Tonight my heart is full after a wonderful Wednesday night church service led by 5 visiting pastors from Japan. These young pastors in their 30’s are passionate in worship, rooted in the love of their Father God, and unashamed to declare their faith. One of their churches has a 24 hour prayer house where they keep watch in intercession. Others are musicians and hold a weekly worship fest at a busy train station and see several people come to know Christ each week! One pastor is half-Portuguese and half-Japanese and leads a church of Brazilians, Peruvians, Filipinos, and Japanese! Among the 300,000 Brazilian ex-pats living in Japan, an estimated 30-40% are Christians and most of them met Jesus in Japan–and that’s in a nation that is <1% Christian! They had just dancing like children to the joyful worship music, responding in awe at God’s transformation of a former prodigal-turned-pastor, and pouring out our love to Jesus and seeking to connect more deeply with his love for us.
What I was most impressed by was one pastor’s message on rest. He said we so easily find our identity in working, even in ministry, and feel as though we lack value if we cannot work. But this idea is actually a lie from the enemy who tempts us to adopt a religious spirit rather than live as sons and daughters of the King who loved us and died for us! When Jesus was baptized, the voice of his Father was heard from heaving saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) This is before Jesus did anything in ministry, and yet, he was bringing his Father pleasure. It wasn’t his work for God that brought God pleasure, rather He started in a place of perfect love and acceptance, and from that place his ministry overflowed. Similarly, as we come back into relationship with God through Christ, he speaks these same words over us, “You are my son/daughter, I love you, I am pleased with you.”
I needed these words tonight. I have struggled a lot with performance and perfectionism and God has been teaching me that my identity doesn’t come from what I DO but who I am as His child. But tonight, this message was even more powerful coming from a Japanese pastor who comes from a nation of people who are commonly overworked. One of my Japanese students tells me that after gradation, she hopes to find a job that gives her Sunday mornings off so that she can go to church–and this is a rarity! So many in Japan have died as a result of the stress and overwork as they give their lives for their company, that there is a word for these premature deaths: karoshi. A Washington Post Article tells the tragic story of a Toyota engineer who died in this way, leaving his family without a provider. In addition to karoshi, it’s estimated that hundreds of over-worked Japanese employees commit suicide due to their fatigue.
What a beautiful thing to hear a young Japanese pastor testify that in spite of the many ministry responsibilities he has, his identity is as a son of the Father in Heaven who loves him with a perfect love. As he rests in this love, he will have plenty to give out to others. God has a better way for the Japanese people than an identity as a fatigued worker who’s value is in his contribution to a company. God has life, health, rest, and abundant love for his Japanese children, and all of his children, including me! Let us find our identity as His beloved.