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Monday, August 24, 2009

The Stigma of Christ, Part 3: Boldness

Back in college, I decided that Christ was worth the rejection and trouble that might come my way if I made it public that I was a Christian. I had mentally resolved the two issues that I've covered so far in this series--fear and the loss of social status when you take a stand for Christ. However, I suppose, though I thought (and told myself) that I was going to rely entirely on Christ if persecution came my way, I was still relying too much on my own strength. When bad persecution came, I realized that taking a stand for Jesus requires a lot more than just willpower. It was good to know that God was on my side, but somehow that thought alone was not comforting enough when my adversaries were standing right there, glaring at me. That was a hard thing to admit to myself. I thought I was being such a brave, model Christian!

At those moments, I needed the ability to forget that I was afraid, to feel the presence of God there. Standing on my own strength failed. I needed a supernatural emotional shield, because it's hard not to take it personally when someone hurls insults and threats your way. You can't overcome personal persecution by the "power of positive thinking," padlocks on your doors, or treating yourself to an ice cream cone. Somehow, it always finds you, and usually when you're trying to go to sleep at night.

That's not something the modern world can accept. We have been brought up to believe in "the power of the human spirit" and "self-sufficiency," among other such humanist catch phrases. We have been taught that we aren't helpless, and that we have the power within ourselves to make choices and carry them out.

Well, that isn't strictly true. We need God's strength. We need God's guidance and God's insight. This is never more apparent than when we are combating the supernatural forces of evil. If it was a human struggle against human beings, our own strength might be enough to overcome our enemies (provided that they are weaker physically or mentally than we are). When we are coming up against supernatural powers, our own strength is nothing against theirs. We need God's help if we want to win, since He is greater than anything in His creation.

Search the Word of God

I recall the story early in the book of Acts, in which Peter and John boldly shared their belief in Christ and publicly healed a crippled man--and got arrested for it. They were questioned by the Jewish body of law, the Sanhedrin, and could have been put to death for their beliefs. In the end, they were released with warnings to say nothing about Christ again, because the Sanhedrin wanted to keep it all hush-hush, but were afraid of the public support that Peter and John had.

After that, Peter and John were probably more afraid than they had been before. They'd just seen Christ framed and executed by the Jewish and Roman leaders. Now, they were looking at the same future. If they said anything else, they would be officially transgressing against the Sanhedrin's ruling--officially defying the law of the land--but how could they keep silent?

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
" 'Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One.' Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4: 23-31 NIV)
What can we get from this passage? First, that we are able to present our requests boldly to God, even reminding Him of passages in His Word to support our argument. In fact, this is a great reason why we should familiarize ourselves with what the Bible says.

I also see a perfect willingness in the hearts of the Christians to accept death for the cause of Christ. They see that what happened to Christ occurred because God had decided it was going to happen. I see no complaints about the idea that it might be happening to them, now, as well. Instead, they just ask God to enable them to be usable servants, even in their dire circumstances.

What did they ask for? Boldness. They aren't asking for weapons, or for God to take out their enemies in some sort of disaster. They are asking for the supernatural ability to ignore, even forget the fear and the trouble around them. They are not asking to escape their circumstances, but rather, they are asking for help to live in them. This is not a human boldness, because even human boldness can eventually crumble under duress.

The Prayer for Boldness

Before any persecution came, when I was so excited about sharing my faith in college, I went with my college church youth pastor to a regional youth meeting in a small town about 45 minutes from campus. I'd never been to this tiny church (in fact, I didn't even know the town existed until I visited it). I was pleasantly surprised to find that the pastor in this church was a woman (I don't know why that shocked me). I was shocked again to see how fearlessly she preached about Christ and our need to be filled with His love, His purpose, and His Spirit. There was no attempts to be politically correct or spare sensitive feelings. If something needed to be said, she did so.

I had been asking God to fill me with His Spirit for some time, especially since I had resolved to take a new stand for Christ, because I had seen how the Holy Spirit strengthened a believer's faith. When this pastor gave an altar call at the end, telling us she wanted us to come up and let her pray with us, I was ready. I got in line and she started at the far end of the line, praying with each person. One by one, I saw people filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and praising God. The presence of God in the room was so strong you could feel Him, like Isaiah's vision of God's robes filling the temple (Isaiah 6: 1).

When she came to me, I was fully confident God was going to answer my prayer request. No, I didn't see the pastor as some sort of magician who was going to teach me a new trick or tell me my fortune. I was just happy to be able to pray with her, because I knew she knew God.

Only, she never asked me why I had come up there. She was listening to God, and He told her what she needed to pray for, on my behalf. She grabbed me in a bear hug and, suddenly weeping, she said, "Oh Lord, I see. Give Her boldness Lord, so she can do what she has to do in this hard time, even when everyone has left. Strengthen her and lead her." I was flabbergasted. Not really sure how to take that, since my life was relatively carefree at that moment. Somehow, though, it was comforting to know that, come what may, God was looking out for my best interests at that moment.

I know there are many skeptics in the Christian field who don't believe in the Pentecostal movement. They are often justified in their skepticism, too. But, as I've said before, a prophet is proven to have actually heard from God when their messages come true. In her case, they all did. By the end of the year, my life at that time was nothing more than a distant memory. My granddad had died suddenly of cancer, I'd lost all my friends, and I had gained some formidable enemies, including professors. The life I'd planned for myself had suddenly evaporated, and I was relying on God more than ever before to tell me what to do next. But guess what! I was closer to God than I'd ever been before. I don't regret speaking out about my faith, though many have tried to make me regret it. I've been given a kind of boldness when talking about Christ that sometimes even shocked me when I look back on the confrontations I've had. It's real, people!

Step of Faith

I'm sharing that story, despite the way some skeptics have scoffed at it, because I know that those people's opinions don't change the fact that it did happen. I didn't listen to the "Sanhedrin's" warnings, either--I kept talking--and I could do that because I knew that the Holy Spirit goes with me and gives me boldness at the right time.

Trouble is promised to come to those who believe, but as a Christian, you can get through it, and live a victorious life in the midst of it. If you are struggling in your faith as you risk everything for Christ, I encourage you to seek God out on this subject, and find out for yourself. He can give you all the boldness and strength you need, plus some extra, if you ask Him! He will enable you to rely solely on Him and focus on obeying Him. The trouble fades into the background like so many gnats when God is in the midst of the storm. Don't just take my word for that, either. Live it!