“Mom, Dad, come quick. Joel’s been hit by a car!” We rushed down the street and found five-year-old Joel standing by his bike unhurt, with a policeman by his side. Streets in Japan are rather narrow and accidents are frequent so we were very thankful to God for Joel’s protection.
Our co-worker, Kazuko, was with us that day and came with us to see Joel. She was noticeably shaken. Earlier that morning, she had told us that during her devotions she had been reminded to pray for the Mathiesen family, and especially for Joel. Was this accident just a coincidence or a sign of spiritual opposition? Earlier that week my husband and Kazuko had removed a Shinto godshelf from the home of a new believer who was preparing for baptism. They destroyed and buried the godshelf. Missionaries in Japan are aware that this can often bring opposition from the evil one. Peter wrote, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 3:8). This incident was another reminder of Satan’s determination to do anything he can to destroy those whom God loves.
God is on a mission to redeem the world and we, the Church, are privileged to be a part of his mission. God promises to do the work, promises to be with us, promises his Holy Spirit, promises that the Church will be victorious over our sinful nature, the world and Satan. He calls us to be in this with him. So how come it doesn’t always look like God’s gospel is victorious? And how does it work in my life? In yours? Why does it seem so many times that we are not overcoming? What or who is working against us? The Bible makes it clear that Satan opposes God’s coming into our world and redeeming us. But even knowing this, we don’t always live in the reality of the spiritual opposition that is working in our lives.
Christians comprise less than 1% of Japan’s population. What kind of opposition is faced by those who want to believe? Who or what is opposing them? Becoming a Christian in Japan is often seen as deserting one’s family or culture and especially one’s religion. It’s hard to know how to overcome that opposition even when we know that God will be the victor.
For example, our church had helped Mrs. S.’s daughter-in-law and young grandson get out of a cult. We spent weeks working with her daughter-in-law and she came to believe in Jesus. This experience influenced my friend, Mrs. S., as well. She saw with her own eyes how God rescued her daughter-in-law and grandson from this cultic influence. Mrs. S. saw the change in her daughter-in-law, saw the freedom this young lady was now experiencing, and felt that her son’s family had been rescued from ruin through God’s power. She gave God and the church all the credit for this amazing miracle in their family.
But I also remember well when her openness to God began to fade. I was visiting with her right after they had gone through all the funeral ceremonies for her young niece. Mrs. S. had asked the church to pray for her niece’s healing, but she had died anyway. Now that her niece was gone, it seemed as if the reality of this family member in the afterlife reminded Mrs. S. of her Japanese responsibility of caring for the deceased according to all the required Buddhist customs. The powerful belief of ancestor worship now overshadowed God’s earlier work in her family. I experienced strong spiritual oppression myself while visiting with her in her home that day, so I could only imagine how religion, customs, family and ultimately the evil one were able to pull her back into her religious belief system.
Mrs. S. continued coming to our home and often heard God’s Word. While we know that God’s Word is greater than anything that evil can do, we also realize that there is always opposition to the gospel. Jesus makes it clear as he explains the Parable of the Sower: “The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like the seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word they quickly fall away” (Mark 4:14-17).
Satan uses anything and everything to oppose the gospel in people’s lives. We hear stories about this from other countries, but are we aware of how much Satan is working to bring discontent, disharmony, or sin into our own lives? Or into our churches?
As we celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ being shared both in churches and also with family and friends outside of the Church, let us be aware of the constant opposition that we face here in North America as well. May we be strong in the love and compassion of Jesus through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Even though Satan is determined to do anything he can to destroy God’s work and the Church, God’s mission is to rescue this fallen world. Being aware of the “roaring lion” among us, let us remember to actively depend on Jesus for his wisdom, discernment and leading, knowing and believing that he alone can keep us and bring others into his family. We can take heart in knowing that God is greater and has promised that he will ultimately overcome.
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Joy Mathiesen served with her husband, Dr. Gaylan Mathiesen, from 1985-1996 with Lutheran Brethren International Mission in Japan. She attends Stavanger Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, MN.