“Here Ian – come close to Me that I can speak to you – ‘Yet not I but Christ in me’ – that is the life I want you to live – that is the message I want you to preach. As you live that message well, there will be less of yourself and more of Me in everything that you do – I am still giving you a completely free will – yet I am drawing you closer to that aim – ‘Yet not I but Christ in me – the life that I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’. So I am setting you free again – free to live that gospel.”
As I read the story of Paul in Acts, describing his persecution while he tries to share the gospel, I envisage thousands of other Christians who were persecuted during the first century (and over the whole gospel era). Tradition has it that the gospel of Mark was written to strengthen and encourage Christians who were being persecuted by Nero in Rome. Pictures of the saints dipped in tar and tied to poles to be set alight at night to light the streets of Rome, come to mind. Saints in iron cages left in arenas for lions to pull pieces of flesh from them till they die and the church hiding in catacombs to escape.
And so my thoughts go to the recorded message Julie placed on our WhatsApp group who follow this blog, of a woman pleading for prayer for the Christians in Afghanistan. While I was listening to that, close to tears myself at the thought of the incredible suffering, my thoughts went to Revelation 6:9,10.
(The best way to read the book of Revelation is to imagine a modern rugby match where there is a slow-motion replay where the same event is played over from different angles to see it better. In the same way John was shown in a graphic, mostly pictorial and symbolic way the events that would play out during the gospel era. So there are a number of scenes (7), which each depict the same events in a different way. Many of the events have such horrific pictures that one is tempted to pass them over. To balance these however, you must keep in mind the key verse which describes the purpose of the book Rev 17:14 ‘They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings – and with Him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers’).
In 6:9,10 we are reminded of the reality of the fact that there are going to be many martyrs over the years and it seems to them never ending, as they cry “How long, Souvereign Lord so holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Heh, but isn’t that so distant and unreal to us, safely in our Western comfortable houses, free to speak the gospel and worship the Lord. In a comment on these vv (Rev 6:9,10), John Piper in his book “Don’t waste your life”, urges us to have a wartime mindset and our weapon is the word of God .
“I need to hear this message again and again because I drift into peacetime mindset as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love, I start to call earth home. Before you know it I am calling luxuries needs and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop from my mind” pgs 110,11.
Nik Ripkin, who spent a number of years in the Sudan, later set out to research how Christians survived and still shared the gospel in countries where they are being persecuted. It was originally intended to be a task for which he set aside two years. He ended up doing it for 15 years and visited 72 countries, where there was severe persecution, interviewing over 600 people. Brother Andrew from Open Doors says in the foreword to Nik’s book “the Insanity of Obedience”, that the only place where the church is really growing is where it is suffering persecution.
To us in our safe homes and life-style we are horrified at what is going on out there, yet you know what, many of those people are actually sorry for us, because they believe we are not experiencing Christianity as it really is. So yes, let us pray for those people. Let us pray much for them. But let us pray for ourselves that we would become infected with the urgency of the kingdom. That it would infiltrate every part of our lives and we would be bold to take up the weapons of spiritual warfare, of which prayer is an integral part. As we have seen the warfare is as intense now as it has been from Paul’s time.
(If you are not on the “Ian’s blog WhatsApp group” and would like to hear the video send your no to 082 579 4149, and I will add your name, where you will also be informed when a new blog is published and can share prayer requests).