On January 16 churches, parsonages, and Christian-owned businesses in towns in the eastern part of Niger were burned. The next day, the 17th, the same thing happened in Niamey.
In the United States, at this point, it is probably beyond our imaginations to think of this happening. And yet, laws are being created the keeping of which may bring cause you to compromise your Christian convictions. Perhaps you, my readers, already face mocking or disdain when you share your beliefs in the workplace or with extended family.
Honestly, according to the Bible, persecution or at the very least being misunderstood, is something that happens to believers. That doesn't mean we need to go around making ourselves obnoxious in the name of the Gospel, but the truth is, not everybody understands what having a relationship with Jesus is all about and that that relationship affects how we think, act, and relate to the world around us. And what is not understood is mocked and may even result in persecution.
So, when persecution or misunderstanding happens, what are our reactions? Fear is a very real reaction and I think on January 16 and 17, most of us experienced a very real sense of fear. Betrayal? People you thought you knew and trusted seem to not be who you thought they were. Revenge? I think deep in our human hearts we have a very real sense of fairness which can come out as believing that what you did to me, I'll do back to you. Demanding my rights? I think this is another gut reaction that comes automatically. There is freedom of religion, so you all should treat me nicely because it's my right.
I recently read this, about the story in Acts 4, in a great little book called I Believe in the Holy Spirit by Canon Michael Green: "Peter and John have been released from prison, after being grilled by the Sanhedrin, and told not to say any more about the resurrection of Jesus. They returned to the Christian fellowship, and their immediate action was significantly different from what would happen in most Christian circles today. We might organise a petition for civil liberties, or approach our Member of Parliament, or at least appoint a committee to look into the matter of these unwarranted threats by officialdom. They did nothing of the kind. They gave themselves to prayer. This seems to have been a mixture of liturgical and free prayer. The prayer as recorded is dependent to a very large extent on Psalm 2, and to it they appended their brief request. But they did not prescribe to the Almighty what he should do. They did not ask for protection. They spread the matter before the Lord and asked him to 'behold' it. They claimed his sovereignty over every threat of man. And they asked for boldness in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. 'And when they had prayed, the place was shaken in which they were gathered, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with confident assurance' (Acts 4:31). Such was the reality of the Spirit's presence in their worship."
Wow! They gave themselves to prayer. And in their prayer they didn't even tell God what they thought He should do. They simply quoted Scripture, claimed God's sovereignty over every threat of man, and asked for boldness to continue proclaiming the Gospel.
I'm so thankful that the churches here in Niger have claimed God's sovereignty over every threat of man and have continued in boldness to proclaim the Gospel and to rebuild. They could have responded by going out and doing in kind to the houses of worship of the majority religion, but they allowed God to let them respond in a peaceful way.
I'm equally thankful for each person who prayerfully gave to the persecution fund to help the churches rebuild. Next week we will be helping a local church do some clean up and repair work. Yes, this experience has been more difficult than anything the church in Niger has had to face, but by responding biblically, they are rebuilding and continuing to reach out to those around them.
And can I encourage you that if you personally face mocking and misunderstanding, let your first reaction be to give yourself to prayer, to claim God's sovereignty, and to ask for boldness to continue to proclaim the Gospel.
Even when our hardship is not caused by others around us but we are struggling to make sense of the crazy events in our life, I think this is a good formula to follow: give ourselves to prayer, especially those based on Scripture, claim God's sovereignty, and ask Him to continue to make us bold.