Be a survivalist.
If you are a survivalist, some people will think you are amusing, and some will think you are a threat. There are enough people in our world who believe the world might end tomorrow that most people have spoken with at least one of them. Survivalists hoard certain things, and the motivation for their hoarding is the desire to be prepared to live and thrive when there is a disaster of such proportions that even the federal government is powerless to help. Survivalists don’t stop at collecting piles of food and bottled water. They also learn skills such as fire without matches and the proper way to make pemmican. They prepare this way, because they intend to survive whatever disasters befall them.
Christians can take a lesson from the survivalists. As long ago as the days of Jesus’s life in the flesh, he warned his followers to be prepared for the day that the followers of Christ would suffer. He foretold that the world would always hate people who followed him, and he foretold that there would be times of great danger. History is filled with evidence of the truth of his warnings. In fact, the daily news is filled with evidence that such times are already upon Christians in many places, and the evidence is clear that Christians in the USA need to prepare for real danger.
Christians who see threats to faith increasing in frequency and intensity need to learn from the survivalists. Christians need to prepare to live through some experiences unprecedented in the USA. The language of law which protected people of all faiths for more than 200 years is being re-interpreted and redefined to mean that all religious speech and actions must be confined to religious spaces, and the principle behind “conscientious objection” is being dissolved in acerbic legal conflicts. If Christians are serious about being Christians, they will need to prepare for the coming disaster.
In what ways can Christians learn from survivalists?
First, Stash the one resource without which no Christian can survive for long.
When a young pastor went to China to learn how to help Christians there, he was surprised. They did not ask to be rescued from persecution; they asked for Bibles. They considered that rather than be rescued, they wanted to live powerful testimonies to people who desperately needed to know Jesus. Who needs Jesus more than someone who is trying to arrest, imprison, torture, and kill Christians? What prepares a Christian to tell about Jesus better than a Bible?”
Every Christian needs a Bible, and that Bible should be worn and tattered. Christians need to read their Bibles. They need to ask questions about what they read and seek the answers. They need to memorize texts from the Bible and be able to share specific information from the Bible with anyone who needs it. The Bible is, according to Jesus, as important to us as daily bread. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus, God himself, quoted God’s words (His words) and indicated that Scripture is the food we need most. We need it every day, just like meat and milk.
Christians also need to study commentaries and devotionals and other Bible helps if they have access to them; most people should have such access online if not in their own hands. Maps, dictionaries, and many other books can help Christians see the biblical texts more clearly, or may help them unravel complex ideas, rather like carving a turkey and eating it a slice at a time rather than trying to gobble down the whole thing at once. But Christians who do not have helps, have the best helper of all given to them freely as Christ promised – the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
The earliest Christians did not have the New Testament. They only had the Scriptures we now call the Old Testament. That is fine. When Jesus met the disciples walking to Emmaus after his resurrection, he talked with them and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Holy Spirit taught the earliest Christians about Jesus as he is revealed in the Old Testament. After the New Testament became available, it provided much more material, but the Holy Spirit is able to use the Scriptures, all the Scriptures to nourish, sustain and inspire a believer.
Second, Pile up the promises of God.
Look at them often. Separate them and pick through them to remind yourself what God says. Make lists of them. Memorize them. Sort through them and count the repetitions. Know your inventory of the promises of God like the back of your hand. Write them down and look at them frequently. Say them to yourself when you go to bed at night and when you get up in the morning.
Third, Put all your hope in God.
It just makes sense, if you believe God’s promises. If God had promised nothing and delivered nothing over the thousands of years recorded in the Bible, then why would anybody hope in him? The Bible shares God’s promises, and the Bible demonstrates how he keeps them. You may come to understand that when God keeps his promises, the fulfillment may not look the way you imagined. God is not in the business of fulfilling your orders; he is in the business of fulfilling his plans. Therefore, you may need to exercise hope in the face of what looks like a failure. Abraham was told that all nations would be blessed through his descendants (Genesis 12:3), but at the time of God’s promise, Abraham had no children. Abraham tried to force God to fulfill his order, and Ishmael was born to Hagar, but that was not the promise God had made, and that was not the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when God finally fulfilled the promise and Isaac was born. Abraham learned that if you hope in God, even the worst looking outcome can be the best possible outcome.
When Jesus died on the cross, all the disciples went home and locked the doors. It looked as if the worst possible outcome had befallen them. Jesus was dead. Gone. The great adventure was over. Kaput. Then on Sunday morning, they found the empty tomb. The worst possible outcome wasn’t the outcome at all. The real outcome was better than anything they had imagined.
Fourth, Start looking at things God’s way.
When you look at things with eyes full of hope in God, then you can see things God’s way. After Jesus had fed a lot of people with a little bit of food, he and the disciples left that place and kept traveling. One day Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about him. Jesus might have been a circus sideshow. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28) The people were confused about Jesus, because they did not see things God’s way. They looked for a sideshow, and that is what they saw.
Then Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29a) The disciples had a chance to look at Jesus up close. They saw things the other people did not see. Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29b). Peter was able to see things God’s way, and he saw the Messiah God had promised over and over in the Old Testament Scriptures. Of course, Peter would simply have said that the Messiah fulfilled “the Scriptures,” because those were the Scriptures he had. Everybody else had those Scriptures, too, but they did not recognize Jesus in those Scriptures.
Fifth, Build relationships.
Jesus knew how crucial it is for humans to have strong relationships. Human beings who are isolated from other humans too long become mentally ill. They are not strong in the face of pressure or pain. They are weak and needy. They want to be with people and be liked by people so much that they will do some terrible things in order to try to earn the fulfilling experience of human caring. People don’t even need to be truly separated to feel deeply needy. They simply need to be convinced that nobody likes them. That experience cuts off the fulfillment of friendship and sharing, and a needy person cannot face persecution and pain with strength.
The most important relationship is the relationship between a human being and God, and many people have survived horrific separation and agonizing torture nourished by the presence and power of God. Still, people who have the option to live around family and/or friends are wise to build relationships with the people in their lives, even if those people are very different or even indifferent. Joseph, for example, was thrown into a prison where the only way out was at Pharaoh’s order, and Pharaoh did not know that Joseph existed. In that depressing state of affairs, the Bible says, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (39:21). Joseph’s relationship with God bore fruit when God made Joseph look good in the eyes of the prison warden. Joseph was able to build and nurture a relationship with the man who could make his life in prison miserable. That relationship sustained him for many dark years before Pharaoh found out about Joseph.
Sixth, Refuse to be a victim.
Bad things happen. Joseph had been a victim several times over by the time his brothers showed up in Egypt looking for food. By that time, several good things had also happened to Joseph, and he was the second most powerful person in Egypt. If Joseph had wallowed in victimhood after his brothers beat him up and sold him to slave merchants, he would likely have died in the slave market before ever getting to Potiphar’s house or to jail or anywhere. He could have whined and cried so much along the road to Egypt that he might have been beaten to death before they got there. Joseph, however, did no such thing. He trusted God. He looked for the opportunities God put in his path. He built relationships with enemies. He had a real life. In fact, he had several great life stories to tell by the time ten shepherds arrived at the grain warehouse where Egypt was able to sell food when all other nations were starving.
Nevertheless, there are many, many people who would have told Joseph that those ten men owed him big time. They would have said that the passage of time had healed nothing, and that there was nothing short of extremely painful restitution and reparations that could possibly heal the breach. We see exactly such attitudes in real life every day. The Balkan Peninsula and the Arabian Nights are full of stories where the key element is skillfully crafted revenge. A recent popular novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, centered on one man’s sick, gruesome notion of revenge. The culture of the USA is currently in full-blown warfare over the righteousness of a hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, because some people who prefer victimhood to blessed relationships say that the words “all lives matter” are not fair to people who feel the need for revenge.
Joseph, however, had a different outlook. He had had twenty years to decide what he would do if he ever saw his brothers, those rats, again, and his decision was — forgiveness. Joseph chose not to be a victim. He chose not to be tied in knots over the past. He chose to look at the good God had done with the bad that his brothers had done. He might even have humbly recalled that he was no prize at the time, either. Joseph abandoned a cry for sympathy and safe space and comforting words and apologies and revenge and reparations. Joseph simply said, “do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). Because Joseph trusted God when things looked hopeless, willingly viewed the world God’s way, and cared about his relationship with his brothers, Joseph was able to forgive. He pulled the poison injected into the family by his brothers’ dastardly deed. He made it possible for the family to heal.
When Christians today encounter hardships, feel danger, or endure persecution, they are experiencing exactly what Christ promised would come their way. If they gather up the things they will need ahead of time, and if they practice the skills they need ahead of time, then, like survivalists, they will be prepared when hard times come. How do you prepare for persecution? You might learn something from a survivalist.