Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a name synonymous with two words, suffering and joy. To read his writings and his story, the Christian is struck with the reality that this man knew something personally about the cost of breakthrough. Only months before his execution on April 9, 1945, he spoke with such joy about the path that lay before him. He fully understood his responsibility as a believer and soon-to-be martyr for Christ. He fully understood what would be required of him and others who would have a breakthrough in their life for Christ. In only four of those beautiful stanzas of a poem entitled “Who Am I,” we get a glimpse into the heart of a Christian leader who experienced breakthrough:
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Who am I? They mock me,
These lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest,
O God, I am thine! 1
As noted already, true spiritual breakthroughs come through multiple and mixed ingredients. Surprisingly to some, these advances to the kingdom of God come from a mixture of prayer, joy, challenges, peace, suffering, confidence, disappointments and the faith to know you are winning. I like that line from Bonhoeffer’s pen, “Like one accustomed to win.” Locked up and facing execution in Flossenburg by Himmler’s orders, Dietrich was convinced he was winning.
In Acts 12, we find recorded the pivotal events that blend together like a beautiful symphony or like a mighty yell of victory, even in the face of severe challenges. Several selected verses reveal the complexities that accompany a mighty breakthrough:
Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands . . . So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying . . . And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer…Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.’ And he departed and went to another place. Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there…So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. And the people kept shouting, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’ Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God grew and multiplied.2
I have added several italicized phrases above to indicate the fact that great spiritual breakthroughs come through numerous and diverse ingredients. Christianity stands at the portal of a tremendous and exciting time, even in the face of current crises in places like North Korea, Syria, Malaysia, Ukraine, Nigeria and Oklahoma. Christianity and the church are suffering from ecumenism, economic chaos, poverty, secularism, compromise and intense hatred of Jesus Christ. Yet, there is something wonderful happening to people who have the faith and attitude of Peter or Bonhoeffer. There is a peace, joy, confidence and winning mindset that is conquering through it all. Mixed into the milieu is a spiritual discernment that a triumphant breakthrough requires this extreme cost of sacrifice and even martyrdom.
Christianity stands regardless of calamity and suffering. The Scripture passage that gives us direction in this hour of discovery comes from an apostle acquainted with all these intermingled challenges. “Resist him (the devil), steadfast (persistent) in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”3 In fact, let us be resolved to take this whole proposition of breakthrough to a whole new level; why can’t we live in the face of these contradictions and challenges with joy! Simply stated, our joy is the confidence to live with assurance that we are part of God’s restoration in this world. I love the coaching that testifies to this reality by Stanley Hauerwas:
Through repentance we thus learn to accept that our lives personally and socially were not meant to be tragic but joyful. And our joy is not for which we hope, but is a present disposition that pervades our whole life…Joy thus becomes the disposition born of a hope based on our sense that it cannot be our task to transform the violence of this world into God’s peace, for in fact that has been done through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Our joy is the simple willingness to live with the assurance of God’s redemption.4
Frankly, the church is truthfully about people whose lives like doors have been unlocked by Jesus Christ. Therefore, this breakthrough is often done at great cost and subsequently is capable of being accomplished without any fear or bitterness. Sacrificing, sharing, serving with joy becomes a mark of the presence of God wherever they go or find themselves placed by Him. Like Jesus on the cross, these powerhouses are simply ordinary Christians who refuse to weep over temporary losses or inconveniences, but courageously persist until the eternal breakthrough is assured.
Over the last year and a half, the Church of God of Prophecy has faced an enormous and unexpected challenge within our international leadership. Confronted with having to deal with an unprecedented adjustment to our administrate work through a vacancy in the office of general overseer, we were required to test our belief in New Testament plurality in leadership. This has been a season of disappointment, reflection, prayer, discomfort, confidence, teamwork, re-visioning and finally joy. Indeed, it may seem strange to openly admit our frailty and difficulty in working through this challenge, but out of what could have been a catastrophe has developed a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our belief that Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. Yet, the plurality of our seven General Presbyters and a host of godly counselors around them, has accomplished a peaceful and effective transition through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the joy and confidence we have held firmly to, inspires us to know this will all work out to prod us forward into an amazing breakthrough that God has for all those who are His children. Like the apostle Paul, we can fearlessly declare:
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).5
John Naisbitt observed years ago, “Significant movements begin and continue from the bottom up, not the top down.”6 Truly important changes in Christianity and the church begin and progress through ordinary believers who make a difference in their corner of the globe. God reveals a special passion and power to His children that will trust in Him no matter what storms or obstacles come against them. Right now, the future of this church and the kingdom of God is resting on those who everyday go out there among the hurting and suffering in the nations to share the joy, peace, faith and redemption of Christ Jesus. The winning attitude is not only required in top levels of leadership, but more importantly, it is bestowed by the Holy Spirit in the lives of brave Christians who overcome every day. The unnamed and valiant warriors of His peaceful reign around the globe assure this church and Christianity of the breakthrough God has promised.
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York: touchstone Books, 1959, page 19, 20
2 The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, 1982: Acts 12:1-7, 12-13, 16-19, 21-24 (Italics added)
3 Ibid, 1 Peter 5:9-11.
4 Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, Notre Dame: Norte Dame University Press, 1983, page 147
5 Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
6 John Naisbitt, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, New York, Warner Books, 1983, page 3