I expect some of you have heard of Saeed Abedini and are praying for him and his family. He is an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity and he has been in prison in Iran for his faith for three years with no immediate or even long term hope of release. His home is in Idaho and he is an American citizen. His wife Nagmeh and his two children Rebekah and Jacob never cease to pray for his release. The conditions he exists in are appalling and he is a very sick man, suffering constant pain and regular beatings. He has just in these last two weeks been tasered every day. However during his imprisonment he has led many men to Christ, men who are staring death in the face and who realise that Islam has no answers for their eternal security.
Nagmeh travels widely to fight for her husband’s freedom and to bring an awareness of the persecuted church to people who do not realise how bad the persecution is for so many. She is an amazing lady upheld and enabled by God. She is often downcast, often weeping, often discouraged, but through it all the Lord is her strength and her shield. She has met many prestigious people, she has spoken at UN meetings, to Congressional gatherings, to churches, to the EU, and at every meeting she tells people about Jesus, without fear. Yes she is afraid in the flesh, but in the Lord she is strong.
This is what she wrote on Facebook some months ago while she was fasting and in prayer:
“Today as I found myself wanting to complain about having to do another twenty days of fasting (she was fasting from some of her favourite things each day), I could see Saeed and the tens of thousands of Christians who are imprisoned because of their love for Jesus. They have given up their basic rights and freedoms as human beings (food, water, home, family) for months and days and years, because of their love and passion for Jesus. Many have given their lives. Suddenly my fast did not seem difficult at all. My mind was on Saeed. In a cold dark cell with no believers to encourage him. With minimal food and water. With no bed. I could hear Paul writing from his prison cell, ‘I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.’ The word ‘learned’ caught my attention. Paul had learned to be content. It did not come to him naturally. But he had learned it, and how well he had learned it! To write such encouraging letters to those on the outside. For Saeed being content means, being content in his cell. For me it is learning to be content with having a husband who is suffering in prison. In being a single mum. In letting go of all timelines and expectations of Saeed’s release and praising God despite the circumstances and how long that might take or how things might turn out.”
Heartfelt words from a lady whose life has been turned upside down. She has found herself in a position she never, ever expected to be in. The life she knew as a wife and mother, happy at home bringing up her children, has been snatched away from her. Saeed’s life is not his own, his freedom, his health have been taken away by vindictive men, full of hatred towards him because he turned from Islam to Christ. He has been labelled traitor, enemy of the state of Iran. Yet both he and Nagmeh, in their separate worlds of suffering are learning to be content. Nagmeh is right, such contentment has to be learned.
Paul expressed that himself. His life was a roller coaster of ups and downs. He was tortured, he was beaten, he was imprisoned, he was ill, it is believed too, that he died and was restored to life. He had experienced more in his life as a believer than most of us ever will in our walk with Christ. Yet he could say that he had learned to be content whatever state he was in.
Do you recall the time he was in prison with Silas?
“And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptised, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.
Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, ” These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tor,e off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ” Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.
And he brought them out and said, ” Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptised. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household”. (Acts 16:13-34)
Paul and Silas had made a nuisance of themselves by casting out the evil spirit from the slave girl who was pestering them, but speaking the truth about them. After that she was no more use to men who were using her to get money from fortune telling and they were angry, their source of income being gone. So they were beaten and thrown into prison.
Can you imagine it? These two men of God were beaten with rods. They must have been in agony, totally helpless after such a flogging and yet they were thrown in the most secure part of the prison and secured by their feet in stocks. Did those who threw them in prison really feel so threatened that they had to go that far? Do those who threw Saeed into the worst and most secure prison in Iran, wounded and in great pain from torture and beatings, feel so threatened that they had to go that far?
And yet, through all the pain and suffering, Paul and Silas sang hymns of praise. Now I think this is so interesting… the other prisoners listened! I would have thought that at midnight, most prisoners would have yelled out for them to shut up because they wanted to sleep. But no, they listened!
Then suddenly, the earthquake. Coincidence? No way! This was all God ordained. The prison doors flew open, everyone now had the opportunity to escape. But did they? No!
Wonder of wonders! When the keeper of the prison arrived, he was certain that the prisoners would have all escaped, in fact so sure was he, that he was about to kill himself, knowing that death would be the penalty anyway if it was true. Paul shouted out to him not to harm himself for all were present and correct. The poor jailer must have been awestruck… no wonder he was trembling.
He recognised that this had to be God at work in these remarkably unusual circumstances for he asked what he must do to be saved. How wonderful that he said those words. He could so easily have killed himself.
Paul and Silas gave him the good news of Jesus Christ as he tended to their wounds and he and his whole household gave their lives to Jesus and were baptised.
Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6 “Now Godliness with contentment is great gain.” He had learned through all his experiences how to be content in any situation, even to being able to sing praises to God whilst in great pain and what a reward resulted from that situation?
Saeed and Nagmeh, and I am certain many other brothers and sisters in Christ, are learning that same lesson, and I believe that is what God wants us to learn too; that whatever our situation, whatever is happening in our lives, good, bad or indifferent, we should learn how to be content. There is nothing that can happen to each one of us that God has not allowed in each individual life for learning and for growth. If we can live out these situations, knowing that whatever happens, whatever the results we are in God’s more than capable hands, trusting Him, loving Him, praising Him, even when in adversity, then we will truly learn what it means to be content. He is the answer to everything. Remember this life is short, even though it doesn’t feel like it most of the time. This world is not our home; but while we are here let us ‘bloom where we are planted’, making the most of every opportunity that is placed before us. Seeking to serve the Lord wherever we can, however we can and whenever we can. As long as we remain within His will, He will be our strength, our enabler, our guide and direction.
We may not find ourselves in such extreme conditions as those we have been thinking about in this series, but having said that, none of us know what tomorrow may bring in the light of what is happening in the world around us today. So may we be like Esther, Daniel and Paul, who found themselves in unexpected and difficult circumstances, yet bloomed where they were planted by God, for they were all within His will and part of His plan that reaches forward to today. We don’t know how our lives may affect future generations, maybe they never will, but never forget, God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things for Him!
God bless you,