By Randi Peck
“Our profoundest bow to Amaterasu Omikami [the sun-goddess]!”
As one person, that enormous crowd followed the shouted order by bending the upper half of their bodies solemnly and deeply. Of all the people at the shrine, I was the only one who remained erect, looking straight at the sky…
I had no fear for myself, but I was well aware of my critical situation.
I am dead, I realized, Ahn Ei Sook died today at mountain Namsan. 1
In 1929, Christians in Japanese-occupied Korea were heavily persecuted—often tortured or killed for their faith. Ahn Ei Sook (also known as Esther Ahn Kim) knew that refusing to bow to the Japanese idols would soon lead to her imprisonment.
So for the months following her public rebellion, Esther went into hiding. And she prepared to die for Jesus.
She memorized more than one hundred chapters of the Bible.
She prayed fervently.
She fasted from food and water, sometimes for over a week.
She lived in deep poverty and ate rotten food, acclimating herself to prison-like conditions.
All this, to prepare for the test that awaited her.
Ultimately, Esther would be captured and imprisoned for six years, tortured mercilessly and pressured to deny her faith. But Christ sustained her. She shared the gospel with her fellow prisoners, and then to countless more as she traveled and shared her testimony in the remaining decades of her life.
Esther Ahn Kim endured such suffering only by the grace of God. She witnessed his miraculous power and comfort in ways that most believers never will. But it was the grace of discipline that postured her to encounter God in her suffering.
Esther obviously wasn’t the first follower of Jesus to understand the gift of discipline. The very first apostles lived their lives in a constant state of leaning in to sanctification.
We tend to hone in on the Lord’s supernatural showing-up, through the book of Acts. The tongues of fire resting on the disciples heads. The shadows that healed the sick. The earthquakes breaking off prisoners’ chains…
But look closer into these stories and you’ll often find that the miracle was preceded by a “work of faith” and a “labor of love” 2. The early church positioned themselves to encounter God, through worship and prayer, Scripture and giving, fasting and gathering together.
This is discipline—positioning ourselves to enjoy and glorify God to a greater degree.
God certainly can and has shown up in the uninvited moments of our lives. But more often, he reveals himself when we’re seeking and expecting him. In his sovereign design, we have been given a daily, hourly choice to look to him.
Walking out a grace-fueled, Christ-focused life takes discipline! If we believe whole-heartedly that God has given us the gift of salvation, apart from any works, then we will spend the rest of our lives laying aside every weight and sin, running with endurance the race that is set before us 3. Salvation isn’t the goal of our discipline, but salvation is the fuel for our discipline.
If we want to use these short lives for eternity, if we want to encounter more of God’s goodness, then we will long to live out this dependent discipline.
We will gather together.4
We will be devoted to prayer. 5
We will fast.
We will give generously.
We will study and preach the Word.
We will evangelize.
We will walk by faith— not sight and not feeling.
We will sing and give thanks.
These practices can seem inconvenient in the midst of our busy schedules and short attention spans. They can seem frustrating or scary. But when we bow our lives down, to seek and serve him more, we will encounter true and Abundant Life.
Esther Ahn Kim had tasted the goodness of the Lord, and so she longed to “grow up into salvation” 6. But that doesn’t mean it was always easy, or that she always felt like laying down her comforts to pursue him. As Leslie Ludy puts it, “Esther Ahn Kim counted the cost of following Jesus- not only on the day when she refused to bow at the shrine, but every day thereafter.”
She was deeply aware that Christ was worth everything. She was also deeply aware that apart from the Spirit, she could do nothing pleasing to him. And so she practiced discipline, trusting that as she positioned herself to know him more, HE would provide the spirit of power and love and self-control7.
1 If I Perish, By Esther Ahn Kim
2 1 Thessalonians 1:3
3 Hebrews 12:1
4 Hebrews 10:25
5 Acts 1:14
6 1 Peter 2:2-3
7 2 Timothy 1:7