Monday, October 18, 2010

Where The Battle?

A man I'm training to become a Voice of the Martyrs Area Representative asked me what kind of spiritual warfare I've faced since becoming a rep.  That was an astute question, which I have not been asked before.  After some reflection, here is what I wrote him.  I think in many ways this applies to all forms of ministry, not just to VOM work.

The spiritual warfare question is an interesting one. I’m not actually sure that I’ve experienced any as a result of my ministry with VOM, but it does seem that some reps experience it, and it may be that I have as well.

I would say from my experience the biggest challenge that reps face is busyness. A surprising number of our most talented reps have dropped out after the first year because they discover that they are overcommitted already. I’m not sure whether to chalk that up to spiritual warfare or just to our human tendency to try to be over-achievers. I struggle with this tendency myself but so far the Lord has given me the grace to step back and re-prioritize and my VOM work has thus far always survived the pruning.

Probably the second most common problem is the development of cynicism towards local churches. Once the mindset creeps in that “they don’t want to hear what I want to share with them” it begins to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (If people sense that we have a judgmental attitude towards them, they instinctively become defensive.) I have wrestled with this one too. And truth be told, a lot of churches do seem unresponsive to or uninterested in persecution. We just have to fight through in prayer to have a compassionate heart even for these. Most of the time when I get an opportunity to share, I’m surprised. The seeds I thought surely would sprout, often don’t; and the seeds I place very little hope in sometimes do! Again, I’m not sure, but I guess you could classify this as spiritual warfare.

The third most common thing that brings reps down has been health problems, either for themselves or for their family members. It seems that God allows us to suffer so that we will be more able to passionately and compassionately represent our brothers and sisters who suffer. One rep had prostate cancer, another rep had major surgery (and her husband spent 8 weeks in the hospital after a bypass operation), another rep’s wife got bone cancer, another rep had a stroke, my own mother was very sick last year and we thought she was going to die, another rep lost his job and had surgery on his wrist, another rep had a heart attack and cancer, another rep had a prematurely born baby, and another rep’s wife suffers from terrible migraine headaches.

Looking back over these three areas, I guess they could all be called spiritual warfare. It seems that the battle in all of them is to believe. Like Paul said, “Fight the good fight of faith.” When health problems strike, we must fight to believe that God is ultimately in control of them, and that He allowed them because of His love for us. When local churches seem as interested as a stone in the suffering of our precious brethren, we must fight to believe that God can change their heart of stone into a heart of flesh. (And remember that He is the one who softens our own hearts.) When we are crowded with urgent demands from various parts of our lives, we must fight to believe that putting God’s kingdom and righteousness first really will result in all the other things being added to us as well.

I do hope that helps a little in anticipating what challenges you’ll face as a rep. One nice thing about this particular form of ministry, though, is that the persecuted church, rather than sucking you dry, winds up encouraging you to keep fighting. It’s sort of a self-fuelling ministry, if that makes sense!

Because of the One who is able to keep us from stumbling,


1 comment:

  1. Hi Daniel

    This is a great question and a great topic. Not too long ago I was reading an account of a gathering of pastors in Holland. The leader of the group was leading a discussion of underground church work in hostile countries. In walked a pastor who had been imprisoned for many years for Christ and severely beaten many times. As he entered, the room fell silent. He looked at the pastor leading the discussion and asked "Brother, how many pastors are in prison in Holland?" The pastor answered "None that I know of." To which the persecuted brother responded, "Why not?"

    It is another, albeit a bit more pointed, way of asking the same question. To this general topic an AR I am training recommended and sent me a book, "Radical", by David Platt. VOM Books has recently started carrying the book and I do recommend it. It is written in the same vein as your recommendation "Trellis and the Vine", but with a bit different focus.

    That said, I think the reason we personally see so little spiritual warfare in the US is because we are not engaged in the culture. One of the ARs, who is temporarily in Washington, D.C. commented that only about 10% there are Christian. A local judge, who is also a strong Christian, addressed our church a few years back. The thrust of his message was that we do not know or see what is going on around us.

    My take is we work at living in a sanitized environment. Ozzie and Harriet would be very comfortable in what most of us call our life. Yet like in the story of the Good Samaritan we pass by the needs that are around us. Unlike those however, we don't just ignore, we have trained ourselves not to see.