by Dr. John Yates
Last Saturday (5/7/14) I had the option of listening to an Oxford theologian or attending a prayer meeting for the situation in the Middle East. Naturally I went to the prayer meeting. It was quite some experience. Whilst it reminded me of some encounters amongst the Coptic Orthodox in Egypt, it was uniquely wonderful to hear prayers and songs in Aramaic, Jesus own first language. Later there was some fervent intercession in Arabic; the words were foreign but the sense and spirit were transparently Christ-centred. Jesus was interceding for his suffering people in Iraq and beyond (Rom 8:26; 34).
Whilst Christianity has been a constant presence in that part of the world for almost 2,000 years, the recent resurgence of radical Islam has seen an intensification of the expulsion of Christians and is expected to see a halving of the church population by 2020. Amongst Bible believing Protestants it is popular to focus on Israel, but very few of us seem to show any real interest in the ongoing slaughter and dispossession of Orthodox and Catholic Christians.
Perhaps because differences in outer trappings lead us to assume that they are not “born again”. Whilst my exposure to Eastern Christianity is limited, I have met some profound saints amongst their number. This can be directly attributed to the refining power of persecution (1 Pet 1:6-7). Personal sentiments aside, I believe the Lord spoke to me about some vital things during Saturday’s time of prayer.
Confess Your Sins
One of the most quietly dynamic dimensions of the prayer meeting was when Dave Sibley the founder of Perth Prayerhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Perth-Prayer/319659381407140 quietly confessed the sin of his nation, America, in trying to make peace in the Middle East through guns. The folly of the Iraq expedition is now historically self-evident, but whilst several made remarks about how the US led invasion has made the situation of Christians across the Middle East vastly more difficult, no one mentioned Australia. Perhaps our Arab friends are simply too polite to mention our national responsibility for the current fiasco in Iraq.
As a local however I can be more direct. We followed the British into WW I, the Americans into Vietnam and continued this pattern by going into Iraq. Perhaps we can learn from current events to be more insightful and less deferential to the geopolitical “powers that be”. Confessing our share in the overconfidence of the “coalition of the willing” to master Iraq and the Arab world, how can this situation be redeemed?
Satan the Enemy
The full extent of the barbarism of ISIS includes crucifixions, cross amputation of limbs, beheadings, whippings, the imposition of jizya (protection money) on infidels and demands that their fighters be given sexual access to women. The Western response to such violent extremes is as politically predictable as it is confused. On the right we have insecure aggression; a militant response is the only way to stem the tide of Islam. (Bible affirming Christians are not immune to this temptation.)
Equally fearful are left leaning politicians, journalists and liberal Christians who are still trying to persuade us that Islam is a “peaceful religion”. Anyone with knowledge of history knows this to be untrue. The Western Church as a whole finds it easier to be political rather than spiritual in it responses to Islamists because deep down we know we lack spiritual power.
We conveniently forget that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12-13). The real enemy is the devil not ISIS. Few Western Christian leaders are willing to admit how deeply we are deceived and how much we lack insight into the tactics of Satan and the strategy of God.
The Strategy of God
The nations in the Middle East can seem to us to be no more than lines on a map, and our Eastern brothers and sisters in the faith little more than anonymous Christians. The truth is that the heart of God has long been in this part of the world, and his heart is presently filled with pain (Gen 6:6). When the children of God are persecuted Jesus is persecuted, as the Lord said to Saul who was set on ravaging the church in Syria, ““I am Jesus who you are persecuting”” (Acts 9:5).
Only one thing can change alleviate the pain of God, living out the blood of the cross so that he receives more children. When the blood of the martyrs is united with the blood of Christ the result must be the release of spiritual power; provided there is the release of forgiveness. “Then they stoned him (Stephen)… He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.” (Acts 7:58, 60).
Scripture is clear; “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Rom 16:19-20). ““And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.””(Revelation 12:10-11). If in the sovereign plan of God our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are being slaughtered this must be for a grand purpose (Acts 2:23; Rev 5:6). This grand purpose is an unprecedented revival amongst Arabic speaking peoples.
We see signs of this sort of move of God amongst Iranians all over the world; surely it is the turn of those closest to the birthplace of Islam. Revival is a sovereign act of God, but it always bears the character of Jesus (Luke 23:34). Unconditional forgiveness must flow through the Church towards those whom we might naturally hate (Luke 6:27-28).
I see a torrent of forgiving love flooding towards the Middle East as a hub of the presence of evil in the age long conflict between God and Satan. As believers at the four corners of the globe focus their love and prayers on Iraq and beyond the Lord will surely move by his Spirit to turn many to Jesus. Islam is showing its true colours, its due time for the Church of God to do the same. Our sign is the sign of the cross.
Leaving the prayer meeting last Saturday I was thanked by several Iraqi Christians.
The truth is I counted it a privilege to be there.
Something of the holy grace of Jesus is deeply embedded in the ancient Christian Churches who for so long have maintained the faith against the tide of Islam.
In the back to front world of God’s kingdom we comfortable Western Christians are those in spiritual poverty and the privileged are those who are being persecuted for righteousness sake (Matt 5:10; Rev 3:17).
The decimating advance of ISIS across Iraq is not just another news story, it is another opportunity for the Australian Church to come of age and cooperate with the costly and uncomfortable strategy of God. I wonder how many more such opportunities will be offered before the limit of the divine patience towards us is reached?