Editor’s note: At the end of each month, the editorial team shares a brief wrap-up of how that month’s content encouraged and challenged us. This month, church planter Andrew Harwell shared how the words of a Chinese brother and sister called him to run to Christ for refuge from suffering and fear.
As I read the reflections on the Psalms this month, I am struck by the compassion and care of God. His goodness is on display as sisters and brothers in Christ living in China turn to Psalms written in generations past for comfort in current times of great need.
When Fear Becomes Reality
Sister Bao En’s reflection on Psalm 2 especially struck me. Considering how the nations counsel together to tell God to buzz off, she wrote, “Every day the news media reports frightening stories…telling us obedience to God will bind and limit our freedom.” (I know this fear too!) But Psalm 2, she says, tells a different story. In this story, the narrative begins not with fright, but with confidence: “God still reigns in power; in him, we find refuge from all fears.”
Now, as a church planter, I sit on several fears. Some come from the news, but most come from within my heart:
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Will our new church plant be a faithful presence in our community, or will this expression of Christ’s church fail?
What would happen to my family and me if that happened?
What will happen if we lose access to the Community Center we rent for worship?
These practical fears rise to the surface, but they are produced from a deeper fear. The fear and unbelief make me wonder if the Lord is really capable of providing refuge for me when what I fear becomes a reality?
Sister Bao En, invited my fearful heart to, “‘Kiss the Son’…rest in him and live for him. If we do this, we are assured that, whatever happens to us, we will be safe.”
Whether we face phantom fears of being turned away by a God who promised never to do so, or stronger fears of being imprisoned for remaining faithful to Christ, Psalm 2 invites us to come and “kiss the Son.” Psalm 2 asks us to bring our fears and come away from the storms caused by nations, laws, media, and narratives into the refuge offered by the King. God does not just invite us to come with our doubts – even in the midst of suffering, he calls us into the reassuring arms of Christ.
Suffering That Cannot Overwhelm
I am more comfortable with fear than with suffering. In fear, my imagination runs toward what might happen – but suffering has nothing to do with imagination. Where fear is possibility, suffering is reality. I do not want to suffer, and do much work to try and avoid suffering in any form. In that work of avoiding suffering, I forget the invitation of Psalm 2. There is a God who will not let suffering overwhelm the refuge he offers. There are many types of suffering: the suffering of physical illness or financial loss, or the suffering that comes with living faithfully in obedience to Christ and in opposition to current political, nationalistic, or modern narratives. Yet none of these sufferings will overwhelm the refuge offered and secured by Christ.
The words of Gabriel, a Chinese lawyer, speak right to my fearful heart: “We actually believe the Holy Spirit is moving in us – do you think it is worth it [avoid suffering]? I do not. You suffer for the sake of the gospel; if you suffer in a manner contrary to the gospel, there is no benefit in your suffering. We have to keep returning to the gospel.”
Keep returning to the gospel! Keep returning to the God who has invited us to seek refuge in his arms. Keep returning to his watchful and compassionate gaze when we fear he will forget us. Keep returning to his words of “well done” in the midst of suffering. Keep returning to a God who has not and will not allow his church to fail. Keep returning to the gospel.
When asked to reflect on these blogs, I did not know the type of gift I was being offered. These words are a compassionate gift, written by saints who find refuge in Christ amidst great suffering. Their words challenged me as a pastor, and pulled me further away from my fears.
Specifically, their words, written in days of suffering, pull my heart away from my fears of suffering – whether that suffering be personal, physical, or that of persecution. Their words also invite my heart to sit content in the refuge.
I pray the little church plant I have been assigned to care for will learn this with me from our brothers and sisters in China. I hope that we would come to see even suffering as a great invitation. Although none of us may ever sit down with Gabriel and Bao En, we can hear them say: “Come, let us together find refuge in Christ.”
Andrew, his wife Elizabeth, and their three children live in metro Atlanta, where Andrew serves as a church planter at Living Fellowship Church.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
As you are confronted with your own fears and suffering, pray that God will give you strength and courage to run to Christ for refuge.