What do you say about something like this—how do you begin to process the fact that ISIS has claimed to kill 21 Coptic Christians and released a video to prove it?
It’s really tempting to rebuke ourselves, isn’t it? I mean, when we see the reality Christians face in the Middle East, it makes much of our issues seem petty. Our frustrations about the sort of books being bought and sold. Our issues with celebrity pastors. Our ongoing debates over religious liberty and same-sex marriage. Our incredulity at the notion that we should give or serve in our churches and communities…
They all seem so insignificant in comparison, don’t they?
The natural reaction is to tell the Church to wake up—to make disciples who are truly willing to submit themselves to dishonor and even death for their faith.
But… It’s one thing to say that. It’s another thing to live it. And that starts with small steps. Remember, these men were likely not some sort of super-Christians. It is doubtful they were completely fearless in the face of death. They were probably normal men who read their Bibles and prayed to their Lord, just like any of us.
The difference is, they were put in a situation that tested their resolve. And their resolve, it seems, held to the end.
And this is good news, not the least for us. They held fast to the truth, and thus, we will get to meet these fallen brothers in the new creation, those whom John already saw in his vision of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 20:4). They are those of whom it can be said the world is not worthy. And so, when the day comes, we will be able to rejoice before the throne of Christ with them.
But it also means that, if they were ordinary Christians like us, if we were to face the same circumstances, we may well hold fast to our testimony, too.
Why? Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. And it starts with prayer. We pray for our brothers and sisters in the midst of persecution. We pray that the Lord will strengthen them to hold firm to the end. We pray they will not lose hope, for the Lord is in their midst.
But we also must pray for ourselves, too. That we will start to take the small steps necessary for us to stand as well. That we will be willing to speak out against our culture of death, and hold to our convictions on marriage. To oppose teaching that is contrary to sound doctrine. To—gasp!—think more highly of others and do something crazy like serve in the children’s ministry at our local church.
These are the building blocks of discipleship. And it starts with prayer.
To be clear: I am not equating western problems with those in the Middle East. However, if we want to be and make disciples who will hold fast till the end, even in the face of persecution and death, this is where we must start. So will we?