I am averse to pain. I avoid it at all costs. I don’t even like watching people get hurt in movies, on tv, or in videos. I can put myself in their situation and honestly, I think I can feel some of their pain. I love the game of football, but I brace and cringe every time someone gets hit. (I know. I could avoid this if I stopped watching! It is an addiction. I will address this in another blog. Maybe.)
I met a man this week who lived in a country where Americans are not regarded kindly by government officials. If you are a Christian AND an American, that is two big strikes against you. Needless to say, not many Americans live there. Even fewer American Christians.
During a long conversation with this man, I learned that in this atmosphere where there was no Christian community, or even acceptance, his faith became his sustenance. He said that when there is no one around you that speaks like you, believes like you, values what you value, your faith becomes your solace. You hunger for it like food after an extended period of not eating. It called to my mind what David penned in Psalm 42:1-2 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
The hunger and thirst of this man I met drove him to travel 2.5 hours one way, each Sunday, just to hear the Word of God preached and to sing hymns with other believers. He described to me that when you live in a country where Christianity is allowed, following God usually comes with benefits.
Residing in a Christ-centered family unit in the USA, or the type of country that is less than hospitable to those who have allegiance to Jesus, gives you some support within the four walls of your home. But as a single person in a faith-hostile place, with no association with God-focused companions, you are stripped of everything that you otherwise may gain from your faith, EXCEPT, the hope of eternal life, and the joy of knowing your Savior. You are by yourself and the presence of Jesus becomes your lifeblood. The depth of your relationship with Him plunges deep, like the root of a plant in a drought, seeking the Living Water.
As I have contemplated our conversation, I am overwhelmed by the shame of having taken my benefits of religious freedom for granted without even knowing it. He is absolutely right. I gain so much from my Christian community and service in addition to the great gift of a relationship with my Savior. And, if I’m being honest, I can sometimes put some of those benefits before the relationship. I can easily find myself spending more time on the projects FOR the Lord, rather than on time WITH my Lord.
I have been challenged to ask myself the question: “Is my faith deep enough to sustain a drought of all of the external things that encourage me in my faith?” I want the answer to be yes.
The man in my conversation was kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, stripped of a loved one and of every earthly belonging that he had. He was stripped of his home and dumped back in our country with nothing to validate any part of his story except his word. Responses have been fear and skepticism.
I asked him how his faith was now. If he had given up on Jesus. His answer was that Jesus owed Him nothing, and that the gift of salvation was just that – a gift. One that we don’t deserve. How could he give up on Jesus? The years living in the country trained his faith roots to tap into the Living Water, no matter the circumstances, and that it would sustain him.
My tentative prayer is that my faith will get to the place where King David was when he was in the desert of Judah:
I admit I am afraid of what pain or circumstances may take me there. Remember my aversion to pain?! I will strive to trust the Lord. I have now met someone who testifies to His faithfulness!