Like so many others, I can’t get the thought of Iraqi Christians being persecuted and executed out of my head this week.
As I sat in my church service on Sunday, I kept thinking about people who have to fear what will happen to them if they attend a church. As I gathered Christian women in my home Sunday afternoon, I kept thinking about people who have to fear their home being attacked if they host a Christian meeting in their home.
The images and stories that have come out in the news this week are disturbing. Property confiscated. Children beheaded. Families hiding in mountains. People are being told to convert, leave or be killed. Yet they keep believing.
As I sat in my church service on Sunday, I wondered how many of these people would be there if we were persecuted like believers in Iraq. Honestly, I wondered if I would be there.
In America, we’ve settled into a form of Christianity that is a mix of social acceptance, the American dream and a good pep talk. As David Platt puts it in his book Radical, we’re “settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”
While there is so much that is terrible about what our friends in Iraq are facing, there is also something so compelling. They don’t just nod in agreement with the idea of Jesus being a good thing; they are forced to put their whole life on the line because of their belief. For so long we’ve pretended that Jesus’s words are “come and be comfortable.” We pick and choose what bible verses to believe and which ones apply to us. When actually Jesus said “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). These Christians on the other side of the world are living this out. They are following Jesus regardless of the cost. They are defined by their faith. They are my heroes.
I wish I wasn’t afraid that following Jesus may actually cost me something, but I am. I’m afraid that it my cost me my comfort, my bank account or my social life. I’m afraid that it may place me on the other side of the globe far away from my loved ones. I’m afraid that it may make me uncool. But as I hear the stories of my friends on the other side of the globe, I am inspired. Their faith and their lives tell me that IT IS WORTH IT. Following Jesus is worth suffering. It is worth sacrificing. It is worth not being comfortable. Following Jesus doesn’t cost me something; it costs me everything.
When we’re willing to sacrifice and be persecuted for our faith, we are in good company. We’re beside Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who are thrown into the fire and saved in Daniel 3. We’re beside Stephen who was stoned for his preaching in Acts 7. We’re beside Jesus who was crucified.
Our faith should not be a nice little add on to our life. It should be what everything else in our life is based on. While this type of faith may cost you much on this earth, even your life itself, it will gain you everything in eternity. That seems like a good trade off to me. Give up everything now to gain everything forever. That’s no prosperity Gospel. It’s definitely not comfortable. But, it’s true.
Here is how the book of Hebrews describes the heroes of the faith:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth… But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city”
– Hebrews 11:13,16
Thank you to the persecuted Christians across the globe for showing me what it looks like today to stake everything on the promises and words of Jesus. You are my heroes.
To us who have been comfortable, may we more fully abandon ourselves in order to live like we are desiring a better country, that is, a heavenly one.