More suffering and joy…

I re-wrote yesterday’s post. Despite the fact that it was my most “liked” post ever…I think God wanted me to. The focus wasn’t right. So, regardless of how you felt about yesterday’s and what you did or didn’t get out of it, please re-read it, for I hope that what I was trying to say is significantly more clear.

Right now I’d like to share something similar, yet different.

I don’t know about you, but the Christian circles that I’ve been around have often prayed for other Christians around the world when disaster strikes. We hear of an earthquake or a tsunami or a war, and we pray, “Lord, protect your people.” Sometimes, that prayer is among a bunch of other requests, but sometimes it’s the only thing we pray. I’ve prayed it, too.

But lately (as in this past month), this prayer has seemed very wrong, in quite a few ways.

What if there was a bunch of people who had no choice but to walk a very risky and difficult path across a log over deep, deep water. None of the people can swim, so falling means death…but some of them have life jackets.

Tell me…who would you pray most for? Would you pray for all of them? Would you pray mostly for those who have no life jackets? Or would you pray that those who have the life jackets wouldn’t fall?

I’m afraid this prayer I’ve prayed in the past is exactly like praying that those with life jackets would not fall.

How is that the love of God? That’s what I’m asking myself.

If there is a disaster facing a million people in a third world country, and 20% of them will surely die…isn’t it better that the Christians die? For to them, to die is gain. While to the others, death is eternal.

I’m afraid that the selfishness in this prayer is what the world sees all the time when they say that Christians are hypocrites who care for no one except our own. I’ve told myself it wasn’t true…and now I’m seeing it is true.

I’ll never be able to pray that way again, and I’m asking God to open my eyes to however many other selfish unloving prayers I’ve been praying. Now, I’ll be praying that God will protect those who have not yet received Him and give the Christians boldness and the anointing to share the gospel with those whose lives they touch.

I think this pastor in Iraq that I’m about to tell you about would agree with me.

A few days ago, I discovered that an old friend of my parents has become an investigative journalist who is often in the Mideast, as well as a NYT Bestselling author. I found his blog, began reading, and was greatly struck by this post, written February 9th of this year:

We met seven years ago in Baghdad. I was there researching a book on the post-Saddam Iraqi Church. Actually, it wasn’t all that “post,” since he had crawled out of his “rat hole” only a few weeks earlier.

After introductions were made, I sat down in front of his desk and, as I took out my digital recorder, he said, “Before we begin, I would like to read something to you.” He opened a black-covered Bible and read from Isaiah 19, which my NIV calls a prophecy about Egypt:

“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria [modern-day Iraq]. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assryia my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’ ”

You don’t have to be a theologian to know that “that day” has not come yet.

“This is our vision,” he said, “the vision of the Church in Iraq.” And he went on to tell me his story and the account of his people between the Gulf Wars.

This morning, I received a telephone call from a friend in Amman, Jordan.

“Guess who is with me,” he said, uncharacteristically playful.

It was my friend from Baghdad. We spent a few minutes catching up, and then I asked him two hard questions.

I knew that more than a million Christians had already fled Iraq, along with millions of other refugees, the Christians heading north to Irbil, Dahuk or Sulaymaniyah where they are protected by the Kurds, or to the godawful refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. I wasn’t surprised that they left. I was amazed that more than a million others have stayed.

He explained that he had lost half of his congregation since November 1, when al-Qaeda-connected gunmen took 120 hostages at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad and slaughtered 41 Christians, including two priests, as well as 12 police officers and 5 bystanders, wounding 78 others. The media called it the “deadliest attack ever recorded against Iraq’s Christians.” In 2006 and 2007, my friend’s church had a thousand members. Half left between then and last November. Half again since the attack. Then he told me that the terrorists had actually targeted his church, but the killers went to the wrong address, one street away. The police broke up his service that Sunday morning, informed my friend about the “mistake,” and told him to shut down and send everybody home, which he did. But the doors were open again two weeks later.

“How do you teach your congregation that God provides for them when they have no food, that He protects them when they are being raped and tortured and murdered, that He loves them when He sends no one to their rescue?” I asked my friend.

“When the terrorists came and killed many Christians,” he said, “that week, I received calls from my congregation asking me many why’s. Why did Jesus let them kill Christians? Why didn’t Jesus stop them? Why did God let the terrorists enter the church? Why? Why? Why?

“I cried out to God. I said, ‘My Lord, give me the answers.’

“After that, in my reading that day in the Book of Acts 4:29, I saw that when the disciples were threatened, they prayed, I thought maybe for protection. I was shocked that they prayed for boldness.

“The next week, I went before the church.

“ ‘You ask me why, why why. You should go to God and ask him why he left his Son torn on the cross. Why Peter died on a cross upside down. After that, ask me why. It’s in the plan. Because you are a Christian, it costs blood. And maybe it will cost our blood. God didn’t promise us that we would live in a comfortable life. Why are we surprised? This is our life. This is what is promised for us. Open the Book of Acts and see how the Christians suffered.’

“They were very encouraged and were clapping and they prayed and cried and said, ‘Oh, we are sorry, our Lord.’ “

Boldness, not protection. We are here to advance the Kingdom of God, to share the good news that God has paid the price for the sins of mankind. Is there a greater cause for which to suffer and die?

My old friend went on to ask his second difficult question, and in return, heard the testimony of how an Iraqi woman had come to him when all of her children had been killed. Read it, if you like. That is why families are risking their lives to stay in Baghdad.

But that part, above, is what confirmed to me that God was indeed opening my eyes to the selfishness of my prayers. I didn’t want to suffer, therefore I thought it was loving to pray that my Christian brothers and sisters did not suffer. And all of that is well and good and fine in and of itself… but it does not have the importance I give it by focusing my prayers on it. Far from it! The souls of the lost around them are far more important than their suffering, and the souls of the lost around me are far more important than my own suffering. It is the difference between temporary difficulty and pain and death for those who are assured eternal blessings and comfort, and eternal torment for those whose difficulty and pain and death are anything but temporary.

What do you think? If God had decided to place your birth in Iraq, would you still be there or not? And if not, would you go back? For Him?

What if you, in whatever nation you live in, are granted the same choice someday?

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