Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Not just for the mature

A few weeks ago, our webmaster forwarded me an email from someone who was unsubscribing from our weekly email news service "The Persecution and Prayer Alert". In order to better serve, we ask if those who unsubscribe would tell us why. This particular individual wrote:

"What you publish is gut-wrenching and soul piercing reality. Reality to the point that I hang my head in shame at what I perceive as "tests of faith". I am such a terribly frail vessel in comparison to the courageous ones I read about. At this time I no longer wish to receive until I am fully prepared to deal with what I read. Thank you and may the Lord continue a mighty work in and through you."

Our webmaster indicated to me that quite a number of people express similar sentiments when unsubscribing.

I pondered on this email for quite a while and only yesterday did it come to me how to respond.

The underlying assumption, it seems to me, in this email is one that thinks that being exposed to and responding appropriately to the persecution of one's fellow Christians is best experienced by the spiritually mature. There is also the assumption that those who suffer persecution are much more spiritually mature than the average Western Christian.

I suggest that neither are entirely true. First, the book of Hebrews encourages us to consider the faithfulness of those who have suffered for their faith and to imitate it (Hebrews 11 & 13). Yet, the author rebukes them for their immaturity (Hebrews 5:11-13). I argue that exposure to the persecuted and their testimonies and responding in obedience to their plight matures one in his/her faith. Second, spiritual maturity is not a criteria for being persecuted. Christians have been persecuted who are only one day old in the faith while others have been believers for many years. The martyrs range from being children to being elders, from being church leaders to new converts, men, women, young, old. Not all exhibit courage. Not all stand firm. Many do, but they hardly see themselves as heroes (this is one word that could disappear from our Christian vocabulary without much loss). It is all a work of God's grace. This is why we need to be exposed to the stories of persecution; they are evidence of God at work in the world today, in the lives of the persecuted and how He can work in our lives as well.


Flo S. said...

I also find the stories hard to absorb and at times I hesitate to click on the newest entry from VOMC. But then I am compelled to ask myself, "What would I do in their place? Am I ready to "take it"? What do I need to be ready?" I find myself turning to God and His Word for strengthening of my faith. He prods me in so many places (Hebrews is a good place for that!) to not be weary but to look intently to Jesus who suffered for me. We grow in our faith from those who have gone before, as seen in Hebrews 11, but also from those who suffer today.

Anonymous said...

I think it's also important to remember that we don't have to completely understand to care and to pray. Yes, it's tough. It's tough to read the stories and to have to somehow deal with the reality of what's happening. But drawing away from the tough things don't help, especially when doing the tough things is commanded by God. He will provide the strength we need to remember, to pray and to care.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your comments, Glenn. I've also been giving some serious thought to why we withdraw from stories like this. I'm not sure, but a contributing factor might be the mindset that we have toward ministry, at least in North America. Ask many people who go on a short term missions trip why they're heading out, and it's spiritual sounding but frankly quite self-centred; "I want to grow; I want the experience; I want..." Seldom do we hear that we act because the love of Christ compels us. That love of Christ sent Him to the cross for the likes of Hitler, and while Hitler was slaughtering innocents, God's heart wept for him to accept Christ's forgiveness. What personal gratification did Christ receive from loving and dying for sinners who never accept Him (with my apologies to 5-point Calvinists)? Absolutely none. He loves because His nature compels Him to. What personal benefit is there is standing with His people in their suffering? There will likely be some; but His Spirit in us should compel us to be faithful to His Body, whether or not we get anything out of it. No, it's not gratifying to hear of children tortured, elderly women beaten and pastors brutally killed for the gospel. The utterly self-sacrificing love of Christ calls us to actively embrace them, "no matter what". Mind you, I'm somewhat prone to strong opinions, so am open to comments.

Anonymous said...

I am not one to watch disturbing things on TV or movies but I am compelled to read each Persecution newsletter. It is hard to read and hard to imagine going through what others are going through but God has placed in me a desire to cry out for these people and being able to pray for some of them specifically is something that keeps me going. Thanks for your newsletter and God bless.

Anonymous said...

Prayer is the one Christian weapon the enemy has NO defence against!! The mightiest weapon of all, it goes straight to God's Mind! And, He ACTS, we're PROMISED that He does!
Small wonder that the enemy would play on our feelings. That darts and arrows and "devices" would be employed against us to impede, weaken and, if possible, block as many as he can. To render some helpless, hopeless, unable, to have others turn away entire, of course that's his goal and ploy!!
Stand firm! Those spirits will give way before the Power of the Spirit of God that cries out within us to Him Whom loves us for those in need and suffering for His Cause. He Promises!
Pray thru to Victory, as you do the Holy Spirit prays with you, remember, "groans and utterances" that we can't hear or understand. It's all part of His Plan. Rejoice that we can help. Use the most powerful weapon of all, prayer that moves the Hand of God!!

blueshawk said...

It is hard. It's hard to look at brutal and crushing circumstances that display the darkness that is this world. But is always my hope that the hardness of things isn't the main thing, or the only thing I see.

For those brothers and sisters who are near to being crushed and overcome by it all, I hope that I will continue to pray fervently for them. Not only that they will get help from God to get them thru, but also that I (and others) will give thanks to God, and glorify Him, for the help He has given. (2 Cor. 1:11)

More than that, the testimony of those brothers and sisters who have found in Christ the resource to overcome encourages and helps me in my walk. John & Eloise Bergen in Kenya have taught me about forgiveness; Aroon & Meta in Laos have taught me about obedience; Son Jong Nam in North Korea has taught me about boldness; and Pastor Balami in Nigeria has shown me what it is to be truly blessed.

Their lives, as well as so many others, and their clear display of Christ, has meant an increase in the measure of Christ in my life. What could be a better ministry of Christ than that?

Jule said...

Yes, the stories are hard to read, but they're harder to live. I too used to hesitate to click on the emails, but now as soon as I see them I open them, remembering that my Christian brothers and sisters are depending on our prayers - their very lives may depend on our prayers. They have to endure these terrible experiences - is reading about them and praying not the very least we can do?
And in return, we get courage beyond measure by reading about their courage.

Steve Attack said...

Reading about those who suffer for their faith and praying for those same people is the antidote to lukewarmness. It also makes me all the more grateful for our religious freedom.

Spark said...

I am so thankful to God to be a part of our persecuted brothers' and sisters' lives. Our church is very involved with Native Missionary Movement in India so we also hear from our church staff of the suffering of those in Orissa and others in India. It is so easy to begin to think, "What would I do if I was in their situations? If I was about to be beaten for my faith?" These thoughts would no doubt lead us to beleive that we could possibly fail leading to overwhelming guilt and shame {undoubtly thats from the enemy since the bible is clear that "now there is no condemnation for those in Christ" (Rom 8:1)}. We were told by our Pastor that this is not how our brothers and sisters in India would want us to think or feel asking such questions. They want us to LIVE in the amazing blessing we have in our country to worship God in freedom. How very thankful I am every time I read the weekly email.
I also agree with the above comment about PRAYER. A most powerful weapon that we have. God's word is powerful and alive, sharper than any two edged sword and its ALWAYS accomplishes that for which it is sent. (Hebrews 4:12)(Isa 55:11)When I pray for the people in the weekly emails, I pray what it suggested and any other scripture that the Holy Spirit bring to my mind. Its the least and the most that I can do knowing the power that I have in JESUS NAME! And yes, I weep! And often times have to stop and walk away because I am so emotional. We seems to put a lid on weeping as if it is not socially acceptable or shows some sort of instability within us. But weeping is prayer. Jesus wept often even as he waas riding towards Jerusalem on the donkey amd He was certainly not weeping for himself!
Jesus, thank-you for all that You have done for each one of us and thank-you that on the cross you declared, "It is finished" Help each and every one us of keep our focus on you. Thank-You for all these wonderful brothers and sisters that I have. Help us to pray for each other as you commanded us to do.