Poor Elijah. We’re always kind of down on Elijah, aren’t we? After his stunning victory on Mount Carmel, he flees Jezebel when she threatens to kill him after he put to death her 300 prophets of Baal.
Jonah also finds his way into the ‘Hall of Shame’ for deciding a sea voyage over the Mediterranean sounded better than bringing the word of the Lord to the Ninevites.
In comfortable Christendom, we often hear things like, “the safest place you can be is the centre of God’s will,” and “the will of God won’t lead you where the grace of God can’t keep you,” and other snappy sayings. I think such trite phrases can warp the lens we read these Bible accounts through.
Would God have Elijah call down fire from heaven, lick up every water-soaked piece of the altar, and then let him be slayed by the evil queen of Israel? Surely God wouldn’t ask Jonah to be impaled on an Assyrian spike in Nineveh if the Ninevites didn’t like his message.
But maybe God would.
Cynics ask, “If God is good and loving, why would He let bad things happen to His people?” The inevitable answer is, “Sometimes He does.”
Sometimes He allows evil people to have their way, but that doesn’t negate His goodness or His loving-kindness. In the end, there are two things we can rely on: God’s ways are not our ways, and Jesus Christ is ultimately worth whatever happens to us in this life.
Maybe the reason Jonah and Elijah ran wasn’t that they didn’t have enough faith in God. Maybe they knew, more than I ever will, the cost of that faith.
Maybe our sermons on Elijah shouldn’t focus on the reasons why he ran, but instead on why we should.
Yes, that’s right. For once, I’d like to see a pastor stand up in the service, open the text to 2 Kings 2 and say, “Elijah ran. And if you think God’s ‘will’ will keep you from harm, you’d better run too.”
There is, within what seems like His capricious harshness, a great love and kindness. “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10).
Jesus suffered in order to bring about God’s will. We could ask ourselves why Elijah and Jonah would run from God’s calling. More importantly, though, is the question for us: are we willing to follow God’s will, even if it means suffering?
Leah Grant writes for VOM USA
Last month I posted three reasons why the persecuted church is important for your youth group.
In today’s post I’m going to give you five practical ways to incorporate the persecuted church into your youth group.
Click on one of these links to find out more.
- Mission Spot: North Korea
- Writing Letters to Christians in prison
- Simulation night: The life of persecuted Christians
- Sacrifice24: Fundraising to encourage, love and support persecuted Christians.
- Release Events: Hear about the most restricted country in the world and help send 3,600 New Testaments into North Korea
Why not try one this week? Plan for one activity each term and not only will our persecuted Christians be supported, but I’m sure your youth’s faith will be challenged.
What are the activities your youth group has done to remember persecuted Christians? Let us know and you could feature on our Resource Page!
The founder of Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, was no stranger to persecution by extremists. He spent 14 years in a communist Romanian prison, and his wife, Sabina, lost her parents, two sisters and one brother in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Jesus never feared or hated anyone,” Richard was known to say in the years following his release. Today, Western Christians are faced with new challenges presented by Islamic extremists, and many are unsure of how to respond.
During recent visits to Iraq and neighbouring countries where VOM is serving persecuted Christians, I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing the incredible stories of many of our brothers and sisters who have lost everything to Islamic extremists. Their responses to persecution provide us with an exemplary pattern of three approaches that are well supported by the Sermon on the Mount.
- Pray for Islamic Extremists and those they Persecute
When Jesus said, “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), he was teaching people who suffered under extreme oppression. The Roman authorities were known for their cruel tactics and utter disregard for the Jewish people they terrorised.
We in the West have been shocked by the cruelty exhibited in videos produced by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Stories of their brutality naturally push us toward hatred and fear. But in contrast to our natural inclinations, Jesus calls us to pray for our persecutors. We should pray that they will come to know the truth of Christ and that many will experience ‘Saul-to-Paul’ transformations, becoming the next wave of bold evangelists in their region.
What about those who are persecuted? When we ask persecuted Christians how we can help, their first response is, “Pray for us.” Through prayer, some persecuted believers have experienced supernatural deliverance. Abu Fadi, a brother from Mosul who lost everything when IS militants attacked, was miraculously rescued along with his family after being detained at an IS checkpoint. Perhaps a believer in the West was praying at that precise moment, lifting up the plight of our Iraqi family members.
- Reveal the Love of Christ to Muslims
When IS extremists moved into northern Iraq, they began identifying Christian-owned homes and businesses by spray-painting the Arabic letter ﻥ, or ‘N,’ on the buildings. This single letter, the first letter of the word used in the Koran to identify Christians, conveyed the powerful accusation that the occupants were followers of Jesus.
Our Christian brothers and sisters were then given the choice of either converting to Islam or standing for Christ and losing everything they owned. In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, more than 100,000 Christians were displaced, abducted or killed in less than one week.
How should Christians respond to this type of cruel treatment? Jesus provides clear instruction in His Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44).
I have seen firsthand how persecuted Christians live out their faith and observed the remarkable ways they share the love of Christ with their enemies. During a memorable trip to northern Nigeria, I met a widow whose husband had been killed by Boko Haram. The woman said she often saw the man who had killed her husband walking through her village. Then, remarkably, she told me that with God’s help she was learning to forgive him. I was stunned by her response and deeply inspired by her example. Through God’s grace, it is even possible to share Christ’s love with the extremist who killed your husband.
- Stand with our Persecuted Family Members
Scripture reminds us that we are to “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).
What does it mean to “remember” them? At VOM, it means that we will do whatever we can to provide the spiritual and physical help that they need. We serve the persecuted church through persecution response projects, Bible distributions and support of front-line workers who are advancing God’s kingdom.
Today, you have Christian brothers and sisters who are in prison. You have family members who have been kidnapped by IS in Syria. Parents, siblings and children in our family are being mistreated. But as followers of Jesus, we are confident that they are never truly alone.
On 13 April 1969, Pastor Wurmbrand stood before an audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall and shared about his prison experiences: “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone. But, we were not alone!”
I have met and prayed with Christians who have been held captive and faced unimaginable tortures. But they report that God was with them; they supernaturally experienced His presence. Some even share that these dark times were the times of greatest intimacy with their Father in heaven.
We invite you to partner with us as we stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. These Christians are our family members — part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.
Dr Jason Peters works for The Voice of the Martyrs USA
I’m your average young American. I grew up in a house with four bedrooms and plenty of food to eat every day. I worked hard in high school to get into a good college, and my parents taught me to treat others with kindness and respect. I love going to the movies, coffee is an everyday necessity and I spend way too much time on my phone.
At the same time, I’m not your average American. I’ve loved the Lord since a young age and that has been the determining factor in every decision of my life. I have a deep love for people and strong convictions about what is right and wrong. I went to a Christian school and studied theology, and I want to do overseas missions. My heart has been captivated for the broken and hurting of the world.
I was about eight years old when I first grasped the fact that there were Christians who had something to lose when they said they loved Jesus. I remember having a difficult time understanding this; loving Jesus was celebrated in the environment I grew up in. What did it mean that some children didn’t have shoes or a home and had lost their parents because they were Christians? I clearly remember when an American missionary couple was kidnapped and held for a year in the jungles of the Philippines; my family and I prayed every day for a year for their release. Even at a young age, these stories marked me. My parents choose to share what was going on in the nations with me at a young age, and as a result: I have a heart of compassion for the world.
When we hear stories of believers being persecuted overseas, western Christians typically have two types of responses: fear and guilt. We ask ourselves, “What if this comes to us?” In guilt, we wonder, “Why am I blessed with such a comfortable life while my brothers and sisters suffer?” Although both reactions are natural, neither response moves us to action. So what should be our response?
My answer is simple: prayer and obedience. Prayer is to be our natural response to both the horrors of our world and the blessings we receive in the midst of it. Suffering believers covet the prayers of the body of Christ, for prayer is the most powerful tool we possess. If we cannot lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer, are we truly part of the same body?
The second part of our response should be obedience to the Lord about how to best serve our persecuted family. We should strive for faithfulness, even if our response seems ineffective. If we are answering the Lord’s call to faithfulness, then the rest doesn’t matter. It is the Lord’s job to bring justice, to bring in the harvest and to reward the righteous. He simply asks that we be faithful sowers. God is concerned with the condition of our hearts towards our brothers and sisters, for hearts that are tender are hearts that can be broken for what breaks God’s heart.
I encourage you today to think about this answer of prayer and obedience. Although a simple answer, it is not simple to do. Yet aren’t we promised that when we are weak, He is strong? Let your faith be encouraged by our dear brothers and sisters who fight hard battles every day and let yourself be moved from compassion to action.
R J Everett works for The Voice of the Martyrs USA
“On a Sunday morning, I walked towards my church and mused about the sermon, which I would have to deliver…while I was debating with Jesus the sermon, which I had to deliver after half an hour, at once a car of the secret police stopped near me, four men rushed out of the car, in a minute’s time, I was in the car, I was handcuffed, I was blindfolded. And now, I was under arrest.”
As Richard Wurmbrand shared this story at the Royal Festival Hall in London, on 13 April 1969, he invited the listeners to enter into a dark world. He continued, “And now, in our imagination, let us all leave this hall. You descend with me blindfolded down some slippery stair, I do not know where I am led. A door opens before me. The blindfold is taken away. I am pushed in. The door is banged after me, it is locked. And now, Jesus is no more simply at the door; he is at a locked door, which I cannot unlock.”
He asked the spellbound audience: “What would be your first feeling, if such a thing would happen to you? I can tell you what happened to me first: I trembled. We knew already, how the communists behave towards prisoners. It is not only beatings, whippings, but refined tortures, cruelties, and dopings. And I feared that under these atrocities, my faith might break, I might become a traitor to the Church.”
These words provide a window into the soul of a frightened prisoner and the deep questions that each one of us would face when confronted with an unjust imprisonment. It is a space of denial, fear and loneliness. However, as believers, we have an assurance that can never be taken away.
Richard continued his speech, “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone.”
“But, we were not alone!”
Right now. Today. This very moment, there are Christians who are facing the same denial, fear and loneliness. I have personally encountered, and prayed with, Christians in Asia and Africa who have spent years in prison, facing unimaginable tortures.
Even in these dark moments, Scripture reminds us that we are never alone. When Joseph was placed in a dark prison cell, the Lord was with him: “Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:20-21).
Will you join me today in praying specifically for those who are in prison right now because of their faith? Let’s pray that they will sense the deep comfort of God’s presence with them, that they will experience His mercy and that they will find favour in the eyes of those who have detained them.
We are never alone.
Dr Jason Peters works as Associate Vice President of Connection for The Voice of the Martyrs USA.