Are You Ready?
She stopped again to listen. Had someone stopped outside? Quietly she resumed reading to the children. Again she paused. Others had recently been arrested, but how would the children learn if she didn’t teach? And so she continued, but as she quietly read she listened.
It was a time of persecution. A time when printing was dangerous and Bibles precious. A time when believers met quietly and were watched closely. A time when those who were serious about following the Lord Jesus met in secret. They would rather risk imprisonment than be connected with the government-approved “church.” They were willing to risk torture and death to follow Jesus. They would not compromise.
So the young woman had carefully barred the door, gathered the children, whispered a prayer, and sat down to teach. She felt blessed to have a Bible. Many did not. What a tremendous opportunity to have the actual Word of God! So she listened as she read the stories and taught the lessons behind the stories. She listened as they softly sang. Listening is simply part of persecution. Those who are surrounded by it know.
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Suddenly the door crashed open and the peaceful calm was instantly shattered. Children frantically scrambled for safety along walls as local officers poured into the room, angrily shouting and demanding this illegal activity stop. The children watched in horror as men grabbed the young woman by the hair, yanked her to the ground, and pounded her head repeatedly against the stone floor. The young children, backs against the wall, watched with terror-filled eyes as the woman finally lost consciousness from the pain and collapsed. The men were soon gone, taking the Bible and leaving the badly mangled woman and traumatized children behind. A time of persecution.
We have grown up listening to stories like this; stories of those who would rather be tortured than compromise. Accounts of faithful believers who, through the ages, have endured tremendous oppression. We marvel at their steadfastness and faith. A faith of such value they would die for it. But this event didn’t happen hundreds of years ago. It occurred just a few months ago in one of the many countries currently experiencing persecution today. For many believers, it is still a time of persecution.
Recently a local businessman asked about the tremendous torture that Christians have endured in the past. During the discussion he turned to me and asked, “Could you do that?” The question followed me for several days. I thought of early Christians who were slowly let down into boiling oil; or the Waldensians, driven from home and across the Alps in winter, many of them barefoot. Could I do that? My mind went to accounts during the Reformation, and on to those enduring persecution today. Believers right now who are in hiding or being tortured in ways too cruel to print. Not all are faithful. Many have given up after enduring tremendous suffering. Would I be faithful? Do I possess that kind of strength? What about you?
Do you possess a faith that could triumph over torture? If you knew that violent persecution was going to be a reality next month, would you be prepared? What would you do differently?
I would like to briefly examine four areas of our lives that I believe would be affected. As you consider these areas, imagine that persecution is just one month away.
How would potential persecution affect your prayer life? Take a moment and analyze your times of prayer. Examine both the frequency and fervency. It is possible to slowly drift into a prayer life that consists of a few well worn phrases repeated over food, and five minutes of letting God know how rough we have it down here before crawling into bed.
But have you ever wondered why it took Jesus all night to pray to His Father? Why wasn’t He content with a few minutes a day? Is it possible He had a better grasp on both the weakness of flesh and the available power? Perhaps those who live today, constantly listening for a knock on the door, could explain to us why it can take all night to make connection with the Father. Maybe we could learn from them what it is like to grab the horns of the altar and not let go until we know our hearts have connected with His.
And what about praying with other believers? When early believers were confronted with threats from the authorities, they immediately gathered for prayer. It was their initial response. When the first threatening came the Bible simply says, “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord…” Acts 4.24 Again, when Peter was imprisoned, the believers gathered in the home of Mary the mother of John. The account says that “many were gathered together praying.” Gathering together for prayer.
I wonder how persecution would affect the basic purpose of our gatherings. Would prayer just be something it is good to do to finish off a nice evening? Something that goes nicely with reading and a few songs, or would it suddenly become the very purpose of our being together? Would it even be possible to separate from fellow believers without it? Gatherings for prayer are regarded as necessary among the suffering church today, and perhaps persecution would change our view of group prayer as well.
2. Love for the Truth.
Church history at times can read like a serial story of multiple reactions. One man takes a doctrine and pushes it too far, while another sees the error and begins pushing in the opposite direction with equal zeal. Today, due to our ability to communicate so rapidly, this trait has the potential of soaring to new heights. Someone becomes convinced that fellow believers are heading toward one ditch, so they begin promoting a course that steers toward the other ditch. Phone calls are made, papers written, history analyzed, and groups of likeminded believers huddle to discuss the danger of the opposing reaction. But in the resulting confusion, truth can become secondary as we become focused on exposing the weaknesses of the opposing opinion.
Do you really love truth? Really? When you hear an opinion differing from your own, is your first reaction to spend time communing with God in prayer and searching His Word? Or do you sense this inner craving to immediately contact a likeminded believer and expose the fallacies of the overstated viewpoint? How would coming persecution affect this process? Imagine again that persecution is just one month away. Are you sure about the viewpoints you are debating? When all of your friends, family, and church support group are gone; when all that is left is you, the persecutor, and your faith in God; are you sure? Many a man has carried a professed set of beliefs for years, only to dump them at the prospect of potential pain. As you analyze your love for truth, ask yourself this question: have you ever made a drastic change in lifestyle simply because of something that spoke to you from God’s Word?
It is very possible to read primarily to find ammunition against the latest reaction or to prepare for a devotional or sermon. But do you ever read just to seek His will? Are you listening for His voice? How would coming persecution affect your love for truth?
3. Daily Exhortation
I have marveled at the fervency of letters between believers during persecution. They wrote as though their own survival depended upon the faithfulness of other believers, and many times it did. They wrote letters of doctrinal challenge, sent notes of encouragement, poems of warning and comfort, and wrote many, many songs of exhortation. Examine your own life briefly. When was the last time you looked a brother or sister in the eye and gave them words of encouragement in the battle or words of loving admonition? How often do you send a note or phone call of encouragement? Not a note intended to shape them into your paradigm, but simply designed to encourage.
The writer of the book of Hebrews says that we should be exhorting each other daily. (Heb. 3:13 ) We like to talk about the importance of keeping all the commands of the Bible; how are you doing with this one? Perhaps coming persecution would affect this area of your life. Maybe your exhortation would be more fervent and a little more frequently. Do you see personal spiritual accountability from other believers as a necessity to your survival or just something for those who are weak? Be honest. Do you really feel a need to be challenged by others? Perhaps this question can best be answered by how we respond when we are challenged.
4. Transient Treasures
Looking death in the eye has a way of challenging a man’s values. I wonder how coming persecution would affect your value system. What is valuable to you? Perhaps in your life it is a business or property. Or maybe you take pleasure in collecting a particular item, and enjoy looking for one more of these items to add to your growing collection. Or possibly it is a nice home, with attractive furniture and beautiful landscaping. Or maybe it is the latest gear for your favorite hobby or activity. All of us have things that are important to us, so identify what that is and then answer this question. Would coming persecution affect your regard for the things you treasure?
It was January 24, 1539 in the city of Rotterdam. A young Anabaptist woman named Anna sat down in her prison cell to write a short note to her young son Isaiah. She knew this would be her last correspondence. As she was sentenced to die that day, she knew this was her last opportunity to teach. What should she say? She gave him good instruction, but near the end of her letter she said this, “Deal with an open warm heart your bread to the hungry, clothe the naked, and do not allow yourself to have anything twofold; for there are always some who lack”. Notice the advice from a dying mother: Do not have two of anything because some don’t have enough. How would coming persecution affect your accumulation of assets?
“But We’re Not There …”
Today we continue to read about the persecuted church. Even while you read this, many are in prison, in hiding, and attempting to follow God under seemingly impossible circumstances. While we know this to be true, it seems distant and we really don’t fear persecution within the next month. Because of this, it is easy to be somewhat unconcerned because, “We’re not there.” Somehow it is easier to understand the need for a persecuted church to be diligent in the spiritual battle, than it is to grasp the importance for vigilance in a church immersed in prosperity. But is it possible we are deceived?
Which is more dangerous to Christianity: physical persecution or the subtle effects of peace and affluence?
Persecution is an awful thing. Many have succumbed during torture. But persecution has never been as devastating to God’s people as the slow, creeping, subtle effect of wealth and prosperity. We see this truth throughout the Bible. God didn’t have to remind His people to cry out to Him when the Egyptians were bearing down from the rear and the Red Sea was blocking escape in the front. No, God’s people have more difficulty focusing when the Egyptians are gone. When the herds and flocks multiply and things are going nicely. We understand this tendancy, but sometimes our lives demonstrate that we fail to believe it. If we really believe prosperity has the potential of being more dangerous to our faith than persecution, why would coming persecution alter our diligence?
Prosperity: Blessing or Curse?
Prosperity is not another type of persecution. Persecution is an attack on the kingdom of light by the forces of darkness, while prosperity is a blessing and given for a purpose. When God gives a man access to resources, He is giving him a tremendous opportunity to use those resources for His kingdom. But with that opportunity comes a great temptation, and prosperity used improperly can become a snare and a curse. It will take much more voluntary consecration and self denial for a believer to survive prosperity than persecution.
While being rocked in the arms of affluence, it is easy to forget how desperately we need those gatherings for prayer. We need times of crying out to God for guidance in a confusing world, as we attempt to find a safe path for ourselves and our little ones. We are being fed a continual diet of untruths by our culture today. Personal success and social ranking is determined by ability, possessions, and fame. We are told beauty can be purchased, and security and safety can be acquired and insured.
Is it possible to endure the constant bombardment of lies from our society without a strong love for truth and the encouragement of faithful believers? If exhorting one another daily is needed in persecution, think how much more we need it today. We need those conversations throughout the week reminding us to focus on lasting value. We need those calls from brethren who want to share a verse, a warning or just meet for prayer.
Are You Ready?
This is a question that ultimately only you can answer. Few of us have ever experienced physical persecution, and until we do, our response to it will not be fully known. But examining our spiritual diligence while enveloped in prosperity can give us a clue. For while persecution and prosperity are different by nature, they do share a common characteristic. They both tend to expose a man’s heart. Perhaps how prepared I am for persecution tomorrow, can best be known by my use of material resources today. Are you ready?
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Fn: Martyr’s Mirror Pg. 454