“We [celebrate Easter] knowing that at any time a suicide bomber can come and disrupt our service, our worship, our praying. Then I think: Will it really be disrupted, or will I be sent into the fullness of worship?” —A former Muslim and a mother of two, now following Jesus
In the 2018 world watch list, Pakistan ranks as the 5th hardest country to live as a Christian; it is the most violent place for believers. For most of us, our situation could not be more different. Most of us in Australia or the UK don’t attend church wondering, “Will I go home afterwards?” For many, myself included, the concern can unfortunately be the opposite: “What time will I get to go home?”
One of the biggest threats to the church in the west is that lukewarm attitude. This is addressed in the Bible, where Jesus says, “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16). A lukewarm attitude isn’t usually embraced within a church, but without us even noticing the attitude can grow over time. Like a weed, if it is not pulled out it has the ability to choke the good roots and destroy what was planted in the beginning. So what are some ways we can avoid being lukewarm?
Well, the answer is not persecution. Persecution does not guarantee a passionate, all-in church. There have been many persecuted Christians who walked away when the pressure got too hard to keep following Jesus. But those who continued to hold onto Christ above all else have a few things in common that we can do as well. In our changing climate, where the tide may be beginning to turn against Christianity, we can take the opportunity to learn from the already persecuted church now, before it begins in earnest here.
The first thing these brothers and sisters have is a robust prayer life. In many of the churches I visit I ask this question: Do you pray more in the good times or when you have a problem? Every time, people say it’s when they have a problem. Persecuted Christians are often facing nothing but problems, but those who also have an inexpressible joy (1 Pet 1:8)—these are the brothers and sisters who have a strong prayer life.
There is no shortage of commentaries and articles that talk about our ability to come to God with any problem, as witnessed time and time again in the Psalms. We do not have to pray with false thanks, or hide our true thoughts. God knows our hearts regardless, and as we talk with him more and more our relationship grows and our faith is strengthened.
The second thing our brothers and sisters have is a deep love and respect for God’s word. While I was meeting with some ministry partners in central Asia, in countries all ranked very highly on that world watch list, time and time again they said “it is written” before going on to quote a passage of Scripture. For these believers, memorizing large parts of the Bible to have on call at any moment was totally normal. It put me to shame—but it is infinitely easier for us to achieve since we have no restrictions on accessing Bibles or other Christian literature.
Memorizing God’s promises and having his truths ready is better than any other reflex. How can we deeply love or trust a God we do not know? Memorizing the Bible will mean that any reminder we ever need of how great God is or how amazing his promises are will always be at hand.
The third thing that keeps Christians from falling away in persecution and keeps us from getting lukewarm is making disciples. Saudi Arabia is the 12th hardest country to live as a Christian and Christians are forced to keep their faith a complete secret. A believer in Saudi Arabia said, “It is unnatural—maybe even wrong—to keep one’s love for Jesus entirely to oneself. I cannot tell my wife. Or my children. Or my parents. I found Christ in a dream, and only he knows I follow him. But I have to [tell], or I’m dead.”
We are called to be disciple-making disciples. This is as true for Christians in Australia or the United States as it is in any other country. If we share our faith regularly we are relying on the work of the Holy Spirit in others and ourselves, and so trusting God.
Having a strong prayer life, a deep abiding love for his Word, and making disciples are all common disciplines of the persecuted church that can have a profound impact on our faith. In 2017 the western church faced some big challenges, and in the next few years it is likely more will follow. Now is a good opportunity to look to those who not just stand under persecution but thrive, and learn what keeps their affections for God new. A lukewarm attitude deserves your attention—it could prove just as deadly as a bomb.