“If you ever get to the place where you are comfortable with God, you have backslidden. You need to have an ongoing hunger for God.” ~ Greg Squires
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ~ Romans 8:16-18 (NASB)
Like the fisherman who was fishing in a pond that had no fish, using the wrong bait, it was easier to stay in that one safe, comfortable place, sitting on a smooth rock under a nice shade tree. Unlike the early disciples, who left their jobs, families, and the comfort of their village by the seashore to become fishers of men, this one was afraid to leave his place of comfort, to go out to another spot where there just might be plenty of fish, easily caught with the right bait. But to do so would have required him to walk barefoot over a rough trail, in the heat of the afternoon sun. In other words, he was unwilling to give up his comfort zone in exchange for a good catch. So too are many Christians today, reluctant to leave the comfort of their homes & church buildings to go out into the mission field, whether across the world or simply across town, to use the right bait to catch people for Christ: the Word of God.
This letter is about comfort, or lack thereof, to be in service to the Lord. The stories of missionaries & martyrs are frequently intertwined, and will be dealt with here in two parts. Missionaries are routinely subjected to unfamiliar & uncomfortable settings, but martyrs suffer the ultimate discomfort: death, often by torturous sadistic means (cf. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, vs. 2:2-3).
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.” ~ Matthew 10:16-18 (NKJV)
For those who were new to the missionary field in the 1970s and ’80s, a common practice for the neophyte was to smuggle bibles into Cairo , Egypt or Moscow , Russia (then under the Soviet communist regime). Although relatively easy to accomplish, this was a risky, sometimes life-threatening endeavour. In Arab countries, not only was it illegal to express the Christian faith, according to ’sl-m’c law Christian smugglers could be executed by beheading. The Soviet KGB did not treat their prisoners much better. One of their favorite interrogation techniques was to strip a man naked, then sit him on a block of ice. When his testicles began to freeze into the ice, he would be more than willing to talk. Unlike scourging or pistol whipping, this left no marks or scars.
One of the great Christian missionaries of the 20th century was Victor Plymire. At the age of 16 God called him to missionary service, but little did he know that his calling would eventually lead him into the kingdom of Tibet . (Since the 7th century AD Tibet had been an independent kingdom, until it was forcibly annexed by Communist China in 1951. Its political status is still hotly disputed.) One of the most remote places on Earth, at an average elevation of 16,000 feet above sea level, the Tibetan plateau was home to evil & dangerous wildlife — I’m not speaking of yaks & antelope, but the local indigenous tribes. Tibetan priests worshiped Y-m-nt’k, whose visible manifestations were described by some westerners as Satan himself appearing in the flesh. Mr. Plymire endured four decades of loneliness, below freezing weather, treacherous mountain trails & passes, murderous bandits, insolent Buddhist priests, and the deaths of his first wife & five-year-old son from smallpox — all for the effort to deliver the Gospel of Christ to the local people, a mix of Tibetans, Chinese & Mongolians. ~ thanks to David V. Plymire’s book ‘High Adventure in Tibet ’
On a much lighter note, two of my close friends — both well into their seventies — have made several missionary trips to Guatemala , Dominican Republic , & Egypt . There are others who make the trek that have crippling disabilities. So I ask, “What’s your problem?” as you sit in your easy chair in your air-conditioned home reading this article. I challenge you: as a believer in Christ, do you intend to stay safely grounded, or are you willing to take risks to spread the Gospel of Christ?
I’m also acquainted a woman who served as missionary to Arabs first in Egypt , then Jordan . She claimed it was remarkably easy to evangelize in Egypt . The country is such a male-dominated society, a woman can pretty much go around ‘under the radar’ and get away with just about anything. But that certainly did not mean she was not in danger of being ‘uncovered’, and possibly executed for spreading the Gospel. When God told her that her tenure in Egypt was finished, she fasted & prayed in the desert for 40 days, waiting for Word from the Holy Spirit about where to go next. He told her to go to Jordan , where is a short time she gained favor and an audience with top ranking government officials, even the President himself. Soon, some of those officials, along with members of the associated television media, were giving their hearts to Christ. A friend of mine has called her “the bravest person I’ve ever known.”
Now, if you really want to experience being uncomfortable in God’s service, don’t bother going on a two-week missionary trip to Uganda , Romania , or Guatemala with a group of missionary friends. Try living homeless right here on the streets of any large American city. I’ve been there to a small degree the last two years, and from what little I’ve seen, it’s certainly no land of milk & honey. Try trying to sleep outside during August when the temperature is 94°F, or in an abandoned house in December when the morning low is 24°F. Kind of makes you appreciate what our pioneer ancestors endured to colonize eastern North America ; actually, the living conditions of all our ancestors before the advent of central air conditioning only 50 years ago. Or do what the ‘Homeless Prophet’ has done: deliberately giving up a safe, comfortable home life in order to travel the U.S., living as the homeless do, ministering on the street to whomever will listen. According to this gentleman, it took a lot of trust & faith in God — quite similar to Paul, Barnabas & Silas’ itinerant ministry as reported in the Book of Acts — but he has been amazed at how much love & honesty he has encountered throughout his journey.
Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His saints.
~ Psalm 116:15 (NKJV)
Fact: On average, one person somewhere in the world is martyred every twenty minutes for spreading the Gospel of Christ. ~ The Barna Group
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him … As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. ~ Acts 7:55-60 (NLT)
We should all be familiar with this story of Stephen, the first person to be martyred for promoting the gospel of Christ. Then there is this account from the Book of Hebrews:
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trials of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. ~ Hebrews 11:35-38 (NKJV)
One of the most remarkable accounts of martyrdom in antiquity is The Martyrdom of Polycarp, dating from ca. AD 150. This short story was written by several people who witnessed Bishop Polycarp’s execution (v. 15:1). Highly recommended reading, I feel this is a very important and moving story that all Christians should be familiar with.
But what about martyrs recently? More people died for Christ during the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries. Today’s Pentecostal Evangel (TPE) regularly publishes their stories from around the world. While TPE’s focus is mainly on Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM), reporting on the primitive conditions in which many missionaries live — recent stories from countries such as Tuvalu, New Hebrides, New Guinea, Botswana, Sri Lanka, El Salvador & Nicaragua, just to name a few — there are occasional reports of missionaries being martyred in the name of Christ.
One of Victor Plymire’s Tibetan guides was murdered by his brother-in-law — poisoned with animal poison used by trappers — for refusing to help build a shrine for Buddha in his home village. The brother-in-law claimed “by refusing to help us, he made the gods angry.” This man made a conscious decision to accept Christ as his personal Saviour after helping Mr. Plymire cross the Tibetan Plateau, claiming he had seen too many things (miracles) on the journey to continue to deny the existence of the One loving God Who cares for all people.
The following is a particularly gruesome story, but is representative of the dangers missionaries face. Somewhere in Indonesia a fifteen-year-old teenage boy was confronted by a group of M’sl-m men for professing his faith in Christ. The men threatened him with broadswords if he did not renounce Christ right there on the spot. The young man refused, continuing to claim his faith & belief. One of the men cut off his right arm with his sword, still demanding he renounce Christ. The boy refused again, the man cut off his other arm. Once more, he refused to renounce his faith. Finally he was disemboweled, left for dead, and died a few hours later. A friend who witnessed and reported this horrific incident said the young man died smiling and still professing his faith in Christ. While at first this seems like a tragic, senseless killing, it resulted in the Indonesian government arresting the men who were responsible, as well as cracking down on other such radical & violent groups throughout Indonesia . His death was not in vain.
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the Word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters — their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred — had joined them. ~ Revelation 6:9-11 (NLT)
Purpose Driven Life
The purpose of this letter is to demonstrate that God is not concerned with our physical comfort here on this Earth. Many times in serving Him we must place ourselves in very uncomfortable & dangerous positions to spread the Gospel of Christ. But after the physical suffering, possibly leading to death, God will grant spiritual comfort for eternity. Once upon a time, when of friend & I were preparing to do sound engineering for the annual West Virginians for Life Pro-Life Rally — a very physical & tiring job — I asked him jokingly, “how much did you say we’re getting paid for this gig?” He replied, “the pay is lousy, but the benefits are out of this world!”
For those who are still wondering “what is the meaning of life,” the answer is quite simple. It is not our purpose to have a comfortable life here on Earth, whatever your definition of comfort is. The greatest purpose for our lives on Earth is to glorify God. Now that’s a pretty tough order, and the time involved certainly precludes glorifying anything (or anyone) else. Without that focused purpose — in my opinion — life will never be meaningful and fulfilling.
After living the ‘yuppie’ lifestyle during my mid-to-late-30s, living alone in the ‘big city’ of Orlando, Florida, worried to death if I could afford the next auto loan & insurance payments on top of the rent, I started realizing just how empty I felt inside. Not even my favorite hobby/activity — professional musician, playing keyboards & singing in nightclub bands — was satisfying anymore. Now, my spiritual comfort comes from working for the Lord, helped by my extended Church family at my home church. This type of loving fellowship (agápe – phílos) is the heart of the Pentecostal/Assemblies of God movement, along with living in accordance with the Holy Scriptures.
‘The American Dream’ has created an entire generation whose sole purpose in life is self-centered comfort & entertainment. Those who strive for this type of ‘success’ in life are usually motivated & driven by nothing more than selfish greed & pride. But how much true comfort is there in that lifestyle? After the dream home is purchased and the vehicles are in the garage, there remains the responsibility of paying the mortgage & credit cards on time, monitoring the stock market investments, keeping up with the Smiths & Joneses, worrying about what to wear to the next company office party, etc… Is the physical comfort of an air-conditioned home & office really worth all that worry, anxiety & emotional stress that’s required to maintain them? Only about eight percent of the world’s people live this luxurious way, using about 40 percent of the world’s resources. The vast majority live a poverty existence worse than the poorest of the poor in the United States , with no hope of ever attaining anything like ‘The American Dream’.
The bottom line is: it is basic human nature to desire physical comfort, rather than obedience to God, especially when that obedience creates an uncomfortable situation. To a non-believer, obedience to God may seem to create an ‘artificial’ existence, based on ‘someone’s’ word, instead of relying on human nature. In reality, living in God’s obedience creates a supernatural existence, something in which believers in Christ must place their ultimate & complete trust, for no mere human can hope to ever understand the supernatural workings of God.
To Conclude: The Ultimate Comfort of Christ & the Holy Spirit
Even in today’s ‘rat race’, Christ offers His spiritual comfort. Spend a few minutes with Him in prayer, devotion & meditation at the start of your hectic day. Twenty minutes may be all you need, to focus yourself and find just enough inner peace & comfort to get through one more day.
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
~ Isaiah 40:1 (NKJV)
Cast your burden on the LORD,
And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
~ Psalm 55:22 (NKJV)
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV)
Blessings in Christ Who guides us,
P.S. Thanks to my Pastor, Philip Dunn of Valley Christian Assembly, for coining the phrase ‘beyond your comfort zone’.