Pastor “L” found himself being struck repeatedly with his own motorcycle helmet as angry Buddhist extremists surrounded him. False accusations flew at him like blows from his attackers. This is one of the risks of being a believer in Christ in the country of Sri Lanka. What perspective does that reality engender in Christ-followers like him?

“We are not afraid”, explains another pastor. “If persecution comes, it comes. God will give us strength to face it. We don’t pray to avoid persecution; we pray for strength to face it.”[1]

This is an aspect of prayer we in the ‘west’ have yet to embrace. We tend to pray to avoid persecution, to evade difficulties, to be insulated from trials. Perhaps we have something to learn about prayer from our brothers and sisters in less spiritually hospitable countries around the world.

James, pastoral leader of the early Christian church in the first century A.D., had a few thoughts on the matter that echo our Sri Lankan brother’s words. He enjoins, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers (and sisters), whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt…” (James 1:2-6)

The process of maturation in this life as a believer in Christ is tightly tied to trials; this connection is dependent not so much upon the difficulties themselves as on our reaction to them. It’s about attitude. We “must believe and not doubt” that God remains good and loving even while we experience trouble. He is willing and able to help us persevere in the midst of our various difficulties. This is an integral part of the transforming, life-changing process of becoming like Jesus, our perfect role model.

Here’s where we can learn something. Praying comes naturally enough in the midst of difficulties. The classic soldier’s prayer in the trenches of war illustrates it well enough. “Save me from this, God, and I’ll…” We’ve done it ourselves. But this is praying to avoid persecution. We need to move ourselves a step further in our faith. The intent and content of our prayers needs to move from asking God to miraculously change externals, to requesting Him to miraculously change us. When in distressing situations we may pray to have our fears replaced with peace, our anxieties with courage, our weakness with strength, our doubts with faith. This is the process God uses to refine us, make us complete, not lacking anything.

Are we there yet? Not likely. Then it behooves us to make the changes necessary to our prayer lives. God’s purpose is not about keeping us safe. It’s about making us good, and that is no small task.

As the Narnian character is said to have observed, “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Difficulties are inevitable in this life. How do we use them? Are they thorns in our side, causing us to whine and bemoan our plight? Or are they opportunities to draw us closer to our King of kings, becoming people of strength, of perseverance, and of goodness?

[1] This quote comes from The Voice of the Martyrs, Oct. 2013 Issue, Around the World, Sri Lanka


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