INTERNATIONAL SITUATION REPORTS
GOOD NEWS - God is Still at Work (Contentment)
from Ron Pearce
As the world attempts to fight its way out of the lingering effects of pandemic lockdowns and global recession, the big question that the international Body of Christ needs to ask itself is clear:
What is the message God is sending to His Church today?
Many Christians firmly believe that the latest world developments prove that we are close to the return of Christ, or at least that this pandemic was a very strong birth pang leading up to the end (Matthew 24:8). Others believe that this is the beginning of a massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit—a revival of biblical and epic proportions (Matthew 24:14; Joel 2:28-32). And lastly, a growing number of Christians are looking at this in a more personal way. They are asking themselves, "What is God telling me to do with my life? What needs changing? Where should my priorities lie going forward?"
At the very least, these last three months have been a wakeup call to the Church.
My recent talks with national church leaders have revealed an overwhelmingly consistent theme. In sharing their appraisals, they talk not only about where the Church is at this point in time, but also where God is leading them in the future. Believers from every corner of the globe are receiving one clear message from the Lord, and this message is comprised of five main components. Not surprisingly, these are the same components that comprise an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which many of the national churches are experiencing today:
- An Insatiable Hunger for God's Word
In the next few editions of Situation Report - Good News, I will share with you these elements, one at a time, accompanied by updates on current and positive Kingdom developments. The first installment for today is Contentment.
A good friend of mine, Stephen Harbridge, who is a leader in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, recently sent out this insightful teaching that encapsulates the principle of contentment. I have pulled from his article several key sections that are fundamental to where the Lord is leading us as believers. He entitled it, "Want What you Have"
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.” ~ Philippians 4:11-13
So…I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting these days on the mental and emotional effects of COVID-19. One thing I’m hearing God say to me in this season is, “Learn to want what you have.” That’s what Paul is revealing as the secret to living in “any and every situation” of life. Contentment—the quality or state of being satisfied; having a soul at rest. Contentment is synonymous with happiness. Happy are the people who want what they have.
In our western—“first world”—culture, happiness is gained by having what we want, not by wanting what we have. It’s this pursuit of happiness that drives consumerism and fuels our economy. Advertisers appeal to this human nature by creating discontentment so as to motivate sales. It is this same human nature that is presently being exposed by the effects of COVID-19.
I considered myself to be a fairly contented person. I didn’t want for much. That is, until COVID-19 took away what I had—my freedom to visit my family; my ability to gather with friends; the environment of safety I have come to expect; the plans I had and the freedom to fellowship with other believers for corporate worship, to name a few. To be honest, I’ve come to realize just how much my pre-COVID contentment/happiness has been dependent on these privileges and expectations. And I don’t think I’m alone in this struggle. There are a lot of unhappy and discontented people these days.
James associates anger with discontentment. He asks the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Then he answers it himself. “It’s because you’re not getting what you want right now. You’re discontented and unhappy. So you resort to aggression to get what you want so you can be happy again.” (James 4:1,2) I’m hearing from angry pastors and parishioners who are contemplating civil disobedience because they want to get back to Sunday gatherings. We’re starting to read about armed protestors in the US marching on state government buildings. I read the other day of a customer assaulting a grocery store clerk. Discontentment, and its emotional expressions, is at an all-time high and we Christians are not immune to it.
I’ve been asked by many what the “new normal” will look like. I don’t know for sure, but whatever else it will be, it will require re-learning the secret of contentment. The key to happiness and anger management is not getting back what we’ve lost, but adjusting our wants and expectations to accept what we now have and will have in the future. And to be thankful for it! This won’t be easy. We will need the help of Christ. This is the true context for Paul’s statement, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s in the real challenges we’re facing today that we need the strength of Christ…
…So, how can I endure this present situation, and learn to be happy in what will be the “new normal”? I can choose to lower my expectations of self and others. I can choose to trust God to supply my daily needs. I can choose to focus on the blessings of the Lord. I can choose to want what I have. And I can choose to be thankful for it.
This is a lesson God is teaching me in this season. Happiness doesn’t come from having what I want. Happiness comes from wanting what I have.
I still remember interviewing a former Muslim sheikh in Ethiopia, who impressed me at my first meeting with him as a man who constantly smiled, and exuded joy and serenity. He said to me, "When I found Jesus, I found what I had always been searching for—peace and contentment. Now that I have Him, I want for nothing, and I can finally rest!" What I saw in this former sheikh is precisely what we are noticing in the world today. The discontent that unbelievers experience because they base their lives on temporal and earthly treasures is vastly superseded by the riches that we have in Jesus, our Saviour. When we cease dwelling on the world's news for a few minutes, and simply listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit reminding us of our position in Christ, we calm down quickly. When we open our Bibles and read verses confirming our safety in trusting a loving Father who embraces us and supplies all of our needs, we sense a growing peace within us knowing we are His children.
Therefore, remember this—contentment is a sign of being a believer in Christ. It is a badge that we wear before a watching world, revealing the power of the Holy Spirit to indwell and control born-again believers.
Christians are becoming known worldwide not as those who want, but as those who are satisfied with what we "have" in Christ.
The Latest News Updates
- There are extremely few cases of Covid-19 in Ethiopia (365 cases at the time of printing), but to be vigilant, the government has taken various precautions, such as the closing of large gatherings, including churches and mosques.
- Smaller groups of up to 15 people gathering in homes are permitted. It is not a full lockdown, as this would precipitate massive unemployment of day workers, leading to widespread hunger and starvation.
- Since much of the outreach is being conducted within small house church settings, these restrictions have not hampered the incredible impact the Gospel is having in villages and towns. Unprecedented numbers from the historical religions are turning to Christ. New believers in Christ and those who are not attending regular services at churches and mosques, because of the temporary closures, are now staying at home, opening their Bibles to read God’s Word and massively growing in their faith or newfound faith.
- Incredible News Alert: In an attempt to compensate for the current restrictions on religious gatherings, the government has made an incredible ruling. Each of the four major religions (Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, Evangelical) have been given sixty minutes of airtime each day on one of the country’s four national channels, and this is during primetime hours. (e.g. Orthodox gets 60 minutes per day on one channel. Evangelicals get 60 minutes per day on another channel, etc.) By far, the greatest number of people are tuning in to the evangelical hour each day, where the Gospel is clearly presented, and biblical discipleship is stressed. Before the pandemic, the government did not allow religious programs on any national television networks. But now the population of 110 million has daily access to the Gospel—at no cost to the Church whatsoever. This unprecedented decision has been granted for a period of two months.
- During this time of the coronavirus, an ultra-orthodox Jewish young man happened to watch videos about Yeshua produced by a Messianic congregation that Empower supports. The young man reached out to their media team. They told him about the different prophecies fulfilled by Yeshua, to which he responded with great enthusiasm. The team explained to the young man the price he would have to pay if he accepted Yeshua as the Messiah. He listened carefully, then allowed them to pray for him on the phone. The young man was so moved that it was not long before he placed another call to the team. Telephone problems prevented him from reaching the believers, but he was determined to connect with these people who had told him about Yeshua and he continued to place calls. After 30 attempts, his call finally went through and he requested prayer. The team prayed, and then the young man prayed these words: "Yeshua, you know I've never prayed like this before. Can You reveal Yourself to me?" The young man was intrigued by the intimate way the team spoke to Yeshua, and he is eager to remain in touch.
- Uncharacteristically, large numbers of Israelis are now seeking to understand the Gospel. In one congregation alone, there are now 10 non-believing Israelis coming to the Shabbat services to hear more about Yeshua.
- In this country of over 100 million people, the pandemic has severely affected society, especially the extremely poor. The government has imposed restrictions on schools, universities, restaurants, stores, and large and small meeting places, including mosques and churches. The gradual loosening of restrictions will likely commence in June. Due to high poverty rates in Egypt, many people and families live on daily wages. People fear death from lack of income and food more than they fear the coronavirus. Diseases and death are so common among the poor that Covid-19 is just another plague added to the already long list.
- All churches are officially closed, and security forces are monitoring them closely. Many Coptic believers are shocked by the unprecedented closures and have numerous questions regarding God's ability to protect His people. One key pastoral leader told Empower, "We are seeing great hunger and need for God among the Egyptian people. This situation (pandemic) has caused a massive shaking in society, and most citizens are now questioning their beliefs. On our social media platforms, we are interacting with a record number of individuals who want to know about God. They ask deep existential questions about pain and suffering and why God is allowing such things to happen. The pandemic continues to provide great opportunities to share the Gospel and speak to how God understands the pain we feel. Many are hungry to know the Truth, and we continue to answer their questions and tell them about Jesus.”
Serbia (Gypsy/Roma Congregations)
- The vast majority of Roma villages have been under daily lockdown from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Anyone breaking curfew laws must pay a fine of 500 Euros.
- The Roma people are watching the worship services and prayer meetings online regularly. Believers have arranged small prayer meetings in their homes to intercede for those living on the streets who are in desperate need of help. One pastor reported that he has never witnessed believers praying openly on the streets before, but they are now stepping out with newfound courage, explaining their faith, and leading many to Christ in the process. "We thank God that people have heard the Name of Jesus for the first time during this pandemic, and many have surrendered their lives to the Lord—not just one, but entire families."
- In some church planting locations that Empower supports, small groups are gathering together in homes, because larger groupings are banned. Unsaved neighbours, hearing that the Christians are meeting together, knock on their doors to ask if they can join them. They have never come to the church, but now are surrendering their lives to God in their neighbour’s homes. This is totally unprecedented!
Bibles and New Testaments
- The call for Scripture is coming to us from all regions of the world. Never has Empower, or any ministry working with the national churches, heard such requests for Bibles, Children's Bibles, New Testaments, and Gospels. This time of social panic is increasingly driving people to seek answers to life and death issues.
- Last week, in a span of only 72 hours, Empower received requests for over 450,000 copies of the Word of God from three regions alone: the Middle East (including Israel), the northern part of Africa and the Horn of Africa. The cries for Scripture are even superseding the cries for food.
- The Book of Revelation calls unbelievers who inhabit this planet "earth dwellers" (Revelation 3:10; 13:14). These are the ones who see life only from a worldly perspective and are oblivious to the presence and power of God. Earth dwellers hear only the cry of the destitute for physical food. However, believers in Christ hear the cry of the lost and desperate for both physical food and spiritual food—that being the Word of God. Why? Our viewpoint as believers enables us to see the world as Christ sees the world. From a believer’s perspective, our eyes are not only on temporal needs—things of this earth—but we see both the current and eternal needs of souls, because we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6).
Our next installment of Good News from Around the World will come to you in approximately 10 days. In that issue, I’ll talk about humility as a key element in a revival. Until then, be safe and encouraged in Christ.
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