Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at our church’s Chinese worship service for the first time. The Chinese ministry has met for many years there, but I have never participated with them before Sunday. They choose to have their own separate worship service where everything is in Chinese unless the preacher’s message in English needs to be interpreted.
The current interim pastor is a dear man with whom I enjoyed traveling to China last year. When he needed someone to preach during his vacation absence, he asked me to fill in one Sunday and I was more than happy to oblige.
I don’t speak Chinese except for a few words learned for my trip last year, and there is only so far that “hello” and “thank you” can take you in a conversation! So I was grateful for a wonderful host and an equally wonderful interpreter Sunday.
It made little difference that the rest of the service was all in Chinese, especially the singing. The printed order of worship was in English and Chinese, so I could still follow the flow of worship just fine. The hymnals they sing from have the Chinese hymn or reading on one page and the English version on the facing page. During all of the hymns – each very familiar musically – I simply enjoyed singing in English as everyone else sang Chinese. I couldn’t understand others, but the God to whom the praise was directed is very capable of understanding all of His children, regardless of language. I carried with me a Chinese-English parallel Bible I purchased in China last year from a Christian book store in Anqing, so I could follow along with those readings fairly well.
During my sermon, the interpreter spoke her translation at the end of each sentence. While I had the opportunity in China last year to speak for brief times in services, this was my first full sermon being interpreted as I preached, so that stretched my 22-minute message to about 45 minutes interpreted.
As expected, everyone present was very gracious and kind. I will go back again very soon when I can stay for the lunch they always share together following worship. Circumstances demanded that I not stay for lunch last Sunday, but I promised them I would return soon and I look forward to doing so.
There is a danger when one preaches that one might think he is the center of attention – that perhaps he is the focus of the hour. What I really appreciate about speaking to this great group of Chinese believers is that I came away with a clear reminder that the central focus is the God we worship and serve. I am thankful also for the reminder that our God is so great that he hears the prayers and receives the worship of all of his faithful children around the globe regardless of language, nationality or other temporary barriers that easily trip up limited human beings like me.
I do not know anything that was prayed during that service by others, but I know the One who heard and understood it all. I do not know the hearts of others, but I know the One who created us in His image and who knows the condition of our hearts. I do not understand the deepest desires of those with whom I can’t even communicate in a language I speak, yet I trust that the God who has bound our hearts in a common commitment to Jesus Christ understands the desire of each of us to know Him better, and He graciously draws us to Himself.
There is much I didn’t understand from a standpoint of language last Sunday, but that’s OK. Sometimes the language of the heart speaks more clearly than words. Sometimes it’s OK to not understand.
“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12