I’m more convinced than ever that the church is the most beautiful and powerful institution on earth. Of course she has blemishes and shortcomings, but don’t we all? After all, she is made up of sinners who are trusting, by faith, in a perfect Savior.
I want to show you how beautiful she is. Let me tell you a story about a woman named Dixie. Dixie was an older white woman from the south and a long time, faithful member of my church in Washington, DC. Most every Sunday morning and evening you could find Dixie sitting a few rows from the back directly in front of the pulpit. Dixie had served the church in many ways in her long membership at the church, and her greatest service to me was her prayer and her presence. You see, although Dixie’s old age wouldn’t allow her to serve in physically demanding ways anymore, it didn’t stop her from obeying James 5:16 and Hebrews 10:24–25. In a church full of energetic young people, Dixie clearly saw the command to be present and to pray as an opportunity to commit these young people around her to the Lord in prayer.
I was one of those young people. In 2014 I began ministry in a part of DC that, suffice it to say, Dixie would never visit: Howard University, arguably the most elite of the historically black colleges and universities in America. It has produced alumni such as Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Kamala Harris, and Chadwick Boseman. I don’t name drop to brag but instead to help you understand that it doesn’t get any blacker than Howard. This university epitomizes black excellence. Yet, as I started ministry there, Matthew 9:37 rang true: the harvest was plentiful but the laborers were few. As a young man I had the zeal and energy to do that laboring for the sake of the gospel. But the passage continues, “[T]herefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Dixie understood her role in the harvest and took Jesus’ command to pray seriously.
Over the course of almost five years, one of my regular prayer requests during our evening prayer services was that the Lord would grant our ministry official recognition by the university. Early in that five-year period, Dixie was called on to pray that the Lord would open doors for ministry at Howard University and that the gospel would go forward powerfully. That evening, as Dixie audibly prayed in front of the whole church, I was struck by the uniqueness of what was taking place. I was struck by the power of the gospel and the beauty of the church. Where else in the world, and I mean this literally, would a white woman from the south in her 70s be praying for the gospel to reach black men and women at Howard University? Only among the bride of Christ.
And Dixie was no fraud. After that evening service Dixie took it upon herself to keep praying. A few months later she found me to ask if the ministry had been officially recognized. At the time we hadn’t yet, but I was struck by the fact that Dixie was regularly going to the throne of grace on behalf of Howard University students she would never meet. Dixie knew the power of the gospel to save, therefore she would persist in prayer.
Fast forward to the fall of 2019. I was back in front of the congregation during an evening service, this time not with a prayer request but a praise report. The Lord of the harvest, in his grace, heard Dixie’s prayers. After years of prayer, the university granted official recognition to the ministry. As I shared this good news I looked around to see if Dixie was there, but she wasn’t. Dixie had fallen sick just a few weeks before and wasn’t able to attend church.
A few days later as I was walking on Howard’s campus I received a call from a number I didn’t know. I picked up to find Beth on the line, another church member and caretaker for Dixie. I could hear the grief in Beth’s voice. Through weeping she informed me that Dixie had passed away. But what I didn’t know was that after the evening service the previous Sunday, Beth told Dixie that the Lord had answered her years of prayers. Just days before Dixie went to be with the Lord of the harvest, he answered her prayers with a yes, opening the door for the gospel to reach Howard Students for years to come.
In a world where racial tensions are high and division is far too common, the Lord, in his kindness, gives us glimpses of how the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. The unity that the blood of Jesus has purchased still exists to this day. And it’s in moments like this, when saints like Dixie, who have nothing in common with a place like Howard University, faithfully and fervently pray for the gospel to be preached there, that the beauty of the gospel and the church that unites around it are on display. I ask again, Where else in the world, and I mean this literally, would a white woman from the south in her 70s be praying for the gospel to reach black men and women at Howard University? Only among the bride of Christ. Indeed, this bride does have blemishes, nonetheless, she is unlike anything this world has ever seen. She may be battered and bruised, but she’s still beautiful and will continue to be beautiful until the bridegroom comes to make her perfect.
Originally Published: March 20, 2021
- Pray that local churches would see praying for one another as one of the highest forms of loving one another.
- Pray the gospel to continue to go forward at Howard for years to come, and that many would be saved.
- Pray that those who are unable to reach certain places with the gospel would prioritize praying for those who can.
- Pray that the Universal church be marked by it’s distinct love for Jesus that unites people from all backgrounds.
- Pray that Jesus comes back soon.