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One of my favorite quotes from Hudson Taylor, the very quotable pioneer missionary to China, is this: “There are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” Taylor knew about impossible. Impossible was going to the other side of the world to untold millions who had yet to hear the gospel even once. Such a mission would require months of risky sea passage, then learning their utterly confounding language, all while facing diseases that might kill you if the people you were devoting your life to didn’t kill you first. On top of all that, to evangelize such a large country, it would take an army of cross bearers. Impossible.

The second and third stages—difficult and done—are not reached by Samson-like strength or Job-like patience. Taylor would be the first to correct such thinking. He said, “All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” And, he added, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength.” These three stages of God’s work (impossible—difficult—done) are considered from man’s perspective. However, believers cannot be mere spectators; they must be men and women who live by faith. Living by faith is not a warm, upward thought. Rather, living by faith is action displayed in the arena of our days to the glory of God and the advance of His gospel. Paul described his preaching, teaching, travel—and jail trips in between—as hard labor energized by God, saying he was “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). Therefore, living by faith is speaking and writing for the sake of the gospel. It is working and risking. It is winning and losing. It is going and not always returning. It is asking, seeking, and knocking. It’s what Jesus said “moves mountains.”

Reaching China with the gospel at a time when it was closed, dangerous, and distant was never impossible for God. But who could believe this strongly enough to follow Him there? Apparently, hundreds—even thousands—of men and women could. And whether through a lifetime of faithful ministry or through the witness of an untimely grave, the gospel advanced deep into unreached China. God was moving these followers from the impossible through the difficult. Though these missionaries would plow and plant and reap, they would not see the work completed, because God had a bigger plan far beyond what anyone at the time could think possible. Today there is a vast army of Chinese believers—sixty to eighty million by conservative estimates. And despite the political, religious, ethnic, and geographic barriers in China, the gospel continues to advance—from the teeming coastal cities westward to the walls of the Himalayas and beyond. No great walls and no great armies can stop Christ from building His church. The impossible is now being done all over China.

There’s only one gospel, and it’s not limited by our location or by willpower.

I got a glimpse of that one night out in the far west of China as I listened to a house church pastor and his wife tell of the churches that had been planted and the lives that had been transformed over a lifetime of faithful ministry. Brother Gao and Sister Sun’s confidence and joy in the gospel were contagious. Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry that night:

Once the police raided the church. The police chief denounced the Christians as being part of a “capitalist dog religion,” and with threats of criminal charges, he and his henchmen began days of interrogations. However, little did the chief know that his wife was a “Lady Nicodemus,” secretly meeting at night with Sister Sun to know more about Christ. She believed on the Lord Jesus—and then openly declared Him. Her witness to her husband ended the investigation—and eventually led him to the Savior!

In another city, a police spy planted in a house church came under conviction after hearing testimonies of men with notorious pasts. As a police officer, he had beaten and tortured men for their crimes, but that had not stopped them from stealing or fighting. How is it that the gospel has the power to change a person? Under deep conviction, he soon found out for himself!

Another man was sick, and as a superstitious Taoist, he sought help from seers. He went to one renowned fortuneteller in the city, but the man had recently become a Christian. His advice to him now was, “You need the Lord!” Surprised and disappointed over this “fortune,” he sought out another fortuneteller, but he too had been converted and advised the sick man, “You need the Lord!” This man went to five fortunetellers—all of whom had now come to Christ—and upon their witness, he found that Christ was indeed his true fortune.

We finally parted about midnight with prayer, a song, and much joy!

These testimonies were reminders to me that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). But what about today? What about where you live? It’s easy for us to think, “Well, that was God at work back then” or “The gospel works over there but not so much here.” But there’s only one gospel, and it’s not limited by our location or by willpower. It’s God’s power to save His people from the ends of the earth—and from our neighborhoods too. And He’s still using unlikely messengers like us to speak this unstoppable gospel. Yet, as His servants, we too often see only the bricks and barbed wire, the risks, and unfavorable statistics. And so, we stop at impossible or quit when it’s difficult, never seeing God shake Jericho or move mountains.

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