A few days ago I listened to a sermon by a man who is preparing to lead a missionary team that will plant itself into one of the least reached nations in the world.
The most optimistic estimates of the number of indigenous Christians in this nation is less than the number of people who attend Bethlehem Baptist Church on a Sunday morning. A lot less.
Listening to him was like listening to the writer of Hebrews. This man knows what he’s getting into. He’s planted a church in this nation already. The cost to follow Jesus in this nation is high. A good week is when no one in the church has been beaten.
These brothers and sisters are experiencing a “hard struggle with sufferings” (Hebrews 10:32). There are beatings, property plundering, heresies, divisions, and immorality. Most church troubles we read about in the Epistles, they have it.
Listening to this missionary left most of us American Christians wondering if we’d be able to hack it. And that’s unnerving.
The New Testament teaches us that whether or not our treasure is really in heaven is most clearly seen when it costs us our earthly treasures in order to obtain it. But American Christians live in the most prosperous nation in world history and the one in which it costs the least to be a Christian.
This environment can be deadly to faith. It allows false faith to masquerade as real very easily. And its power to dissipate zeal and energy and mission-focus and willingness to risk is extraordinary because it doesn’t come to us with a whip and a threat. It comes to us with a pillow and a promise of comfort for us and our children. The former makes us desperate for God. The latter robs our sense of desperation.
And it’s the lack of a sense of desperation for God that is so deadly. If we don’t feel desperate for God, we don’t tend to cry out to him. Love for this present world sets in subtly, like a spiritual leprosy, damaging spiritual nerve endings so that we don’t feel the erosion and decay happening until it’s too late.
So we must fast and pray for and support the suffering church in the diseases that can set in from harsh adversity. But we must also fast and pray for God to deliver us from the diseases that set in from prosperity. We need him. We can discipline ourselves in various ways. But we cannot manufacture our own desperation. Only God can make us desperate for him.
So God, whatever it takes, increase our awareness of our dependence on you in everything! Keep us desperate for you so that the deceitfulness of sin does not harden our hearts (Hebrews 3:13). In Jesus’ name, amen.