I've been a part of this Bible study recently in which we study scripture without any chapter or verse divisions and attempt to place ourselves in the mindset of the original readers of the scripture, meaning that we can't reference anything that was written after the book we're studying. The idea is to approach scripture without all of the preconceived notions that we generally have. We also try to focus on observation rather than immediate application so that we don't miss things that we've missed in the past. Anyway, we're currently studying the book of Acts. This week we were studying a passage in which Peter and another apostle were brought before the Sanhedrin and threatened, warned not to preach in the name of Jesus any longer. After this litte encounter, the two apostles went back and met with a group of believers and began to pray. The content of their prayer stood out to me in a way I had not ever noticed before. It would seem that the normal human reaction to being threatened for preaching in the name of your savior would be to pray to that savior for protection. But this is not what the believers did. They prayed not for protection, but for boldness to continue spreading the gospel in spite of these threats, and they prayed that the Lord's hand would accompany them, performing signs and wonders. It's as if they knew that this was a cause they were willing to die for and the only thing they wished for was courage to keep going in spite of impending danger. They knew that the message they were preaching was controversial, it was an absolute threat to the religious and power stuctures of the day. They understood the prophesies that said that Jesus would be a rock that causes men to stumble. They did not expect that people of the society in which they lived would blindly accept what they were saying or respect them for it, they knew that their lives would be threatened. But I also find it interesting that, like Jesus, these apostles were really only overly confrontational with the religious leaders of the day who were misleading and sick with power. Like Jesus, they healed the sick and cared for people in practical ways while sharing the good news of Christ.
Out of this, I began thinking of how we often act in the church today. I don't think that true boldness currently exists in our church culture. Rather than understanding and expecting that the gospel that Christ preached was subversive and called for power structures to be turned upside down, we've created our own little Christian "subculture" and believe that when people challenge this subculture we are being persecuted in the name of Christ. I believe that most persecution that we receive in this country is justly deserved. Notice that the persecution Jesus promised the apostles would receive came not from normal people in society, but from the religious leaders. Rather than pray for boldness to continue living as Christ has called us, we petition the government to pass laws that make people respect our message and our morals. Rather than pray for boldness, we hover up in our safe little corners and pray for protection from that big bad world out there. Are we missing the point? Have we lost touch with the idea that the gospel Jesus preached will be controversial, but not in the way that we currently see controversy?
Once again, I return to my mantra, the love of Christ. To truly love in the face of all danger takes the ultimate courage and boldness. To pray for protection does not take love, because when we pray for protection from our human brothers and sisters, we are turning them into the enemy. Jesus also called us to love and pray for our enemies, and I confess this is not easy for me. My brother is fighting a war in Iraq right now, and for me to think of praying for the men who are trying to kill him is very difficult, but this is what I am called to. Lord, give the courage to pray for boldness rather than protection, for this is a true measure of love.