“Every Friday, I am fasting and praying as thanksgiving to the Lord and also praying for you who are helping me and my family.”
The woman who said this had been cruelly beaten and raped twice by her Muslim employer in Pakistan. Her husband had suffered two strokes and had to stop working. Two of her children had been killed in an accident, and she had been struggling to find care for her mentally challenged daughter. What did she have to be thankful for? Yet, even after all that she’s been through, she gives thanksgiving to the Lord. “Though life is still hard, the family’s faith remains solid. They regularly attend church and prayer meetings, and every Tuesday and Wednesday evening, [she] goes door-to-door with a group of women offering prayer.” This story is one that I just read today from The Voice of the Martyrs free monthly newsletter, Special Year in Review 2014, p. 7. My heart was broken for this woman and her family; I can not imagine experiencing all the hardship she has endured, and still remaining faithful to God. Read more about persecuted Christians on The Voice of the Martyrs website www.persecution.com.
“In two or three months’ time half of their company died, partly owing to the severity of the winter, especially during January and February, and the want of houses and other comforts; partly to scurvy and other diseases, which their long voyage and their incommodious quarters had brought upon them. Of all the hundred odd persons, scarcely fifty remained, and sometimes two or three persons died in a day … And thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.”
After seeing about half of all one’s group die, who would care to give praise to God? The Separatists (Pilgrims) did. The citation above was taken directly from The Plymouth Settlement, written by William Bradford (published by Mantle Ministries, 1988; rendered into modern English by Harold Paget, 1909; pp. 76-77, 89). That is the edition I have at home, but you can read another edition for free online here. I think most of us are familiar with the story of the Pilgrims. But how often do we sit down and really ponder what life must have been like for them? How far would we be willing to go to put our faith into practice? I get cranky when I eat lunch an hour late. I can’t bear to have a sore throat and a runny nose. And when things don’t go the way I want them to, guess who’s the first to get the blame? I don’t have much stamina, maybe because I’ve never needed it (at least up until now). I live a very cushioned, comfortable life. If any real dilemmas were to come upon me, how would I react? (Even as I write this, I’m thinking, “Please, God, protect us from anything bad that could happen to me and my family.”)
Writes the apostle Paul of his own personal hardships:
“… in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended [made to stumble], and I burn not? … And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength [power] is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
2 Corinthians 11:23b-29, 12:7-10
Paul experienced more trauma in his life than most of us will ever have to go through. His story teaches us something very important: The Christian life is impossible … without Christ. I have not been placed by God in a situation like that of any of the people we’ve just looked at here. God, in His wisdom, put me right where He wants me to be. How can I be sensitive to His will for me, right here? What is it that He wants me to do for Him, that I could be doing, but I’m not? Are there areas of my life where He’s asking me to just trust Him, to let Him be God, to give Him that opportunity to show Himself strong on my behalf? I’ve heard it said that true faith isn’t like wading into the shallow end of the pool, to test if we’re comfortable with the temperature and depth of the water before we’re ready to swim–true faith is more like jumping into the deep end, and not knowing how to swim. When we really trust in God, we let go of the control over our own lives and circumstances, and wait to see what He’s going to do. Just don’t expect Him to do things the way we would do it. We must believe with all our heart that He know what’s best for us. Be brave enough to walk by faith. (Genesis 22:1-19) Only with our eyes lifted up to God will we be able to express true thankfulness, regardless of our circumstances.