“…and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.” –(Heb. 11:35)
When we read the Bible, we see a recurring theme appear. In my opinion, Jesus says it best in John 16:33 where he tell the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Right there, in plain simple English, Jesus promises that in this world, we will have trouble. His church will be persecuted.
Now most if not all of the readers of this blog live in countries that guarantee freedom of religion for their citizens. However, even a cursory look at world affairs will reveal that this is not true the whole world over. You’ll read of girls kidnapped in Nigeria, children stolen in Sudan, pastors arrested in China, wives divorced and sometimes martyred in Afghanistan, and churches destroyed in Egypt.
Unfortunately, our typical American Christian response is to heave a big sigh, look mournful for a moment or two, then continue along our ordinary lives, as oblivious to the sufferings of the church in Africa and Asia as the next guy. And even more unfortunate, even as I write this, I continue to do so on a daily basis.
What are we missing? Why do we fall to the same apathy that the world does? Well, I think there are several reasons. But one pivotal reason is that we fail to see our relationships with the persecuted church overseas.
That pastor shot while standing at his pulpit, that’s my brother. And that girl kicked out of her Muslim family and left destitute on the streets, she’s my sister. We don’t get that. If we did, we’d live like it.
If you told me today that my sister was destitute on a street in Iraq, I would drop everything. I would sell whatever I needed to, I would do whatever necessary to get me to her. I would do whatever in my power to rescue her, to provide for her, to protect her, and to shelter her. Why? Because I love her! Because she’s my sister!
Yet when I read that a young Christian girl has been kicked out of her Muslim home, what is my initial response? Is it to drop to my knees and pour out my heart in prayer to God for her? Is it to give, sacrificially, to rescue her? Sadly, no. If I’m honest, I’m much more likely to feel regretful, even sorrowful for her, for a moment, before moving along with my life, forgetting she ever existed. Maybe I’ll offer up a prayer or two for her every once in a while, but if I am honest, I do not love her like a sister. I don’t live or pray like she is my family, and I am hers.
When we hear stories of the persecution going on in other countries, of children kidnapped for child soldiers or girls kidnapped for slavery, our hearts should break. Notice I didn’t say we should be noticeably disturbed for a day. No, our hearts should break for the broken. If we love like Jesus loved, we see these people not as strangers in Africa or yet another number or statistic on a page but as a soul, a precious soul, who is of infinite value to the Father.
Rom. 12 is a part of Romans where Paul is describing what dedicated service to Christ looks like. Here is where he describes the church as a body, dependent on one another and on the head for life. But he also includes another verse that we too often read as nice poetry or a pretty slogan in v. 15. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Now, I’m going to jump off onto what appears to be a rabbit trail, but don’t worry. It comes back to my original point. When you stub your toe, what is your first reaction? Is it to very solemnly and soberly stand there, keeping very good posture, and say with a clear, enunciated voice, “Ouch. That really hurt.”? Is that your first inclination?
If so, you’re a better person than me. My first inclination is to clutch my foot to my midriff with my hand, and bounce around very actively on my good foot, while growling, moaning, groaning, and screaming, “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” Maybe I’ll even add an “owie” in there for good measure!
But when I felt the pain of my stubbed toe, what was my body’s first reaction? Was it my brain’s reaction to tell my toe, “Hey, suck it up! It’s just a stubbed toe, man. Calm down!” No, it was for my entire body to jump into motion to protect the toe! My hand reaches down to cup it, my mouth instantly starts voicing it’s complaints, and my good foot takes full responsibility of holding up my body.
What’s my point through this whole story? What we in America do right now in regard to the persecuted church is much more akin to my first option than my second stubbed toe story. We tend to glance down at the injured toe, the persecuted church, and say, “Oh, that must hurt a lot. Oh, gotta go now.” And we walk out the door, turning our backs to the needy and putting them out of our minds in favor of our mental comfort.
But what’s Paul’s take on that? Does he sympathize with our stand – off approach? What does he tell us to do? Weep with them. When their heart is broken, our hearts should be broken with them. When they hurt, we hurt. When they’re persecuted, we’re persecuted. We are one church, one body, with one Lord. And when one member of the body is hurt, we all hurt.
What we’re missing is the weeping with those who weep. We prefer to stand stiffly alongside and pretend we didn’t see. We tend to act as if it’s not there, as if it’s a different story and someone else’s responsibility to weep with them and love them.
No, it’s ours. It’s our job to pray, to weep, to love them. It’s our job to remember them, to intercede for them, to pour out our hearts for them. That our job. I’m tired of standing off to the side while others hurt. I’m tired of pretending it’s not happening or imaging the hurt isn’t there.
Now, I read some of your thoughts. I realize this blog is geared toward teens. Most of the readers are teens. You don’t have an endless supply of money that you can go and help, even if your going did help. But if you notice, Paul’s command was not to go help them out. Sure, that’s great if you can! Please do!
But that’s not what he said. He said to weep with them. Basically, don’t ignore them! Face the truth, face the situation, and weep! Allow your heart to be broken over the pain of our brothers and sisters, and pour out your hearts in prayer for them.
It’s time we stopped pretending. There are a whole lot of people in the church today who prefer the easy way out. It’s easier to ignore them. It’s easier to put it off for someone else to do. It’s easier to stand there like a stone wall rather than allow yourself the openness of sympathy and love. And sadly, you can pretend they don’t exist. That’s a viable option, one thousands of Christians across the free world take every year, every day in fact. You can pretend that they aren’t suffering, that they are not in pain, and that you will never face God.
But I hope that that’s not us. I hope that we are a part of that generation that God has raised up for such a time as now. I hope we are the guys and girls who will stand up, accept the vulnerability of loving our brothers and our sisters, and pray for them. Allow our hearts to be broken. That’s your sister in the mud in Nigeria. That’s your brother in a prison in China.
Taylor B. at Grace Did Much More Abound