Editor’s Note: This excerpt from a sermon on the book of Daniel was originally shared in January 2020, at the KL2020 Gospel Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, just as news of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was beginning to dominate the media. In the midst of an uncertain time, this sermon calls Chinese believers to follow God in the midst of chaos and danger.
This excerpt has been condensed and edited for both clarity and length. The first part can be found here.
We Are Not God
Those who sought Daniel’s downfall were smart: they said nothing about Daniel when they came to the king. Instead, they said, “King, you are the greatest! Anyone who worships a god beside you in the next 30 days should be cast into the lion’s den.” All the suck-ups in the world have the same skill set; Mao Zedong was not the first one hailed as “long-lived.”
The king was happy to hear this. He grabbed a pen and signed the document. Ambitious people make themselves into gods; when they do this, they dig their own graves. In Chinese, we say, “Man should know his limits.” But through history we discover that the greater a man becomes, the less he knows about limits.
The Chinese constitution says presidents can serve only two terms. But the younger brother of Yuan Shikai has said, “It is not that I do not want to step down; it is that China cannot do without me.” [Referring to “Yuan Shikai’s little brother” is a roundabout way of referencing Xi Jinping, who is expected to pursue power beyond the traditional two terms this year. Yuan Shikai was a dictator who usurped power from the first republic and declared himself emperor.]
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Is the church better than the political realm? Many pastors work hard and are faithful, but they believe the church cannot do without them. God’s servants must be sober and know God’s kingdom does not lack great pastors, elders, deacons, or members. True church leaders are those who equip their replacements.
Dragon culture reminds us: those who cannot step down from the pulpit will become historic sinners. As Christians, we should thank the Lord for allowing us to experience obstacles and persecution so we can learn we are not God. Pride makes people stupid. In trying to protect his status, the king became someone else’s tool. He put his most faithful servant into the lion’s den.
Act as You Have Always Done
What happens when persecution comes? There is no secret. The Bible says, “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel simply acted the same way after the decree as before it – not one thing more or less.
In the face of persecution, you must continue to act as you have always done. When the Lord comes back, we will be acting just as we have always acted. For Daniel, to act “as he had done previously” included prayer and worship. His worship was public, consistent, and humble. Those who do not publicly acknowledge God will not face very much persecution – they are not worthy of persecution. This saying is popular among Chinese pastors: “You are not only shrewd as a serpent – you are a shrewd serpent.”
We say God saved us. Did he really? Others take bribes, so do we; others seek high-paying jobs, so do we; others love the world, and so do we. How are we changed? If we cannot leave behind love of the world, from what have we been saved?
Those who pray only when they face persecution may find this Chinese saying applicable: “Hug Buddha’s feet when you are in trouble.” [This refers to waiting until the last minute to make preparations.] You must go to a temple to find Buddha’s feet – but can you find Jesus’s feet at church? Regular practice is important. There is no middle way in religion. In spiritual life, we are either swimming upstream or floating down – but swimming upstream is exhausting, while going downstream requires no effort.
Some think Daniel prayed because he was out of options. This is how we usually experience things. We get sick and go to the doctor, who tells us there is no hope. Then we find another doctor. If doctors in China cannot treat us, we go overseas. Once we have gone around the world and all the doctors say there is no hope, we remember to pray. Then we pray like crazy: “Lord, if you save me, I will give my life and all my money to you.” When we face danger, we are generous, loving, and repentant. But there is one condition: God must solve our problem.
Prayer should never be the last option for a Christian. Prayer is the first choice. Prayer is war, initiated by those who worship and fear God. It is an offensive move, not the last option at the end of the road.
Moses prayed so he could face Pharaoh; David prayed so he could defeat Goliath; and Jesus prayed so he could face the Roman soldiers. After Jesus’s prayer, they came to arrest him, and asked, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” When Jesus said, “I am,” they all fell down in fear. This is the power of prayer.
What was the point of Daniel’s prayer? He was fighting! He prayed and made his preparation: now it was time to fight. After prayer, he was arrested and cast into the lion’s den. After prayer, he was prepared to face the lions. Christians should constantly be ready to be thrown into the lion’s den.
Do We Really Believe?
Ignatius of Antioch once said, “I am the wheat of God. Let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ…Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body.”
Pastor Wang Yi said, “When it comes to Christian faith in China, people of this world do not believe Christians truly believe in what they believe.”
When everything is easy sailing, then we believe in Jesus. We have kids, we have wealth, we believe in Jesus. But when you lose your job – do you believe then? When you lose loved ones – do you still believe? When you give your life to serve the Lord, but find out you suddenly have cancer? When you get the virus from Wuhan? When you are sentenced to nine years in prison? Do you still believe then?
This is a challenge we all have to face. Every time you compromise in the face of a challenge, it testifies to your unbelief. The world does not believe that you truly believe.
Wang Yi also said, “I live for three things: I fall down to pray, stand up to preach, and run to do mission.” He is in prison now, and cannot run nor preach. What will he do if he cannot pray? Thanks be to God, China has a pastor such as he, who made the government believe he truly believes in Christ. He testifies to the whole world that he believes – to the extent he is willing to go to prison for nine years. Do others believe you truly believe?
Simon Liu is a church planter and works with church planting networks.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray today for Chinese believers to seek God in prayer as a first option, not a last resort.