What is it about listening to the stories of Jesus at work in people’s lives that pushes us on to greater trust in and desire to serve our heavenly Father? After interviewing Carol and Stephanie on stage at the 2016 Katoomba Christian Convention’s OneLove women’s conference in Sydney, Libby Janssen shares how she was both encouraged and challenged as she reflected on how the gospel has transformed their lives.
In August 2016 I had the enormous privilege of interviewing two women during the OneLove women’s conference and exploring with them how encountering the Lord Jesus Christ has changed their lives. As I have reflected on the time I spent listening to their stories, I have been deeply encouraged by their willingness to share and the evidence of the power of the gospel to change them.
I met Carol for the first time a few weeks before the interview. Her story was about a real life—not a picture perfect one—the life of a woman who cared about doing her job well in a competitive environment; an elegant, well-educated woman in late middle-age, whose life was characterised by many dark times and much suffering. This included struggling with serious mental health issues, caring for a chronically ill husband, and battling with cancer.
When we met, and in her interview, Carol explained that the pressure she once constantly lived under is gone. She said that her life is now filled with joy as she described being released to be the woman she was made to be—a woman now less reserved, free to enjoy a new depth and breadth of friendship, brought back from difficult places to be able to serve and share. She loves life, and music, gardening, singing and people.
I can see how God is using Carol to communicate the freedom that comes from knowing Christ: freedom to be ourselves knowing our deepest needs are met in him. She confesses that she has spent too much time on things that don’t matter, and is now driven to pray more and worry less.
Oh, the breath of fresh air it was to speak with Carol! God has been at work miraculously in her life, as he is in all those who trust in Christ, but the transformation he has brought to Carol is intensified by the circumstances of her life and the change in her outlook. She has an ability to see things clearly and bring God’s perspective to the nitty gritty of ordinary life.
The second woman I interviewed was Stephanie—another high-achieving woman.
I’ve had the privilege of walking beside Stephanie since her first visit to our church. Stephanie is the sort of person who wants to do everything well: her job, her marriage, her parenting of young children, and now her relationship with Jesus. She has an amazing thirst for God’s word and a desire to put it into practice, an energy and commitment that is sadly not always evident in people who’ve been around churches for a long time. It doesn’t come without cost though, as she acknowledges that the transformation occurring in her life means she is a different woman from the one her husband married. Stephanie is now aware of sin where once she was oblivious, and temptation where once she was unaware. This makes life challenging and painful at times, but Stephanie seems to love a challenge.
She also describes an incredible relief in the knowledge that her sin is dealt with—she is in relationship with the living God and can now trust him with her life. Life is no longer about striving for the top, since she has already arrived in God’s eternal family.
Spending time with these women has reminded me of the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). It is evident that both Carol and Stephanie have come to understand that they have been set free from sin to be in relationship with God the Father. They no longer need to be striving for all the world has to offer. Their ability to share so openly comes from being known completely by the Father and being totally accepted by him through the work of Christ. They are truly free.
Their lives now are not without complications but they are pressing on by abiding in God’s word, taking steps to make sure it permanently resides in their minds and wills. They are able to give themselves to serving Christ in various ways, and are growing together with God’s people in their respective church families.
As I’ve reflected on these testimonies I’ve been challenged in many ways.
I’m reminded that someone had to bring the words of Jesus to these women so they could know the truth. I’m thankful for the encouragement it is to hear about the faithful, unassuming ministry of word and deed by the hospital and school chaplains to both these women—God using people in humble service to speak to people in need. This was a great reminder that God is at work outside the ministries that I’m involved with at the local church, so I’ve been challenged to pray for brothers and sisters working in schools and hospitals as chaplains.
I’ve also been reminded of the sovereignty and power of God to undertake his purposes in the world and to call those he chooses to himself; challenged to remember, when we don’t see immediate responses to our guest services, outreach ministries and programs, that God’s plans are bigger than our patch and broader than our focus. So I have been confronted to trust God to be about his purposes, and humbly pushed to pray and meditate more on his character.
As I’ve focused on God, I have become acutely aware of my own failings and the times I’ve expressed frustration that people aren’t doing what I want them to do, rather than being at peace knowing I can trust God to achieve his purposes. Of course, there is a right concern about people’s spiritual wellbeing and growth, but I can become easily frustrated and irritated. Maybe instead I need to be praying for patience as I wait and trust God to achieve his bigger purposes in the lives of those I love.
I have also been encouraged to recapture the sense of freedom that Carol and Stephanie expressed—freedom from the need to control, and a renewed desire to allow God to do his work being at peace knowing he knows more than me.
Finally I’ve been encouraged by the testimony of these women to the impact of loving, welcoming relationships with people at church; that there were brothers and sisters who took the initiative to build friendships through reading the Bible together, caring for and praying with these women. This is a reminder to me as I go along to church each Sunday that we never know whom God will bring along. I need to be ready to welcome, greet and make time to get beside whomever God may bring. This may mean rearranging my schedule, at least for a time, in order to build up people. Relationships are central to our faith and it’s a wonderful privilege to share in God’s work. I am challenged to go to church with an eye to the door, looking for opportunities to welcome the stranger and newcomer, eager to serve anyone that God may bring to us.
God has challenged me through his work in these two sisters, and I’m grateful for his work in me as a result.
Libby Janssen serves on the staff team at St Andrew’s Wahroonga, ensuring the women have good opportunities for Bible-based relationships and identifying opportunities for women to use their gifts. She’s also part of the OneLove organising committee and on the Board of Directors of ADM. Libby is married to Christopher, has three teenage children and two very loved doggies, and loves having unscheduled time in the holidays to read for pleasure.