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 as Western believers who do not live in China. This month, we invited a guest author to share his own reflections on what he is learning from the Chinese church.
“American Christians tend to pray that persecution will end. But that is not how we are praying in China. We are not praying it will end; we are praying that God would be glorified in our persecution. Will you pray that prayer for and with us?”
Seeing Things Differently
I heard the above exhortation early in my relationship with the China Partnership. I needed it. I was one of those American Christians whose prayers for the Chinese church were largely focused on asking God to bring an end to their persecution. To that end, I was praying that more people and more Party leaders would come to faith in Christ, such that there would be a shift in the balance of power. I prayed that God would allow messages and videos to slip past social media censorship, leading to a new Tiananmen Square protest, forcing an end to the persecution of Christians. Yes, those prayers were perhaps also advising God of a better strategy.
Reading and reflecting on this month’s blog posts have helped me continue to see things differently and more biblically with respect to my life, frustrations, worries, concerns, focus, and prayers as an American Christian and pastor.
It is not wrong to pray for the brutal persecution of God’s people in China to end. But it is hard and counter-intuitive for me to pray, not that persecution would end, but instead that God would be glorified in it. And yet, that is the more consistently biblical prayer. God’s Word has told us our status on this earth until he returns is that of exiles and strangers – those hated by the world. When Jesus spoke to his followers in the gospels about their persecution being the norm, he did not offer political strategies as solutions, nor promise that persecution would end before he returned. As good as democracy is, it is not the hope of the people of God.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
A Biblical Path
This month’s Prison Letter from Brother Bo to his parents both dismantled my previous perspectives and helped in continuing to reorientate me to a more biblical one on following Christ in the U.S.A. As Christians in America, we have lost much and continue to lose more. How have and will we respond to those losses? I believe God, through Brother Bo, points us to a more biblical path – a path that includes deeper joy and intimacy with God amidst persecution and alienation.
In both pastoral intern Shu Yan’s reflections on turning our sorrow into prayer and Muxi Zhang’s reflection on Psalm 42, I see a deeper and more biblical desperation for God than I often feel, a desperation that compels and chastens. What would I be willing to give to know this kind of spiritual hunger, vitality, and satisfaction?
Church planter Hu Yongjie pointed me to the grace of God that covers up all the shame I experience for my sin, distraction, and worldliness. He wrote, “The gospel does not give us a piece of cloth to cover up our sins as we come to meet God. The gospel pulls down the last veil and lets the light of God shine on and heal us completely.”
Lastly, as the blog post by Wang Yi, chastening his congregation about the consuming and distracting idol of social media reminds us, Chinese believers are not super-Christians. Just like us, many of them are tempted to spend more time on social media than in prayer, Bible study, or serving God.
God Is Their Only Refuge
In their insights and reflections, these Chinese believers display a deeper desperation for God and a greater urgency in their Christian walk than I feel and find in my own heart. I think that is because, currently, God is their only hope and comfort. He is their only refuge. I long for that intimacy and urgency in my spiritual life. But my default is to be angry, resentful, and outraged at the increased persecution, alienation, ridicule, and rejection I feel as a Christian here in the West. My longing is too much for “a good life” here on this earth, now; for worldly vindication and acceptance. My hope is too much in politics, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness.
I do not think God is being glorified in persecution here in the West as he should and could be. My Chinese brothers and sisters are helping me see that persecution has not yet burned away my false hopes and worldly longings. I am not as desperate for God’s sustaining presence as I ought to be. I am not urgent in prayer for his power to rejoice in persecution and suffering, because those things are bringing me closer to God. This month’s blog posts show an intimacy with God, an inspiring hope in him, and a deep joy for which I long. I need to keep asking, “What am I willing to give up, lose, change, or let go of in order to gain that?”
I think we, Christians in the West, have much to learn from the persecuted church.
Born and raised in Scotland, Ewan started out as a mechanical engineer before coming to the United States as an adult. He is married to Heather and has three sons, and has served as senior pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta since 2008.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Ask God to help you rejoice in and glorify him amidst the sorrows and difficulties of your own life and society.