The most famous Chinese Christian of the twentieth century, Watchman Nee, once preached a sermon without saying a word. It was just as the Communists were swallowing up China, and Christians were coming under intense pressure to yield to the demands of the state. Churches were being closed and pastors slammed into jail. Because Watchman Nee was a widely-known and respected leader, many pastors and Christians looked to him for counsel. He was asked to address them at a meeting.
The great Christian faced a dilemma. If he spoke at this meeting, he was certain to be interrupted and arrested by government spies in the congregation before finishing his remarks. But if he didn’t speak, he would disappoint those who most needed his courage and wisdom.
He came up with a solution that was very “Chinese,” and very clever. He mimed his sermon. Standing in the pulpit, he looked out over the packed hall. The place fell to a hush. Picking up a glass of water, he stared at it with fierce countenance then hurled it to the floor, smashing it. Then he surveyed the broken pieces of glass with a smug, arrogant expression and spent the next five minutes walking around, crunching the glass under his feet.
Suddenly his expression changed to horror. Stooping down, he began sweeping up the shards of glass. He put the pieces on the pulpit and tried to reassemble them into a drinking glass, but it was impossible. Finally in despair he threw the pieces into the air. They scattered everywhere, and Watchman Nee walked away, his sermon finished.
The spies didn’t know what to make of it, but the pastors understood completely, and they left the meeting greatly blessed.
Forty years later, a pastor in Shanghai explained the parable. He said, “Nee himself represented the state, and the glass represented the church. He was telling us that the state would try to smash the church, and for awhile it would look as if they had succeeded. But soon the state would realize it had made a terrible mistake, because in smashing the church it had not destroyed it, but dispersed it.”
The parable proved prophetic. When missionaries were forced out of China in 1949, there were less than one million Christians, and the Communists were determined to wipe them out. But their attempts to destroy the church backfired, and instead of destroying it, they dispersed it. In the years since the Communist Revolution, China has experienced the largest and greatest revival in the history of the world. The last fifty years in China have been a reproduction of the book of Acts.*
More Real Stories for the Soul, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 264–266.