We recently hosted a Zoom prayer meeting on the International Day of Christian Martyrs. It was really encouraging to see the number of people and nations that participated. The uptick in destabilising and frightening trends worldwide has sounded an alarm. I think it’s a sign of the times. Are we witnessing the beginning of the End? Many of us are feeling the urgency to be better prepared, and rightly so!
Looking back, we realise God has been preparing us to face troubling times. A year ago, Brother Yun shook us up with his testimonies of surviving horrific treatment at the hands of cruel authorities. Canon Andrew White’s life story last October reminded us further of the price that’s being paid by Christians in other parts of the world. Then, in a series of messages at the end of the year, Pastor Yang also prophesied of our need to endure and persist. On Vision Sunday, he said, “I believe 2020 is going to be a very contradictory year. While I believe we’re going to see greater glory in the Church, greater light, I think the darkness in the world is going to intensify. We must not be naive.”
As Singaporeans, we’re learning to stay vigilant. Covid has taught us that, although we may not be susceptible to earthquakes, volcanoes, or nuclear disasters, the threat of a pandemic is real. What about persecutions? Could they happen to us? Yes! But are we ready? Peter says to “arm yourself” with the thought of suffering. But how?
I’ve been blessed to know many who have been persecuted. This includes more than 50 pastors who suffered for more than 20 years in prison for their faith in a certain country. I served as a Romanian pastor’s interpreter and co-labourer for hundreds of sermons and thousands of miles on the road over a 4-year period. Daniel had burn marks and scars all over his body from the tortures he received. Let me pass on a few things I’ve gleaned from them.
First, I learned that there’s a special grace and favour available to those who suffer for His Name. Paul wrote this to the Church in Philippi, where he had been flogged and put in a dungeon with his feet fastened in stocks, that it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil 1:29).
The word ‘granted’ in Greek is ‘charizomai’, from which we get the words ‘grace’ and ‘gift’. The persecuted have latched on to an extraordinary truth which I believe God wants to us to shout from the rooftops in these Last Days: Rather than shrink in fear in the face of suffering and increasing turmoil, let us lift up our heads in anticipation of a manifestation of God’s grace and glory like we’ve never seen before. God’s gifts come wrapped in packages we least expect.
Peter also suffered for the Lord. Based on his experience, he wrote to encourage the Christians of his day that suffering can be a blessing in disguise. He exhorted them, “Rejoice to the extent that you partake (‘koinoneo’ in Greek) of Christ’s sufferings that, when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” 1 Peter 4:12-14
It’s remarkable that Peter used the word ‘koinoneo’ here. This exquisite Greek word speaks of deep fellowship and communion. I used to read the phrase ‘When his glory is revealed to men at the Second Coming’. While Jesus will most definitely bestow all manner of rewards and blessings upon us when He returns, Peter assures us this fellowship and glory is for the present, i.e. in the midst of suffering. No wonder the father of China’s House Church, Wang Mingdao, described his 23 years and 10 months in prison to me as a honeymoon with Jesus!
I’ve thought long about Stephen’s example in suffering. After declaring the works of God boldly to the Sanhedrin, even as they were picking up stones to kill him, the Bible says he saw the heavens open before him and Jesus was standing at the right hand of the throne of God (Acts 7:56).
We know the Bible clearly says that Jesus is supposed to be sitting while God makes all His enemies to become His footstool (Ps 110:1). And yet, He stood up for Stephen. After all these years, I can say with much assurance that, if you’re granted to suffer or be persecuted for His sake, He will stand up for you, too.