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 Sophia's mother provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
You show that you a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:3)
"In 1996, our daughter Sophia had a long seizure causing permanent brain damage. She suffered badly for months, crying incessantly for two or three days at a time and writhing with pain. She did not know us or respond to us."
"One nurse could not understand why we were not angry with God for allowing this to happen. I tried to help her see that we are his servants and cannot deny the tremendous gift that God had given us in his Son. Four months after her seizure, Sophia died."
"The day she died, I saw a picture from a Voice of the Martyrs article of a Sudanese sister whose breasts had been cut off sitting next to her infant. Her persecutors tortured her by doing this horrible thing, forcing her to watch her child die of starvation. Thousands of miles away from where she was, I knew her pain, and I wept, thinking, I will not allow myself to wallow in self-pity."
"That woman and others like her did not have the benefit of medical care, fellowship, and love from brethren that we had. Yet they have endured so much, and I, by the grace of God, can also endure it."
"I need these living epistles of the Lord Jesus Christ, to express the reality that Jesus lives and this world is not my home."
A moment of consideration: In a remarkable way, this godly woman has shared with us how the accounts of Believers, living epistles who suffer for their faith, served to encourage her and lift her up in her own life. There are benefits to hearing such accounts. We Christians have the blessing of reading testimonies of biblical characters/persons who likewise suffered for their loyalty to, and belief in Christ and in God. Prophets of the Old Testament, apostles in the New Testament, our heavenly Father, and even Christ Jesus Himself each knew the trials of opposition. Their suffering gives historical depth to the persecution accounts in our family of faith around the world today. And the writer of the book of Hebrews expands the list of witnesses to us, to a "cloud":
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him." (Hebrews 12:1-5)
The writer continues in encouragement for us: Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrew 12:12-14) There are probably numerous days when we don't feel strong, especially as we grow older (Psalm 71:9). The Psalms encourage us that, when we lack strength, we should "seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!" (Psalm 105:4) Recognizing and practicing God's presence allows us access to divine strength and courage when needed. As God's "Christian Handbook for Living", the Holy Scriptures possess many helps for our daily walk with the Lord. It would be good to develop an awareness of, and to apply these resources, before the day of tribulation comes.
When developments in this rapidly deteriorating world fill us with anxiety or stress, practice God's presence (Isaiah 26:3-4) and know His peace as we "constantly" pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 4:6-7) and rejoice in Him. These are faith builders and intentional trust instillers that can help us endure the tumult, keeping mind that our human adversaries are not our enemy (Ephesians 6:12); they are flagrantly mistaken/duped. We who know God's abiding presence also know reason upon reason to thank Him for His provision, for His guidance, for His sovereignty, for His correction and discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17), for His safeguarding and protection; and for Who He is; in this, may we not forget God (Psalm 50:22-23) but be amply equipped for every good work in an evil day. Let us remember God's gift of armor (Ephesians 6:10-20): Put on the whole armor of God by prayer, Bible study, and spiritual exercise, and you will be able to ward off enemies both large and small. "Spiritual exercise" may take numerous forms, including:
- applying Christ's commands
- practicing awareness of God’s presence from day to day
- seeking to improve one's prayer effectiveness
- serving and trusting the Lord, and
- learning how Believers today survive persecution with their faith intact and even strengthened.
Resources that might help in this are to read the Bible and its accounts of victory amid suffering; check out persecuted Christians' experiences of sufferings and faith on the www.christiansincrisis.net's Latest News web site, and stories of tested faith in these materials: The Last Words of the Martyrs, Extreme Devotion, and Martyrs' Mirror, and The New Foxe's Book of Martyrs, among others.
In the lives within these true stories, we can be encouraged and equipped to stand fast in faith when confronted with opposition. Such is the function, as well, of the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:13) How did these saints withstand the opposer? In what way was their faith crucial in enduring the day of trial? How did faith strengthen them in the aftermath of attacks? How might our faith do that for us? How are we equipped with the belt of Truth, are we prepared and practiced in wielding the sword of the Spirit (memorizing and applying) God's Word during stressful situations? Are we able to encourage others with what we have learned and internalized and applied? Does our perfect peace in the face of turmoil draw others to us? (1 Peter 3:13-17) Are we prepared to have our demonstrated Christian love for our enemies rebuffed?
In the coming days, may we each prayerfully consider the examples of faith under fire and, perchance become a shining example of enduring faith ourselves: "Lord, You said You are in the weak, the powerless. Forgive me for attempting to orchestrate, to generate Your message when all You want to do is write Your message on my life. I am willing, Lord--I humbly submit my weak, powerless, and ordinary life into Your hands. May I live my life as unto You, not anyone else. Give my hands strength to do physical tasks, my mind and heart courage to do right, and wisdom to see you in all of life. In Jesus’ name I ask this. Amen."