A few weeks ago I returned from Manaus, Brazil, what many call The Gateway to The Amazon.
I spent a week on the river with Justice and Mercy Amazon visiting some incredible villages along the river in some obscure areas, and then spent four days meeting with dear friends and jungle pastors in Manaus. (I had a phenomenal week, which is probably a story for another post.) While in the city I requested to see one of the most remarkable followers of Jesus I’ve ever met, a sixty-eight year-old Brazilian woman named Ana (name has been changed). I first met her at our First Annual Jungle Pastor’s Conference a few years ago, and I’ve made a point to see her every visit. Ana’s hard to get your hands on, though. Half the time she’s booked up teaching one of her three-hour classes on hermeneutics, working with her pastor at her church or temporarily living in another country in South America serving the poor. Last year she voluntarily dwelt in a hut, I believe in Peru, where she had to draw her own water, describing conditions I don’t even understand – she was there teaching the bible. And I think she had health issues at the time.
But it’s her smile, her peace, her profound inner joy that in many ways defy the difficult life she’s had: a broken engagement years ago (Ana has remained single), two bouts with cancer, an accident that caused excruciating back pain and literal persecution for her faith. A person can’t fake the attributes her countenance and spirit beam forth. These don’t come from having more stuff or pleasure or entertainment. We hear these words a lot, but they are the fruit that comes from the Spirit. Ana’s peace, joy and radiance is what I want, I just don’t always want the road that unleashes them. But I’m also at the point where I’m not willing to miss Him for anything.
I had an hour with Ana sitting in a friend’s living room. Her grey hair flipped up at her shoulders brushing her cream top, printed with lavender roses. She was also wearing a jean skirt – I’m so sure: adorable. With all of you in mind and, selfishly, with me in mind I asked Ana a few questions about life, faith, her relationship with Jesus. Here are a few of the things she told me…
“If every woman believed what God has in store for her, every woman would devote her life to the service of God.”
She was not wagging her finger when she said this. She was perched on the edge of her seat leaning toward me with an inviting smile the way a mother bends toward her child and says, you don’t want to miss this for anything in the world! Her zeal reminded me of Mary of Bethany: When you’ve tasted the person of Jesus – when you know Him – you will spill your all over Him with delight, even urgency. Instead of wondering how I could drum up greater sacrifice or employ more disciplines, Ana by her very presence reminded me that when you know Him, you will delight in loving Him.
“When God saves you, there’s a specific place for you in His service”, she continued. “There’s only one way to find this out: intimacy with Christ.” I wonder if you believe that about yourself. Or maybe the better question is do you believe that about God – that He really does have a place for you? Sometimes I wonder this, and the remedy comes through spending time at His feet…. listening (Mary of Bethany), or as Ana put it “intimacy with Christ.” The question becomes, am I spending the time?
Ana went onto explain how she talks to God just like she was speaking to me – She tells Him everything, discusses even the mildest of details with Him. She described how we can know His voice like a woman can distinguish her husband’s out of a thousand. She explained how she listens to the Lord by reading His Word – she just finished her 145th reading through the Bible. (But no guilt here – just take it with a spoonful of encouragement, because that’s how she dispensed it. That’s how I took it.) She talked about three qualities that help her discern His voice in any given situation: Peace, joy and assurance in accordance with His Word.
If your background is anything like mine, none of this is necessarily new. Spending time pouring over God’s Word, listening and petitioning in prayer, serving God through obedience are all things we know. But it’s not the “new” that’s going to change us, rather a recommitment to the timeless.
So much distracts us today, perhaps more than at any other time in history. The iPhone alone could be my undoing. I can’t imagine there ever being a time where I had access to more opinions, arguments, “comments” about everything, and yet Ana reminded me once again of The Voice, the One that matters above all others. The Voice of the Shepherd whom His sheep know (John 10:27). She inspired me to take back the time to hear Him. Not that I wasn’t reading the bible or listening, but to re-up my commitment. To really guard it. To silence the alerts and alarms. To protect the space.
Beyond what Ana said it was the serenity of her presence that spoke the clearest. She knows who she is; She knows what she’s supposed to do; She knows the One who goes with her. And out of that understanding flows a peace and a beauty as deep and attractive as the Amazon. This lovely woman didn’t offer me a “how-to” because relationships aren’t that clinical. But she reminded me that purpose, peace and knowing are all attainable qualities through intimacy with Christ. She reminded me the abundant life in Jesus is possible.