The following is an edited transcription of the audio.
Where is it most difficult to be a Christian?
There are different kinds of difficulties. It isn't necessarily true that being a Christian in a Muslim country is more difficult than being one in America.
It may be more difficult in a Muslim country in the sense that, if you declare yourself openly to be a Christian, then the negative and painful consequences are immediate and obvious. And your life and the lives of your family members may depend on it.
But in America nobody is going to kill you for being a Christian. Rather, the dangers here are more subtle—and probably more dangerous. In fact, it just might be more difficult to be a strong, vibrant, Christ-exalting, mission-driven Christian in America.
You know the parable in Luke 8 about the four soils. On the first soil, the hard path, the sower sows the seed and the bird (representing the Devil) plucks it up. The second soil likewise loses its seed. That happens when the sun, which represents persecution, burns it up. (Maybe that would be like the difficulty of being a Christian in a country where it is illegal.)
Then Jesus tells about a third soil where thorns grow up with the seed and choke out the word. Those thorns are then identified as the pleasures and the cares of this word. That's America.
That third soil is America where to be a Christian is sometimes just easy. It's clubby. You go to church, the music is nice, the AC is nice, the lighting is nice, the friends are there, the children have something fun to do, the sermon is more-or-less interesting, and we can go home saying that we've been Christians.
Christians in other countries, however, are underground and must keep their voices quiet. And if they're found out then they go to jail. Those are two very different situations.
It's easy to just slide in to traditional religiosity in America. We need to be summoned again and again to a biblical vision of counter-cultural, pilgrim-like Christianity, where this world is not our home. We also need to take steps to make sure that we put governors on our lifestyle and that we engage in acts of love that may be costly. We need to channel our wealth towards those who need it most, in terms of receiving the gospel and all that the gospel brings.
So it's really dangerous to live in America, and I think we ought to be very careful that we not equate the American way with the Christian way.
Do you ever pray for more trials?
I'm tempted to, because of what I see in the history of the church. Times of persecution are times of purification.
But I don't yield to the temptation to pray for persecution or to pray for greater trials in my own life, because I think that is God's business, not mine.
What I want to pray for the church is that we be pure, powerful, courageous, loving, etc. In other words, we must govern our prayers by what we're commanded in the Scripture, and we're never commanded to get in trouble or to suffer. We're just commanded to accept suffering if it comes, and to rejoice in it.
I don't think we should ever pray that we suffer more. Rather, we should pray that God would give us the grace to accept the consequences that come when we enter into this very risky mission that we're on.
I know it is almost the same. If I say that I'm going to live in a dangerous part of town, and open my home to people I'm not sure about, and get out on the streets, etc., then that is very close to saying that I'm going to embrace suffering here.
So to pray for the courage to live like that is almost the same as praying for suffering. But there is a very significant difference. One is jumping off of the temple (Matthew 4:5-7). We shouldn't jump off of the temple and say, "Well, he promised to catch me at the bottom." That's the Devil talking, right?
Our situation is rather to say that, if a person is on top of the temple tottering and about to fall, and I have the opportunity to save them if I risk my life and climb the temple, then I'm better off going and risking my life. There's a difference there.