Taking all our “stuff” and convenience for granted. Considering a new definition of safety as I go into a different country for the mission field. Learning about the persecuted church.
Sometimes, oftentimes, our lives need to be dismantled and ruined a bit. So, these are books that are making me feel turned upside down, uncomfortable, and questioning some of my ease and go-to responses to things. I have loved every single one of them. I have cried ugly tears and prayed some audacious prayers while listening to some as audiobooks, and have yet to find out how exactly gutsy those prayers were. The summer travels are coming to an end, and the grieving of moving at the beginning of it is just now setting in. Within myself, I’ve never been so simultaneously happy and full of questions, sadness, and conflict. Does this even make sense? There is confidence in heading down a new road, but there is a lot of bitter that goes with the sweet. In this season, I like to exacerbate such feelings by reading books that wring out my heart like a wet towel and leave me feeling desperate for Jesus.
These books all have very very different subject matter. Different themes. The one question that really sticks with me though is “How much am I willing to follow Jesus? To what extent will I consider my life as belonging to Him and not me?”
Seven, by Jen Hatmaker. So, I was introduced to this woman’s writing when For the Love came out last year. It was delightful and hilarious and encouraging, but not earth-shattering in the way some books happen to be. I loved her snarky personality so much that I decided to read her other books. This one… dang it. This one made me laugh and cry and really take a look in my heart.
What about it has been ruining my life?
I guess it makes me question just how self-involved I am, and how focused on comfort and convenience I can get. It’s the American way, how we’re bred and conditioned in our culture. Jen fasted from seven different things for seven months –food, possessions, shopping, waste, clothes, stress, and media– and wrote about her insights in the midst of them. A few of my favorite quotes that are mulling around in my heart:
“In a culture that elevates beauty and style, the Christian community is at genuine risk for distraction, even deception. What do we truly admire in our leaders? Are we no different from secular population, drawn to charisma and style above substance and integrity? I hope not.”
“What if all my silly little individual purchases do matter? What if I joined a different movement, one that was less enticed by luxuries and more interested in justice? What if I believed every dollar spent is vital, a potential soldier in the war on inequality?”
“We don’t see the New Testament church hoarding the feast for themselves, gorging, getting fatter and fatter and asking for more; more bible studies, more sermons, more programs, classes, training, conferences, information, more feasting for us. At some point, the church stopped living the bible and decided just to study it, culling the feast parts and whitewashing the fast parts. We are addicted to the buffet, skillfully discarding the costly discipleship required after consuming. The feast is supposed to sustain the fast, but we go back for seconds and thirds and fourths, stuffed to the brim and fat with inactivity.”
Thanks, Jen, for making this girl question how much is in my closet, how easily I spend the little money I have, how wrapped up I get in staying current in my social media and looking good to those around me. Thanks for making me uncomfortable.
Through Gates of Splendor, by Elisabeth Elliot. Confession: I had never read this book before. It sat on our bookshelf at my mom’s house for many years. It is one of the most famous missionary stories in the world, and I love love love missionary stories! It was high time I read it.
I listened to this while driving from California to Colorado, and there was a moment when I was on Route 66 in Arizona where I had to pull over because I was crying hard enough that I couldn’t see. I think the most profound part of the book was Elisabeth’s epilogue, written 40 years after the death of her husband and the 4 other men in the Ecuadorian jungle. It has been circulating around in my mind all summer, churning and mulling and developing into something profound. It has been causing me to rethink my entire definition of safety and fear, and of how willing I am to give myself wholly to God and accept whatever path He chooses to lead me down. If she could do it all over again, I don’t think Elisabeth would have chosen a different life. I love her faith.
“The other wives ad I talked together one night about the possibility of becoming widows. What would we do? God gave us peace of heart, and confidence that whatever might happen, His word would hold. We knew that ‘when He putteth forth His sheep, He goeth before them’. God’s leading was unmistakable up to this point Each of us knew when we married our husbands that there would never be any question about who came first–God and His work held first place in each life. It was the condition of true discipleship; it became devastatingly meaningful now. It was a time for soul-searching, a time for counting the cost. Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No. Their letters and journals make it abundantly clear that these men did not go out as some men go out to shoot a lion or climb a mountain. Their compulsion was from a different source. Each had made a personal transaction with God, recognizing that he belonged to God…this meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed, and more than that, that He would provide the power to obey. The point of decision had been reached. God’s command ‘Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature’ was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant.”
The Insanity of God, by Nik Ripken. Have you ever finished a book about the persecuted church and said “I wish I could be persecuted too”? Yeah. Neither had I, but then I did. I said that. After I finished reading this, I saw that a movie was made about it, and I’m eager to watch it.
This is the story of a missionary family who served in Somaliland (north of Somalia), in the early 90’s, when there was famine and civil war and simply put, pure evil permeating every part of the land. They were burnt out and severely disillusioned when they returned, and had the question of “Can God be known in evil places like this?” The question lead him on a journey– originally meant to last 2 years but now it’s become a lifelong thing– to ask people how they know God in places where it is dangerous and illegal to proclaim Christianity.
OHMYGOSH. The stories. The stories of these Christians, in Russia, in China, in eastern Europe and the Middle East…these stories ripped my heart to shreds and stirred something up in me that I cannot even put words to yet. They KNOW Jesus in a way that I have never experienced, coming from a tame, western, moderate, easy lifestyle. Of course, I will not seek out to be persecuted. There are about 20 quotes that I could write, but these are the few I’ll share, the ones that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since May:
“Perhaps the question should not be: “Why are other persecuted?” Perhaps the better question is: “Why are we not?”
“I had always assumed that persecution was abnormal, exceptional, unusual, out of the ordinary. In my mind, persecution was something to avoid. It was a problem, a setback, a barrier. I was captivated by the thought: what if persecution is the normal, expected situation for a believer? And what if the persecution is, in fact, soil in which faith can grow? What if persecution can be, in fact, good soil? I began to wonder about what that might mean for the church in America—and I began to wonder about what that might mean for the potential church in Somalia.”
“So if our goal is reducing persecution, that task is easily achieved. First, just leave Jesus alone. Second, if you do happen to find Him, just keep Him to yourself. Persecution stops immediately where there is no faith and where there is no witness. The reason for persecution, then, is that people keep finding Jesus—and, then, they refuse to keep Him to themselves.”
I’m sure that over the next few months of transitioning and preparing to leave to Central America, the inner questions and turmoil will continue. If anyone else has read these books, I would love to open up discussion over them. Did they effect you at all? What questions did they cause to rise up in your heart?