This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Forever Young: Living and Dying for Christ (VOM). In the following short account, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Twenty-one-year-old Spartak Tagayev, a Tajik Christian, was blinded by a bomb that was planted in his church by fanatical Muslims. When workers from the Voice of the Martyrs came to help him and his church, he told them, "The main thing is to look to God and always to trust Him, whatever happens. Earlier, when all this happened, I could not say thanks to God, but in a while I understood."
"Now I tell everyone. 'It is not only that I am all right, I am perfect!' Nothing oppresses my spirit, and I do not fall into depression or despondency. Whatever happens, one should trust Jesus always and in all circumstances. Sometimes it is very difficult to do so, especially when one cannot understand a lot of things. Now, that is where one should always display special trust in Jesus."
"As long as we are on this earth and in this body, we will have sorrow. Sufferings and trials will not last long. We will face God, and He will make up for everything that we lost here on earth. We should be strong!"
"I am studying how to play a guitar, and I want to become a missionary in the future, of course, if it will be God's will. I wish to tell all unbelievers, 'Believe in Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ is salvation, the door to the kingdom of heaven.'"
A moment of introspection: In days gone by a popular daytime television show in the US aired on CBS, and was titled, "As the World Turns." Borrowing these words, one might say that, as the world turns--as time progresses--in the world we Christians or Believers will have trouble. These days of change bear this truth out, as the world awaits the final election results for the United States. The greatly increasing persecution of Christians around the world is a statistic that will perhaps come to those Believers who have as yet been spared the experience. In such an event, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part, He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters." (1 Peter 4:12-15) As one church leader recently remarked, one can no longer say that persecution will not come "here". Spartak Tagayev found persecution in his own country of Tajikistan. At some point in the near future, such persecution will become a truly global phenomenon.
But a closer look at Spartak's experience may give hope to us, despite persecution. He says that it took some time for him to get beyond the pain and the theft of his eyesight. It is noteworthy that the sanctuary which is by its very name associated with the church, in his case, was the site of the bombing. The church was no sanctuary for him, and the sanctuary of the church has been even recently abrogated in places like Armenia and India, Nigeria, Congo, Mali, Indonesia, the United States, Europe, etc. In each of these areas, Christians needed some time to move beyond the hurt, to restored life in a new paradigm of altered hopes, and to receive peace, joy--and, in a while, understanding. Acknowledging that, "As long as we are on this earth and in this body, we will have sorrow. Sufferings and trials will not last long. We will face God, and He will make up for everything that we lost here on earth. We should be strong!", he nonetheless correctly observed that, "Whatever happens, one should trust Jesus always and in all circumstances. Sometimes it is very difficult to do so, especially when one cannot understand a lot of things. Now, that is where one should always display special trust in Jesus."
The apostle Paul described his own suffering in the following way: ...our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) Paul himself had grown up in an area in which he did not know persecution himself. Once called to faith in Christ, though, he described his suffering as not lasting long. The main thing is to look to God, and always to trust Him--no matter what happens. It is important, too, as Ian MacLaren (pen name of John Watson, minister in the Free Church of Scotland) once remarked, "the highest joy to the Christian almost always comes through suffering. No flower can bloom in paradise which is not transplanted from Gethsemane." To more and more Christians, fragrant believers exit life's crucible as new people filled with Christ and the new understanding that He brings. Paul Claudel (French poet, dramatist and diplomat, and devout Christian) reminded us that "Christ did not come to do away with suffering; He did not come to explain it; He came to fill it with His presence." Spartak's life shone with Christ's presence as he looked to life beyond the suffering.
Keep in mind that God looks for committed believers and, increasingly, there will be a cost to professing our faith in Jesus Christ. But remember, too, the truth in Edward Sheldon's observation, that "God will look you over, not for medals or degrees, but for scars." (Edward Sheldon, himself blinded as an adult) Helen Keller spoke of a world full of suffering, but also full of overcoming of it. Spartak overcame his trials, and we also may be overcomers of suffering at the hands of an angry and very often violent world. The apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). And John, in the first of his letters, rightly remarked, "for whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4-5). God's Word asks us to persevere; Paul, the apostle, writing to the church in Rome, also told them, "...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 5:3-5)
The Book of Hebrews asks each of us to "…consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin." The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we may "have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:3-12)
In his letter, James wrote, "Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:10-11). The apostle, Peter, also asked us to give all diligence to adding "to our faith virtue, [and] to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
As Believers in Christ, we have the opportunity in the not-too-distant future, to experience gospel living under repressive governments--no matter where we live. Remember to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44) and bless those who curse us, praying for those who abuse us. (Luke 6:28) The upward call of Christ will be most welcome; may we have our oil ready when the Bridegroom comes for His own. (Matthew 25:1-13) Until that clarion call, may we continue in His service and be led in triumphal procession by Christ--"through us being spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life." (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) With Spartak Tagayev, may we as well, look to the future and determine that we will serve the Lord, and consider how we will do so. Immanuel will be with us. With Joshua, may we choose to serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15), and to do so with gladness! (Psalm 100:2)