This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs.  In the following passage, the account of a Chinese Christian provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Just as Pastor Li Dexian began his sermon, the doors of the house church burst open.  Armed officers of the Chinese Public Security Bureau poured into the room, threatening everyone present and grabbing Li to arrest him.

"Wait, please allow me to grab my bag."  As always, the pastor's tone with the officers was polite yet firm.

The officers were surprised at the request.  "What's in there?" they demanded, grabbing the black zippered bag Li held and ripping it open.  The bag contained a blanket and a spare change of clothes, Li told them, because he had been expecting to be arrested that day.

Pastor Li had been arrested many times.  Twice, police had beaten him to the point that he vomited blood, and one time Li's face was beaten with his own Bible.  Li was warned that police were watching the village where he held his Tuesday meetings.  He knew if he showed up to preach, he would be imprisoned.  Today, Chinese citizens can be sent to labor camps for up to three years without a formal trial.

The risks were great, but Li's bag was packed.  More than having a bag packed, though, he had his mind and heart prepared.  He was willing to pay any cost to preach the gospel.  He was convinced God would care for him--even in prison.

A moment of consideration: Ever since my youthful days, I have remembered the Boy Scout motto:  "Be Prepared".  Young troopers were urged to always be ready in mind and body to do what is needed to be done.  As we draw ever nearer to our Lord's upward call, let us be sure as a start, to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5-8)  Joshua exhorted the Jewish people of his day to do the same. (Joshua 24:15)  As the apostle James wrote, let us be wise in our decisions for Christ (James 1:5-8), that we should not be double-minded--looking back wistfully on the "flesh pots" of our previous years as the Israelites did in the wilderness trials (Exodus 16:3), and as Lot's wife did upon fleeing with her family from Sodom (Genesis 19:23-26).  Pastor Li kept a to-go bag packed, against the day when he might be arrested again.  But...more than that, he prepared his mind and heart for the ordeal to come.  He didn't shy away from the possibility.  He had experienced the power of God in faith, and was at peace.  

When Christ Jesus walked upon this earth, He prepared His disciples for tribulation, persecution, and trials.  In John 16:33, Christ said to His disciples, by way of acknowledging the trials before them and yet encouraging them, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."  Pastor Li had accepted Christ's preparatory entreaties, and the Master's Words had fallen onto good "soil."  Many followers of Christ in today's world may receive the teachings of Christ joyfully, yet not grow in depth of understanding and belief, but remain satisfied with their "good" life.  Yet when tribulation or persecution comes, such persons have no rootedness in their life and walk with Christ, and fall away (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21).  In July of 2020, it was announced by Barna Polls that "one in three Practicing Christians has stopped attending church during the ongoing COVID" outbreak.  In December of 2022, a question was asked why people are not coming back to church, since the COVID "pandemic" ended.  These figures accompany a noticeable decline in persons attending and participating in church. 

For those of us who have permitted the gospel to impact us, to permeate our being in the same way as food nutrients feed the cells of one's body (Deuteronomy 8:3), to these Lord Christ bids, "prepare" for days that lie ahead.  In Matthew 24:32–41 the text deals with the nearness and time of Jesus’ coming.  In these verses, Jesus moves from describing future events to dealing with the attitudes that should characterize his followers as they prepare for the end (vv. 32–35), knowing that his return is imminent (vv. 36–41).  The apostle Paul even related his experiences to preparing for the life beyond. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)  "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."  He was the one, too, who wrote to the church in Rome, and said "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)  In facing the future, we take stock of the potential or probable cost (Luke 14:28-29) of faithfulness and, as the apostle Paul and Pastor Li did, prepare our minds and hearts for what possible or probable series of events lie ahead for us, on the way to glory.  

James, in his epistle, helps us prepare our minds for the coming months or years--asking us to look at problems, complications, affronts, and trials as helpful to prepare our own minds and hearts to have confidence in the Lord. (James 1:2-4)  Separately, in the following verses, Christ Jesus said to expect persecution; He said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)  Also, He said that we are to "...LOVE your enemies, BLESS those who curse you, DO GOOD TO those who hate you, and PRAY for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)  Moreover, our Lord instructs us to forgive our enemies, our foes and our opposers:  "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, FORGIVE him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." (Mark 11:25-26)

So let us, in addition to preparing for a trip, to gearing up for camp, to getting ready for a baby shower, to making needed arrangements for a party or a family reunion, as examples--spend a good  amount of time preparing our minds and hearts for the times ahead; ground ourselves in God's Word; foster a close relationship with One Who is closer than a sibling (Proverbs 18:24; Acts 17:26-28), earnestly desire a closer walk with the Lord, practicing and relishing His presence, and eagerly anticipate His coming to claim His Church (Hebrews 9:28).  Aesop sagely once said, "It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow."  It is not only "thrifty" but critically important as we draw near to the close of the age.  Pastor Li had his prison bag packed, waiting for that eventuality that did come for him.  Let us likewise prepare for difficult times, and for the glory that awaits.  Heed what the Scriptures say, in preparing us for persevering:

"But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.' It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh." (Jude 17-22)

May God grant us His peace in the coming days, as our confidence lies in Him.