“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world … Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred in 1945)
If you spend a few minutes searching YouTube for doomsday preppers, you’ll find everything from the sensible to the bizarre—or frankly frightening. Tips on gardening, first aid, canning, storage, and survival skills abound, along with weaponry training, hiding tactics, and bunker tours (but WHY WOULD YOU NEED A BODY CHUTE, KEVIN?). No, we are not living in the dystopian world of The Hunger Games; this is how real people around the country are readying themselves.
Last week we established that the scenario of Christians facing severe persecution in the last days is both biblically and historically plausible. Out of this recognition springs a need to consider how we might best prepare for such a time. Should we begin hoarding and learning to handle a tank? Do we all need body chutes?
How is the training process of gospel-saturated, clear-sighted believers different from that of desperate individuals without an experiential awareness of a loving and sovereign God?
Several distinctions can be made, all of which stem from two antithetical heart postures. While the world plans to take a stand from a place of brute strength, Christians work and rest in the assurance of their Father’s care. Lost people are fighting for their survival here and now; believers bear the eternal in mind, even if it means risking their lives. The world is prepared to “take down the bad guys,” but Christians know that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against a spiritual enemy. Lost people focus on preparing and protecting the body; believers emphasize readying the soul. The world sees “outsiders” as a threat, but Christians view them as beloved image-bearers caught in deadly bondage. Lost people are consumed with minimizing suffering; believers are concerned with making the most of it.
At bottom, those who follow Jesus don’t approach trials the way the world does. I’m not saying that anyone who makes physical provision is ungodly. Scripture seems to hold faith and diligence in a beautiful tension—just look at Matthew 6:25-34 and Proverbs 6:6-11. We’re called to balance shrewdness and peace, keeping our kingdom priorities clear and maintaining a keen sense of who ultimately holds our future in His hands.
Let’s move into the practical side of things: we don’t want full pantries and empty hearts. Since there are so many resources on external preparations, we are going to focus on readying the inner world. I know I need to gird myself with gospel truths sturdy enough to withstand any storm that may come, but how to begin? Here’s a prepper toolbox worth investing in:
Meaty Scripture memory
Want a quick way to be humbled? Ask any persecuted believer overseas what her Bible means to her. For Christians who have to smuggle Scripture across borders and read it by the light of a single candle, this book is life. What a stark contrast to my pile of previous copies languishing on that dusty bottom shelf or the dozens of websites with immediate access to any translation I could want. In the event of having my Bible confiscated, how much of it would be readily hidden in my heart? How familiar am I with its various parts? If Jesus held the Word of God in such esteem as to consider it His food in the wilderness, surely I need to stop seeing it as an optional and occasional snack. The best way to begin stocking my soul is to soak it in Scripture.
A storehouse of great hymns
In Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald shares the story of Howard Rutledge, a US pilot shot down and imprisoned during the Vietnam War. The soldier’s memoir mentions his lack of spiritual resources when he needed them most:
Now the sights and sounds and smells of death were all around me. My hunger for spiritual food soon outdid my hunger for a steak. Now I wanted to know about that part of me that will never die. Now I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church. But in Heartbreak [the name POWs gave their prison camp] solitary confinement, there was no pastor, no Sunday-School teacher, no Bible, no hymnbook, no community of believers to guide and sustain me. I had completely neglected the spiritual dimension of my life. It took prison to show me how empty life is without God.
MacDonald goes on to discuss how to lay up internal treasures for such dark times, and one surprising inclusion is music. He remembers favorite hymns he was raised singing, those tried and true anthems of the ages, and then states:
A new kind of music is being sung in most churches today, and it’s okay even if I miss the songs of my childhood. I applaud the writing and playing efforts of a new generation. But if we are not careful, there could be a problem. Years ago my generation sang our songs thousands of times over. They were drilled into the deepest parts of our private worlds. Most songs today are sung just a few times before they disappear. Sometimes I fear that there may come a day when Christ-following people, like Howard Rutledge, may find themselves in POW camps and have nothing to sing.
Practices of the underground church
While I have a deep love of originality, I’m definitely a fan of not reinventing the wheel. Any persecution we may face in the future won’t be the first in history; believers have been finding creative ways to flourish spiritually for millennia. They’ve developed secret ways of communicating (the Christian fish symbol, for instance), meeting, studying, and worshiping that could easily benefit us in darker days to come. Sitting at the feet of our brothers and sisters in chains and letting them teach us how to not only survive but thrive in the midst of chaos? Sounds like wisdom to me.
Meditate on the cross
Absolutely nothing concocted by the darkened heart of man could ever begin to compare with the hell of Calvary Jesus endured for us. Fixing our eyes again and again on that old rugged cross serves as a visceral reminder of why our suffering will be worth it—Christ! Christ! And more Christ! Every ounce of pain will ultimately be hijacked by Jesus and turned inside out for our good, yielding unfathomable, weighty glory forever. In the ages to come, will we look back on these hardships and wish we could have sacrificed more for such a worthy King? Those bloody beams speak courage to any who would make a habit of gazing on them.
Real-life examples of suffering saints
There are numerous accounts of believers who have paid the ultimate price throughout history. You can find biographical works about individuals (I loved Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place) or compilations like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. If movies are more your speed, check out films such as “Tortured for Christ” and “End of the Spear.” The Voice of the Martyrs publishes a free monthly magazine and produces a robust podcast. Regardless of which medium you prefer, intentionally increasing your exposure to the persecuted church should infuse your spine with steel while simultaneously bringing you to your knees in grateful praise to be invited into this unique family.
Oh, to grow a faith that won’t be ashamed before the throne of my King who endured the unimaginable for me! To stand with my head held high in the presence of such a great cloud of witnesses (many of whom went to their deaths singing praises to God)! We can’t know for sure if or when we will suffer, but there’s so much to gain by preparing ourselves and nothing but our lives to lose.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
(Jim Elliot, martyred in 1956)