Today was an ordinary day, of sorts. I forced myself not to look at the net before doing my quiet time, for once. Such a thing is much harder than it should be, but that isn’t what this is about. As I clicked the next day of my ‘Bible in a year’ reading plan – 18 months in – I realised I was halfway through a day, which meant only 2 readings this morning. That worked for me, because I was on a deadline.
In North Korea, Bibles are out of the question. So are smartphones. There is no Spurgeon on the bedside table, no relaxed morning worship with your window ajar, street noise. There are, however, labour camps full of Christians and political dissidents. North Korea is number 1 on Open Doors World Watch List 2014, for the 12th year running. 24.5 million people. 300 000 Christians. As I rush through my Bible reading.
Today was an ordinary day, of sorts. It’s STUVAC and Friday means writing the first 3 philosophy essays of my life, under exam conditions, but that isn’t what this is about. As I study it takes ages to synthesise ideas, and after hours I still don’t know what I’ll write about. I daydream about my life in 10 days time, so close I can almost taste it.
In the West Bank, there is a Bible College where Palestinian Christians learn how to be ambassadors for Christ. They do so amid the crossfire of Islamic militant organisations. There is no coffee and protracted debate at the local café, without palpable threats to security. There is, however, the memory of violent attacks on churches, and the constant danger posed to females who are at risk of kidnapping and sexual abuse. They are 8th on the Open Doors World Watch List 2014. 184.4 million people. 5.3 million Christians. As I grumble about study.
I could go on. These countries are only 2 of many, the facts above a paltry glimpse into a life removed in every way from my ordinary Newtown existence. At Bible study tonight, we pray for the persecuted world, because next Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, 2014. As we pray, we grieve, with hope. We claim the picture in Revelation of people from every tongue and tribe and language, worshipping around the throne. We whisper it as we read of the darkness in North Korea. We exclaim it as we share stories of Algeria and India, of Myanmar and Sydney. Of our God who saves, despite the hardest hearts, despite the strongest walls.
It is a luxury for me to hear these stories and make resolutions about my life, but I make them nonetheless. I long not to do so as though these people I group together are a moral lesson, waiting in the wings, for me to learn. They are not my lesson. They are all ‘I’s’. Precious individuals, loved by God. Known by name. As we prayed I could not shake the image of worshipping with my North Korean brothers and sisters in heaven. I imagined looking at their faces, knowing we share an amazing Saviour, and I thought about my casual approach to Bible reading. I wince at the blow. I could not shake too the image of my Palestinian brothers and sisters. This time I thought about my casual approach to study. Another wince, another blow.
This week I pray for my brothers and sisters around the world, and I invite you to pray also. There is information and prayer points for these two and many more countries if you follow the links above.
And for myself? I pray for joy IN exams. Not clarity of mind or peace in my heart or resolve, but joy. Not in spite of exams or because of looming holidays, but IN the study. The grit. The sore brain. I pray for joy because of this crazy privilege.
This week I get to study how it is that we come to know what we know and on Friday I get to walk into a classroom and have a crack at putting it all down on paper. The privilege of it is staggering, but I am so quick to roll my eyes.
Yet in philosophy, in evangelism, in an essay about sin, in the heartbreak of persecution half a world away, it is the wonder of revelation that I keep coming back to. God cut into this world, and changed it forever. His word, His Son, the light of the gospel, pierces into our cold, dead hearts. And even in painstaking OT study, as every Hebrew word is slowly deciphered, tears roll down my cheeks because of the God who can make the dry bones live. Who made these dry bones live.
Today was an extraordinary day, it turns out. They all are. That’s what this is about. A prayer for thankfulness to the God who holds this whole world together. Who sees his sheep in the Middle East, in North Korea. Who knows them by name. Who is bringing them home. And who blesses me with joy abundant, even of philosophy exams. And so, again I say, rejoice.