“For it has been given to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:29-30)
I am persuaded that the contents of this teaching are biblical; but they certainly far exceed the depths of my personal experience and are offered with all humility. The Great Lakes Region of Africa broadly includes a circle of nations, Rwanda, DR Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan which are world renowned for their recent history of civil war and conflict. The Lord however has not abandoned the peoples of Africa. Those present at the Reconciliation Conference in Kampala (www.forap.org) openly testified that the gifts God have given Africa for the world included hospitality, community and abundant natural resources. The natural result of these good gifts (James 1:17) should be peace and prosperity but Africa is a continent of intense spiritual warfare. Below is what I believe the Lord shared with me about his gifts to Africa.
The Gift of Suffering
The graces of welcome, relationship and mineral wealth are abundantly present on the African continent, but there is another gift that is very difficult to receive. Even Jesus, the very gift of God (John 4:10), struggled with this call in the Garden of Gethsemane. ““My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”…he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:34-36). The gift which Jesus was tempted to turn away from was the gift of suffering for God’s sake. Christ however obeyed the Father, endured the supreme agony of the cross (Mark 15:34) and was “made perfect through suffering” (Heb 2:10). Jesus understood his sufferings were the only way to bring the gift of eternal glory to lost men and women.
Every true Christian, African or Australian, believes that God’s power is sufficient to transform our painful situations, but few of us seem to experience the fullness of this grace in Christ. I believe the Lord led me to a passage in Revelation which grants us a heavenly perspective of how we must best view the struggles and sufferings of our lives.
The Golden Censer
The eighth chapter of Revelation describes a visionary scene whose purpose is to encourage the faithful living of the suffering children of God.
“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a gold container for censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the container for incense and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:1-5)
The scene opens with the actions of Jesus the all conquering Lamb opening up the scroll of human destiny. Then a holy angel approaches the throne of God with a golden container, which symbolises that its contents are of great value. It is what the container holds that is so precious to God, “the prayers of all the saints”. (In the New Testament all believers are “saints” e.g. Col 1:2). The smoke mingled with their intercession means that their prayers are accepted by God (Ps 141:2) so that his hand is moved to act mightily upon the earth (Acts 4:29-31). The secret of why the prayers of the saints act so powerfully on God is found in the sacrifice of Christ, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant submission and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5:2). The submission of Jesus to the will of the Father that he die on the cruel cross brought God immense pleasure and released his glory.
As the golden container in heaven is full of the prayers of the suffering Christians of the Great Lakes Region their sacrificial obedience is exceeding precious and brings deep satisfaction to the Lord (Heb 13:15-16). God is pleased to answer the cries of those who cry out to him as they share in “the fellowship of sufferings” of Christ (Phil 3:10). It is not easy however to believe these things in the light of corruption, injustice, poverty and weakness. What is needed is a very deep wisdom of the heart (1 Cor 2:6-7).
Discerning the Purpose
If Jesus could not fulfil his Father’s purpose without coming to a crisis when it seemed like God’s commands were too hard to obey, neither can we mature as Christ’s disciples without similar crises. The very things which seem to crush our faith, corruption, injustice, poverty and weakness, are the key to releasing the outpouring of the grace of God through prayer. Only when I come to the very end of my own resources and the call of the Lord seems too hard to follow, do I ever trust him fully in my heart. God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). As we “despair of life itself” the anointing of the Lord flows powerfully through our lives to others (2 Cor 1:9)
If Jesus could say of his own life, ““Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?””(Luke 24:26), it must be true for all Christians, “The greater the vision the greater the suffering” From the viewpoint of affluent Australia the struggles of the Great Lakes region are unimaginable, but from the experience of Christ who bore the pain of the world on the cross the woes of Africa are very close to his heart. Westerners love to talk and sing about spiritual transformation, but our proud hearts are not prepared for the glory of God. I believe however that the tremendous anguish of Africa is a gift which when released in a mature way can see this afflicted continent become a hub for a global revival. This is the eternal purpose of the awe – inspiring gift of suffering which Africa carries as a burden from the Lord (Hab 1:1).
A Prophetic Image
While praying about this message in Uganda I asked the Lord for a picture that would sum up his purposes for reconciliation in the Great Lakes region. Then I saw a cloud, it was made up of a host of shining twinkling stars. These stars were all the colours of the rainbow. It was a picture of extraordinary beauty of the “cloud of witnesses” that bear testimony to Jesus in the midst of terrible suffering (Heb 12:1). I felt a great desire to be a part of this cloud whatever the cost. This is the call of God to us all, one easily ignored by comfortable Australian Christians, but very close to so many of the believers in Africa.
AFRICA INSIGHTS SERIES