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Imagine getting this newsletter from one of your overseas workers. The newsletter says this:
Our brother, whom we love, has been arrested in Egypt and is in prison. Family whom he loved and trusted sold him into slavery and betrayed him to the authorities. We know that he has remained faithful to God, and has refused to pay bribes that would help him escape from prison. Because of his faith, he has been transferred to the dreaded central prison with the rest of the nation’s worst enemies.
How would we respond as the church? What actions would we take? Typically, the Western church would rush in to rescue Joseph. It’s a good impulse.
- We would write and forward emails.
- We would flood social media with appeals.
- We would contact our political representatives.
- We would highlight Joseph’s plight on radio and television.
The goal of our activity would be the release of Joseph from his unjust imprisonment. And we would feel justified in almost any action — perhaps even military intervention — to have Joseph set free.
The High Cost of Extraction
And maybe Joseph would be released. Followers and friends of Jesus would rejoice! We would thank God that our Joseph has been saved from prison. And we would even be satisfied that one of the conditions of his release would include Joseph’s relocation to another country where he would be safe because he’s no longer a thorn in the nation’s side.
Imagine then, years later, that a great famine hits Egypt and the surrounding countries. Because of his rescue, Joseph is not in prison when Pharaoh has strange dreams. Joseph is not there to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams concerning seven years of plenty followed by seven years of terrible drought. As a result of Joseph’s absence, Egypt squanders the food harvested in the seven good years. As a result of Joseph’s absence, Egypt is completely unprepared for seven years of famine.
The famine is so devastating, in fact, that Egypt does not survive.
And because Egypt does not survive . . . the Jews in Egypt do not survive, either.
And that is the end of the story.
A Better Plan for Freedom
Of course, the real story ends differently. Evidently, God knows when to leave Joseph in prison. God has a larger agenda in mind. God knows exactly what is necessary for the salvation of both Egyptians and Jews.
Do our churches, our sending agencies, and our organizations that study persecution know when to leave Joseph in Egypt? Despite our affection for Joseph, do we understand that ultimately Joseph belongs to God, and that God can do with him whatever he desires? Is it possible for us to become emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually strong enough to know when to leave “our Joseph” with God in a seemingly dangerous place?
Advance or Extract?
Believers in persecution had much to teach my wife and me as we traveled among them for more than fifteen years. We listened to their stories. We learned that when Western workers become personally and emotionally connected to believers in persecution, extraction of these believers often becomes the main objective. In almost every case, we are desperate to get Joseph out of the hostile place, and away from persecution.
The apparent explanation for this is more than anecdotal, and less than statistical. It appears that Western workers who become emotionally attached to believers in persecution will attempt to extract about fifty percent of those believers to a safe country. This observation seems to apply to situations of persecution all around the world. In the Islamic world, the frequency of extraction seems even higher, approaching seventy percent. Imagine trying to start a church, even in the Bible Belt of America, if seventy percent of the believers were pulled out and taken to another country.
For God, conquering through persecution, rather than extracting from persecution, is the norm. The Western church typically takes the opposite approach. For us, extraction is the norm. Rescuing believers from persecution feels good. Significant funds can be raised to extract a family from persecution and resettle them in a safe country.
But if we gave as much energy and attention to spreading the gospel in hostile places as we have to extracting persecuted believers from them, the Great Commission may have already been finished by now.
The End of Extraction
Why is our view so different than God’s view? Here are some possible answers to that question:
- We don’t want fellow believers to suffer for Jesus in ways we are unwilling to or can’t relate to.
- We can’t imagine that prolonged suffering might be part of God’s plan.
- We do not truly believe that Jesus is worth suffering for.
And because those truths drive our actions and attitudes, we replace a biblical theology of suffering with something less challenging. As a result,
- We demand that persecution of followers of Jesus stop.
- We demand that those persecuting followers of Jesus be punished.
- We strive to install Western forms of democracy, human rights, and civil rights in foreign lands, believing these will usher in the kingdom of God. (Though, much to our surprise, there is no historical correlation between these Western forms and the kingdom of God!)
- We make emotional appeals to raise huge sums of money to rescue more believers from persecution.
What is outcome of all of our seemingly good efforts? Critical masses of believers are removed from the environments where God has planted them.
In some places, the birth of the church is halted; in other places, the multiplication of the body of Christ is hindered. New followers of Jesus (perhaps people from Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Communist backgrounds) come to believe that living in a safe, Christian country is necessary in order to live for Christ.
After long days of interviewing, we often asked followers of Jesus in persecution what they learned from Western workers. They typically looked at one another and refused to respond.
When we pressed them for an answer, they would reply, “Western workers teach us to be afraid. Western workers teach us that it’s possible to follow Jesus only in safe places.”
This is not simply a mistake. This is sin.
Not My Will, but Yours, Be Done
Before Jesus was betrayed, he prayed a prayer made up of two parts (Matthew 26:39). First, he asked his Father for the cup to pass. He prayed for the suffering to be relieved. He asked if there was a way to avoid the crucifixion. He wanted to avoid the pain and public humiliation. But then, he prayed something else. He asked that the will of the Father take precedent over his desire to avoid suffering.
Following Jesus’s example, we must pray both parts of his prayer. It’s only natural to pray for suffering to be avoided — for ourselves or for others. But it is then essential to pray that God’s will to be done, whatever the cost to us.
Earlier this month, I posted that on June 17, 1940 (the day France surrendered to Germany), Dietrich Bonhoeffer was with his close friend Eberhard Bethge “in the Baltic village of Memel. They were relaxing in an “open-air café when suddenly a special announcement came over the loudspeaker that France had surrendered. This moment was a defining point for Bonhoeffer! Bethge “asserts that Bonhoeffer’s ‘double life’ truly began. This Confessing Church pastor and theologian became deeply involved in the resistance movement against Hitler and the Nazis.”
For the next three years, until his arrest on April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer lived an unsettled life. He became a courier for the resistance group operating out of the Office of Military Intelligence (the Abwehr), even as he continued to teach and minister to the young seminarians and pastors of the Confessing Church.
DB was a seminary professor and involved in the resistance movement against Hitler. He was dedicated in preparing young men for the ministry and he was dedicated in stopping the Fuhrer.
Earlier this month, I post that on June 17, 1940 (the day France surrendered to Germany), Dietrich Bonhoeffer was with his close friend Eberhard Bethge “in the Baltic village of Memel. They were relaxing in an “open-air café when suddenly a special announcement came over the loudspeaker that France had surrendered. Bethge wrote:
The people around the tables could hardly contain themselves; they jumped up, and some even climbed on the chairs. With outstretched arms, they sang “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles” and the Horse Wessel song. We stood up, too Bonhoeffer raised his arm in the regulation Hitler salute, while I stood there dazed. “Raise your arm! Are you crazy?” he whispered to me, and later: “We shall have to run risks for very different things now, but not for that salute!”
This was a turning point for DB! Bethge “asserts that Bonhoeffer’s ‘double life’ truly began. This Confessing Church pastor and theologian became deeply involved in the resistance movement against Hitler and the Nazis.”
Wow! I have had numerous discussions with people over the years about why a Christian like Bonhoeffer could take an active role in the resistance. Many are troubled because Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43).
I have struggled other it was well. Yet, we were not there. DB was! And somehow, he joined the resistance to stop a mad-man from murdering innocent people. Somehow, DB reconciled being a disciple of Jesus and plotting to kill Hitler.
“Christ kept himself from suffering till his hour had come, but when it did come he met it has a free man, and mastered it. Christ, so the scriptures tell us, bore the sufferings of all humanity in his own body as if they were his own–a thought beyond our comprehension–accepting them of his own free will. We are certainly not Christ; we are not called to redeem by our own deeds and sufferings, and we need not try to assume such an impossible burden. We are not lords, but instruments in the hand of the Lord of history; and we can share in other people’s sufferings only to a very limited degree. We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. The Christian is called to sympathy and actions, not in the first place by his own suffering, but by the sufferings of his brethren, for who sake Christ suffered.”
Five Timeless Quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Who’s the most quotable Christian writer you’ve encountered? Last year, I nominated C.S. Lewis and Charles Spurgeon as candidates and shared five memorable quotes from each as evidence.But since then, I’ve been forced to acknowledge another candidate: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous World War 2 pastor and martyr. Bonhoeffers’ writing style doesn’t lend itself to punchy quips like those of Lewis and Spurgeon, but he had a remarkable gift drawing practical advice out of complex or potentially vague subjects.
Here are five of my favorite Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes, drawn from the 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoefferdevotional.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Discipleship
“Those who follow Jesus’ commandment entirely, who let Jesus’ yoke rest on them without resistance, will find the burden they must bear to be light. In the gentle pressure of this yoke they will receive the strength to walk the right path without becoming weary.…Where will the call to discipleship lead those who follow it? What decisions and painful separations will it entail? We must take this question to him who alone knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows where the path will lead. But we know that it will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. Discipleship is joy.”
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Intercessory Prayer
“A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed. I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner. That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others. As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day.”
3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Virtue of Listening
“We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening.”
4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Worry
“Do not worry! Earthly goods deceive the human heart into believing that they give it security and freedom from worry. But in truth, they are what cause anxiety. The heart which clings to goods receives with them the choking burden of worry. Worry collects treasures, and treasures produce more worries. We desire to secure our lives with earthly goods; we want our worrying to make us worry-free, but the truth is the opposite. The chains which bind us to earthly goods, the clutches which hold the goods tight, are themselves worries.”