Sitting in the quiet of a Saturday morning with my first cup of coffee, I open up a devotional from a book titled, “i am n”. The book contains stories of persecuted Christians in Islamic countries. I cannot tell you exactly why I am drawn to such stories. Maybe there are numerous reasons. Curiosity. Pity. Searching for God’s heart in this in what my role is in the crisis. Or perhaps the selfish intrigue that I need to remind myself there are others suffering atrocities far worse than my own. You know, misery loves company. Today I discovered a new reason from two men, Farid of Afghanistan and Paul of Tarsus.
Paul of Tarsus is well known in Christian circles as the Apostle who wrote the majority of the New Testament. Farid of Afghanistan with far less fame, yet having a similar faith and testimony as the Apostle Paul, was told of gathering with five other believers at 5:00 AM for a secret Bible Study. It said that “In a tone just above a whisper, Farid, the group leader prayed, ‘We thank You, God, for Your willingness to meet with us this morning. We thank You for Your presence here among us’.” Following the prayer, he introduced the book of Acts when intruders burst in carrying knives and rifles. No one resisted when his hands were tied behind his back and a knife placed to his neck. Farid prayed, “God, if this is the time for me to die, I forgive these people who want to kill me.” Miraculously the ties fell to the floor, and he walked to the door. One of two guards pulled the trigger of an AK-47 pointed at him. Nothing happened. The gun had jammed. Farid took this opportunity to run down the stairs and escape unscathed even though bullets began flying at him. None of his companions were harmed in the incident. Only the leader of the terrorist group was accidentally shot. Later it was discovered that inside the bag the terrorists brought with them contained an Al-Qaeda flag, two swords, and a video camera with the intent to behead the Christians, record the heinous act, and show it on Al Jazeera TV as a warning to believers who evangelized the Gospel of Jesus. Obviously the terrorists were no match to the Sovereign will of God. Never have been. Never will be.
Even though both Farid’s and Paul’s lives were spared countless times, no where is it recorded that their lives were easy. As I read the adjoining Scripture in the devotional, Paul writes to the Philippians clarifying this truth and the reason for it. Philippians 3:10 ESV says, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death,”. I read this again. And then again. I was struck by the word “may”. I Googled the definition of may and two explanations of this verb were cited. 1-expressing possibility and 2-expressing permission. So after the word may in the verse, I added the meaning of the word, expressing possibility and permission. Yes! I want the possibility and permission to know Christ. Whoa…do I really want the possibility and permission to share His sufferings? You know-being despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, betrayed, falsely accused, beaten to the point of nonrecognition, and hung on a cross to die for no crime-only to love to the point of saving the world in the process?
Reading this text to assimilate the information, we choose whether to blow it off as rhetoric or embrace it as truth. Pondering the words, allowing them to resonate and convict it is not swallowed without some sort of discomfort. But to pray this Scripture is a whole other level of maturity. And because this was Paul’s and Farid’s prayer, they had the privilege of knowing God in an intimate way. We say we want this too, and yet are not willing to be like His Son by sharing in His sufferings.
So today I READ Philippians 3:10. Then I PONDERED the words and their meaning asking the Spirit to reveal what I needed to hear. I have been resenting and complaining about my own sufferings, not realizing or maybe resisting the realization, that if I clutch them as a gift, I in turn would know Christ and the power of His resurrection just like Farid and Paul. I PRAYED Philippians 3:10 after this revelation. May, expressing the possibility and permission, He do it in me too.