“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV)
DEVOTION: PRESSING THROUGH THE ‘BITTER’ (Rev 10:9-10)
– a prayer for those who intercede for Christ’s persecuted Church
by Elizabeth Kendal
Without a doubt, the message of the gospel (Good News) is sweet: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ (John 3:16,17 ESV). So too is the promise that this salvation will extend to the ends of the earth (e.g., Genesis 6:3, Psalm 22:25-31, Isaiah 54:1-3, Habakkuk 2:14, Acts 1:8), reaching many tribes, peoples, nations, languages, and kings (Revelation chapters 5 and 10). Yet often it is the case that we joyfully ingest this gloriously sweet gospel, only to find it makes our stomach ‘bitter’: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you … Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God’ (from John 15:18-16:4). Yes, the sweetness of salvation is commonly followed by the bitterness of persecution. After all, both are integral to the cosmic spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12) – a battle which Christ has already won (Colossians 2:13-15) and in which we are now ‘mopping up’ as Satan continues (to quote Jacques Ellul) ‘to resist his demise with the energy of despair’.
As Christians, we pray for God to send more workers into his harvest field (Matthew 9:37,38) and to bless all ministry and witness with effectual Holy Spirit power (1 Corinthians 4:20). We press through times of waiting as the soil (mission field) is weeded (to remove falsehoods), fed (with the blood of martyrs) and watered (with the tears of intercessors) that it might receive the gospel seed and yield a blessed harvest (Matthew 13). In love, we press on through frustration, spurred on by faith-fuelled hope rooted in the promises of God. ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ (Jesus, in Matthew 16:18). ‘Behold, all of [my adversaries] will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up’ (the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 50:4-9). So, no matter the circumstances, we just press on and pray for our missionaries, along with all who witness for Christ: may the Lord sustain them to just keep nibbling (like the moth) as he (the Lord) keeps building! [See: ‘Prayer Fuel from the Servant Songs of Isaiah’ http://www.elizabethkendal.com/ (tab: Devotions).]
No matter how sweet it is for us to hear stories of amazing conversions, we must always remember that, for many new believers, life is bitter. Indeed, conversion is where their battle begins! Rescued from the doomed kingdom of darkness, they are now free to live for God in the kingdom of light, except that they live behind enemy lines where the cost of discipleship is high. Maybe they live in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tibet, Afghanistan or Somalia where the church has been forced deep underground. Maybe they live on a spiritual front line where the battle is raging, such as in Egypt, Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq) or the Caucuses (Armenia, Artsakh, Azerbaijan) where the world’s most ancient Christian peoples are under sustained attack. Maybe they live in a village in Northern Nigeria, India’s northern tribal belt, or a city anywhere in Iran where Satan is desperately fighting a losing battle to keep his disillusioned captives in! Or maybe they live in a household deeply hostile to Christianity; a household long captive to Islam, Eastern religion, or atheism and scientific materialism; a household into which our gracious Lord Jesus is reaching. Any believer who is truly engaged in the advance of God’s kingdom will find themselves continuously see-sawing between the sweetness of kingdom growth (which lifts us high and into the light) and the bitterness of persecution (which takes us into the darkness and drives us low).
Every day, faithful intercessors put on their armour and willingly enter that darkness precisely so they might pray for – that is, engage in spiritual battle on behalf of – Christ’s imperilled, persecuted, wounded Church. They enter that darkness voluntarily, precisely so they might see, listen to, understand, lift up and support their suffering brothers and sisters – God’s precious children, Church and bride – in their time of need. Filled as it is with greed, hatred, megalomania, war, lies, repression, persecution, and terrible suffering, that darkness is not a nice place. That said, Christ is there! Indeed, the darkness is where the Redeemer, Jesus the ‘true light’ who brings ‘grace and truth’ (John 1:1-18) does his greatest work. Furthermore, Jesus invites us, even implores us, to come and join him in his great redemptive work, a work that includes caring for and supporting his embattled persecuted Church (Hebrews 13:3). The only way to endure such a task, the only way to press on through the bitter, is to keep one’s eyes fixed on Jesus who has come and secured victory and trust that ‘all the promises of God [will indeed] find their Yes in him’ (2 Corinthians 1:20a ESV).
MY PRAYER FOR THOSE PRESSING THROUGH THE BITTER
I have prayed this for you.
I ask that you each might pray it for all our fellow intercessors.
I bring before you all those faithful intercessors who willingly enter the darkness and press through the bitter precisely so they might intercede for and fight on behalf of your persecuted Church, which risks so much to live, minister, witness and shine there.
Driven by a deep love for your Church, a zeal for justice and a yearning desire to see ‘your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’, they voluntarily subject themselves to the worst of news comprising all the ugliest aspects of fallen humanity. For the sake of your Church, and so they might intercede, they resist the seductive lure of ‘blissful ignorance’ and ingest news of repression, incarceration, abuse, assault, rape, abduction, torture, murder, massacre, genocide, abandonment and seemingly endless injustice. It is a critical and strategic ministry; but it can bring intercessors low and make their stomachs bitter.
Father, it is with this in mind that I pray for every intercessor: may the Holy Spirit be so powerfully at work within each one that love, and faith-fuelled hope rooted in the promises of God, will always prove greater than any despair or hopelessness Satan – ‘the father of lies’ (John 8:44) – might wish to fire into their hearts (Ephesians 6:16).
May prayer for the persecuted continue to grow as God knits together his increasingly global Church using chords of love forged in the flames of persecution, in answer to the prayer of our Lord which he prayed in the garden: that we might be one, that the world might believe (John 17:20-23).
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”(Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)