Read His Words Before Ours!
I’ve never really considered myself to have suffered for Jesus.
Unfriended on social media?
Losing a real, face-to-face, personal friendship?
Labeled as the “Jesus girl” or the “church girl”?
On the receiving end of snarky comments, text messages, and emails?
Yes, to all of these.
Beaten for proclaiming Christ?
The lives of my children threatened for my refusal to renounce Jesus?
Imprisoned for relentlessly sharing the gospel?
Never, not once. Not even a hint.
Occasionally, I will remember to pray for the “persecuted church,” even pray fervently with tears and renewed vigor, but I shamefacedly admit to generally feeling fairly disconnected from “them.”
Then, one summer I read a book that marked me for life.
Some things you simply cannot un-read.
Nik Ripken, using a pseudonym to protect his identity and countless other believers whose stories he tells, shared many unforgettable accounts in his book The Insanity of God. Years later, Stoyan’s testimony continues to speak volumes to me.
Stoyan had been imprisoned for his faith, and as Nik thanked him for sharing his story, Stoyan made a remarkable statement:
“I thank God and I take great joy in knowing that I was suffering in prison in my country,
so that you, Nik, could be free to share Jesus in Kentucky.”
My heart plummeted as I read his words, and simultaneously put up defenses.
How could Stoyan consider it a trade-off for himself to be chained so that I can be free?
We aren’t connected!
Me, in midwestern United States, free to drink Starbucks, parade around Target at my leisure, share Jesus when, or if, I want, walk in my church doors whenever I please (or don’t please) and belt praise music whenever I feel (or don’t feel) the urge.
Stoyan and I are not connected.
How could we be so intertwined that I should feel a debt to him and his persecution?
A debt so heavy I should feel all the more urged to share Jesus, as if on his behalf?
My response was similar to Nik’s…
“Those words pierced my soul. I looked Stoyan straight in the eyes. ‘Oh, no!’ I protested. ‘No! You are not going to do that! You are NOT going to put that on me. That is a debt so large that I can never repay you!”
I pray Stoyan’s response will mark your heart like it has mine.
“Stoyan stared right back at me and said, ‘Son, that’s the debt of the cross!’
He leaned forward and poked me in the chest with his finger as he continued,
‘Don’t you steal my joy! I took great joy that I was suffering in my country,
so that you could be free to witness in your country.’
Then he raised his voice in a prophet-like challenge that I knew would live with me forever: ‘Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never give up in persecution! That is our witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!””
“Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never give up in persecution.”
Sisters, I confess I have done exactly this.
I have indeed “given up” sharing the hope I and Stoyan both possess because, well, I have other things to do, you know? All the Target runs, the coffee, the groceries, the running of kids to all the places, the laundry, oh please the laundry…
Besides, what if I push someone away in my passion to share Jesus?
What if I offend someone?
What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?
When I am afraid of “awkward”. . .
I plead for the Holy Spirit to remind me of Stoyan’s call to
“never give up (my witness of Jesus) in freedom what he wouldn’t give up in persecution.”
The apostle Paul was familiar with persecution.
He was also familiar with the comforts of life.
He knew hunger, and he had lived in plenty.
He knew years of education and finery, and had also felt the cuts of whips, the weight of rocks as he was stoned, and emotional distress accompanying oppression.
His prayers on suffering in the church have little to do with being removed from it, but rather, persistence to share Jesus in suffering, together with other believers.
“… brothers and sisters, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, (…) and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people…”
(2 Thessalonians 3:1-2, emphasis mine)
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in prayers to God on my behalf. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints…” (Romans 15:30-31, emphasis mine)
Stoyan, Paul, Nik, myself, and you, dear sister Christ-follower, wherever you are living in the world, are all connected.
There is no “persecuted church” and “free church.”
Together in One Body, Christ’s.
Every single believer carries the weight of the same gospel, purchased by the same blood, from the same God and Savior of us all. May we cease to be guilty of “giving up in freedom what our brothers and sisters refuse to give up in persecution.”
Stoyan is right to expect the free-by-law believers, to boldly share Jesus, precisely because he is suffering for the same gospel.
We are bound together.
All suffering together.
All preaching Christ together.
All interceding for one another together.
Unity is the heart of Paul’s laborious prayers and the thread woven through every single letter he penned. Because we are one, may we live, and preach, and suffer as one.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!