7 Tips to Prepare Students for Coming Persecution
Twenty-one Coptic Christians paid the ultimate price. Their centuries-old worship tradition collided with militant Muslim terrorists and their lives foreshadow coming times. This story trails events in the USA where an Atlanta Fire Chief was fired. He wrote a book defending heterosexual relationships and is now speaking against religious discrimination. Stories abound around the country with bakers and wedding venues who are standing on Biblical principals. As parents, how can we prepare our students for a world that is rapidly changing, growing increasingly hostile to people of faith? Below are 7 tips to help.
DON'T DISCOUNT HABITS OF PRAYER
One of Jesus' most character-revealing practices was prayer. He stopped healing to pray. He stopped eating to pray. He stopped mentoring to pray. Jesus, the Son of God, took time to pray regularly. This wasn't a mealtime nicety. It seems that Jesus' actions on earth, extending to his disciples, was bound hand-and-foot to prayer. So, as we look to build a solid foundation in students that can withstand the gale force winds of persecution we need to begin with a holistic emphasis on prayer. A good resource for this subject that has shaped the way our family prays is 29:59 by Daniel Henderson.
EMBRACE MARTYRDOM AS A LIFESTYLE
"Martyr" is a word I hope never to attach to my children. Well, that is until I started to research what the word actually means. The word martyr derives meaning from the root meaning of the word testify. This is a fantastic picture as we think of the stoning of Stephen. Standing innocent before the religious elite of his day, Stephen walked them through a history of God's plan of salvation. I think his passion was simply to testify of a message that couldn't be contained. Students need to have consistent testimony of Christ demonstrated daily. If testimony is natural, specifically in public spheres, it shows students the importance of testifying Christ before the world. Parents should seek venues to testify that might place them in unpopular positions or open them up to persecution. Places like city council meetings, writing letters to the editor, or sharing faith with a waitress or people on the street. Young people watching parents take a stand for faith emboldens students to follow the lead of these people whom they most closely identify with. If parents can influence their student to defend sound doctrine in public places they have made an indelible impression on their student, that will last a lifetime.
UNLOCK CHRISTIAN LEGACY
My grandpa was a "kook." I mean that in the most affectionate sense. In the second World War he was assigned the task of storming the cliffs surrounding of Normandy, removing the lifeless bodies of fallen soldiers from the blood-stained beaches. He experienced the most grim and horrific scenes of the war first-hand. As the stories go, my grandfather was known to walk across enemy lines in the evenings and, speaking German, would swindle away German goods. My grandpa was known to find humor, even in the most difficult times. I was in high school when I first heard these details of his life. His resiliency and ability to create camaraderie within a platoon of men sobered the realities of the front lines. His stories inspired me. My dad, in telling me these stories, unlocked a piece of our family heritage that transformed the way I wanted to respond during difficult times in my own life.
Young adults benefit in understanding the impact a life lived for Christ. It is important to tell them stories of unsung heroes who gave everything for Christ. Voice of the Martyrs produced a two volume series on this topic a few years ago, and Eric Metaxas has chosen to highlight 7 Men, and is working on a sequel called 7 Women, depicting people who changed the world because of their commitment to Jesus Christ. A good start for children is the Church History ABCs.
It is important to open the box of the world and talk through the ugliness of sin and the way men are misled because of it. As this occurs, students should also see the commitment, determination, and mettle of people who are found living in Christ. Martyrs tend to live with deep devotion--sometimes they almost appear other-worldly. But students need to know the humanity of these individuals; that focal point isn't the pain and imperfections of this life, but the One who restores and heals for eternity.
MOURN WITH PERSPECTIVE
Shortly after the highly publicized beheadings of the 21 Coptic Christians, Principal Isaac told me he felt sick. Scrolling through his Facebook newsfeed the night before he had seen pictures of friends on beaches, smiling women holding Valentine's chocolates from their husbands, with the next picture being that of twenty-one men in orange jumpsuits kneeling before their assassins. The blatant contrast of his Facebook browsing rocked him, and he shut off his computer in frustration to mourn.
Many times we don't take the opportunity to mourn the brokenness of the world, and neither do we teach this valuable discipline to our kids. My brother lost an unborn son when his wife entered her third trimester. Because of the developmental stage of the child the law dictated that the baby be delivered naturally, even though the baby was no longer living. We commemorate the birth of Antony every year with our kids. My wife made a special candle that we light as we share the story behind the tragedy. It is a moment in our house where we all stand, hold hands, and mourn the loss of the life of our nephew and cousin. Taking time to mourn shows the importance of life and highlights what we value. Within this ritual we have the opportunity to share the Gospel with our kids; to share that this world is not what we're made for, that death has no sting. It refocuses our attention from the temporal nature of this world to the hope of the next. Mourning is a powerful activity for students.
PAUSE IN PATIENCE
One of my favorite practices when I led chapel at Hillcrest was intentional silence. I would tell the students that we were going to focus before chapel. The exercise I employed to help us focus was silence. I would set my phone to count down from a minute. The first five seconds in the service were beautiful. Students with heads bowed, some silently moving their lips in prayer. At the ten second mark the rustling would start. By forty-five seconds the exercise was over. Pausing with patience is counter-cultural to our western way of thinking. Silence is seen as laziness, or unintelligent, or neutral. However, Jesus was patient in silence before Pontius Pilate, like a lamb before the slaughter. One of the most impacting martyr stories for me is Polycarp. Before he was taken to his place in martyrdom he asked for an hour to pray. Polycarp prayed for two hours. He paused with patience and heard the voice of God telling him to "play the man." Patience is a sign of confidence and exudes a position of strength. Building patience in students, specifically training them to wait on God, prepares them to stand their ground in great turmoil.
WORSHIP IN SERVICE
Lyn grabbed a bottle of lotion and headed for the blind lady in the back. The heat from the blistering Dominican sun caused a lot of aromas to raise from the intensified a mix of odors from aging and weak bodies at the nursing home where our group was ministering on our second to last day of ministry. We watched students build rafters, dig holes, share the Gospel with hundreds of young people, lead gang members to the cross of Christ, and yet the most vivid picture I have from the trip is Lyn holding a hand that was too weak to hold a cane. For some reason the simple act of hydrating an octogenarian's skin was captivating. To think that of all the humanitarian work we did in the Dominican by building schools, feeding hungry students, encouraging pastors, praying for communities, this frail old woman changed my faith. I saw, in Lyn's service, an act of worship. Our students need to see serving as worship rather than looking for a tangible outcome. Too often we highlight the work being done rather than the One who has done all the work necessary. We need to train our students what it looks like to live in response to Christ. Showing students how to worship in service builds a deep faith that helps students see Christ as the object and humans as the beneficiary of service.
BUILD A BETTER WORLDVIEW
Many think the role of education is to build opportunities--that school gives students a leg-up, pulls poor people out of poverty, and gives feeble-minded people something to do. Some, however, rightly see that education builds a view of the world. Why do we fight inequality? Because human worth is rooted in God's character. Why do we study mathematics? Because by exacting precision we see Jesus as the great mathematical organizer. Helping students see the world holistically builds an understanding that by Him and through Him and in Him all things are made and held together. Apart from God, and His plan of salvation through Christ, nothing else makes sense.
As educators and parents, our job is not merely to teach information, as though knowledge is the end in itself. Instead we are tasked to teach discernment and offer tools to measure ideas against the eternal wisdom of God. Practicing prayer, laying down our own agendas, embracing the example of those who've gone before, mourning with a longing for heaven, pausing from our hectic lives in wordless patience, serving others as an act of worship, and viewing the world and our role in God's eternal plan are all vital elements we must model to our young people. These disciplines, when found resting on the work of Christ, can offer hope to prepare students to carry the torch for Jesus Christ in perilous times ahead.