Contemporary US culture expresses disdain for Christ, for Christians and for Christianity in very un-subtle ways
Being a Christian in the contemporary culture of the US can be a lonely experience. If you happen to be a high-profile person, it can be particularly difficult. If you happen to express a view of cultural attitudes and behaviors that is rooted in your faith, you can be vilified and virtually skinned alive. If you happen to make a mistake of any kind in this setting, you will become the byword for the reason the culture must root out every evidence of Christianity. Jesus warned before he died that the world would hate his followers, because the world already hated him. In the US, this hatred takes a variety of forms:
Facebook and Twitter insults
Interviews by news anchors
Dramatic scripts on television
Uncivil blogs and comment threads
It takes strong character and perseverance to stand up to cultural and political pressure.
Not everyone can survive the pressure to renounce Christianity. Some grow stronger under pressure and some do not. Some fall away. Nobody knows at this moment where Anne Rice really stands with regard to her faith, because she has been both in and out of the faith. There is terrible pressure on anyone who takes faith in Christ seriously. It comes from all sides, because there are people on all sides who want to see Christianity removed from the culture. They are temporarily focused on locking Christianity up inside buildings designated for worship, but if they ever succeed in that objective, or if they ever conclude that it will not work, they will simply declare that religion is an antiquated idea unworthy of the current evolutionary level of human beings. Actually, secularists have been saying this for a hundred years, so even that pressure is already in place.
The same faith practices that sustained Christians in the beginning sustain Christians today: prayers and Scriptures
The truth is that Christians have been under pressure to disappear since the resurrection of Christ. The disciples hid in locked rooms from the time of the crucifixion until Pentecost. Christ appeared in person to them until the ascension, but after that, they had to rely on the nourishment that has sustained Christians from that time until this: prayer and Scripture. The practice of prayer and the practice of studying Scripture became central to the faith during the days in which they all waited for the Holy Spirit. They did not know exactly what they were waiting for, but they turned naturally to the habits that Christ had modeled for three years. They prayed. They read Scripture. They must surely have enjoyed the fellowship of remembering Christ together around the table as he had asked them to do during his final meal with them.
The practice of daily prayer and Bible study builds a strong relationship with Christ
After Pentecost the practices continued. In the writings of Paul and the other apostles, Christians were regularly guided to develop strong practices of prayer and Scripture study for guidance. These practices flourished in a culture as least as cynical about the claims of Christianity as that of twenty-first century USA. These practices flourished in a culture where someone could be executed for unwillingness to worship the emperor, forget being fined for unwillingness to fund abortion under cover of health insurance. Over the past two thousand years, Christians have learned a great deal about prayer and Bible study, and most importantly, they have learned that these habits are essential to sustain faith when it is under fire, as it is today. What have they learned?
Both prayer and Bible study are two-way communications
Most people agree that in prayer the believer is engaged in conversation. It is not just a petition process. There is a lot of back and forth in prayer. It is tempting to think that Bible study, the study of Holy Scripture, goes only one way, but that would be wrong. Because the Holy Spirit lives within the believer and is God’s gift to be our teacher, there is ongoing communication during Bible study as well. A Christian may puzzle over the meaning or the lesson of Scripture, but he is not simply exercising his mental powers; prayerful study begins a conversation with the Holy Spirit that goes both ways. Eventually, truth becomes clear. Prayer and Bible study are the communication of a relationship with Christ that permeates everything in the life of a Christian.
These disciplines help you to see the challenges clearly
Among the values of prayer and Bible study is the development of discernment. Such a skill is essential to live in a culture that thrives on cloaking risky concepts in semantic slipcovers. During the early days of cultural advocacy for abortion on demand, the word abortion was prominent in the discussion. Soon, advocates recognized that almost everyone equated abortion with death. Those who worked tirelessly to make the concept acceptable re-packaged their arguments to support “a woman’s right to choose.” They argued that an unwanted embryo was an invader who infringed on a woman’s freedom, and she, therefore, had a right to reject it, or any bundle of cells that developed after that stage. Now that “a woman’s right to choose,” has lost traction due to the implied selfishness of the choice, the new language is simply “women’s health.” An abortion is simply the logical medical procedure to assure that a woman’s health is not compromised by an unplanned pregnancy. Pregnancy has fallen from a beautiful gift of life to the same category as exposure to the flu: it is a condition to be alleviated for the benefit of a woman’s health. Prayer and Bible study nourish the gift of discernment to carve through convoluted rhetoric to allow discussions to focus on the real subject.
Prayer and Bible study help people to understand truth, real truth. Truth should, of course, be an absolute value, but nothing is absolute in contemporary ethics. Everything is relative, discoverable, malleable according to circumstances. Nothing is absolutely true. It is only true if it is true for you.
These disciplines build faith and trust which provide confidence to reject fear
Nothing is quite as frightening as facing a choice about which you feel ambivalent. Maybe this is the right way, but on the other hand, maybe something else is better. That is the way people talk themselves into believing lies. If someone begins to doubt the truth, then a lie does not actually look like a lie. The practices of prayer and Bible study clarify the truth. Christ is Truth, and as a Christian grows in relationship with Christ, the strength and depth of that relationship, just like a marriage relationship, make it easier to face threats to the relationship without fear. Over time, losing the relationship becomes more frightening than any other possible outcome. It will be impossible to adulterate the relationship with equivocal logic or half-truths, because a believer who has come to know the depths of the love of Christ will not exchange that relationship for anything else. Like the Muslim background believer who endured beatings and imprisonment for Christ, any believer can say, “Before I had Christ, I had no peace. Now that I have Christ, I always have peace,” even in the midst of torture and abuse.
One reward of a strong relationship with Christ is greater ability to trust him even when he does not rescue the believer from pain
One popular attempt to diminish Christian claims of persecution is to parse the definition of persecution in an attempt to defuse the complaints. Needless to say, wherever there is a law about persecution, the legal standard will be unique to that place.. The standard for claiming persecution is quite high, and that is fine for legal purposes. However, the biblical standard is different. Just as the relationship between Christ and a believer defies legal definition, so does the biblical use of the term persecution. Biblically speaking, when Satan acts through anyone to attempt to thwart the Kingdom of God, it is persecution. Satan has one goal: to defeat God and take over his place in the universe. Biblically speaking, every act that contributes to Satan’s campaign becomes persecution of those who serve Christ.
It does not really matter whether a Christian is persecuted, restricted, or simply insulted personally. In every case where Satan acts to turn people away from Christ, it is persecution. A person who has a strong relationship with Christ nurtured by prayer and Bible study will get through such experiences, because that person knows that Christ goes with him through everything. Like the three Hebrew children before Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, believers do not care whether Christ rescues them or not. They only care to be faithful to Christ through everything. It is much easier to do if their faith is nourished regularly in prayer and Bible study.
Prayer and Bible study cannot be prevented by either cultural pressure or government edict
- A Christian need not open a Bible to study Scripture if he has saved some in his own heart
- A Christian need not fold hands or close eyes in order to pray
- The indwelling Holy Spirit will lead Christians to display and use Bibles or to take an obviously prayerful posture when the need for testimony requires it
- Christians around the world have faced pressure from family, culture and government without giving up either prayer or Bible study, because these faith practices are crucial nourishment for living testimony
The mutual encouragement of fellow believers promotes faithful practice of prayer and Bible study
In a culture of religious liberty, the very fact of liberty may lead to lax practice of faith, and regular gatherings of fellow believers help guide wavering believers to stronger self-discipline in faith practices.
In a culture of religious persecution, powerful, well-justified fear may dilute willingness to risk discovery in faith practices; regular interaction with other believers stimulates and encourages prayer and Bible study.
Worship with other believers is also itself a sustaining practice for the building up of faith, and rewards the willingness to take risks with blessing and sustaining spiritual power.
Even imprisoned Christians have found that communication and group worship nourish them through extreme suffering. Historically it is common for imprisoned believers to find ways to communicate and worship together, even to the point of observing the Lord’s Supper in amazingly beautiful ways.
An attitude of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord at all times and in all places promotes greater cultural acceptance
Nothing defeats Satan’s power more thoroughly than prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God. In the USA Christians can still pray, sing and worship in public. They can expect some problems from a variety of sources, but believers are most often successful in defending their right to exercise their faith in public when they stand firm on the First Amendment. While that state of affairs prevails, Christians are well advised to exercise their freedom in public as often as possible. It muddies the waters considerably when the only Christian voices are judgmental. It is important that Christians testify with joy and thanksgiving in order that the public not see Christians as frowning, acerbic judges/
The First Amendment is strengthened in its protections for all believers when Christians live in the visible, joyful, free exercise of their religion. Just as Satanic forces are weakened by public, joyful testimony to Christ, the power of the First Amendment increases when the culture must acknowledge that Christians bless society as a whole.
Satan speaks through the culture, politicians and government, and his message is that Christians should be silent and invisible; Christ speaks through the Bible and the Holy Spirit, and his message is to tell everyone in the world what he has done. Christians who faithfully engage in Bible study and prayer grow strong in faith and joyful in their testimony. When the public sees Christ rather than fallible human beings in the public testimony of Christians, Christ loves new people into his kingdom.