This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free, compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Mehdi Dibaj (Iranian, imprisoned, released and murdered for his faith in Jesus Christ), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)
These days there are celebrations everywhere. People outside celebrate the day of Revolution and you, my son, are celebrating your birthday today (17 years old).
Inside my prison cell I am celebrating my forty-third year of becoming a Christian and today I am celebrating the entering of the eighth year of the test of my faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is a celebration and joy within my heart. I thank my loving God ever so much that He accounted me worthy to be here in prison for more than seven years now because of my love and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my Christian brothers and sisters who have supported me with their prayers and love, so that the victory should belong to the Lord.
Victory is Yours, risen Jesus, Son of the Creator, our Redeemer.
A moment of introspection: Two testimonies come from the pen of Mehdi Dibaj: An eight-year-long test of faith, and "There is a celebration and joy within my heart." What kind of faith experiences joyful celebration after such a period of suffering for one's love and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it a proven faith, one confirmed in adversity and trusting in Christ alone for victory? The writer of the book of Hebrews understood Pastor Dibaj's exclamation: "Victory is Yours, risen Jesus..." when Hebrews' author penned "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." There is a sense in the writing of this Iranian author that, even as the apostle Paul reported in Philippians 4:11, he had learned to be content whatever his circumstances. To Mehdi Dibaj, the joy of the Lord was his strength (Nehemiah 8:10) through his ordeal. There is an undercurrent of agreement with the words of the New Testament book of James (1:2-3 - NIV) when he wrote, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." For Pastor Dibaj, the testing of his faith developed perseverance for 8 long years of suffering for Christ's sake.
How can we, in our time, our place, and our circumstances achieve such life-changing, life-sustaining joy? First, we need to understand what the apostle James meant by "pure joy". "Pure" joy is innately different from "joy" itself (described in Psalm 30:5). Pure joy comes when, in utter defeat--when no joy is forthcoming--one cries out as did Pastor Dibaj, "Victory is Yours, risen Jesus, Son of the Creator, our Redeemer"! In times of endless trial, in times of apparent defeat, in moments of forsaken strength to continue the struggle--these are the moments in which we can join Pastor Dibaj in proclaiming, "Victory is Yours, Jesus!" These are the moments in which we come to understand and to let the pure joy of that fact, that truth, wash over us.
Do we not feel "pure" joy in our lives? Then we have not come to the end of ourselves, our abilities, our strength. We have not "resisted to the point of shedding [our] blood in striving against sin" (i.e., to the point of death; Hebrews 12:4) and against the fallen one (our adversary, the devil) who, in 1 Peter 5:8 we are told, "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Do we desire to experience "pure joy"? Then let us serve God with passion and strive against the looming darkness of this world. God's Kingdom has need of Christians who claim our sole victory as Jesus' victory, and who loudly proclaim in love, to the world, "The LORD is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens." (Psalm 113:4)
NOTE 1 … the author of the indented devotional paragraphs, Pastor Mehdi Dibaj, an Iranian pastor and martyr, is one of the pastors whose true martyrdom stories are featured in the DVD "A Cry From Iran: The Untold Story of Iranian Christian Martyrs" (www.ACryFromIran.com)
NOTE 2 … from Paul … Please also note that, for the purposes of my current devotional, I had been at a sore loss to understand what God's Word meant by "pure" joy versus more standard Christian joy. I couldn't find a definition of that descriptor "pure" in this context, in any of my commentaries, Bible dictionaries or study notes. So as I was walking home from dropping off our family car to my wife at her school, today, I prayed that God would grant me wisdom to understand the concept as the apostle James presented it (NIV). The devotional was only possible because God answers prayer. It was He who elucidated the idea for me. I passed along, in the devotional, what I learned in prayer today. God is GREAT! Later, I had the same request in reference to Hebrews 12:4 (i.e., what does it mean to not have resisted to the point of shedding our blood in striving against sin? God brought my attention to its meaning that, as Christ overcame the world at the cost of His own shed blood, looking to Christ as our example, the above phrase means "to the point of our own death".