A Heavenly Kingdom
This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day Jerusalem came out with joy to meet Jesus on his way into the city: waving branches in welcome, proclaiming him king of Israel. But even as we celebrate, we know the regal welcome did not last. Less than a week later, Christ was arrested. The one they previously hailed as king was now a criminal. Jesus told Pontius Pilate, the earthly ruler of the city, that his real kingdom was not one Pontius Pilate could see.
What does a heavenly kingdom have to do with life on this earth? Everything. Christ’s kingdom is in heaven, but it is not ethereal and ghostly: it is real and solid and Jesus lives there now, wearing flesh-and-bones every bit as substantial as ours.
Right now, Chinese Christians are bumping up against a world that really does not welcome them. (Of course, Christians following Christ have always faced that reality; for instance, those who repudiate greed have never fit in with our consumer culture.) A few weeks ago, a house church pastor remembered what his seminary professor told him as he embarked in ministry: “Cherish these times, because there are not many times like this in the history of the Church. Though there are many challenges, it is within God’s great mercy that we get to experience his kingdom through them.”
In his mercy, God has placed China and Chinese Christians in the crosshairs of history and struggle. This month, we are praying for Chinese believers to hold fast to their true possession: the kingdom of heaven.
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A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
The author of Hebrews writes:
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Heb. 10:32-36)
This passage is what I’m praying this month for Chinese Christians.
May those who are enduring “a hard struggle with sufferings” remember that God takes care of and protects them. In a sermon on Revelation, Preacher Yang reminds us that persecution is difficult, but normal. God is with his people when they face trouble. They do not have to worry, but can rest, even in trouble.
Some are “exposed to reproach and affliction”; others partner with them. (v. 33) Some years ago, a Chinese friend shared with me about his childhood when his father, a house church pastor, went to jail for several years. He talked about how God sustained his dad and his family through that time, and he also talked about how the years following his dad’s release were in some ways even harder than the years his father was in jail. That conversation left a deep impression on me. My heart always breaks for those in prison, but also for those left on the outside.
Recently, many wives of men in prison have begun publicly sharing their stories. I believe these stories are an important record of what some in the Chinese church are now experiencing. We published one such testimony this month, a letter from a wife and mom caring for her three children and her elderly in-laws while her husband is in jail. She wrote to her husband: “God did not call you to this alone—he has also called me. I see the flood of God’s salvation…Whenever I am at my weakest and worst, that is the very time the Holy Spirit is working in me. How much God loves me! Everything is well out there. It’s not easy, but it’s good.”
How can anyone “joyfully” accept severe trouble like this? The only way is a deep belief that she has “a better possession and an abiding one.” (v. 34) Please pray with me that this woman – and others like her – will be able to persevere because they know they have something better than anything this world can offer.
Finally, I’m praying that Chinese believers will remember that any troubles they face are only proof of their heavenly citizenship. This month, a Chinese pastor shared his story, and how the degradation he has experienced because of his faith is part of living out the life of Christ. He wrote, “I can keep serving the Lord, and for doing that, I face persecution, even being imprisoned, being sentenced, and going through many other things. These marks of humiliation are still opportunities to testify to the eternal life, to manifest the eternal life.”
Pray with me: may Chinese believers truly realize that they have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. The king they serve is with them, is living, and his rule cannot be overcome.
E.F. Gregory is a mom of three. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband is a P.C.A. church planter.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese Christians to hold fast to the unshakeable and victorious kingdom of Christ.