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 ancient Christians in the Roman catacombs provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the light. (Mark 4:22)
Early Christians were known for two things: prayer below ground and persecution above ground. The whole known world was against the Christians in the Roman Empire. Marcus Aurelius Antonius signed a decree in AD 162 naming, "Anyone who professes to be a Christian is worthy of the most painful death!" A period of almost four centuries of extreme secrecy began for the church. The church literally went underground, creating the Roman catacombs.
A vast network of rooms and corridors was constructed beneath Rome for the burial of the dead. Yet these became the covert cathedrals of the early church. Believers could find a place of unhindered and unguarded worship and prayer.
The catacombs show the dedication of early believers to find a place to worship Christ. The broken and burnt bones of their tombs show the intensity of the persecutions they suffered. Perhaps most significant are the secret notes of victory and peace inscribed on the walls. Despite the cruelty shown them above ground, below they decorated the walls with symbols of their faith and peace through the cross.
It is not unusual to see cryptic inscriptions such as the following on tombs: "Victorious in peace and Christ" or "Being called away, he went in peace." or "Here lies Maria, put to rest in a dream of peace." The key to their triumph is no secret: perfect peace in Christ Jesus.
FURTHER: Many people keep their faith a secret their whole lives. They claim religion is a private matter--something between God and them alone. However, this was not so in the early church. Believers were so open in their faith that they were easily identified and persecuted. The Roman catacombs served as a private place for worship; however, above ground their allegiance was no secret. This is why so many of them were martyred for their faith. The consistent and open prayer below ground gave them the peace they experienced in persecution above ground. Has your faith been "underground" for the duration of your Christian life? It's time for the secret to come out. No matter the consequences, don't keep Christianity concealed.
A moment of consideration: Prayer. It is something that we intercessors know about, and for good reason. We know the fellowship of prayer, the compassion of prayer, the power of prayer, and the joy in prayer. In the account of catacomb believers in Rome, no Biblical record describes their daily life, their prayers, their plight under the thumb of Roman oppression. But we learn today that the precious believers knew the impact of prayer in their lives. Through God, prayer empowered them to lead lives of boldness, openness, and peace--and not to cower, discouraged from venturing with their Christian identities into the world above the catacombs. Their "consistent and open prayer below ground gave them the peace they experienced above ground." What a good definition of the relationship between prayer and peace the apostle Paul described this same type of interplay: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7) Christ Himself brought with Him peace, and instilled that peace within the lives, the hearts, the minds of His followers; He explained the gift of peace that each of the Christians in the catacombs and we can take hold of: "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." (John 16:33)
Are we beset with cares, worries, dread, hopelessness and fear? God's Word tells each of us the means of prayer: You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3) In the words, "whose mind is stayed on You," Isaiah wrote of keeping the Lord Immanuel close at hand--practicing the presence of God, if we will. Staying close to the Lord keeps communication lines open with the Lord, allowing us to fellowship with Him throughout the day. Staying our minds on Christ reminds me of the lyrics to the gospel song, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." Focusing on Christ, cares are bedimmed, anxieties calmed, fears allayed, and discouragements lifted and cast aside--the storms of life abated and calmed by His grace, by His rich mercy. (Mark 4:39) The catacomb Christians, above ground, did not hide their faith (as a lamp hidden beneath a basket, cf. Mark 4:21-23). Christ adjured all Christians to not hide our devotion, mask our faith, or camouflage our love for our Lord: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16) Be prepared for honest questions about our Christianity and respond with Christlike truth in gentleness and respectfulness to slander and reviling from persons who hate Christ and us. (1 Peter 3:15-17)
When tempers flare and aspersions fly at us, may we renew our strength, run, and not be weary in well-doing; may we walk and not faint at the abusive reactions of those who belittle us, call us names, threaten us, and in other ways oppose our Christianity. (John 15:20-25; Isaiah 40:31) May Christ grant us His peace through prayer, in such times. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses to encourage us, to keep us on the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14), and to remind us that their lives were exemplary of their faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2) We can learn from the examples they established in and above the Roman catacombs; as they showed us on the dusty roads of Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, between the rice fields of (southeast) Asia, and in intra-city marketplaces and slums. May our allegiance to Christ be apparent in our actions and words, as well as in our thinking and our favoring. The times we live in are akin to those in which Thomas Paine (1776) wrote, "These are the times that try men's [and women's] souls." What Mr. Paine wrote about patriotism can also be spoken regarding our Christian faith and walk:
"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."
It is because of Christ’s amazing, costly grace that we are changed persons, faithful and true. Faith cannot be over-rated in our Christian esteem and valuation. When people say things about us that attack our character or work, write things about us that assault our personality and other things, it is often that opposers repay evil for good, and hatred for friendship (Psalm 109:5); in situations like this, let us not meet hatred with hatred, but calmly and peaceably return good for such evil. We are called not to loathe and spurn those who hate us, but to pray for them, forgive them, bless them and love them as God's Word adjures us.
In at least three places, the Holy Scriptures instruct us to walk in a manner worthy of God (Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; and 3 John 6). How did Christ respond to abusers, ridiculers, taunters, religious and political authorities, soldiers, maddened crowds, et al? To walk in a manner worthy of Christ, we ought to consider His walk among us. He demonstrated confidence in His relationship with God, and meekness (def. - meekness is a possible attribute of human nature and behavior. It has been defined several ways: righteous, humble, teachable, and patient under suffering, long suffering, and willing to follow gospel teachings; an attribute of a true disciple.) He conversed regularly with the heavenly Father and, though He could have called down angels from heaven to rescue Him from the passion that should have been ours (Psalm 91:11), yet in faith He chose to endure and to glorify God. Might we also endure (doing good and possibly suffering for it; cf. 1 Peter 2:20b; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) and glorify God in own walk with the Lord? (1 Corinthians 10:31) Prayerfully walking in a manner worthy of God, is a Christ-honoring walk during the 24 hours we have in this day, while we leave tomorrow in His omnipotent and loving hands. (Matthew 6:34) We must decrease, and He must increase, until that glorious day when our lives, thoughts, loves, desires and purposes are His. We have a Lord Who commands all nature; He bids even us, "Peace! Be still!" (Mark 4:39, 6:47-52)
Prayer connects us to the Creator and God of this world, and we know His peace. We do connect; we do pray. We do not risk saying "no" to Christ. But, trusting the Lord, we can know Christ's promised peace as we learn of Him, come to know Him, love Him and serve Him in our life's walk. Let us open our hearts and our minds to be guarded as we anchor our minds on the Lord. Let us be His creation to command, and be at peace. May we bring faith (within our inner/underground parts) into the open above-ground world and, though it may be a hostile world, let us not be ashamed of Christ but humbly and in love, reveal Him to this dying population. The citizens of the above-ground world await our presence, revealing a powerful Savior capable of saving from sin, and His redemptive call upon their hearts and lives. Let us "prayer walk" into this day, doing so in a manner worthy of God, glorifying Him in all we do and say.