The God who is near: Finding salvation in a time of social distancing
Amanda Chong // July 16, 2020, 10:15 pm
On February 16, 2020, a dear friend, J, suddenly called me to catch up.
I felt prompted to pray for her before we met. I had, in fact, been praying for her for three years since I was baptised in 2017. God had placed a burden in my heart for her, though I never thought she would be interested in church or God.
As we wandered the National Gallery together, J told me that she had a dream the night before. In her dream, she was standing in a church. She felt a deep peace and sensed someone tell her that she could be there every Sunday.
She then confessed that reading many books by atheist thinkers and scientists had ironically led her to believe that there must be a God in the universe.
“But how do you know that this God is Jesus?” she asked.
I immediately prayed and asked God to give me the right words. J is a brilliant philosopher who specialises in Plato, and I feared even my best arguments would be picked apart immediately.
Instead of any sophisticated reply, these words came into my mind and so I spoke them, “In Him, we live and move and have our being.”
J looked at me in surprise, “I wrote those exact words in my journal this morning when I woke up from the dream.” She had written them unaware that they were from the Bible.
“It has to be God speaking to you,” I said, shocked but excited, suggesting we open the Bible together to find exactly where these words came from.
We arrived at Acts 17:22-34, where Paul addressed the Athenians (including Greek philosophers like J herself) and told them that while they had written on their altars “To An Unknown God”, God had already made himself known in the person of Jesus.
“‘God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us. “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” … He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.’” (Acts 17:27-28, 31)
Incredibly, J’s own journal entry that same morning was titled “To a Nameless God”!
Emboldened, I told her that as it says in Acts 17:27-28, God has given us intellect and reason “that (we) should seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him”. And in our search, we are assured that “He is not far from each one of us”.
As we continued our stroll around City Hall, I shared my testimony with J and told her of the transformation that God had done in my heart to turn my heart away from sin, which I could have never overcome by my own strength.
I quoted 2 Corinthians 5:17 to her: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold the new has come.”
While I was talking to J, I received a Facebook message from someone I did not know personally. This person told me that while praying for me, she had a vision of a butterfly by a patch of green grass.
She believed that God wanted me to know that while I had been fed by His word (in my “caterpillar” phase) and kept by His grace (in my “cocoon” phase), God had now transformed me into a butterfly – pollinating flowers to help others bear fruit in Him.
She interpreted the green grass patch as people in my friendship circle who were “ready for seed sowing and harvest reaping”. She also sent me the exact same verse I had just spoken to J – 2 Corinthians 5:17!
I was stunned by this timely message from a stranger and took it as a huge encouragement from God to continue ministering to J and pressing in to pray for J’s salvation every day.
From then on, I met with J almost every week to answer her questions about God and the Bible. But the week that she finally voiced interest in visiting my church, our services shut down due to COVID-19.
Oh no, I thought, rueing the missed opportunity and the uncertainty of when church services would start again.
I was not sure what to do, so I prayed.
As I prayed, I had the sense that in this time of COVID-19, God was going to show us that He is mighty to save even outside the familiar context of a real-life church service.
In this season, He was going to teach us to partner with the Holy Spirit in biblical models of evangelism and discipleship which activate the entire body of Christ, not just the preacher at the pulpit or church staff planning programmes.
I continued to meet J every Sunday, and shared with her what I had learnt from livestream sermons and from my own walk with God. I began praying for her in her presence too.
I was so encouraged to learn that she had started reading the Bible for herself. She had read John, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans and Proverbs.
Still, she had her doubts about Jesus’ outrageous claim that He was the Son of God. How could that be true?
On April 5, I met up with J for the last time before the circuit breaker measures were put in place.
I asked whether I could pray for her. She agreed and turned off the lights and lit a candle so we could listen to the Psalms in song.
After I prayed for her, another friend, D, suddenly came to my mind. I told J that D had been praying for her too, despite only having met her once, as God had placed J on D’s heart.
Scrolling through the many unread messages on my phone, I saw that D had actually messaged me.
When I read D’s message, I was amazed. She said that as she was praying for me, she had a vision of a lone gold butterfly against a black background.
Her text read: “Amid the darkness, I felt God saying that as a butterfly your role is to help pollinate and that your role is vital for others to bear fruit.”
I felt moved to immediately tell J about both butterfly visions that I had received in the middle of ministering to her. She was amazed too.
J immediately pointed out that D’s vision of a gold butterfly against darkness was similar to the scene before us now, as we were sitting in darkness with a single golden flame from a candle dancing. I told her that I believed the two visions were for her too – God desired her to know Him and bear fruit.
She then said that the words “bear fruit” had jumped out at her because she had just written in her journal that she felt that she had lived a life of fruitlessness. Perhaps God was telling her there was no fruit apart from Him. In that moment, she felt surprisingly compelled by Christ.
In faith, I told her the Lord was clearly pursuing her and she would come to know Jesus as her Saviour.
After the circuit breaker began, I worried that I would not be able to see J to minister to her weekly anymore.
She had not replied to my texts in a few days, so I called a friend to pray for J with me over Zoom on the night before Good Friday. We asked God to have mercy on J and to finish the wonderful work of salvation that He had begun in her heart.
Amazingly, on Good Friday, J texted me and said that she had a dream the night before. She dreamt that I was speaking to her about God, but she left to take drugs with her sister, “which felt more sad than satisfying”.
She said in her usual poetic way, “These past few days, I have felt the approach of Truth, but I have hesitated at the edges…”
On Easter morning, J attended her first church service via livestream, which featured a sermon on Romans 8. Following this, she attended a webinar with Max Jeganathan on Jesus’ resurrection, where he referenced one of J’s favourite authors – Marilynne Robinson, as well as her favourite philosopher Plato.
As the webinar concluded, J messaged this to me:
And just like that, J stepped into the saving grace of Jesus.
That Easter morning, I wept with joy at how good and gracious God is and marvelled at how He can so quickly awaken hearts to His love even at a time when we are confined to our own homes.
It was exactly eight weeks between J having her first dream about God and her heart coming alive to Him. She had been so tired of saving herself, she shared with me, of striving for moral perfection. Now she saw that she was saved and redeemed.
J’s salvation story has shown me that God’s word and the Spirit hold power that extends beyond any walls and church building. He is a God of glory and wonder – through dreams, visions and Scripture, He reaches right into our hearts and breathes life into dry bones.
He who has overcome death itself is always calling the spiritually dead to awaken. All this, because His very character is love and mercy.
In the words of J, reflecting on Romans 8, “If there is anything I am convinced of now, it is that God’s love is sovereign and unchanging. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – we can do to add to this love, and nothing – absolutely nothing – we can do to separate ourselves from it (Romans 8:38).”
And in a piece she wrote three weeks after her decision of faith: “I think my one mistake was believing that I could be whole and fulfilled without a divine love, and through my own effort.
“I used to be extremely repulsed by the doctrine that man is utterly wretched, and could only be saved through believing in an external God by the name of Jesus. It seemed legalistic, and small minded, and blind to the touching beauty of mankind.
“I know now that Love is the final reality, Eternal Love, that goes to the furthest ends for the very least. For we were all orphans and slaves in this world. He was forsaken, so we could belong. He was whipped, so we could be free.
“There is nothing we can exchange for this, no burden we need to carry. All we are asked is to have faith in this grace, and to travel light and easy. And day by day, we are being changed into glory.”
This article was first published on Redemption Hill Church’s website and is republished with permission.
Amanda is a lawyer and poet who co-founded ReadAble, a non-profit that equips children and migrant women from low-income families with literacy. She was baptised in 2017 and serves as a Mercy and Justice leader in Redemption Hill Church.
THINK + TALK
- Have you prayed for the salvation of a loved one and seen them make a decision of faith?
- Are you still praying for those who have yet to believe in Jesus?
- Do you have a friend whom God has placed on your heart to pray for?
- Take a moment to pray for someone God is bringing to mind.
If you would like to invite Jesus into your heart to be your personal Lord and Saviour, say this prayer:
I’m sorry for the things I’ve done in my life. I’m sorry that I’ve sinned against you.
Thank you for dying on the Cross, paying the price for my sins.
Please come into my heart and into my life. I acknowledge that you are my Lord and Saviour.
I pray all this in Jesus’ name,