This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from the heart of Ferenc Visky (Mr. Visky and his wife, both Romanian, write in a moving way about their life with the Lord despite heavy persecution), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him, because of his love for her. (Genesis 29:20)
Jacob had to serve Laban for seven years under difficult conditions to get his wife Rachel. In fact, the whole period of his service amounted to twenty years (Genesis 31:41). Love delivered him from the tyranny of time. Where love is, there is eternity, timelessness.
Convicts in prison undergo the heaviest crisis when the last remains of a life in freedom are taken from them. I went through that crisis together with eight other brothers: our heads were shaved bald and we were given striped prison clothes. Our sentences varied from eighteen to twenty-two years' imprisonment. We had to give up the life we had led until then. All of this was accompanied by derision and rough abuse from the guards, between grey walls with barred windows. All of us bore the visible signs of our readiness to die in silence. But we also experienced the comfort of the Lord in this desperate situation. He sent us this text: '...they seemed like only a few days to him, because of his love for her.' I whispered it in the ear of the brother who stood beside me and he passed it on to the next. As if in a holy relay, it passed the whole row: '...because of his love for her.'
God, too, loved us so much that He sacrificed His own beloved Son with joy to save us. Jacob didn't count the years, the only thing that counted for him was Rachel. Even during the long years of service, he was a free man. Love made him free. When the apostle Paul speaks about his suffering for the name of Jesus, he says that the troubles are 'light and momentary' (2 Corinthians 4:17).
When you love the Lord, your captivity for His sake, your suffering for him is light and a pleasure.
A moment of introspection: The stage is set; gray walls, barred windows, horrible odors, the shrieks accompanying rough abuse and verbal derision, vermin seeking hosts and food, over-crowding and discomfort, distrust among prisoners, hopelessness ("Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here"), tainted food, difficulty sleeping, cramped muscles from over-crowding within the cells, pain (often excruciating) and... Christian prisoners suffer with non-believers, sometimes confined in a cell promising beatings from violent or anti-Christian cell-mates; many Christian prisoners bear visible signs of readiness to die--in silence. The last remains of a life in freedom are taken from prisoners. And yet, the Apostle Paul described his suffering for the name of Jesus as "light and momentary"—certainly, we might respond, his sufferings and those of thousands upon thousands of imprisoned Christians could not be so described. Any reading of Foxe's Book of Martyrs would shed some light of agreement upon Paul's own suffering and writings. God Himself loved us so much that He allowed Himself to be imprisoned in order to save us. (John 3:16)
Many Christians, like Ferenc Visky, serve the Lord under difficult conditions. Some are sentenced to short periods of incarceration, others for 10, 20, 30 years or longer--at the whim of the government, or terrorist group (who captured or kidnapped them). For many, our prayers rise heavenward to fend off feelings of desperation and hopelessness, to pray that God would wrest any thoughts of suicide as an escape from the unthinkable cruelty within prison walls. We pray that God would grant each Christian prisoner a sense of Immanuel as the presence of divine love in the horrific environment that denies God. Year upon year of separation from family members, would indeed aptly be described as tyrannical. But with Christ's love, with God's compassion as contrasts to the inhumane, there exists eternity and timelessness. With Christ's presence and God's love, the divine comfort comes within the desperation. In his own years in prison, Ferenc discovered God with him, and found that focusing on the beloved even as Jacob focused on Rachel reduced the tyranny of the years of being locked away, and gave him freedom during the long years. Love freed him. Like the apostle Paul wrote, Mr. Visky found that "when one loves the Lord, one's captivity and suffering for His sake are both light and a pleasure." The Psalmist wrote "You will fill me with joy in Your presence." (Psalm 16:11) In the ESV Bible, a note on 1 Peter revealed:
"The readers of the apostle Peter’s letter were confused and discouraged by the persecution they were encountering because of their faith. Peter exhorted them to stand strong, repeatedly reminding them of Christ’s example, the riches of their inheritance in him, and the hope of his returning again to take them to heaven. Peter explained how Christians should respond when they suffer because of their beliefs. Called the “apostle of hope,” Peter’s primary message is to trust the Lord, live obediently no matter what your circumstances, and keep your hope fixed on God’s ultimate promise of deliverance. Suffering is to be expected, but it is temporary and yields great blessings for those who remain steadfast. Peter probably wrote this letter in the mid-60s a.d."
Indeed, the apostle Paul said "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:14-16) Throughout his sufferings, Paul focused on deliverance and on the Beloved. Remaining open to the Father and to Jesus, Ferenc received what he called a "text", or a memory verse from the Scriptures; Bible memorization can assist Christians burdened by imprisonment to bear up and "live up to what they have attained". He shared the Bible reference with his fellow Christian prisoners and comforted and encouraged them thereby.
Even Betsie, in Corrie Ten Boom’s account of their imprisonment in the Nazi prison camps, helped Corrie:
Bolstered by faith, Corrie finds it easier to take personal risks in the name of her beliefs than to passively accept suffering as part of God’s plan. It’s only through the example of her sister Betsie, with whom she endures imprisonment, that she is able to reconcile these two aspects of her faith, deriving a sense of personal tranquility while also maintaining her spirit of activism.
Raised according to the doctrine of the Dutch Reformed Church, Corrie is taught to believe that everything that happens is the result of God’s will; this belief helps the family cope with misfortunes that befall them. Her family members put this belief into practice: often bedridden by chronic illness, Mama accepts her condition as the will of God, coming to believe that it gives her greater compassion for the poor people to whom she ministers. One of the family’s most devout members, Tante Jans, is a notorious hypochondriac who drives the family crazy, but when she realizes that she actually will die of diabetes she responds to the news with surprising tranquility. Corrie sees this as evidence that accepting misfortune as God’s plan gives one the strength to resist adversity. (Excerpted from https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-hiding-place/themes/faith-and-action)
In our intercessory response to imprisonment and suffering of fellow Christians, LB Cowman wrote
"I have thought...often, especially when watching with tearful eyes those who were struggling with sorrow, suffering, and distress. My tendency would be to quickly alleviate the discipline and bring deliverance. O shortsighted person that I am! How do I know that one of these pains or groans should be relieved? The farsighted, perfect love that seeks the perfection of its object does not weakly shrink away from present, momentary suffering. Our Father's love is too steadfast to be weak. Because He loves His children, He "disciplines us...that we may share in his holiness" (Hebrews 12:10). With this glorious purpose in sight, He does not relieve our crying. Made perfect through suffering, as our Elder Brother was, we children of God are disciplined to make us obedient, and brought to glory through much tribulation." (Streams In The Desert, January 9)
May we pray that those Christians who are suffering will be granted even more strength, that they may withstand even greater persecution. May we pray that they retain inner faith despite their trials; may we pray that they who suffer focus their minds upon the living Lord, the eternal God, the Holy Spirit—and know the perfect peace that comes from doing so, despite the suffering. (Isaiah 26:3-4) May we pray that praise to God will come forth from their lips as they sense His presence and know His compassion. (Romans 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:6) In this the suffering receives its perspective: "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels." (2 Thessalonians 1:3-7) We’re in this together.