"That you... may be able to comprehend... what is the width and length and depth and height." (Eph. 3:18)
"So why is it that more seems to be happening in the kingdom of God on the other side of the world than here in our country?" Why not here? Why not now? This is the question I get from people when I come back from India each year. I come with stories of the miraculous, great people of courage, and a movement that is unstoppable. We serve the same Jesus, so what gives?
This being my fourth trip, I may have a little better perspective this time. It does seem that if you were living in an impoverished country, being persecuted for being a Christian, rejected by your family because of your faith in Christ, then you would be far more cognizant of your need for God, prayer, and faith. You would be under the constant pressure of knowing that your only hope is in Christ and Christ alone! And that desperation should cause you to dig deeper for bolder faith.
To be fair, however, let's not assume that there is no movement of bold Christianity in America or that all Christians in other cultures are bold champions of faith. But I will conclude that the percentages are different. When you are being persecuted, your claims for Christ will be far more sincere and meaningful. It has been easier in America to call yourself a Christian with less fear of consequence. We have, at least in past history, been able to toss the term around without necessarily being sincere.
But I have done a thorough search of the Bible from cover to cover and I cannot find any excuse for a particular culture or even an individual being anything less than a sincere, faith-filled, bold believer in Christ.
My most convincing find is in the life of the apostle Peter himself. There is no one more effective and bold than Peter in the early days of the church. He was healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching openly with thousands responding to follow Christ. He was also persecuted. But that is the discipled, experienced, more mature Peter. That was Peter after he was filled with the Holy Spirit. The previous version of Peter – who first met Jesus through the prodding of his brother Andrew, was not a man of significant faith. He was an uneducated, cussing fisherman. And in the course of his discipleship experience, discipled by none other than Jesus Himself, he faltered, failed, could not control his tongue, and rebuked the Son of God. He denied Christ three times, while they were still within sight of one another. He avoided persecution at great costs.
Peter did not become a world changing, culture challenging, spiritual powerhouse because he was being persecuted or living in a culture that naturally produced stronger Christians. It's the other way around. Peter, the early church Peter, was being persecuted because he stirred up so much trouble for the kingdom of darkness. Peter, in effect, caused the persecution due to his bold faith.
Jesus promised persecution and trouble for the Christian. He even told us to rejoice in it. In fact, I wonder if the reason that we have not been more persecuted for our faith is not because God was shielding us due to our level of righteousness. Maybe the reason we have not been more persecuted is that our version of Christianity has been more acceptable and far less confronting to our culture. We are more likely to judge our level of success based on how accepted we have become to the culture instead of how different we are than the world around us. Our Christianity has been confined to our church buildings and private gatherings. We have done everything possible not to cause persecution.
What strikes me about Peter's journey is that Jesus never gave up on Peter... and Peter always responded to the correction. In fact every time Peter was such a problem, Jesus would challenge Peter to a higher call with the need of a deeper life. Then Peter would respond by taking the plunge. He would always be willing to go to that deeper place and learn what he needed to learn. He would accept the challenge to change. He would repent, be restored, and respond with action.
What I am discovering in India are not perfect Christians. And many of them are having great success, despite lacking as much education or Biblical knowledge as the average committed Christian in the U.S. But it is not because of the persecution that they are so powerful. No, it is because of their powerful boldness that they are being persecuted. And don't you dare feel sorry for them in their presence. You might be rebuked. They are rejoicing that they would be considered worthy of such persecution.
I'm encouraging us to take a closer look at that to which we are truly called. For example, when Peter caught the boatload of fish at the command of Jesus to launch out into the deep, he almost detached himself from Jesus, saying, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord." Then, within moments, he experienced a complete turnaround when Jesus called him to the higher call of becoming a fisher of men. Peter's response was to "forsake all and follow Him." (Luke 5:1-11). We all know that Peter talked big about his willingness to die for Jesus, but failed miserably. Yet Jesus chased Him down after the resurrection and gave him opportunity to be restored and empowered. Peter re-engaged with a passion to go higher and therefore the willingness to go deeper. (John 21)
My personal challenge, and my challenge to us as an American church, is to be willing to go deeper for the cause of the higher calling. I am calling upon myself and those around me to answer these four questions over a period of 21 days…
Width: How can I make more space in my daily time with God to expand my encounter with Him?
Length: What steps can I incorporate during and at the end of my day to help maintain my devotion?
Depth: How can I deepen my experience with God during my personal encounters with Him? Height: What is the higher call and what involvements or actions will I take to apprehend it?
I challenge you to begin your 21 days today! Simply answer the above questions and follow through with 21 days of practical application. It takes 21 days to develop a habit. This process can eventually lead to a life more focused on priorities and action steps to change your destiny.
Will you accept your higher call by way of a deeper life? You may not end up the most popular person in your world, but you will more likely become the bold person of action that causes it to change!
Answer the higher call! Develop the deeper life!