Our son Andrew was held hostage in a Turkish prison for two years. The first year he was blindsided. He had been teaching new converts about the fatherhood of God and suddenly, God didn’t seem very father-like. Andrew had expected that when he had to suffer, God would give comfort and a sense of His presence. But God stood back and, as with Job, allowed Satan to try him. Andrew had claustrophobia, panic attacks, nightmares, illness, but worst of all, Satan tempted him in the area of his faith: “Where is your loving Heavenly Father now?”
There ensued a great battle between his expectations and his experience. Then Andrew made a choice to yield to God’s will, even if he didn’t understand. Strengthened by world-wide prayer, at his third trial, he confidently gave the message of salvation, forgave his enemies publicly and declared: “Blessed am I because, for the sake of Jesus, many people have wronged me, persecuted me, and now I am suffering.”
Jesus said: “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). Andrew saw through eternal eyes.
Is God good all the time? Is He a merciful, gracious Father? Yes! But wait. Is He also the good Father God of the African Christians whose whole villages are being decimated? The Father God of the Christians in the Middle East who are being tortured, raped, burned alive, beheaded? Yes! God has eternal eyes! He takes the long view. He sees that great parade of those who have suffered marching through gates of splendor, singing the victors’ song. He sees them receiving their great reward, their crowns of glory, and positions of authority. They chose to suffer because they had eternal eyes.
Hebrews 11 is a hall of fame for those with eternal eyes: “[Moses] endured, as seeing Him who is invisible. … Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:27, 35).
Like a father who allows his child to go through rounds of chemotherapy because ahead there will be life and health, so God has eternal eyes on His children, knowing the joy that awaits them. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, NIV).
If we only think of God as one who will always bless us with good things if we live for Him, when persecution or suffering comes, we will be blindsided. Once we were a nation founded on Biblical principles, and God blessed us bountifully. Now, as wickedness increases, so will persecution of anyone who stands for Biblical morality. True Christians are generous, loving, moral people, yet Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world! Many Christians will compromise with the culture: “I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to lose my job. I have a family to support.” And as persecution becomes more costly, “because of iniquity, the love of many shall grow cold” (Cf. Matthew 24:12).
Should we fear persecution? It’s only human to fear pain. But God comforts us. Luke 12:32 says: “Fear not little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He asks us to see pain through eternal eyes, and so to stand firm. But Jesus warned us, “Be prepared!”
Here are some practical steps for how you can change your family’s expectations; how you can help the next generations to develop eternal eyes:
I. When faced with inexplicable pain, let God be God. Teach and practice trust that God knows more than we do.
What will happen when God doesn’t meet your expectations? It may be through the death of a beloved child, a senseless tragedy or a disease, or even rising persecution. God has mercifully given us many pictures of His love for us: Loving Father, Good Shepherd, Prince of Peace. So we may put him in a box, thinking He will always act as we picture Him. But He is so much more! “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
When we limit God to a human image of Him, we may be blind-sided when He doesn’t act within that box. The Bible gives a few answers to pain: sharing in the suffering of Christ and identifying with a suffering world. But there is suffering, both massive and personal, that leaves us gasping. We cry out like Jesus on the cross, “My God, My God, why?”
And we get the same answer He did. At this point, many walk away, saying, “If that’s what God is like, I want none of Him.” When many left Jesus, He asked His friends, “Will you also go?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
There is no plan B. Settle it that there are many questions that will not be answered in this life. Put tormenting doubts and fears in God’s lap and fix your eyes on Jesus. Choose to endure through faith, standing in the dark. Isaiah 50:10 says: “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” (Isaiah 50:10, NIV). Unanswered prayer? Trust that He knows more than we do.
II. Read the whole Bible to your children
A half hour after supper with the whole family is time well spent from an eternal perspective. Pass the Bible around so everyone has a chance to read aloud. Choose a modern version or paraphrase, if you prefer. Try a one-year plan. Supplement with a good Bible story book like “The Jesus Story Book” by Sally Lloyd-Jones for little ones . Use an audio Bible or iPhone app. A family altar that only uses very short devotional booklets is like sitting your children down to a vitamin pill for dinner.
It’s difficult to know God’s character without using the full revelation of Himself: His holiness and hatred of sin, His dealing with willful defiance and disobedience. And without that, we can’t fully appreciate the grace lavished on us through Jesus Christ. In the prophets we see God’s patience as He pursued His people in love and the tragic result of turning their backs on Him. 1 Corinthians 10:11 says: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (NIV).
III. Help your children to see Christians as their heroes
Children have heroes: Boys have Spiderman, girls have princesses. Teens have sports figures, or stars like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. Give them godly heroes to model their lives by. There are many books about believers who have lived or died for God. My teenaged grandson just finished reading Through Gates of Splendor: The Life of Jim Elliot and Jesus Freaks by Voice of the Martyrs. Dave and Neta Jackson wrote a fiction series for elementary kids featuring heroes of the faith and their impact on lives around them. If your child is not a reader, make a deal! As God promises to reward us, reward them. Give them courageous role models who will come to mind when they face their own hard choices.
IV. Tell them about the great battle between God and His angels and Satan and his demons
Between the ages of 8-11, kids start to play “good guys against bad guys.” Good against evil continues to adulthood in books and movies. Are your kids aware that, from the beginning of time, people have been living out this battle before a great cloud of witnesses? The choices we make every day align us with one side or another. Most American youth think they will live by the “American dream”: Go to college, marry, buy a nice car and house, have kids.
What if that doesn’t happen? What if they have to pay the ultimate price as soldiers of the cross? Hitler so prepared German youth that 93% swore to die for him, and a large number did. Is Jesus worth less? Do your children know the end of the story, both for the godly and ungodly? Do they know about Satan’s deceit, promising fun that only brings pain in the end? Watch the news to identify ungodly issues. Memorize verses like these: “They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11). “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).
V. Talk about eternity
When I was very young, my mother died. My new mother was a godly woman. I was about 5 when I asked what would happen to me if I died. She told me there were two places I could go, and I had a choice! One was a terrible place called hell. It was a place of weeping, pain, darkness, fire and thirst. And the worst thing was that once there, I could never, ever leave!
Then she told me there was a wonderful place called Heaven, a place where there was happiness, crowns like a princess wears, no pain or death. But to go there, I needed Jesus in my heart. I knelt and asked Jesus in right then! Later I asked, “Are you sure that now that I have Jesus, I’ll never go to hell?” She replied, “Absolutely certain. You don’t even have to think about it anymore.”
But think I did, and from there came my vision for evangelism. I was compelled to present the Gospel in three countries, and each time it was rooted in a vivid picture of Heaven and hell.
There have been times when God didn’t meet my expectation. My 16-year-old daughter, Julie, was a runaway with a group of drinking kids. She knew the Lord. I thought God would heal her and use her testimony for His glory. But she died on a Florida highway. I felt wounded by God and told Him so.
Even in my woundedness, I never considered turning away from God. I knew the terrible consequences. We warn our children, “Don’t touch the stove, you’ll get burned; Don’t run in the road, you’ll get hit by a car.” But we fail to warn them about the greatest eternal danger of all. How many of you have heard a sermon on hell in the last five years? We don’t like to talk about hell. Maybe we want to protect God’s reputation. We only reveal one aspect of God, the part we like. But Jesus described hell in explicit terms.
Early on, give your children that choice. Do you want wise children? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). “Fear not them which kill the body … rather, fear him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Our children should be afraid of willful, direct disobedience and defiance of God. Today churches are full of those who say they love God but are living in direct disobedience to God’s revealed will. Paul wrote, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).
VI. This is the most important of all: Ask God to help you to love Him so much that no price will be too high to pay for Him.
Loving God most of all can be costly. Jesus said in Matthew 19:29: “everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children …” Wait! What? Our children? Yes, even our children. There was a story of a man in Russia who sat in one room. In the next was his son with a gun to his head. The officer said, “Renounce your faith or I’ll put a bullet in his head.” The man felt a terrible conflict, but before he could answer, the boy shouted, “Don’t do it, Dad, don’t do it!” That boy, facing death, had eternal eyes.
When Andrew was about 4 years old, I heard him crying in his bed one night. I went to him. “What’s the matter, honey?” He said, “I don’t love God!” Oh, no! My son, lost?
I said: “Honey, God made you, He loves you, He died to save you. You’ve got to love Him back.”
The Holy Spirit shouted in my mind, “Wrong!” I went in the next room and fell on my knees. “What should I have said, Lord?” And in that second, He told me. I ran and said, “Andrew, you have made God happy! God loves it when you don’t pretend but are honest with Him about how you feel. Now, I see it makes you sad that you don’t love God. You can’t work up love by yourself. But if we ask Him, He can help you really love Him.”
We prayed together, and he slept well. He’s still praying that. From prison, he prayed, “Father, make the love you have for your Son, Jesus, burst in my heart.” No matter how much you love God, there’s more! All of us can ask God to help us and our families to love Him so much that no price will be too high to pay for Him.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version. Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
Pamela Brunson and her husband, Ron, have served the Lord for decades as missionaries, proclaiming the Good News of Christ in Mexico, Russia and Pakistan.
Above: Andrew Brunson
Photo: Kim Rowland/©2018 Samaritan's Purse