A documentary was recently released showing the amazing growth of the Christian church in one of the most restrictive countries on the earth. The movie entitled Sheep Among Wolves Volume II (found on YouTube) shows how an underground movement has created the fastest growing church in the last several years. Each year the Iranian church grows at least 20% and doubles in number ever 4 years. All this is happening in an Islamic country where its religious government leaders severely restrict and persecute Christian believers.
The Iranian church is largely led by women having a very vibrant and committed prayer life. As it is illegal to evangelize, the believers must be very careful to whom they share the Gospel. Conversion from Islam to Christianity in many cases brings rejection and excommunication from family. In some cases, even death at the hand of their own family members. Being an Iranian Christian is very risky and difficult, for that reason, great courage and devotion is needed.
Surprisingly one of the leaders of the church immigrated to the U.S. in recent years where she spent time amongst American Christians. She had expected to find a similar experience to what she had in Iran, especially with all the freedom and history of Christianity in America. After only a year, she went back to live in Iran. Disappointed in her experience in the American church, she preferred to deal with the difficulties and persecutions in Iran since she felt much more alive than she did here.
In my years of work oversees in places like, Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and the Middle East, there is or has been a great cost to follow Jesus. The expression of Christianity in these places is passionate and full of life. After returning home from my time working there, I have been frustrated at times trying to find something similar here. My own walk with Jesus would become less than I would prefer as I get comfortable with typical American Christianity.
In Matthew 22:37-40, we find Jesus responding to a test put to him by the Pharisees.
Wanting to trap him, they asked him to give preference to one commandment over another, knowing that would be a mistake. Surprising them with his response, he didn’t choose one of the commandments over another as they expected. Instead he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.”
The key to experiencing God in the most powerful way like the Iranian church and others is found in this passage. Jesus commands us to love God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind. It’s easy in the midst of our freedom and comfort to love God only partially. Our love for him can easily become shared with the many other things we have in our lives. When faith is costly, it becomes more valuable and the most valuable things in our lives are placed in first place.
It’s easy to have God as simply another part of our life when we are comfortable in our American lifestyle. With the many distractions of modern life, our devotion to God can be easily watered down in competition with other interests. In order to find a real, vibrant, life giving relationship with God, we must be intentional in directing our affections in the right direction. Jesus is not being egotistical in directing us to love with ALL we have. He is leading us to the most rewarding life possible… a life completely sold out to Him! Colossians 3:4 says, “…Christ, who is our life.” I ask myself every day this simple question. Is Christ a PART of my life or IS He my life? It’s really all or nothing if it means anything!