature response to life’s hardships, both big and small: “See in this, a chance to die.” More than anyone else, she’s taught me what it looks like to live crucified, how “pick up your cross and follow Me” plays out in the minutiae of daily life.
Frederick Buechner — Theologian, minister and a Pulitzer-Prize nominated author, Buechner has a gift for the kind of storytelling that makes you see reality as it really is. Grace is stunningly simple, everyday life is full of richness and meaning we don’t see, and Jesus is most often found in the ordinary.
Augustine of Hippo—North African, one of the greatest theologians in church history, and a man who lived a lifestyle worthy of Las Vegas before coming to faith, Augustine is one of the most hungry believers I’ve ever encountered. He spent so much of his adulthood desperately trying to find something to fill his emptiness. When that yearning finally led Augustine to God, he could never get enough of Him.
Esther Ahn Kim/Ahn Ai-sook —Author of the memoir If I Perish, Ahn Ai-sook was a young Korean Christian woman living under Japan’s occupation of Korea during WWII. After refusing to worship a Japanese sun idol (in a showdown reminiscent of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), she spent six years in Japanese war prisons. Under conditions that can only be described as hellish, she transformed one person at a time through simply loving them. Her courage to have absolute surrender to her Lord’s direction and purpose, even in the smallest ways, is something amazing.
So who are your “kindred strangers”, the faithful friends you meet across years and miles that change you forever? Who makes you run the race just a little faster, and why? If you’d like, share in the comments!