Tomorrow morning as the sun rises on the first day of the week, Christians across the globe - from many tribes, languages, and nations - will greet the coming week by gathering together to worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For many that will be done with ease. We'll wake our kids up, feed them a hasty breakfast, get them dressed and out the door. When we arrive at the church building we'll exchange pleasantries, catch up on the week's happenings, and meet together around God's Word. When the benediction is pronounced and the closing doxology sung, we'll return to the comfort and rest of our homes. Despite the ease with which many of us will be permitted to worship, there will be others who worship tomorrow morning under the threat of hurt and danger; persecution and loss; sword and death. There will be those who worship and as they do they will worship as those who know that death is gain.
Throughout this last week many of us were made aware of the great persecution against members of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China. The oppressive and communist regime have sought out and arrested more than 100 of their pastors, elders, and members. Some have been treated inhumanely and abusively, other released but now under surveillance, and others have been charged with suspicion of subverting State power.
In previous days at least two letters were released to that congregation (and circulated around the world) from their under-shepherds. One was written by an elder shortly before he was arrested titled "How the Church Should Face Persecution." The other, is from the pastor and is titled "My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience." Both of these letters are filled with gospel-hope and a Christ-centered joy, they are also pastorally instructive. In the contingency plan the elders drafted in the event of persecution (can you imagine writing a persecution policy for your congregation?) there's an unwavering commitment to continue worshiping:
Neither paper seals nor arrests should hinder our determination to worship in our church sanctuary [...] If there is no place indoors where we can worship, we will begin worshiping outdoors.
Where does that kind of bravery come from? How's one driven to that? What is it that courageously impels in that direction? What's the motivating force behind an attitude that says: "We will worship even if we die?" How can you and I let our petty excuses of busyness, work, entertainment, sleepiness, inconvenience - our disinterest and apathy for worship - melt away into a like-minded perspective? Let me suggest -:
This attitude comes from a heart that is dominated by the awareness of the worthiness of God. To put it another way, God is worthy to be worshiped and there is no trouble or suffering or persecution or earthly power that makes him less worthy to be worshiped. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Romans 11:36).
This attitude comes from a heart that treasures the presence of God more than anything else. The Psalmist says: "For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10).
This attitude comes from a heart that delights in the things that God delights in. Again, the Psalmist says: "The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob" (Psalm 87:2). That is to say, the Lord loves the place where his people gather more than he loves their private homes.
This attitude comes from a heart that longs for the day of perfect unity in the Holy Spirit: "And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!' And the four living creatures said, 'Amen!' and the elders fell down and worshiped" (Revelation 5:13-14).
This attitude comes from a heart that is seeking to love one's neighbor as one's self: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25).
This attitude comes from a heart that understands the cost of true discipleship is that the cross comes before the crown: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).
This attitude comes from a heart, so transformed by free and sovereign grace, that it recognizes God himself - not earthly ease, prosperity, comfort, or security - is the great end of all things: "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8).
Tomorrow morning, under nearly impossible circumstances, the congregation of Early Rain Covenant Church will awaken the dawn with songs of thanks and praise to the one whose steadfast love is great and whose faithfulness reaches to the clouds (Psalm 108:1-4). And it could cost them everything in this life. Say a prayer for them, but more than that gather with God's people in the bond and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and join your hearts and voices in ascribing with our Chinese brothers and sisters all glory to God.
NOTE: Title taken from John Piper's message: "Doing Missions When Dying is Gain."