9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:9-13
I try to start every day with a devotional reading, maybe some extra reading in addition to the few short verses for the day. I finish with my prayer list. It is a long list of people and issues for which I ask God’s mercy and strength. Most are people I know personally, either very well or in passing. But their issues tugged at me, so I pray.
I pray for several I know who have cancer. Some are hopeless cases. I pray anyway. God doesn’t tell us to only pray for easy stuff. I pray for thousands of people I don’t know and never will know: persecuted Christians around the world, Russian orphans who live in orphanages that bear some resemblance to concentration camps…all orphans for that matter.
I thank God for giving me these people to pray for even as I feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the suffering and need in the world.
The first ones I pray for are the persecuted Christians, from the bullied to the martyred. It tears at me as I think of those ordinary people who are brutalized in ways I can’t imagine. The ways I CAN imagine are bad enough.
I sit there, realizing that, knowing me and how easy life has been here in the US, I couldn’t go through that. I’d likely fold.
“You know what? I can live with just nine fingernails. I’m good. Jesus? Hey, fun hobby, but this REALLY hurts and, guess what? You win. Can I go now?”
First problem: I could brush it off and be thankful that I’ll never have to go through that. Thinking that could be a big mistake. Look at how this country has declined religiously and morally in the last 20 years. You think the slide stops here? Nope…me neither. There’s every reason to believe that sort of persecution really could show up here. Maybe not next week, but then how quickly have we gotten to this point?
Second problem: This is where I was so wrong to make that comparison in the first place. Jesus speaks repeatedly in Matthew 24 about the elect. Not my friends, not my followers, not the people who go to church, not LCMS Lutherans. The Elect. That has a special ring to it. That’s special. If we are God’s elect, should we expect that He’s going to bolt on us when the proverbial defecation impacts the turbine? I doubt it. I think He’ll be shoulder to shoulder with us, even if we can’t see Him.
When Peter was crucified in his old age, did he try to worm his way out of it? He was young and buff when he bailed in the courtyard at Jesus’ trial. As an old man, who could blame him if he was just too weary to go through this. Tradition tells us he ASKED to be crucified upside down, because he was unworthy to be crucified as Jesus was. Bring it.
Were Peter or the other apostles superior human beings who could tough it out? Is that what we think of the poor souls rotting in modern torture chambers in the Middle East, Korea, China, and elsewhere?
The correct answer is “no.” They are not. None of them. They are just poor schleps like us, trying to get to the next day. The then meat grinder came to town, and everything went south. So what’s the difference?
It came to me courtesy of the following blog entry I read this week:
“I have seen God’s grace in my own life during various troubled times. It is a huge mistake to try to calculate one’s ability to stand up under fire…based on a normal ‘everyday’ routine disposition. God pours the oil of His grace at the proper time.”
Just that simple. God gives strength and grace when needed. Just like with the apostles and countless Christians who endured the Coliseum, persecutions, and tortures. I’m not saying it’ll be easy or won’t hurt, if and when it happens.
I’ve almost died three times, twice in 2012 just six months apart. The first time was 12 years ago. I was days from dropping dead before that double bypass. Each time it was something different. It’s hurt every time. I’ve had a fair amount of non-lethal pain too.
Somehow I’m still here and still in God’s corner. I think He’s kept me here. I don’t think I’ve done it myself, because there were times I really gave God a piece of my mind Job-style. If it were up to me, I probably would’ve headed out a while back. I guess He just loves me too much to let me go. I think maybe He wants me to blog about stuff He inspires me to. I think He wants me to witness to Him, like the 2 month bible class I recently wrapped.
Because God pours out the oil of His grace at the proper time.