This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, a Turkmenistani Christian provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
"Break him morally or destroy him physically!" The Turkmenistan bureaucrats had no more patience for this street preacher.
Shageldy Atakov was offered his freedom under President Saparmurat Niyazov's December 23, 2000, amnesty, provided he would swear the oath of allegiance to the president and recite the Muslim creed. Shageldy refused the amnesty again.
Shageldy had been threatened by state officials to stop preaching. He was arrested in December 1998 and sentenced to two years in jail, but a prosecutor appealed the verdict as "too lenient". He was then sentenced to two additional years in prison. Shageldy was in such pain from the harsh beatings that he asked his children not to touch him.
In February 2000, his wife and five children had been forcibly taken from their home and exiled to remote Kaakhka where they remained under "village arrest."
When his family visited him in early February of 2001, Shageldy said his farewells. His wife noticed that "during the visit he was bruised and battered, his kidneys and liver hurt, and he was suffering from jaundice. He could barely walk and frequently lost consciousness." He did not expect to survive much longer.
Despite this, Shageldy was still not broken. He would not give in, and though release was within his reach, he would not accept it if it meant forsaking his allegiance to Christ.
A moment of consideration: In today's world, Satan seems "hell bent" on breaking the moral strength of the Church through repeated raids, attacks, oppressive laws, undermining the Gospel in churches, indoctrinating ministerial candidates through LGBTQ "God Squads" in seminaries, brainwashing of believers sentenced to camps in China, police aiding criminal attacks on churches and Christians, conscripting of children into radical armed groups, indoctrinating children in public schools in Marxist and LGBTQ principles and practices, and more. Courage is needed; it is called for, in responding to these assaults. In the midst of the fray, the Apostle Paul observed that our faith, a true treasure, is held in our human "jars of clay"--to show that the surpassing power doesn't belong to us, but to God. In his musings, he recalls (like Shageldy Atakov) being "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies." (2 Corinthians 4:7-8) Paul described resilient faith, tested faith, proven faith. Shageldy also honored the faith in his heart through perseverance and resilience despite the abuse he received in prison. For, "despite this, Shageldy was still not broken". His treasure of faith was of much greater value than freedom that might have cost him eternal life with Christ.
In this world, "hope" abounds; yet too often this is a false hope. There is "hope" that the vaccine will protect us from contagion--only to find that booster after booster after booster is needed, and then a new "pandemic" rears its head. There is "hope" that prices will drop and return to what they were "before". There is "hope" that peace can be had in Ukraine, and that stability and calm will return to our land. There is "hope" that killing of babies in the womb will stop. There is "hope" that the war on drugs will be won. There is "hope" that education will prepare children for a bright future (in which the WEF has stated that we will own nothing, and we will be happy). There is "hope" for a revival of faith in our land. With all that's happening around the world, there is "hope" that sanity will return to international relations. There is "hope" that our food supply will be protected. The list goes on. "Hope" replicates itself throughout the fabric of society, and is never fully realized. Yet for us believers, in the midst of all the "hoped for" boons in the world, our Savior recognized our sometimes precarious and painful lives. He said, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) The apostle Paul discussed hope, saying "For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance." (Romans 8:24-25) Yes, as believers (as the faithful), we hope in Christ, and our hope is not in vain. Christ Jesus is Lord Immanuel (Matthew 1:23); He has promised to never leave us (Hebrews 13:5; Joshua 1:5), and He has overcome the world so that we also might overcome. So we persevere in the Blessed Hope.
Yet in this life there is still pain and trauma, affliction and distress. So, is there any hope or promise within pain and suffering? Within suffering, the apostle Paul saw opportunity for training which produces endurance. Endurance itself produces character, and it is character within suffering, which elicits and results in trustworthy hope through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:3)
"If we try to endure long without the hope of Jesus Christ, our souls will diminish. We cannot live without hope, God's precious gift to His children. If you are feeling as if you can't go on, ask God to encourage and motivate you. You will endure all things with a strong hope in Christ Jesus."
The promise within suffering is the presence of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us, to give us courage, to keep our faith in Jesus firm and steadfast. The apostle James had listened to Christ Jesus (Matthew 5:11-12); he believed that steadfast faith is produced by the testing of our faith, through our suffering. Shageldy let that steadfastness have its full effect, so that through it he might be made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4) With no lack felt, Pastor Atakov did not feel the need for the "freedom" that the world offers. Such freedom comes with a dire cost. Let us, in our own walk with Christ, know the True Freedom that Christ Jesus offers. Let us persevere in the face of opposition, with the stamina of Job, and of the prophets. Now is the time for mature faith, which can weather the coming storms of antipathy toward Christ and towards us. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, and to us as well: "Therefore, my dear [family in Christ], stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:58) Our faith is not vain; our work for Christ likewise is not wasted (1 Corinthians 15:58). That's cause for encouragement and for motivation; we are making a difference. May we indeed endure all things with a strong hope in Christ Jesus.