I am consistently inspired and awed by what God can do through one human life. The fact that He continues to use His broken, flawed creation to bring about redemption in the world is astounding. Pullinger’s story is a beautiful narrative of just how much God loves all of humanity. I am particularly intrigued by her discovery of calling and her simple willingness to say, “yes.” It seems her journey is one that began with a strict view of God’s rules and expectations, continued through the shaping of positive community, and concludes with a freedom found only in the Spirit.
The danger of expectations. “I looked up at the sky and imagined God was up there with a big book. It had all our names in it, and every time you did something wrong, you got a mark (p. 27).” Pullinger’s initial concept of God was similar to my 7-year-old son’s concept of behavior and reward. At his school, when a student misbehaves, they receive a mark on the board. If they end the year under a designated number of marks, they receive a medal. He is doing his best to get through second grade with “no marks.” He often comes home to tell me all the things he wanted to explore in his class but was afraid to. He doesn’t want to get a mark. In the same way, our response to God’s call is framed by our initial understanding of His expectations of us. Just like Pullinger’s book in the sky, many of us have our own fear of not measuring up to God’s expectations. When it comes to calling, this fear can paralyze us and keep us from advancing into God’s purpose for us. What if Pullinger had taken the path of least resistance, free of risk…just to keep from getting a mark?
The safety of community. “It was the first time in my life that my toes did not curl up when someone talked to me about Jesus. I could discuss God easily in that flat (p. 30).” Before she could say, “yes” to the adventure God was calling her to, Pullinger had to find a place to ask questions. She needed to reimagine God without all the unrealistic expectations. The quote above is a powerful picture of what happens when we find a tribe of people who invite us to safe spaces. In my life, especially in times of discovery, it has been difficult to find a place where I could “discuss God easily.” I have been just like Pullinger, looking for the quickest escape route while really needing the richness of Spirit-empowered community. What if she had run out the door at that meeting in West Croydon rather than leaning in to hear the voice of the Spirit?
The power of the Spirit. “I explained to him that one reason why God was able to use me was because I kept in touch through using this gift [tongues] all the time (p. 226).” Pullinger understood that she did not have the answers for the transformation needed in the walled city. Her reliance on and desperation for the work of the Spirit led to the change of trajectory of multiple generations in her city. Not only did she allow the Spirit to guide her to those whose lives needed Him at that moment, but for generations to come. For instance, one of the young men Pullinger ministered to, Ka Ming, gave his time to minister to those who came after him. “He saw them as possible dragon slayers: a band of young men with new hearts and godly values willing to use their vigor and lives to serve the unlovely and unfound (p. 248).” What if Pullinger had given into those who questioned the activity of the Spirit in her life?
I grew up in a ministry family, and I have listened to powerful stories told by missionaries and church planters around the world. These miraculous stories of the supernatural work of the Spirit have created a longing in me to see what is possible when the church rids itself of false expectations, becomes a safe place to “discuss God easily,” and takes the risk of a “yes” to the transformative work of the Spirit.