Courage for Tomorrow! Being a Christian in Strong Headwinds – Part 2

Johannes Pflaum

When we see the headwind increasing, the question arises of what to do today. Our Lord has promised that we don’t need to be afraid of interrogations, and that He will give us the words to say (Mark 13:11). That’s the first point.

On the downside, in the same chapter, Jesus speaks of afflictions, temptation, and persecution: “But be on guard: I have told you all things beforehand” (verse 23). He says these things so that we’re not hit unprepared, regardless of when the Rapture will occur. First Thessalonians and 1 Peter make it clear that times of pressure are not surefire spiritual successes. So, it’s right that we’re properly preparing for such times.

We must accomplish today what will no longer be possible under persecution. Werner Stoy gives the catalyst in his book. We should make much more use of unimpeded evangelism, whether in person or as a church. Our freedom of belief should have accelerated this cause. But, unfortunately, the opposite has happened. We’ve become sluggish and comfortable. In hindsight, we may bitterly regret this. The same applies to the matter of world missions. The persecuted church cannot send and support missionaries, and its financial resources are very limited. We have every opportunity to do this, but so often we focus on our own concerns and ministry, so that God’s worldwide mission is placed in the background.

As the church of Jesus today, we can hear God’s Word and cultivate fellowship unrestricted. [Editor’s note: this was written before coronavirus restrictions.] Yet, this is often no longer a top priority for us, but must be somehow adapted or subordinated to our other interests and activities. In this regard, we’re also strongly influenced by individualism and leisure opportunities. Under persecution, it becomes very difficult for pious lone wolves. Brothers and sisters in the faith will long for fellowship under God’s Word and with each other. This is why the Soviets tried to disrupt and outlaw church gatherings. Also in this respect, we might look back sadly on our wrong priorities under a free society.

The Bible is always forbidden under persecution, because God’s Word is divine and powerful. Today, we have every freedom to interact with God’s Word personally. Yet, we make use of it too little, because other things are much more important to us. Anyone can study the Bible, anywhere, without any consequences…at most a few foolish looks or comments. We can read the Bible at home, on the airplane, on a park bench, in a deck chair on the beach, or anywhere else. Now, I’m not saying that all we need to do is read the Bible all over the place. But there may come a time when we will be punished for reading the Bible and pay a high price. And we may think back wistfully to our superficial handling of God’s Word.

During my Bible college days, brothers shared their experiences in the Soviet Union and the prison camps. At that time, persecution was still occurring. Of course, the question arose of how we can prepare for something like that. I’ll never forget the answer. It was as follows: “Live faithfully and in obedience to the Lord today. He will carry you through if everything turns out differently.”

The point is that we’re being faithful to where the Lord has placed us now; that we’re being obedient to His Word and living in dependence on Him at this moment. If you think that you can make compromises today and take it easy, you won’t be able to stand when the pressure increases. In the parable of the four soils, we read of what was sown on the rocky ground and then withered (Matt 13:21). These are the people of the moment, who have euphoria but no deep roots. That’s why they fall off when the pressure comes.

This faithfulness also includes the courage of one’s convictions; namely, being clear about Christ and the Gospel today, even if it’s no longer wanted or we experience exclusion or rejection. Otherwise, how can we possibly expect to have courage at other times, when we’ve already lost this? This includes our practical life, the way we deal with other people and serve them, and how we are involved in our local church.

In all things, our primary concern should be to grow in the knowledge of our Lord. This was one of Paul and Peter’s great concerns for the churches (Eph 1:15-23; Col 1:10; 2 Pet 3:18; et. al.). Growth in the knowledge of God increases our trust in Him. This isn’t just some theoretical knowledge. Biblical truths develop their strength when they come into play in practical life—if we trust the Lord for His sake, even if some things work out differently than we think they should.

At the end of his life, Paul made it clear how important knowledge of God is in the face of pressure and persecution. Detained as a state criminal in a damp, stinking, and cold prison dungeon, with execution clearly before him, he’s able to write, “But 

I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim 1:12).

On the other hand, it’s about biblical self-knowledge. Peter denied his Lord because he had too high a spiritual opinion of himself. He put his trust in his own piety and strength, instead of believing Jesus’ words. Those who believe that they have everything under control and are spiritually strong, aren’t able to stand under pressure. On the contrary, those who have recognized their complete dependence on Christ and are aware of their own weakness, are able to stand. They cast it all onto the Lord.

There is still an opportunity to become thoroughly familiar with God’s Word and to learn it by heart. In the digital age, this no longer seems necessary. But what if we no longer had a Bible? In John 16:13, we read that the Spirit of God wants to guide us into the whole truth. In verse 14, the Lord Jesus says that the Spirit will take what is His. And in John 14:26, we read that He will remind the disciples of everything the Lord has told them. It doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit suddenly gives new revelations; it recalls what Jesus said. This presupposes that we absorb God’s Word into ourselves. Incidentally, this is also a promise for everyone who has trouble memorizing and yet practices anyway. As long as it is today, we should use the time to learn Bible verses and memorize them. What a help it would be to memorize verses, or even entire chapters. Every psalm is a chapter. The power of God’s Word unfolds, even when we’re no longer able to read it. This can already be practiced in childhood and with children.

For that matter, this also applies to good spiritual songs. Saying verses to yourself or praying them can also be a great help, not just in persecution. Even in the dark night hours, in hospital rooms, or in the ditch after a car accident. Several times during my internship, I held prayer services in a retirement home. The method was determined by the condition of the listeners. One service took place only among residents with dementia. Just as little ones are told Bible stories, 

I shared them there as well, in the hope that something would stick. Whenever we started singing old, well-known spiritual songs, they suddenly sang along. Something emerged that had been learned in childhood. I especially remember the song and chorus:

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child, and forever, I am.

The appropriate training can also contribute to a life rooted in the Bible, so that we’re able to grasp the doctrinal and salvation-related interconnections. In this context, Werner Stoy uses history to show how, in addition to persecution, temptation can come from within. That is why it’s so important to know the correlations and fundamental lines of Scripture. This is often neglected today as well, because we prefer to use the time for ourselves and other things.

Both are found in Scripture: On the one hand, the Lord wants to alleviate our suffering, and we can pray for that. On the other hand, He also pursues His own intentions and goals through suffering. We tend to strive for pain-free discipleship as the ultimate goal. This is due to our immense prosperity and the feel-good mentality associated with it. It starts in our personal life and extends to the church.

As soon as difficult phases arrive in church life, some simply vanish in a puff of smoke. And then they seek the pious wellness zone elsewhere. Paul, on the other hand, presupposes a willingness to suffer as a spiritual foundation for service and discipleship (cf. 2 Timothy). Mind you, the point isn’t to suffer as a means of self-redemption, or out of a sense of romanticism. It’s about suffering for Christ and the Gospel in a fallen, hostile, and fleeting world. This can include our lifestyle, hardships, and difficulties of all kinds. Because, although we can always pray for relief, God can also glorify Himself in a special way and change us for His glory through it. An old song expresses it particularly well: 

Now the crucible is breaking;
Now my faith its seal is taking; 
Molten gold, unhurt by fire, 
Only thus, ’tis ever given,
Up to joys of highest heaven,
For God’s children to aspire.

Sorrow makes our faith abiding,
Lowly, childlike, and confiding; 
Sorrow! who can speak thy grace?
Earth may name the tribulation,
Heaven has nobler appellation; 
Not thus honored all our race.

This is in stark contrast to our current philosophy of life and the Prosperity Gospel, which often intersect to a certain extent. The Bible doesn’t call for asceticism, but it does encourage a grateful and frugal lifestyle. Paul could say, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil 4:12).

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that it’s usually easy for us to enjoy abundance. We don’t really suffer shortages anymore. We can gratefully accept every good thing that comes from the Lord’s hand. Whether it’s a good meal, a pleasant vacation, a home, or a car. But Scripture begs the question of what is most important to us, and what our heart is bound to. Whether we can also succumb to ego-consumerism, or let ourselves be satisfied without having to own everything possible. This includes considering how we can support missionary work and the movement of the Gospel.

The entire consumer economy surrounding us is designed to constantly arouse new desires. A frugal lifestyle already honors the Lord, and is also helpful in the event that we have to do without some of the things that we currently have.

Werner Stoy also states that the persecuted church has always valued training and equipping new preachers, although it’s very difficult under persecution. Of course, persecution always affects the brothers in the faith who have spiritual responsibility and who preach the Word. This is one reason why it’s important to equip workers. When the first line is removed, the second and third are ready.

Courage for tomorrow: suffering for the sake of Jesus isn’t meaningless. We don’t want to glorify suffering in and of itself. Pressure, distress, and tribulation always hurt. Therefore, the Lord clearly told His disciples that they will feel constricted. But Christ and His Gospel are worth it. Suffering isn’t the end, because in the end there is indescribable glory. It’s also encouraging that the Word of God unfolds its strength precisely when there is pressure. The Lord often uses what is directed against Him to glorify Himself in a special way. The number of Christians in China has multiplied during harsh persecution.

This topic comes with an enormous challenge for us. We have to keep a close eye on developments in the West, and we can’t live in a spiritual dream world any longer. That should spur us on to do today what we will one day no longer be able to. In this regard, a well-known mission song was particularly memorable to me as a child, in a time when missions reports with photos or videos were shown in the evenings in the large, white, tent hall at the “Pentecost Mission Festival.” This was before Daylight Savings Time, and dawn and dark were needed for these lectures so it wasn’t too bright. At the beginning or end of the event, we often sang: 

Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours; 
Work while the dew is sparkling, 
Work ’mid springing flowers;
Work when the day grows brighter,
Work in the glowing sun; 
Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is done.

Work, for the night is coming, 
Work through the sunny noon; 
Fill brightest hours with labor, 
Rest comes sure and soon. 
Give every flying minute,
Something to keep in store;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man works no more.

Work, for the night is coming,
Under the sunset skies; 
While their bright tints are glowing, 
Work, for daylight flies.
Work till the last beam fadeth, 
Fadeth to shine no more; 
Work, while the night is darkening,
When man’s work is o’er.

Midnight Call - 04/2021

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