In the face of fears

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for Allah from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to Allah, and they shall reign on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

Revelation 5:9-12

It took me a few weeks to process all the information that I had learned about myself. Prior to the accident, not only had I written a monthly newsletter to those who supported my work in Syria, but it also turns out that I was keeping a blog. Thus, I spent days reading everything that I could find. Most of it was written in English, but some of it was in Arabic. I learned that I was from Lebanon. I had grown up in a country torn up by civil war. I had grown up as a devout Muslim and my family was proudly Sunni. We hated the Jews and our Shia neighbors. We had some Christian friends, whom we tried to convert to Islam but instead they had ended up convincing me that Jesus was Allah's answer for our salvation and redemption. They taught me the gospel and how to effectively share my faith with others. I was even given a new name – Adam – to reflect the fact that I was a new person through faith in Jesus, the Messiah. So I had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord not only once, but twice! First as a Muslim, then as someone who thought they were Muslim.

At first, my family had apparently tried to reason with me, trying to convince me to turn away from faith in Jesus. But, the more we talked, the more my brothers and sisters started to consider the claims of Christianity. That made my father really angry. He said that if I was going to bring trouble and confusion in his house, then I should leave. Thankfully, my father was a good man. Even though I had brought shame upon our family, he still gave me a share of the inheritance before sending me away.

That's when I decided to go to the United States and study at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I made connections with people who would become my strongest supporters. After hearing a sermon on sharing the Gospel with the world, I contacted HeartCry Missionary Society to see how I could serve. That's what led me to Syria, since there was a dire need for the gospel that few people were willing or able to fulfill. Most of my time was spent in Qamishli, where I worked at the orphanage. However, I also traveled to Al-Hasakah and Kobani, where I met other workers for the gospel and reached out to Muslims.

And now, I was trying to digest all of this information. As I did so, one question kept echoing in my mind: "What should I do now?" I must admit that I had conflicting desires. On the one hand, I wanted to be immersed in a Christian environment, where I could freely worship Allah through His Son, without fear or negative repercussions. On the other hand, I again wanted to bring this message to those who needed it the most. After all, I already had some contacts. Nonetheless, I couldn't ignore the fact that I had taken a few steps backward. My recent clash with Abdul would not soon be forgotten. Nadim probably didn't trust me anymore. As for the orphanage, how would I explain my prolonged absence? Furthermore, I wasn't comfortable with the idea of living in darkness, lying about my true identity. But, how could I reach out to Muslims without pretending to be one of them? How could I bring the message of salvation to them if my life was constantly threatened? Wouldn't I be a more useful instrument for Allah's kingdom if I managed to live a long life?

One afternoon, as Haroun and I were about to begin another Bible study, these questions weighed heavily upon my heart. I just couldn't stop thinking about them. The more I tried to ignore them, the more they bothered my conscience. Perhaps I needed someone else's counsel. I already knew what Haroun would say, but I still needed to hear it.

Adam – Haroun, do you mind if we talk about something before we do our Bible study?

Haroun – Sure! What's on your heart?

Adam – You know, I can't stop thinking about what I should do at this point. I feel like the time has come for me to move on.

Haroun – Move on… where?

Adam – Well, that's the problem. I don't know. Part of me wants to move back either to the West or Lebanon, and part of me wants to bring the gospel to the people of Syria.

Haroun – Why would you want to move back to the West?

Adam – So that I can be in a Christian environment.

Haroun – Whenever you go to Church, you are in a Christian environment…

Adam – You know what I mean… I want to be in a place where Christians are not persecuted. I want to worship Allah freely through His Son.

Haroun – You can do that here, even though your life may be threatened. Jesus has set you free, and no one can take that away. Of course, men will try to intimidate you and they can even take your life. However, that doesn't take away your freedom. In fact, it is a privilege to suffer. It is an honor bestowed upon us, and it sharpens our faith. Besides, if they kill your body, this only means that you get to be with the Lord even sooner! Two for one! You can't lose! It's a win-win situation!

Adam – It's easier said than done.

Haroun – Of course! That's why Jesus said that whoever wants to be His disciple must deny his own life, take up his cross, and follow Him. In fact, let me read from the Gospel According to Luke. Keep in mind that these are Jesus's own words: "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (Luke 9:23-26) So, you see… it's crystal clear! It's not an easy calling, but He will give us the grace to overcome if we entrust ourselves in His care.

Adam – Yes, but it's not for everyone to live under these conditions. You can be a disciple of Jesus and live comfortably in the West.

Haroun – What makes you think that Jesus calls people in the West to live an easy life?

Adam – What do you mean?

Haroun – Well, the same words apply to them! Jesus calls everyone to take up their cross.

Adam – But, how does that fit with – let's say – those Christians who are living comfortable lives in the United States?

Haroun – What makes you think that they belong to Jesus?

Adam – What do you mean?

Haroun – Well, let's say that you have two options: lay down your life to serve the Lord, or live for yourself and pursue your own comfort. If someone chooses to live comfortably instead of living for the Lord, then that person has rejected Jesus. That person's actions speak louder than words.

Adam – But, can't you live for the Lord in a comfortable place?

Haroun – It depends what you mean by that. You can certainly have a measure of comfort even if you are serving the Lord and living for Him. However, if the two are antithetical, and if you must choose one versus the other, then your acceptance of the one entails the rejection of the other. Don't be deceived! You can't serve two masters.

Adam – So, what is Allah calling us to do?

Haroun – Allah is calling us out of our comfort zone. He is calling us to sacrifice our worldly comforts for the sake of His glory and for the benefit of others. And He plainly says that if we lay our treasures in this world, we are serving a different master. Instead, we must serve our Master above and lay up treasures above. Mark my words: whom we serve reflects the reality about the one to whom we belong. Besides, the only reason why the Day of Judgment has been delayed is because we still have work to do for His kingdom; otherwise, He would have taken us out of the world! But, as it is, He still has people to save, which is why He is calling us to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, even to those who don't want to hear it.

Adam – Are you saying that Allah is calling for a mass exodus?

Haroun – Maybe… but not everyone needs to go to a different country. You see, the "ends of the earth" includes the West. It includes countries like the United States, England, and Canada. So, if you are moving there or staying there for the purpose of serving the Lord and advancing the gospel, then you are doing well. However, if you are going there or staying there for the purpose of serving yourself and advancing your own cause, then you are not worthy to be called a disciple of Jesus, because you do not belong to Him.

Adam – Do you realize what you're saying? Don't you realize that you're judging millions of people?

Haroun – Adam, I'm not judging them. I'm simply a messenger; I'm just proclaiming the truth that Allah has plainly revealed in His Word. The Lord will be their Judge. But, here's the thing: Allah will judge them based on His Word and based on His standards. So many people want the Lord to judge them based on their own standards… but that doesn't work! Do you realize the folly of making up your own ideas about what Allah requires of you, and then putting your confidence in what you have just invented, as if the Lord had not already told you what to do? One honest look at the words of Jesus in the New Testament would shatter such false assurance.

Adam – I have to admit that it still sounds judgmental to me. Didn't the Lord say that we shouldn't judge others, lest we should be judged in the same manner?

Haroun – That's right… He did. And, that's why, after plainly declaring the message that Allah has proclaimed to humanity, I can then wash my hands and tell them: Now that you have heard the Word of the Lord, judge for yourselves, and choose this day whom you will serve. But, as for me, I will serve the Lord.

These words were difficult to stomach. I had to stop and think about them for a moment. Even though I felt that Haroun was too harsh on those who don't want to suffer, I understood what he meant about having to make a choice between following the Lord and following our own desires. The fact is that I had to make a decision, especially if I wanted my life to be marked by a resolve to live for Allah's glory. On the one hand, I wanted to make a defense for my desire to go back to the West; on the other hand, I was hesitant to do so, since I knew that I could easily rationalize any selfish desire and make it look like my intentions were pure. There simply was no shortage of excuses for not following the Lord, under the guise of nobility. Knowing that the heart of man is so easily deceived, I thought that I should double check my motives. I suspected that something else was driving my decisions. Was it worldliness? Was it selfishness? Was it cowardice? Was it unbelief? Was it fear?

Honestly, even though I really wanted to hope for the best, I could not escape the thought that a life lived for the Messiah in Syria was going to be arduous. This was simply an inconvenient truth. But, why was it inconvenient? Was it because I didn't want to suffer? Was it because I didn't want to forsake the things of the world? Was it because it went against the great plans that I had for myself? The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that this was really a question of my will versus the will of Allah. Would I only submit to Allah's will when it corresponds to my will? Would I only follow the Lord when it doesn't cost me anything? Would I tell Him how much I am willing to give to Him, rather than giving Him everything that He deserves? Who is the master anyways? A servant cannot dictate the terms of his service to his master! To put it bluntly, I did not have the authority to abrogate the Word of the Lord. I had two choices: either I would be a willing servant, or I would be a rebel. There was no middle ground.

Yet, again, this was easier said than done. I still had to face my fears. I had to find some way to overcome the dreadful thought of laying down my life. How would I do this? In theory, the answer was simple: find your strength in the Lord. However, I would still have to learn how to live in that reality; I would have to fight battles within my own heart and mind; I would have to wipe the sweat off my brow and put my hand to the plow, so to speak. Through it all, I would have to pray without ceasing, constantly bowing before the throne of grace, and approaching my loving Father through faith in Jesus –the great High Priest who always lives to intercede for me. The genuineness of my faith would have to be tested through fiery trials, as I am forced to put Allah's Word into practice on a daily basis. I had to admit that this was my calling. As a matter of fact, this is the calling of every Christian, regardless of where they live.

Adam – You know, Haroun, you bring up some good points. I'm not sure what it is, but something within me shrinks back when I think about the difficulties that I will have to face if I stay in Syria.

Haroun – It's called "the flesh".

Adam – The flesh?

Haroun – Yes… the vestiges of the old self. That's the natural inclination of our old sinful nature. It militates against Allah's will, being driven by its own lusts and selfish desires. But, thankfully, we who believe in Jesus have received a new life by the Holy Spirit. As we set our minds on the things that are above, we are being renewed in the likeness of Jesus, since His Spirit works within us.

Adam – So, what can I do to overcome my fears?

Haroun – Meditate on what Jesus has accomplished for your salvation. Consider the fact that He was willing to suffer for your sake, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in His footsteps. Set your eyes on the inheritance that He has promised to you in the afterlife and recognize the fact that He is always watching over you, such that He will answer you when you call upon His Name. Act on the basis that the one who called you to live for His glory also provides the empowerment that you need to accomplish the divine task, directs the affairs of the world accordingly, and avails Himself to those who submit to His will.

Adam – But, that doesn't change the fact that I will face trouble…

Haroun – Not necessarily, but it sure helps to put things in their proper perspective. For example, if men threaten to kill your body, consider the fact that they cannot harm your soul. Whenever you must suffer, rejoice in the fact that it is preparing for you a rich harvest of glory. Whenever you are facing opposition, thank Allah for the privilege to be identified with Jesus, who was also despised and rejected. Whenever you are faced with a task that is beyond human ability, praise Allah for the opportunity to demonstrate His power to the world. But, whatever you do, keep your eyes on Him. Call upon His Name, for His glory and for His purposes.

Adam – Still, it won't make it easy…

Haroun – No, but I guarantee that, by faith, you will overcome.

Adam – I see what you mean; overcoming by faith. It's a victorious faith…

Haroun – Exactly! And it works because He has already secured the victory!

Adam – That's encouraging. Do you have any passages from the Bible that might help me to set my mind on these things?

Haroun – Of course! Turn with me to the Book of Revelation.

Adam – Where is that?

Haroun – That's the last book of the Bible.

Adam – Okay.

Haroun – Look at the second chapter, and go down to verse 10. This message was given to people who were in a very similar situation to the one that you will have to face. Since they were hard-pressed and persecuted for the sake of their testimony, the Lord encouraged them with these words: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested. […] Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:10) Now, I want to point out the fact that this is more than a struggle between human beings. This is a spiritual war. We are fighting on the Lord's side against the powers of darkness, and Allah is telling us that our momentary sacrifice will provide eternal rewards. Through this struggle, He is encouraging us not to give up, since we will soon attain our goal.

Adam – So, you're saying that if I realize what is really happening in the spiritual realm, I will take the battle more seriously.

Haroun – Precisely! Now, let me read another passage from the New Testament. This time, the apostle Peter is addressing the reality that we will sometimes have to suffer for the sake of doing what is right. Basically, we shouldn't expect that everything will go well as a result of our obedience. Instead, we should look beyond our immediate circumstances, and consider what Allah accomplishes through suffering. Listen carefully to these words: "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but sanctify the Lord in your hearts, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in the Messiah may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be Allah's will, than for doing evil. For the Messiah also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to Allah, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit […] who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of Allah, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him." (1 Peter 3:14-18, 22) Thus, we must keep in mind that Allah fulfilled the ultimate act of deliverance through the sufferings of His Son, and He continues His work of redemption in the same manner. What may appear to be a sign of weakness in the eyes of the world is actually a great act of victory, since we are serving the One who has been exalted above all authorities and cosmic powers as a result of His humiliation!

Adam – That's a good passage. It makes me think about our previous discussion regarding the place of suffering and humility in Allah's plan of salvation.

Haroun – You're right. It's amazing to think about the fact that the Lord actually paved the way for us, demonstrating His wisdom and the power of the gospel over against the spiritual forces of darkness. And, just think about this: The One who calls us to suffer actually holds dominion over the entire universe, thereby ensuring that our sacrifice will not be in vain.

Adam – That is amazing!

Haroun – It's good to have this passage as a reference.

Adam – Certainly. But, I didn't realize that it specifically mentions how we should behave towards those who oppose us. What do you make of the verse that calls us to be gentle with these people?

Haroun – What about it?

Adam – Do you find it hard to keep a gentle attitude when you are passionate about the truth?

Haroun – Are you trying to say something?

Adam – Well, as you serve Allah, you also want to conduct yourself in a way that honors Him. We can be bold and humble at the same time. We can adorn the gospel with love and gentleness. We certainly don't want to be proud or arrogant.

Haroun – Haha! I've been exposed again… Yes, I'm a work in progress too.

Adam – I wasn't trying to make you feel bad.

Haroun – Don't worry about it. You're right to point this out. It's good for me to be mindful of that, so that I may not dishonor my Lord, even as I seek to live for Him. As a matter of fact, it makes me think about a proverb: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17)

Adam – That's a good way to put it. There's no doubt that you're a good sharpening instrument!

Haroun – I guess I'll take that as a compliment! By the grace of Allah, we can help one another to grow spiritually. That way, we will become even more fruitful for His kingdom.

Adam – So, I'm useful to you?

Haroun – We all need someone to lean on, someone to help us keep our eyes on the Lord. It's hard to do that when you don't share the same struggles together. If you move to the West, you'll have a hard time relating to my situation. But, if you stay here, we'll guard each other's backs and encourage one another.

Adam – You really don't want me to leave, do you?

Haroun – Of course not! Who else would keep me in check? I need someone who cares enough that he doesn't mind saying the hard truths.

Adam – I have to admit that you are a tough nut to crack.

Haroun – Haha! One more reason for you to stay…

Adam – I'll have to get a bigger stick.

Haroun – Oh, we'll be just fine! Hey, how about we study a passage of the Bible that's related to our discussion?

Adam – Sure!

Haroun – I know just the right passage; it comes from Paul's letter to the Romans. Just listen to this, and meditate on it for a while. Let it sink in your soul. I want you to notice how it affirms what we will have to struggle through and then points to the covenantal love that Allah has bestowed upon us through His Son. Such love makes all the difference in the world! That's why we're willing to endure suffering: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of Allah. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of Allah's children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to Allah's will. And we know that for those who love Allah all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If Allah is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against Allah's elect? It is Allah who justifies. Who is to condemn? The Messiah, Jesus, is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at Allah's right hand, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of the Messiah? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Allah in the Messiah, Jesus, our Lord." (Romans 8:18-39)

Haroun – Praise the Lord! Nothing will separate us from Allah's love in the Messiah! Because it was His purpose to redeem us, we know that He will also bring it to completion. And, because of that, we do not lose hope. Since Allah is on our side, what do we have to fear? Indeed, we are more than conquerors! Let us find strength in His love, so that we may take this message to the ends of the earth. Syria, here we come!

Needless to say, Haroun was quite the character… and I was beginning to like him. In His providence, Allah had placed just the right man to challenge me and force me to face the truth. The more I thought about it, the more I became comfortable with the idea of staying in Syria. I knew that it wouldn't be easy, but what else would I do? If I wanted to serve the Lord, I was exactly in the right place to do so. The Lord had opened doors for me in this country that other laborers for the gospel could never have: I spoke their language; I knew their culture; I even had connections. What a shame it would be to waste this opportunity! Besides, what good would I do in the West? They already had plenty of teachers and workers for the kingdom. I probably wouldn't be as useful over there, as I would be here. I just had to face my fears. I had to overcome, by faith in Jesus. I had to set my eyes on the goal, and not be distracted from it. He would keep me fruitful, and He would work His grace through me. Surely, Jesus is worthy of my trust; He is worthy of everything that is in me!