A Different Spirit
“There has never been a more important time to be a Christian in our city of Hong Kong than right now.”
When I was a youth pastor I led a bunch of kids from Hong Kong on a mission trip to visit a desperately poor slum in a nearby Asian city. Before meeting up for a game of basketball and outreach we visited an old man who lived on the edge of a massive garbage dump. His eyes were blinded by cataracts that had formed over his eyes from the smoke and pollution where he had lived for the past 15 years. I felt compassion for this old man. But he couldn’t see any of us. And I knew my kids were eager to get to the basketball court for our planned outreach. We prayed a brief prayer for the old man and his wife.
As we started to leave, Bonnie, a 14-year-old girl touched my arm and said, “Andrew, I believe God wants to heal this man.” It was a moment every youth pastor dreads. A young girl believes God is going to heal a blind man, but you know it’s not going to happen. But how could I say no? I would be a total hypocrite. Very reluctantly and quickly I ushered the kids back in the room so Bonnie could pray for this old blind man.
Bonnie said a very simple prayer. But then something totally amazing happened. It was like windshield wipers wiping a dirty window clean. Suddenly the man’s eyes became clear. The cataracts disappeared. He began screaming with joy as light flooded into his eyes. His wife began screaming because she couldn’t believe what was happening. The youth began screaming because they were frightened by the screams of the old couple. And I began to scream because I realised we had just witnessed a miracle.
I wish I could claim credit. But no, it was God responding to the faith—and to the different spirit—of a 14-year-old girl from Hong Kong. That morning Bonnie brought a different spirit, and a simple faith that I lacked. Bonnie’s different spirit changed everything.
There has never been a more important time to be a Christian in Hong Kong. We are at an inflection point for the gospel in the history of this land. Our city has been turned upside down and inside out. We are still a long way from finding steady feet and a clear identity as Hong Kong people. We are unsure, cautious, and tentative. People are hurting, confused, and scared. We are desperately in need of a different spirit.
All of this raises some important questions for the church of Hong Kong. Will we become a bold and central voice of hope, faith, and identity in the years ahead, or will we feebly shrink into the shadows of our own self-concerns and self-preservation? Will the church stand up and stand out, or shrink back and fade out? Will we settle for a ‘small gospel’ that keeps the lights on in our church buildings, but extinguishes our bold and prophetic light in the public square?
You may remember the twelve spies Moses sends across the Jordan River into the Promised Land to discover what lies in store for the people of God (Numbers 13, 14). God has delivered them from their slavery in Egypt, brought them miraculously across the Red Sea, and brought them to the very edge of their new home—a land flowing with milk and honey, a good place that will be theirs for generations. So the twelve men go in, spy out the land, and return to Moses with a report. All 12 agree that the land is wonderful. As proof they bring a bunch of grapes so large that it has to be carried by two men on a pole. The land is just like God promised. But the report has a catch - the people who live there are giants, and their cities are fortified and overwhelming powerful. Ten of the returning spies give a depressing account: “We can never conquer this land,” they say, “We are defeated even before we can enter.”
Is that how we feel at this moment in Hong Kong? There are a lot of giants around us right now, and we overwhelmed with the obstacles. These giants are both local and global: an unending pandemic, shifting political powers, economic challenges, moral failures in leadership, ethical and cultural upheaval, extreme opinions over reasoned fact, cancel culture etc. In the face of these giants, how can we move forward? How can we hold on to hope?
In the hopelessness of the majority report about the Promised Land, two of the spies speak up. Joshua and Caleb offer a different report. They remind Israel that since God is with them there is still hope. In spite of giants, God will help them overcome. They offer an alternative view, a different way of seeing the land before them. They speak in faith, and remind people of God’s character and promises. Instead of giant people they see a giant God. They lift their eyes upward, and call Israel to move forward. God sees their faith and declares they have a different spirit (Numbers 14:24).
Does God see this different spirit in us at this time? This different spirit is not dependent on our ability, but on God’s power. It is not a reflection of our moral character, but of God’s incredible goodness and love. It does not depend on our perfection, but on God’s unwavering purpose. This different spirit does not require us to be strong, but to rest in God’s strength. It does not grow out of our intelligence, but flows from God’s marvelous wisdom.
Jesus died on the cross, not just to save our souls but to create a new society, the kingdom of God. This presence of God in our world, Jesus said, is like a small bit of yeast planted in a large clump of dough (Matt 13). Small and insignificant in the beginning, in time it changes the whole lump. That leaven carries a “different spirit” that changes everything it touches. When Jesus invades our lives and relationships a new humanity is born. The church is meant to be the most pioneering, influential, creative and attractive force in society—because we offer something completely different, something not seen anywhere else. The powerful audacity of the Christian faith is that through our relationship with Christ we become yeast in the dough, light in the darkness. We become a city on a hill.
This is what the church of Hong Kong now must be. Where there is uncertainty, can we move in faith? Where there is fear, can we overcome? Where there is oppression, can we by God’s wisdom and power, break chains? This has always been the way of the Kingdom. At this inflection point in Hong Kong’s history, we must not retreat but move forward with the good news of the Kingdom. We must make vivid this alternative way of life. With a different spirit we may reveal the goodness of the character of God to a tired and weary world. Like Bonnie all those years ago - do we have a simple faith for complex times? Are we ready?