Above: A congregation of determined believers in Nigeria holds a church service in the open air, in front of what was once their church, now destroyed.
“We [celebrate Easter] knowing that at any time a suicide bomber can come and disrupt our service, our worship, our praying. Then I think: Will it really be disrupted or will I be sent into the fullness of worship?”
These are the words of a mother of two in Pakistan, who used to be Muslim, now following Jesus.
The Australian Church is undoubtedly blessed by not having the same problem she faces. Our situation could not be more different than for those in Pakistan.
In the 2018 World Watch List, Pakistan ranked as the 5th hardest country to live as a Christian. It is the most violent place for believers.
In contrast, most of us in Australia live in a time where we don’t have to attend church wondering “will I go home afterwards?” For many, myself included, the concern can occasionally be the opposite: “What time will I get to go home?”
That attitude is, in itself, a problem.
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One of the biggest threats to the church in the West and in Australia, is a lukewarm faith. Only once is this talked about in the Bible, where Jesus says, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16).
A lukewarm attitude isn’t initially embraced within church, but without us even knowing it, that attitude can begin to grow over time. Like a weed, if it is not pulled out, it has the ability to choke the good roots and destroy what was planted in the beginning.
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The Marks of a Strong Christian in a Persecuted Nation
So what are some ways we can avoid being lukewarm? Well to start with, the answer is not persecution! Persecution does not guarantee a passionate, sold out church.
This can be a misconeption among Western Christians who don’t know suffering.
Sadly, many persecuted Christians have walked away when the pressure got too hard to continue following Jesus, just as we see in our own churches in the West.
But those who continue to hold onto Christ above all else, do have a few things in common that we in Australia can do as well. In a changing climate of Christianity, where the tide may be beginning to turn, we can take the opportunity to learn from the persecuted church now.
1. A Strong Prayer Life
The first mark of our brothers and sisters who persevere in persecuted nations, is a robust prayer life.
In many of the churches I visit here in Australia I ask this question: “Do you pray more in the good times, or when you have a problem?” Every time people say it’s when they have a problem.
For Christians in persecution, though, they are often facing nothing but problems. But those who also have a ‘glorious and inexpressible joy in persecution’, as Peter describes it (1 Peter 1:8), these are the brothers and sisters who have a strong prayer life.
There is no shortage of commentaries and articles that talk about our ability to come to God with any problem as witnessed time and time again in the Psalms. We do not have to pray always with utmost thanks, or hide our true thoughts. God knows our hearts regardless, and as we talk with him more and more, our relationship grows and our faith is strengthened.
2. A Deep Love for God’s Word
The second thing our brothers and sisters have is a deep love and respect for God’s word. While I was meeting with some ministry partners in Central Asia, in countries all ranked very highly on the World Watch list, I was struck time and time again as they said, ‘it is written’ before quoting a passage of scripture.
For these believers, memorising large parts of the bible to have on call at any moment was totally normal. It put me to shame – but it is something infinitely more accessible for us in Australia to achieve.
Unlike in Central Asia, we have no restrictions on accessing bibles or other Christian literature.
Memorising God’s promises and having His truths ready to recall is better than any reflex. How can we have a deep love or trust of a God we do not know? Memorising the bible will mean that any reminder we ever need of how great God is or how amazing his promises, they are always at hand.
3. Making Disciples
The final thing that keeps Christians from falling away in persecution and keeps us from getting lukewarm is making disciples.
Saudi Arabia is the 12th hardest country to live as a Christian, and there, Christians are forced to keep their faith a complete secret. A believer in Saudi Arabia said, “It is unnatural – maybe even wrong – to keep one’s love for Jesus entirely to oneself. I cannot tell my wife. Or my children. Or my parents. I found Christ in a dream, and only He knows I follow him. But I have to, or I’m dead.”
We are called to be disciple-making disciples. It is as true for Christians in Australia as any other country. If we share our faith regularly we are relying on the work of the Holy Spirit in us and others, and so trusting God.
A Time of Change in Australia
Having a strong prayer life, a deep abiding love for His word and making disciples are all common disciplines of the persecuted church that can have a profound impact on our faith. Our churches in Australia are in a time of change. 2017 saw some big challenges for the church and in the next few years it is likely more will follow. Now is a good opportunity to look to those who not just stand under persecution but thrive and learn what keeps their affections for God new.
About the writer: Tim Reid is a passionate follower of Jesus, a Church Engagement Manager for Open Doors and pathetic lover of romance films. He has travelled to meet with persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and works to share their stories in churches. To have him speak at your church, email your enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.