With so many looming global changes on the horizon, fear is an invitation offered me all too often. Will my comfortable American way of life alter irreparably? Informed Americans, which includes American Christians, are thinking about and forming images of what it might mean to live with profound restrictions across the whole spectrum of life. It seems essential that I begin to have these conversations in the company of The Lord.
…to those who are elect exiles…
who by God’s power
are being guarded through faith
for a salvation ready to be revealed
in the last time.
~ 1 Peter 1:1,5 ~
I can tell you all day long what I believe and I can say it with great conviction. But the true measure of my faith comes to the fore when it’s immersed in a fiery furnace. It’s not a thought I like to think at all. The truth is, there are Christians right now with swords to their throats, being asked to denounce Jesus or die. What would my response be if that were me? Really…. What would I say? What if I could not openly proclaim Jesus name or worship Him without fear of harm? What if a family member was in prison for their faith? My faith has been “dipped” in the furnace a time or two…. never immersed.
If scripture did not spend plenty of time speaking about the inevitability of “various trials”; of the privilege of persecution; of the honor of sharing in Jesus’ suffering, perhaps it would not be important to think and pray through on the front side.
The truth is, I know NOTHING of suffering for my faith. I have seen suffering of all kinds as I have traveled the world. But I remain among the most privileged, pampered, insulated persons to have ever lived… EVER! It is so familiar and second nature to me, this life of ease, that it is actually and fairly inconceivable that anything restrictive or truly life altering could actually happen. I can know intellectually the possibility of suffering , but I have no felt orientation that makes it real.
I know Jesus-Followers that pray for the honor of being persecuted for His sake. I know Christians for whom that thought brings nothing but terror, causing them to question the quality of their faith. I have empathy for both of those scenarios. The hard truth is, I know too much to succumb to the fear of “what If.” At the same time I recognize an inner weakness causing me to want to run from danger, regardless of what I know to be true.
I am instructed to “Live as a people who are free” (1 Peter 2:16). There is no disqualifying criteria that points to an exception. That statement was made to exiles; people who understood suffering, including persecution. I am free in Christ, whatever the state of the world around me. I’m called to live like it as the servant of God that I am. I am free to love both friend and foe, unrestricted in Jesus, regardless of finite sanctions. Persecuted Christians throughout the ages have set the precedent, following in the steps of Jesus.
What do I do with the fear of “what if” and the temptation to let it anchor?
Do not be afraid of sudden terror
or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
for the Lord will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught.
~ Proverbs 3:25-26 ~
In this you rejoice,
though now for a little while,
you have been grieved
by various trials.
~ 1 Peter 1:6 ~
I had a picture come into my mind a few days ago. There was a sphere suspended in mid-air. The sphere was The Triune God. I was, as His daughter, attached to the sphere (attached to God). Below it was something like a conveyor belt which was moving as time moved. Upon the belt were all the variables that make up the world so that if you looked right below the sphere, you would see everything that makes up the universe and its inhabitants at that moment. The belt was carrying them forward, as time moved.
The Sphere was constant and immovable, regardless of the movement of the timeline or the variables attached to it. The implication was that while God (unrestrained/unconfined) could influence what was below it, the conveyor belt and what occupied it could not influence the constancy of God in any way. It was bound by constructs of time and could only move forward (not up, down, to the side, or backward), as it was designed to do.
- That picture reminds me what is constant (more like who is) and what is always changing.
- It reminds me that while people have perpetrated all manner of evil against other people in the history of humanity, God has never changed, nor has His desire that people would be reconciled to Himself.
- It reminds me that God influences and engages in the events of the world according to His purposes but often not in ways I can understand.
- It reminds me that while I am a finite creature, I am also transcendent, so that however many are the number of my days and however I may come to the end of them, my future is secure (I am fixed TO HIM.).
- It reminds me that my conduct in the meantime has immediate and eternal ramifications. It matters what I do and how I do it.
When I remember who I am and the “living hope” that is mine, fear begins to evaporate, and compassion for lost souls begins to surface. When I remember God’s heart toward humanity… all humanity… even those who would seek to persecute or subdue His children, my attention shifts radically. I’m no longer consumed with self and safety. I remember that I am called to love… even (and especially) my enemies, bearing light regardless of the cost.
May Emmanuel, who has experienced far worst than we could possibly fathom, cause us to stand strong…
so that the tested genuineness of your faith—
more precious than gold that perishes
though it is tested by fire—
may be found to result
in praise and glory and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
~ 1 Peter 1:7 ~