Life Ministry

A Prayer for Christians in Iraq

Arabic-NazareneMerciful Heavenly Father,

We do not know how to pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, but we trust that your Spirit prays for us in our weakness. So we cry, How long before you will judge and avenge the blood of your saints (Rev. 6:10)? How long shall the wicked exult (Ps. 94:3)? How long, O God, is the foe to scoff and the enemy to revile your name (Ps. 74:10)? Why, O LORD, do you stand far away; why do you hide yourself in times of trouble (Ps. 10:1)?”

Have mercy on our brothers and sisters and bring this evil violence to an end with justice. Protect your people and give them favor as they seek to flee from the terrorists. Help them to remember that you hear their cries for help (Ps. 5:1-2). For the blameless will not be put to shame in evil times, but the wicked will perish (Ps. 37:18-19). Assure them, by your Spirit, that they are your children and are loved and secure even when they walk in the valley of death (Ps. 23; Rom. 8:15-17). Help them to believe that they are blessed because they have suffered for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10). Help them to be more satisfied in your steadfast love than they have ever been before (Ps. 90:14). Help them to remember that the sufferings of this world do not compare with their future glory (Rom. 8:19). Help them know that they can flee to you as their refuge and strong tower (Ps. 61:3). Help them remain faithful to you (James 1:12), endure to the end (Matt. 10:22), and rejoice that they are counted worthy to share in Christ’s suffering (Acts 5:41; Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:13). Help them to remember that here they have no lasting city and that they are headed for the city that is to come (Heb. 11:16; 13:14).

And Father, forgive and have mercy on those who may have recanted of their faith to avoid death, even though they may truly love you. Let them experience a Peter-like moment of repentance so that they might rise and feed your sheep and stand strong in the strength of your might (Eph. 6:10)

For us, Father, as Americans, we may feel guilty that we are not suffering in the same fashion. It may even be hard for us to pray for your vengeance. But that is only because we are not suffering. We are in an air-conditioned facility free from affliction or pressure or even the slightest bit of mocking. Soften our hearts and wreck us with compassion so we might suffer with our brothers and sisters and pray for them (Rom. 12:15). And prepare us for the day when this kind of persecution finds us, because we aren’t immune (1 Pet. 4:12).

But, you O God, aren’t immune either. On the the cross, your Son cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46). Because Jesus was forsaken on the cross, help our brothers and sisters know they do not need to fear being forsaken by you. For you will never abandon them (Ps. 16:10; Heb. 13:5). Would that promise empower them, and us, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, just as you did (Matt. 5:44).

In times of trouble, truly you do not stand far away. Jesus, you are the strength of your people; you are the saving refuge of your anointed ones. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage. For our brothers and sisters in Iraq, be their shepherd and carry them forever (Ps. 28:8-9).

Come, Lord Jesus, come (Rev. 22:20)! Amen.

Note on the graphic above: The ISIS terrorists have been marking this symbol on the homes of Christians in Iraq. It’s the Arabic letter “N,” short for “followers of Jesus of Nazareth.”


Missions and Suffering

I am currently reading Let the Nations Be Glad! by John Piper.  Chapter 3 is on suffering.  As I think about my life as a American Christian, sometimes I feel bad (honestly) that I don’t suffer.  There are so many “comforts in the den” as Piper puts it.  I can pray for missions, yes.  But it just doesn’t seem the same to me.  Second Timothy 3:12 says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Where is it?  How does it come here in America? 

Piper writes that it can “range from the slightest ostracism to agony of torture and death” (80).  I have been ridiculed before and yelled at, but not ostracised.  And lately, I have noticed myself prayer for suffering, as if to prove my own faith and endurance — by God’s grace — to myself.  And to show the world how beautiful, worthy, and joyful Christ is.  I want to be like Paul when he wrote, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).  Piper then writes, “Christ’s afflictions are not lacking in their atoning sufficiency.  They are lacking in that they are not known and felt by people who were not at the cross.”  I want to make the afflictions of Christ known by suffering, in whatever way God has planned.

I take this all in as I prepare to go to South Africa this July and then move there next January for a year.  If you haven’t heard, there has been a mass exodus of Zimbabweans to South Africa because of financial instability.  Instability is doesn’t do justice to the situation.  The inflation rate, believe it or not, is over 1 million percent.  The cost of a chicken is 12 million Zimbabwe dollars.  A loaf of bread costs what 12 new cars did ten years ago.  Most of the people have fled to Johannesburg, about 45 miles from Pretoria, where I will be.  There have been mob riots at police stations and according to the story in the link above 42 people have been killed.  Right now, South Africa and the surrounding area is a region of unrest.  It is in turmoil.  The people there need a living hope.  They need an imperishable treasure.  They need Jesus. 

And as hard as it is to confess to the Lord, I am willing to go there, make his name famous, and risk persecution and suffering to do it.  Though I won’t be in the midst of the situation in Johannesburg, no doubt the effects will be felt in all of South Africa’s major cities. 

Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
– Hebrews 13:12-14

Life Theology

Jesus Didn’t Suffer and Die on a Cross to Make You a Better Person

Last November, for my birthday, Mike Janssen gave me a pseudo-present: a Joel Osteen, Become a Better You daily calender (thanks, Mike!).  For Thursday, May 15, Osteen quotes Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and he will direct and make straight and plan your paths.”  Here is Osteen’s motivational thoughts:

I believe one of the best prayers that we could ever prayer is “God not my will, but your will be done.”  I pray it in some form every day: “God open up the right doors and close the wrong doors.”  If you will stay open to His direction and follow your heart, God will protect you.  It says in the Proverbs, “If you acknowledge God in all your ways, He will direct your paths.”  One translation says, “He’ll crown your efforts with success.” 

I’m pretty sure that Osteen’s idea of success is vastly different than God’s.  I’m pretty sure that God does not always crown our efforts with success.  I’m pretty sure that sometimes we even fall flat on our face so that we know the surpassing power belongs to God and not us (2 Cor. 4:7).  Perhaps success, in God’s eyes, is suffering even though you did something right (1 Pt. 2:15-16).  Perhaps success, in God’s eyes, is being beaten five times with 39 lashes so that others will come to experience Jesus as their treasure (2 Cor. 11:24-27). Perhaps success, in God’s eyes, is being persecuted and mocked because that’s the same thing they did to Jesus (Jn. 15:20).

I would like to ask Joel Osteen how that fits into his prosperity theology.  Certainly God will make our paths straight and will lead us to rivers of joy, but that is grounded in his Son Jesus.  Success is not the goal of the Christian.  God’s glory and our joy is.

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”