About 10 years ago I was in the north of Nigeria, in a region dominated by the Islamic group, Boko Haram.
I was locked away in a church compound guarded by the army, training a group of local evangelists. Just down the road a bomb was set off outside another church.
These local Christians knew that by trying to share the gospel with their Muslim neighbours, they faced the very real threat of death.
Yet on my last day there they prayed for me, and for Christians in Australia.
They prayed that God would make us ready to face opposition because, they reasoned, we had never had to face any real opposition in the past and they were not at all sure that we would persevere in the faith now the tide was turning against us. It was a great and insightful prayer.
We’re aware of the growing opposition to the gospel, particularly among the social elites. Steve McAlpine has just written Being the Bad Guys—a book for Christians that recognises how society now often views us as morally bad.
Where Christians once used to be picked on for being ‘do-gooders’, and then dismissed as irrelevant, we are now seen as morally wrong and even dangerous for our views on human identity, sexuality and the list goes on.
And the new ‘bad guys’ are opposed, of course, by the new ‘good’.
We’ve had a huge year of legislative change around issues of gender and human life: abortion on demand legalised in NSW, euthanasia legislation around the country, and the Victorian legislation restricting prayer and ministry and even parental discouragement of transgender affirmation.
There will no longer be an award for the Australian Mother of the Year, because the children’s charity Barnardos were under such pressure that they could see no way of continuing to celebrate motherhood – without incurring the wrath of those who claim to protect our society from discrimination while actively dismantling our most basic societal structures.
Maybe you’re feeling exhausted by this erosion of values that used to hold our society together. And coupled with the complexities of a pandemic, it can really feel like we are living in unprecedented times.
But what’s most unprecedented about our times is that before COVID-19:
- it had been nearly 100 years since the last pandemic
- Australia had enjoyed the longest period of sustained economic growth of any country in the past 100 years
- a society which had largely stopped taking the claims of the Lord Jesus seriously more than a generation ago has been so accommodating of Christians for this long.
Opposition and opportunity
Every time I am tempted to think that things have got tough for me as a Christian, I think of those brothers and sisters in Nigeria, and millions more like them, and I remember Hebrews 12:4:
Not only have I not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood, I haven’t had so much as a sprained ankle or got a paper cut because of my allegiance to Jesus.
And — more than that — along with opposition, these times have brought far more opportunity.
Our society believes that each of us lives as a ‘buffered’ self — that is, we get to determine our own identity, and even our own truth, in isolation from one another and with no reference to any power or reality that we cannot see or touch.
But when we faced a global pandemic, no matter what you believed to be true, you were confined to your home. Your choices were taken away. Your capacity to plot your own course was disrupted. And all because of a thing that you can’t see or touch and that you have no power to control.
Coronavirus has been difficult for everyone – but it has been particularly difficult for secularists.
I’m not sure about your church and your friends, but over the last year I have found more opportunities to talk to my old schoolmates – all unbelievers – about the gospel, than I have in the last 30-something years. Discussions about life and death were thrown back on the agenda for us.
Opposition and opportunity go hand in hand. It’s always been this way.
In times of opposition, what a relief it is to know that the unchanging plan of God is still on track.
God’s unchanging agenda throughout all of history is to bring all things together under his Son, the Lord Jesus (Col 1:15-23).
He is doing that through his unchanging means: the gospel is still the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).
A friend told me this week of a transgender woman who started coming along to church and joined a Bible study in an area where there are few trans people. No-one in that Bible study group had a trans friend. What would they do?
In God’s kindness, they just did what they would do at any time. They welcomed and loved this newcomer, gave her a Bible and started reading it with her. Last week she asked what it would take for her to get right with God, and they led her to pray with them – the same kind of prayer that you would pray with anyone coming to repentance and faith in Jesus for the first time.
It’s very early days, of course, and untangling the mess of her life is going to be complicated, but I want you to see that this is the ordinary and yet miraculous work of God, who is bringing all things under the Lord Jesus as his gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
Light, hope and joy in the darkness of suffering
Might it be that God is using these times of change and opposition to help us let go of our reliance on ourselves and our plans, and refocus our hope on the life to come?
We live in a world that wants to run from suffering and to chase joy, but the New Testament teaches that if you really want joy you will actually find it in the middle of suffering (Jas 1:2-4).
That’s why, when I gather with brothers and sisters in the slums of Soweto, the singing of God’s praises is louder, prouder and more joyful than it is here.
If a life of comfort and ease would bring you joy, Australia should be the happiest nation in the history of the world. It’s not, is it?
The apostle Paul wrote that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).
Do you believe that? Do you feel that?
We might find greater joy in this life if we see that God is using all that we are going through to strengthen our faith, grow our perseverance, and fit us for heaven.
God’s agenda hasn’t
changed. How will he get you to cling more tightly to Christ? Let’s give thanks
that God is shaking our grip on the world, and pray that we would find our hope
 If you want to learn more about how we got to this point, Carl Trueman gives a brilliant social history in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. Or if a shorter paperback is more your style, The Better Story by Glynn Harrison also explains how we got to be here.