Remember your first day at school? Mine was pretty intense. I was 5. I remember that there was a whole area in the classroom dedicated to sand and water; that was pretty exciting. I bonded with a slightly older lad called David but he moved to France about six months later. Still, the sand and water were fun.
Hazily looking back, the thing I remember most was a feeling of total helplessness. I was excited to be going to school but walking through the door into that first lesson I had a dawning realisation that I was out on my own. No parents, no-one I knew, not a single face I recognized. What was this all about? After years of dependence on my mum, dad and brothers, I was suddenly a complete lone ranger. No-one knew me but everyone else seemed to know each other.
We’ve all been there and had that feeling in the pit of your stomach before a job interview, an overdue trip to the dentist or an end-of-everything exam. It’s daunting and most of us would prefer to never feel it. But like it or not, it’s part and parcel of life. That feeling is vulnerability. And funnily enough, I think God’s been asking me to be more vulnerable recently. I seem to be constantly walking into unknown situations and feeling totally out of my depth, just like that first day at school.
Vulnerable with God
Being vulnerable is uncomfortable. You have to put yourself out there wholeheartedly. You can’t be a bit vulnerable, you have to go all out. In the last few years I’ve moved from a job and town I loved to a whole new place and situation. I moved away from mates, a role I knew and from a place I was respected in. It’s been like walking through the classroom door all over again. It’s been a humbling and vulnerable ride, but one I’ve felt God steering.
Now the dust is starting to settle and God seems to be pinpointing the issue again. However, this time it’s more about my heart. Do I really know how much he loves me? Do I really understand his grace? Do I really get that he’s my father? I’m starting to think that I’m cautious about truly letting God tackle my insecurities and issues. I’m hesitant about being vulnerable with that stuff. I’d have to chat to people about it and that could get messy.
“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have,” wrote Corrie Ten Boom, who was imprisoned by the Nazis for helping Jews escape the death camps. But this is a truth that, in my privileged life, I may never really learn. But it’s something that millions of hidden, scared and frightened Christians around the world are grasping on a daily basis. Facing any combination of persecution, poverty and injustice, Christians in North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens of other countries are realising just how vulnerable they are. They really are finding out how much they have to rely on God. They have no other choice. They’ve gone all out and he is all they have. These are some of the things they say:
“People have died because they’d rather die than deny their faith. It gives me hope; it shows me that Christianity is strong.” Young internally displaced Iraqi Christian
“People wonder why I am still staying in this country. I ask myself the same question time after time. As a mother and a wife I want to leave, but as a Christian I want to stay. Every time my husband and I pray, God gives us a burden on our heart: stay in Syria. He has things to do for us here.” Hanna, Syrian Christian
“The more you punish me, the stronger I will be. If you keep hammering on a nail’s head it just becomes harder to pull out of the wall.” Helen Berhane, who was locked up in a metal shipping container in Eritrea simply because of her faith in Jesus.
Jesus is all they have. Food, friends and security are scarce. It’s just them and God. That’s the most vulnerable position to be in. Hearts wide open, there’s nothing left but to cry out to Jesus for his love, provision and protection. It’s the kind of vulnerability I’m never likely to know. But, according to these heroes of faith, it’s also the safest place to be. It’s a place that knows God is bigger. It’s a place that finds security in a father who loves endlessly. It’s a place that comes at an immense cost.
I long for a day when our church family around the world can worship Jesus as freely as we can here in the UK. But the reality today is that millions of Christians live in places where their faith comes at very high price. In the West we might not face arrest, torture or public scorn for our beliefs, but God still calls us all to be vulnerable and that will always cost us something (see the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:17-31 as an example).
That something could involve laying down our pride, moving to a new stage in our lives, questioning how we spend our money or the things we find identity and value in. It could mean renewed passion to tell others about Jesus, to plant churches or to serve the community – and despite the possibility of death – Christians in North Korea, Iraq and Somalia, are doing those very things.
I can learn a lot from persecuted Christians – I can learn to embrace vulnerability.