Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Just a Closer Walk--Part 4 of How to Pray to Prepare for Trials and Persecution

Andrew Brunson was held in a squalid Turkish prison for two years. The uncertainty of why he was being imprisoned and how long he would be in there led to stress and anxiety. "The real crisis came from feeling I'd been abandoned by God," he says.* He had read his Bible and heard of others who had been persecuted for their faith, and had lived in Turkey, a nation against Christianity, for 23 years. "I expected a supernatural sense of God's presence," he says. He thought he'd be more like Paul and Silas and less like Joseph and Jeremiah. Not sensing God in a real way shocked and frightened him. Had God abandoned him?

My awareness: God's presence
I'm sure pastor Brunson had a close walk with the Lord and all the more as the pro-Islamic Turkish government began to bear down on its own people for real and made-up reasons after the failed coup in July 2016, just months before his arrest. I don't want to doubt his spiritually or walk with the Lord, but I wonder if there is a way to maintain a sense of a close walk with the Lord no matter the circumstances?

We don't have access to Joseph's prison diaries so we don't know he felt or what he did to keep the faith when the king's cupbearer forgot him. All we know is "yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Now it happened at the end of two full years..." (Gen. 40:23-41:1) But when Joseph was finally called out of prison to interpret Pharaoh's dream, he said, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." (Gen. 41:16)

However forgotten and abandoned Joseph felt by God and man, he did not lose his faith. Joseph never had God appear to him personally like his father, grandfather, and great grandfather. However the Bible tells us that even as a slave, "The Lord was with Joseph." (Gen. 39:2) And he kept the faith.

Is it any wonder that in the same discourse where Jesus talks to the disciples about the need to keep the faith, to abide in Him (John 15), He also talks about how the world hated Him and will hate His followers? He ends by telling them they will "have tribulation" but "I have overcome the world". (John 16:33) Then Jesus begins to pray for them . He prays, specifically, "I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are." (John 17:11)

If Christ prayed for us to be kept close to God, then I believe that is a prayer--the seventh request--we should be praying: Lord, come what may, keep me walking close to You. Never let me doubt Your presence, no matter what trials You allow."

My assurance: God's love
When I hear of Andrew Brunson's imprisonment, I do not see a man of weak faith, but one who was brave enough to stay on in a hostile environment, even though he knew prison and all that might entail was a possibility. We can look at his life and the light he let "so shine before men that they may see [his] good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:17) But just as Andrew Brunson felt abandoned by God in the Turkish prison, sometimes we might feel like God has just left us and stopped loving us. When we feel like God has abandoned us, we must deliberately trust in His love and His promises.

This brings me to a related prayer, and the eighth request, to prepare us for trials and to pray during trials: Pray reminding yourself that nothing can separate you from the love of God and that you will never forget this. I cannot think of a better way to pray this than to memorize Romans 8:35-39

Once in a while, repeat this verse in prayer asking God to help you to always remember it, no matter what your circumstances. David had times of feeling like God had forgotten him. In Psalm 13 he prayed, "How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?" He goes on to describe his state of being and what the outcome will be if God abandoned him (vs. 2-4). But he ends this Psalm with a reminder to himself that he has trusted in God, salvation will come, he will again rejoice and sing.

How could David go from the pits of despair to practically rejoicing in God? David worked on his relationship with and knowledge of God and he spoke to him frequently, reminding himself of all that God is and does. That's what we need to do too.

So pray that you would know God's presence and God's love, no matter what is happening in your life. These are requests for now, before trials, and in the midst of them.

When you pray with your children, include some of these requests from time to time so that they are "normal" requests for them. Children mimic our prayers and one day you will hear them praying for these petitions as well.

*Wall Street Journal

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Three MORE Ways to Pray to Prepare for Trials, Part 3

I spoke this morning with a missionary friend in a country that has been experiencing political turmoil, resulting in rioting and violence. All the government offices are closed and her visa expires in a week. As we talked, she communicated confidence that she was where God wanted her to be and was more concerned about upcoming ministry opportunities than her own safety. As we prayed together, we expressed to God that even if she got kicked out of the country for not renewing her visa on time through no fault of her own, God is still sovereign and has a place for her to be serving Him.

My trust: God's sovereignty
I think of the Peter and John who, in the name of Jesus, healed the lame beggar who sat at the temple gate (See Acts 3 & 4). For this good deed, they were arrested and severely warned to not speak any more in the name of Jesus Christ. When they got together to pray they talked to God about who He is and what He has done in the past. They recognized His control over things that seem out of control. They spoke to God in prayer about how at Christ's trial and crucifixion Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel (basically the whole world at that time) did "whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." (4:28) It wasn't out of God's sovereign control at all! We know that Christ had to die to pay for our sins. That was the plan. The disciples recognized God's sovereignty. When we are in difficult situations, we need to know this, so praying that God would not let us forget His sovereign control over all things is another thing we should pray. With 20/20 hindsight, I now see how God was working in the past in some situations in my life when I thought everything was going wrong.

Then I look at the disciples' prayer. If it had been me, I'm sure I would have prayed something like, "Change the minds of the men who are against You. Remove them from power. I wouldn't be opposed to a well-placed bolt of lightening, Lord. Oh, perhaps You could convert them (though I doubt that's possible)." But after the disciples worshiped God and recognized His power, wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness, they had only two requests (4:29-30):

1. Boldness to continue speaking
2. For God to continue working in lives convincing people of the truth

My action: Boldness
The disciples said, "take note of their threats" because we, your servants, those who carry out your work, need extra strength to "speak Your Word with confidence." Threats can't help but affect us. We are weak humans. But God is the one who is strengthening us and He is all powerful. He could give them the fortitude to preach no matter how men have tried to intimidate them. So we need to pray now, and especially in times of trial or persecution, that we will have boldness to share the name of Christ with those who need to hear it.

With 20/20 hindsight
I can now see
how God was working
when I thought
everything was going wrong.

My expectation: God working
The disciples specifically prayed that God would do "signs and wonders" to validate their ministry and bring people to Him. Whether or not you believe you should be asking God to do miracles of healing and other things, what greater miracle could there be than for the salvation of souls, the redemption of a sinner? We can definitely be asking God to continue working in people's lives around us, whether we are experiencing a trial currently or not, and to ask Him to continue when we are suffering and, perhaps, because of it.

That we would remember God's sovereignty, boldness to speak, for God to continue His work--three more requests to pray for now to prepare for suffering, and to keep on praying in the midst of it.

Are you following this series? Are you talking with your family about this around your dinner table? (Or any time!) Here are some questions to get the conversation going:

* Have you ever experienced persecution because of your faith in Jesus Christ?
* What kind of persecution can you imagine happening in your school/work/neighborhood?
* How would you react if you were told you could no longer go to school or lost your job because you are a Christian?
* What can you do to prepare for trials and persecution?
* How would you pray when you were suffering?
* How do you think God wants you to respond to trials?
* Do you think there are examples in the Bible of people who prayed during a trial? What examples can you think of?

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Three Things to Ask of God in Preparing for Hard Times, Part 2

Last month I was visiting my daughter in Germany who just had her second baby, another girl. The three year old liked it when I sang Sunday School choruses to her. As I racked my brain for all the choruses I could think of, I sang to her

Read your Bible
Pray every day
Pray every day
Pray every day
Read your Bible 
and Pray every day
and you'll grow, grow, grow!

This is my first and best preparation and response to trials and persecution. It sounds cliche, but it's true! The thing is, too often we wait until the trial comes and then begin praying like crazy for God to fix it or take it away. If we just flip open our Bibles you never know what verse we might hit, maybe my brother-in-law's favorite as a child: There was a man in the land of Uz...

So often I have found that the help and lesson God wants me to find is in my next reading in wherever I am in scripture. Hebrews 4:12 is true: The Word of God is living and active... I may have read the passage twenty times before, but I find it timely today. We need to read large chunks of the Word, have times of meditation in smaller portions, memorize scripture, and have verses in places where we will see them during the day--maybe a coffee mug or a bookmark.

And what should we pray? One thing is to pray through scripture, repeating it back to God in your own words, stating--out loud maybe--who God is, what He does, and what He has promised. Pray for ourselves that we would live as God would have us no matter what comes our way. 

My response: Joy
James says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials" (1:2).  Paul wrote to the Romans "We also exult in our tribulation..." (5:1) And Peter said, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while if necessary you have been distressed by various trials..." (1 Pet. 1:6) We need to pray for the right response to trials: Joy! What's to be joyful about during hard times? God is giving us an opportunity to be refined more into the character of His Son.

My attitude: Teachable
We should also be praying that when trials come, we will have the right attitude--one of being teachable. Otherwise we won't be refined. While I was doing this study I came down with an ear infection. I get ear infections on a regular basis and even though I was thousands of miles from home, my doctor had supplied me with the antibiotic I needed. My basic thought was, "Got this covered. Minor inconvenience." The next morning as I continued to study, I realized I had not asked God what He wanted me to learn from this situation and to help me be willing to learn it.

My perspective: Eternal
Peter said, "For a little while". When we are going through a trial, it never seems like a little while, so we can be praying that we would have the right outlook: eternal. Paul talked about "this momentary light affliction" (2 Cor. 4:17) In the light of eternity it is a little while and momentary. I can think of two trials I have gone through that lasted years. My secondary infertility went on for two years. It seemed like forever, but now it was 29 years ago! A person very close to us who left the faith for ten years was a heartache, but now that I have four children and nine grandchildren and the person is seeking God I wonder at my hopelessness and despair, even as I rejoice. 

As I studied this topic, I came up with ten ways to pray to prepare for trials. I'm sure there are more, but these are the first three I found. Surely if Jesus told us we would have tribulation (John 16:33) He meant for us to be prepared. I cannot think of better ways to prepare than listening to God and talking to Him.

What have you told your children about tough times?
Tonight at dinner ask them what they think God would want them to pray about hard times.

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Friday, November 8, 2019

Praying, Trials, and Persecution, Part 1

I will be the first person to tell you that I don't like trials.

I don't want persecution. I'm a coward. When I read about some of the things people have gone through for the name of our Lord, I just say, "Lord, I don't know if I could do it. Please never let me deny You!" And then I remind Him, "By the way, I would really prefer to not suffer persecution." Like I said, I'm a coward.

But persecuted believers around the world say over and over again, "Don't pray that our persecution stops." Unbelievable! These people are super saints. That should be Super Saints. That is absolutely the first thing I would pray for.

But I've been thinking and studying about this a lot recently and I have become convinced that we should be praying to be prepared for trials and persecution. When they come we should not be taken by surprise and we should be ready to meet them in a way that glorifies God.

I want to be a One Person person 
--Jesus Christ and Him crucified

I came to this line of studying in what my family calls "chain link" thought. (They actually use it as a joking pejorative for some preachers who don't seem to know where they are going and one thought leads to another.) Here's my chain:
   - I read Rosalind Goforth's book, How I know God Answers Prayer
   - I decided to study through the verses she had at the end on the Secret of Victory
   - This eventually brought me to John 15 on abiding and bearing fruit
   - Verse 2 talks about God pruning those who are in Christ and bear fruit so they can bear more fruit
   - Pruning is often done through trials. 
   - Persecution is definitely a trial.
   - So if I see that I will have trials, how can I be ready so they have the desired outcome of more fruit?

Whether God uses small everyday trials, rejection by the world, or outright persecution, I want to be ready. 

In the United States, and in much of the Western World, we have not experienced much persecution. Yet. Our nations in recent history have been founded on the basis of freedom of religion. However, today, I see that this is moving more and more toward freedom from religion. Consider these few signs I have heard just in the past few days:
  • Teen Challenge, an organization founded in 1959 to help detox drug addicts, has accepted state licensing and funds and therefore is now limited in it's ability to share the gospel, the basis for helping addicts
  • All the Democratic presidential candidates support homosexual marriage and many want to censure churches that will not perform these marriages
  • California signed into law a bill that will force public colleges and universities to provide free abortion inducing drugs for students up to 10 weeks of pregnancy starting in January 2023
  • A Canadian father was ordered by a court to change the pronoun he used for his 14 year old child who was born a girl.
  • In my own experience, I took my two three year old granddaughters to story time at the public library and the librarian read a book celebrating the marriage of two men.
I definitely don't want to get political and I don't want to be a one "issue" person. I want to be a One Person person--Jesus Christ and Him crucified--living the life He wants me to live, following Him in every area of my life. So as I stand up and say that in a world that is increasingly against everything He stands for, everything He taught, and, yes, against Him Himself, I will be persecuted. It could be as simple as someone refusing to speak to me or spreading the story that I'm "intolerant." Or it could get much, much worse.

That is why I think I need to prepare my heart, my life, my soul and my spirit for trials, troubles, and persecution. Jesus said it. "In the world you have tribulation." But He didn't end there. He continued, "But take courage, I have overcome the world." John 16:33 If He is the One who has overcome, I need to know Him through the Bible and prayer and be ready to walk with Him through whatever may come.

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The next few posts will be about what I am learning about how to prepare my heart for the future which will hold trials, problems, difficulties, and possibly persecution. Please walk with me through this. As you read through my posts, consider how you can talk about these things with your children. A friend recently told me, "We are not raising children, we are preparing adults." What a great way to look at parenting. Are you preparing your children for the world they will enter?

Also in this series:

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