Two thoughts have kept coming to me this week as I've worked on this series. They've struck me pretty hard sometimes, and this morning they got me out of bed with the need to write about them. I'll only have room for one today, and here it is.
Imagine yourself living a normal life, just the way you typically live it. And then, one day, a hostile government swoops down on your home, hauls you away to their facilities, and tells you that you must deny Christ in some way in order to be released. You steel yourself and say, "No, I cannot turn against Christ."
You expect them to be angry, but instead they laugh and say, "Why not? Why should today be different from yesterday?" And as you stand there, your recent loyalty to Christ runs through your mind…how often you've denied Him in the angry words you've spoken to others, in the choices of entertainment you've made, in the priority you have given to other things over Him.
Yesterday, those little denials seemed to be worth it, yet they gained you only minor benefits…the chance to blow off steam, to enjoy a few laughs, to pursue your own agenda. Today, a seemingly small denial will win you back your freedom and your family. How much would that denial be worth to you?
Why should today's loyalty to Christ be different from yesterday's? Do we have any right to expect that we would be more loyal under persecution than under ordinary circumstances? Perhaps we might be. But there's no peace in that "perhaps."
Let's look at it another way. Have you ever wondered if you would have enough strength to run out in front of a speeding car to push your toddler to safety? If you're a parent reading this, you probably think, "Of course I would! Fear or no fear, cost or no cost, I'd just do it naturally because I love him!"
Dear Reader, how often have you wondered if, under persecution, you would have enough strength to stand? Has it ever occurred to you to wonder if you would have enough love for God to stand?
If a person decides to gain strength, how do they go about it? They focus on themselves…their diet, their exercise, how much weight they can lift, how much their muscles bulge when they admire themselves in the mirror.
If a person decides to gain love, how do they go about it? Do they focus mostly on themselves? Well, they might, if they're trying to gain love out of a sense of legalism. But that would be a futile attempt. Legalism is all about work and bondage. Love is free, spontaneous, and joyful. (Do you recognize the photo above? It's the gate to the Dachau Concentration Camp in Nazi Germany. The words on the gate say, "Work will set you free." It was a lie then, and it's a lie now.)
In order to grow in love with God, we need a miraculous work of the Spirit (Deut 30:6). And His Spirit speaks most through His Word.
Be in the Word, and if necessary, change the reason why you're there. Open the pages every day with a prayer that the Spirit of God would teach you to love Him! Search the Word hungrily for who He is, the same way devoted teenagers search the fan magazines for the smallest bits of trivia about their idols. Make it your prayer throughout the day as you work and as you rest: "Lord give me a heart that loves You as You deserve to be loved!"
How would such a constant prayer focus change your life?
Now let me ask you this: when you imagine praying for God to help you love Him, how does that feel to you?
Does it feel like a desperate plea to learn to love the unlovable, sort of like praying that God would help you to love headaches? If so, you've got plenty of sad company. I felt that way about it for a long time myself. It's the best the flesh can muster.
Instead, pray desperately that God would forgive your love for sin and self which blind you to His beauty. Ask Him to open your eyes to how infinitely worthy He is of your lifelong love and devotion. He is that worthy, you know. Ask Him for the kind of love that will strengthen you in persecution, in part by asking Him for the kind of love that will govern how (and how much) you entertain yourself this afternoon.
After all, if love for God guides your decisions throughout your normal days, what do you think will happen when persecution comes? Will you be thinking mostly in terms of mustering up strength on that day?
Or would your loyalty to Christ come naturally, fear or no fear, cost or no cost, because you love Him?