Monday, November 07, 2011

Worse than Persecution #1: Apathy

Sometimes here in the west, we imagine that persecution is the worst thing that could happen to us as Christians. For most of us persecution remains only a distant, theoretical possibility, and so we are able to place it in a box on a shelf labeled "Dangerous Things for Christians". We may be fully willing to take down that box if circumstances warranted, but it's easy to forget one glaring truth:

There are worse things than persecution.

This Sunday, Nov. 13, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Along with others around the world, our church will be participating and prayer and awareness activities to identify with those who suffer - to be "One with Them." The persecuted church has been heavily on my heart and mind lately, and for years I've studied and written about persecuted believers.

But this morning in my quiet time, God caught my attention with a couple of passages that reminded me of something worse than persecution: Apathy.

Recounting Israel's history before his death and their entrance into the Promised Land, Moses describes a time when serious intercession impacted the course of events:

(Deuteronomy 9:11-21 NIV) - (11) At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the LORD gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. (12) Then the LORD told me, "Go down from here at once, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made a cast idol for themselves." (13) And the LORD said to me, "I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! (14) Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they." (15) So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. (16) When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the LORD your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded you. (17) So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes. (18) Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD's sight and so provoking him to anger. (19) I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. (20) And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. (21) Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain.

Moses - described in Scripture as a very meek and humble man - was so distraught by Israel's idolatry and God's threat to destroy them for it that he smashed the tablets, fasted for 40 days and nights, and crushed the idol calf.

There is no suggestion that Moses hesitated even a moment before taking righteous action. He seems not to even consider that God would keep His plan going through another people that would come from Moses' line. Moses didn't take a laissez faire attitude toward the situation. He didn't let pride at being a potential patriarch of a chosen line guide his thoughts; he didn't justify prayerlessness by focusing on God's sovereignty; he didn't rationalize leaving the people to their own devices and letting them keep the calf and suffer the consequences.

Moses was anything but apathetic.

And his prayer made a dramatic difference. Instead of destroying the Israelites and starting over, God listened to Moses. The sovereignty of God and the free will of man intersected - God was glorified and the people benefitted.

There is no place for apathy in the body of Christ. Each day as I pray for a different country in Operation World, I learn much about God's global work. One principle I've seen played out repeatedly - where the church is on mission, God is working and spiritual battles abound. But where the church is apathetic, there is decline. There is often little spiritual warfare - there is no kingdom advance to which the enemy needs to respond.

Psalm 107 describes the stories of several who were rescued by God. One story spoke to me of those who are walking with the Lord through the ups and downs of life:

(Psalm 107:23-32 NIV) - (23) Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. (24) They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. (25) For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. (26) They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. (27) They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. (28) Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. (29) He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. (30) They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. (31) Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. (32) Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders.

This group literally rode the waves with God - the ups and downs of the storm. They were glad when it grew calm - who wouldn't be? - but it was "in the deep" (v. 24) that they saw His works. Apathy might be safe, but it's when we actually get out into the deep with God that we see His works... even if it means riding the waves at times.

Christians aren't supposed to be apathetic. Jesus counseled the church at Laodicea: "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! (16) So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." (Rev. 3:15-16 ESV). Let us pray to have a burning passion for God and desire to know Him and make Him known. Let us ask for a heart like Paul's for those who don't know Him:

(Romans 9:1-3 ESV) - (1) I am speaking the truth in Christ--I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit-- (2) that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. (3) For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Let us ask He would break our hearts with the things that break His heart. Let us walk in the Spirit and always be prepared for the righteous actions that characterize those who have nothing to fear.

And let's remember that on that shelf of things dangerous to Christians, there are things much worse than persecution.

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