Flourishing Under Pressure Series — Flourishing: A Biblical Response to Natural Disaster, Persecution, and War

A closer look at the "why" of suffering, persecution, war, and natural disasters and what the response of AGWM workers and other believers have been and must continue to be.

As followers of Jesus, we understand that our world is in crisis. Until Jesus returns, sin affects the world. The Bible authors experienced many of the same crises we experience. They asked, as we do, Why do these things happen?

Jesus knew persecution awaited His Church. He told His disciples, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9). The apostles experienced persecution as authorities jailed them (Acts 4-5), beat them (Acts 5), and sometimes killed them (Acts 7).

Jesus explained that those who persecuted them were ultimately rejecting Him. He told the disci¬ples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18) and “anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me” (John 16:2-3). When global workers and national churches face persecution, we know that those who are persecuting them are rejecting Jesus. Still, we can take comfort in the fact Jesus faced persecu¬tion even to the point of death.

Violence entered the world through Cain’s disobedience (Genesis 4). The violent chaos of Judges is summed up by the phrase “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25, NRSV).

Jesus knew that from the time He ascended until the time He returns, war would continue to be a normal, though tragic, reality (Matthew 24:6-7). When we witness the destructive conflict between Russia and Ukraine, when we see Palestinians and Israelis killed, when we hear of civil wars and conflict around the globe, we understand there is something deeper taking place.

There is more to conflict than human action. Persecution and war are not merely the result of human sin, but also the work of spiritual forces that hate God’s kingdom. Paul wrote “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul asserted that all creation is “groaning” from the bondage and decay caused by sin and the Fall (Romans 8:20-22). When we hear of earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, and all other natural disasters, we are reminded the kingdom of God has yet to fully reign over the world. Sin continues to push the world into crisis.

Suffering, persecution, war, and natural disasters are the result of people rejecting God, demonic spiritual forces, and sin’s grip on the world. This understanding, however, does not make reality any easier. What should we do about this? we ask. How should I feel about this as a citizen of God’s kingdom? The better question is, What is God doing about this? Followed by, How can we get involved in what God is doing?

Paul explained that the Holy Spirit works in and through us, showing us how to pray and what to do. The Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ, connecting us to God’s heart and will. As the earth groans, Spirit-filled believers groan with it.

When the Church does God’s work, it will be empathetically connected to the world. The Church — the believers — mourn death and destruction. Like Jeremiah, we mourn, “I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken. My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people. Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets” (Lamentations 2:11, NLT). As this mourning burrows deep in our hearts, God can use the Church to accomplish His good in the Earth.

What does this look like practically? How are AGWM global workers becoming involved in God’s work in crisis?

From Jesus’ lips, He commands, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, emphasis added). Even as hostile governments expel global workers and threaten believers, we pray for their persecutors. The witness of faithful believers, even under persecution and duress, often provides opportunity for the Holy Spirit to move. Just as Paul’s jailer received salvation through Paul’s message (Acts 16), persecutors can be transformed by believers’ witness and the Holy Spirit’s influence. Even when persecution forces global workers and believers to flee their homes, like the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), we take our witness to places untouched by the gospel.

When experiencing war, we take the path of love. When tempted to take sides, we must remember that God is on the side of life. Jesus’ mission to give abundant life (John 10:10) includes spiritual and physical life. This involves creating environments of peace. That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Whether witnessing to Russians or Ukrainians, Palestinians or Israelis, we must “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19), announce “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:36), and be the hands and feet of the “Lord of peace” (2 Thessalonians 3:16) wherever we are. We must care for the victims of these crises, aiding them in their physical needs (James 2:16).

Though the desperate suffering and pain of war tempt us to hate, we must remember God’s heart for peace extends to victims and perpetrators alike. Just as Roman soldiers repented from their sin (Luke 3:14), Russian, Israeli, and Hamas soldiers are capable of repenting and accepting Jesus as their Savior. No matter what evil they have committed, God wants to save them: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). We must witness even to those we believe are in the wrong.

Finally, when persecution, war, natural disasters, and the suffering they create seem beyond anything we can do, we are called to persevere. Just as Job refused to curse God and continued to serve him faithfully, we must serve faithfully. One AGWM global worker sums up this perseverance: “I don’t have the answers. I don’t have the resources. And so, I cry out, even groan, to the God of creation. Through the trials, calamities, and setbacks in Scripture’s storyline, an undergirding claim remains: Freely, and by His power, God created this world. And He did so with much good in mind. He is the Maker of heaven and earth. The One whose power made what is out of what was not. With every rebellion, disaster, and human failure, the Maker’s commitment to humanity, to His world, to His universe, is renewed and persists unshaken.”

We persevere because we know God’s love for humanity and creation persists. AGWM global workers persevere because we have read and experienced how God has worked for His people. We will continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Even as creation groans under the weight of sin, even as people reject God and turn to violence against each other, we must continue to be peacemakers, to aid the vulnerable, and to worship the God who created the world and is saving the world through His kingdom.

* This article original appeared in Worldview magazine, Vol. 10, Issue 2. Used with permission.

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