**Warning: This post may make you feel bad. ***Warning: That feeling may be appropriate.
There are moments in life that feel like a swift slap in the face.
No one courts that. No one wants to feel that pain. But, if it’s a slap that rearranges your priorities to align with God’s heart, then you will thank God even for that bracing offense.
I received that slap in 2014 when I read a report that Kim Jong-un had ordered the execution of thirty-three Christians reported to have been planting over 500 underground churches in North Korea. I receive the same slap when I read of the struggles of Syrian, Nigerian, Pakistani, Chinese, and Indian believers. Many struggle to literally hold onto life because they’ve chosen to follow Jesus.
I imagined thirty-three of my Christian friends executed for leading people to Christ, facilitating worship, praying, or offering praise to God. I would be horrified, sad, and angry – devastated – but I would also trust that God has the last word on their lives not Kim Jong-un or the evil power behind him.
Still, I would want their deaths to motivate the church of Christ.
I would want their deaths to galvanize other believers to put feet to their own faith, to fuel their passion for Christ, to remember to pray for those who suffer, to spread God’s word with more zeal, persistence, and creativity than ever before.
While we in the West argue over worship styles, sleep in when there’s a visiting preacher, bemoan having to endure a boring prayer request or off-key soloist, serve up the pastor’s sermon over lunch, or sit home and judge the church unworthy of our attendance altogether, there are Christians suffering to the point of death.
There are other brothers and sisters gasping their way to every precious moment when they can gather in hiding, with other precious believers, and hear a whispered message from God, bathe in the reading of His word, and pray with passion and tears for strength to endure – for courage to continue speaking the truth under threat of death.
God placed us all where we are. He assigned us to our stations. There is no guilt in being born in the land of the free as opposed to a country under harsh rule.
But there is guilt if we use our freedom to indulge our petty preferences, to pad our comfort, to drift through this dark world basking in our own light rather than using it to serve those who waste away in prison cells wondering if they’ve been forgotten.
Or to minister to their families left to struggle alone with hunger, fear, and loneliness. Or to strengthen those serving the Lord in dark, dark places who need our prayers for their protection, deliverance, courage, and strength.
This blog is just a bunch of words. It costs me absolutely nothing to write. I’m free here to say whatever I want without fear that it will cost me or my loved ones their lives.
But the words we speak on our knees have the power to move forces in the heavenly realm.
Our prayers have the power to make a difference for those who know the names and faces of those facing execution. Our prayers move forces that will comfort those who know the martyrs – their touch, their dreams, the plans they had for this life that will end any minute now. Our prayers can work to strengthen those who pick up the bloody batons these who fall will be forced to release and continue to build the kingdom of Christ in lands where the enemy of God rules.
Worship has been different for me since this news in 2014. The report of thirty-three gunshots bouncing around the inner chamber of my soul, as well as the thought of the tears of those who loved others who have died by sword, fire, or beating, remind me that we aren’t home yet. The war wages on and I have a part.
When I face these loved ones in glory, I want to tell them their lives were not forgotten. Their sacrifices fortified, galvanized, energized those of us who live in freedom. Their suffering inspired us to worship, pray, serve, and speak out twice – once for ourselves and once for them.
I want to say I used my freedom to secure what comfort I could for them through prayer and through the witness of my words. That every time I was tempted to spiritual apathy, to complaining, or to fearful restraint, remembering them emboldened me and deepened my commitment to a life of gratitude and sacrifice in the name of Jesus.
Because of Jesus, even oppressed, beaten, locked away, silenced, imprisoned, or slaughtered, their lives furthered the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Even in the dark, their lives shined bright enough to be seen in the West, like stars whose light travels even after they’re gone.
The enemy does not have the last word. Jesus is the Word – first, last, and always. You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.
**It’s been three years since I posted the first version of this. How many more Christians have died in that time? Persecution has escalated and many trying to flee are facing barriers to freedom on every side. We need to intercede in prayer, speak out whenever we have opportunity to give their suffering a voice, and support ministries making efforts to reach them with aid, comfort, and escape to freedom.
— Lori Roeleveld (@lorisroeleveld) March 10, 2017