Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Deep Longing for God’s Love

Leslie Basham: Kate McCord says that when she’s speaking to Afghan women and says the phrase, “God loves you,” it awakens a deep longing in their hearts.

Kate McCord:And then the question in my Muslim neighbor’s mind is, “If God loves me, can I know that love—is that true, really—is there more? Oh, I want to listen to this more.” I’ve had groups of people in Afghanistan say, “We need you to come back because your stories are full of life, and we need them.” It's the truth of who God is speaking to the hunger in the human soul.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, August 20, 2015.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I’m so thankful that we have with us in the studio, once again today, Kate McCord, who’s written a fabulous book—eye-opening, challenging, encouraging, compelling. I don’t have enough good things to say about it. It’s called In the Land of Blue Burqas. Kate McCord is not her real name, that’s a pseudonym she uses to protect the people whom she loves and cared for in her years of serving as a humanitarian aid worker in the country of Afghanistan.

Kate, thank you so much. You’re a great story teller. I love how you love the Lord; you love His Word, and you love people. You’re refreshing; you’re honest—just thanks so much for being with us on Revive Our Hearts again.

Kate: You’re so encouraging, Nancy. Thanks for having me. I’m just really enjoying talking to you about these things.

Nancy: This whole subject of Islamic women is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time on Revive Our Hearts; in fact, I’ve had a burden over the years. In this ministry we’re calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. People who have been listening to this program for a long time know that byline.

But it’s always been a burden of mine that God doesn’t give us freedom and fullness just so we can be full and free. He wants to make us conduits of blessing to others. There are so many women in other parts of the world who don’t have many of the blessings and privileges that we do here in “Christian” America.

There are many women who don’t have access to the Word of God, and I’ve wanted our listeners to have a burden for women in other parts of the world who need Christ, and who need the light of the gospel to shine in those dark places. So the issue of women in the Islamic world has been a burden on my heart for many years. I’ve finally found a book that I wanted to talk about, and an author who can communicate on this subject, so thank you very much.

And for our listeners who haven’t heard the last several days of this conversation, please go to ReviveOurHearts.com and pick up the transcripts or the audio from these last several days. It’s been a really fascinating discussion, and I want to encourage you to go back and listen to those programs.

Also, we want to send you a copy of Kate’s book, In the Land of Blue Burqas, and we’ll be glad to do that. You can order through some online retailer, but when you order through Revive Our Hearts, you contribute to this ministry and our helping us reach women in this country and all around the world. When you make a donation of any amount to this ministry, we’ll send you a copy of Kate’s book as our way of saying “thank you.”

Now, we’ve talked a lot, Kate, about the role and the plight of women, marriage, some of these cultural issues. But I want to talk today about the Islamic religion, because I think that’s shrouded in mystery for a lot of our listeners. We hear a lot about it today, but one thing I think people don’t seem to understand today—and our government leaders as they talk about Islam—and the average person doesn’t realize the extent to which the lives and practices of people in the Islamic world are shaped by their religious beliefs.

We have this “separation of faith and practice,” but it is not so in the Muslim world. The way they believe about things, their worldview, their actions, they’re shaped on every hand by what they believe Islam teaches. Am I right about that?

Kate: Absolutely. Islam as a religion focuses on obedience. Those who adhere to Islam, who call themselves Muslims, consider themselves to be submitting to the will of Allah as taught by their prophet Mohammed, and as recorded in their Quran, and in what are called the hadiths, which are the holy books that they follow.

The hadiths are written after the death of their prophet Mohammed, and they are different writers’ interpretations of what their prophet taught, what those things meant, and there are a whole number of books that comprise the hadith—it’s not one book. And then each Muslim group accepts certain books of the hadith as their canon and rejects others.

Nancy: How do they view the Bible, our Scripture?

Kate: Muslims will say there are four books that have come down from God: the Tawrat, which is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, really the Pentateuch. Then there’s the Zabur (the Psalms) which is considered to be the book of Dawud (David). Then there's the Injil, which is considered to be the book of Jesus (Isa), the gospel, and finally the Quran. The Quran supercedes all these others.

Nancy: So, does the Quran contradict these other writings?

Kate: Both the Quran and the different collections of hadiths contradict the writings that are in Scripture, and that’s why, as Christ-followers, we can’t accept the teachings of the Quran, because they do contradict the teachings that we see in the Old and the New Testaments.

Nancy: So they say these other biblical writings did come down from God, and yet the Quran supercedes these, and at many points is different. How does that jive?

Kate: There are a couple of things I want to say here: First of all, the Afghans, in general—and that’s my exposure to Muslims—will all say that they accept four books as having come down from God. But then they will say very quickly that they don’t read the other the other three books, because those three books have been changed, and because their religious leaders tell them those books are full of lies, and that a regular person can’t understand them.

They [the books] have been corrupted, twisted, and a normal person can’t understand them—so it’s really considered illegal in most parts of Afghanistan to even possess a copy of the Old or New Testaments and certainly to read it. That’s not acceptable. They’ll still say they accept it, as having come down from God, so our translation—our understanding—of how we use the word “accept” is very different.

If I say “I accept” something, I’ve taken that into myself. It implies that I might have actually read it, as well as I agree with it. For Afghan Muslims, that’s not what it means. They accept the three books, but they don’t read them. Another thing that I want to point out is that, because they don’t read them, they don’t know what’s contained in them. Therefore, they don’t know if what’s contained in our Book is different, and in what ways.

Also, for many Afghans, they’ve not read their holy Quran in a language they can understand, so they don’t know what it says. And certainly most Afghans have not read the hadiths.

Nancy: So they’re just depending on their religious leaders to tell them what it means.

Kate: Exactly. I’ll give you an example of that. Very often I would ask Afghan women, “Why do you wear a burqa? It covers your face. Why do you do that?” And they would say, “This is Islam. It’s what the Quran teaches.” And I would say, “Really? It’s what the Quran teaches? Why do women in Iran who are Muslims keep their faces open if this is what the Quran teaches?”

They don’t want to say that the Iranis are not Muslims, so instead they just say nothing. They know there’s a good chance it’s not in the Quran, but they have no way of knowing what’s in the Quran, so they wind up saying, “Well, it’s what my husband said the mullah said is in the Quran.” Or, “It’s what the mullah said is in the Quran, and therefore I have to do it.”

You can’t question—at least in Afghanistan—you can’t question the teachings of the mullah. Just by questioning the teachings of the mullah, you are in rebellion. I think this might have been similar to Jesus’ day when people would question the teachings of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and they could be thrown out of the temple. That kind of environment exists, at least for the Afghans—I don’t know if it’s so for other Muslims.

But we interact with Scripture. We interact with God through Scripture. That’s the primary way that evangelical Jesus followers find God. The primary way that Muslim women practice their religion is through prayer. They’ll pray five times a day if they’re Sunnis, three times a day if they’re Shiite. Prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam, so they’re seeking God through prayer, seeking to please Him.

When Muslims pray they put their thumbs behind their ears as if to say, “We are hearing; we are listening to You.” There is a desire for many of the Islamic women, many of the Afghan women, to know God. It’s on their heart, and they try to know God through prayer, through fasting, through obeying the things they’ve been taught—through making vows and then fulfilling those vows.

We as evangelical women from the Protestant tradition, we try to know God—more than any other way—through Scripture. And that’s one of the disconnects that we have when we interact with Muslims in our own lives, in our own environment here—we want to start talking about comparing and contrasting Scripture, and they want to talk about prayer and obedience.

If we would share our faith with them, we need to talk to them about our faith in prayer and obedience.

Nancy: When you talk about prayer and obedience, you keep saying in this book, “There are rules.”

Kate: Rules, yes there are rules. Obedience for a Muslim is obeying laws. That’s what shari’a law is, the laws you have to obey. And there is not one body of law that represents shari’a. The different groups of Muslims recognize shari’a law, but they define differently what that encompasses.

Obedience is an obedience to the shari’a law that’s embraced by a particular Muslim group, and the teachings of the Quran is articulated by the religious leaders in the society. Obedience is very much outward. Muslims will look at us and say, “You say you are under grace, and you don’t have to obey anything.”  We do say that, but it’s not true. We do have to obey the teachings of Christ, but it’s an obedience that ought to be driven from our hearts . . . that we are learning principles from Scripture, from Jesus’ teaching.

The person who is wise is the man or woman who builds his life upon the rock, who listens to the teachings of Christ, and then does them. So obedience is a part of our lives, but it’s not an obedience to the letter of the law . . . it’s an obedience to the principles of Christ’s teaching expressed in our day-to-day lives.

Nancy: And enabled by the grace of God, the Spirit of God.

Kate: Enabled by the Spirit of God, the holy power of God, to empower us to live lives that He desires us to live.

Nancy: What concept do Muslims have of the after-life, the eternal life, heaven? Is that something they’re hoping for?

Kate: Absolutely. There’s a teaching in Islam that all Muslims will get to heaven someday, but if they’re not worthy to get there in the first place, they may go to something that I think is similar to a Muslim purgatory. They get punished for a while, and finally they can get to heaven.

Heaven is pictured as a very sensual place—there are virgins and meat and grapes. Men get their wives back, but it’s not really envisioned as a place of eternal life and the presence of God. It’s also defined in very male terms, so we don’t really know what the joy for women will be.

There is a desire for heaven and an expectation that someday, eventually, maybe we’ll get there.

Nancy: Is that what motivates their obedience?

Kate: Yes, what motivates their obedience is that they look at God as a very harsh judge, and this life is viewed as a test, and the test has to be passed, and the requirement for obedience is enforced by the ummah, the community that is Islam, and this is something that is very different between us, among us. My Muslim neighbors in Afghanistan believe that it is their right and obligation to enforce the laws of Allah on me and on the rest of their neighbors—that when someone steps out of line, they need to be punished.

By punishing sin within the society, they believe they will maintain the purity of the society and fulfill their responsibilities before Allah, and Allah will be pleased with them. For us, as Jesus’ followers, we’re really not allowed to do that. We’re allowed to encourage one another, but we’re not allowed to judge and punish one another. We’re not allowed to enforce the teachings of Jesus or make other people in our society obey the teachings of Jesus.

We can encourage them and equip them and empower them, but their real empowerment has to come through the Holy Spirit and their desire to live God’s will, God’s ways, for the joy of it.

Nancy: So there’s a sense of responsibility within that community to control the behavior and the lives of the other people in the community to make sure they’re toeing the line.

Kate: Absolutely—and this is what makes shari’a law so dangerous for us here in America, and it’s what makes shari’a law so dangerous for cultures that are under shari’a law. Let’s imagine a situation where—in America, for example—you may have a young adult, a your child or your niece or nephew who’s acting out and making really bad decisions. You may grieve over that, and you may go to that person and encourage them to turn, to change, to live a healthy life. You’ll pray that God will direct and guide that person and that God will bring that person to a place that they can embrace the fullness of life.

Well, in a Muslim context, the first time that young person steps out of line, they have to be punished. They’re not given the time for repentance. They’re punished immediately, and they’re dead perhaps. It’s over, and the idea of such harsh punishment is to prevent their younger brother and sister from stepping out.

We just can’t do things that way. God just doesn’t treat us that way. God is patient with us—He’s kind, He’s loving, He’s gentle, He’s longsuffering. He sends His Holy Spirit to us to convict us of sin, to show us what we’re doing wrong, and He woos us back to Himself. It’s the kindness of the Lord that draws us back to repentance, and we do return to God.

In America, in our society, we practice that ethos. We allow people to do things we think of as wrong because we believe that God has given them free will—their choice, their decision, and we want to encourage and guide and woo them back to God. We don’t want to enforce God’s law on other people in ways that God hasn’t enforced them on us.

But under shari’a law, those enforcements happen, because God is viewed as a judge who must be obeyed. For us, God is viewed as a loving Father who desires fellowship with His children.

Nancy: So it sounds like it’s a culture that is really based in fear.

Kate: Very much so, based in fear. Yet within that is a human heart that craves God. So, if you survey Muslims and you say, “Are you afraid? Why do you pray?” You’ll find a great many Muslims say, “I pray five times a day because I want to know God. I love God. I want to be pleasing to God. When I pray I experience peace.”

I think that’s very true. There’s a desire in the human heart that God has given us, to seek after Him, and if all a person knows is Islam, that’s where they’re going to seek after Him.

Nancy: So it’s not just a ritual or a performance thing they’re doing when they offer up these prayers—there’s some who are really, in those prayers, expressing a longing after God.

Kate: Oh, absolutely. One of the things I do in Afghanistan is, I ask people, “Why do you pray?” Well, they all tell me, because they have to. But then I ask them, “What do you experience when you pray?” And the answers are very different . . . and that’s one of the ways I find people who are spiritually hungry.

For example, I asked a friend of mine, “Why do you pray?” and she said, “Look, my life is chaotic—all these children, all these men coming and going—and five times a day I can go over in the corner and I unroll my prayer mat, and I get on my knees before the God of the universe, and when I do that I experience peace, and I want to do that.” Now that’s a woman that’s hungering for God.

Nancy: And what would make her want to have anything more than that if that experience is satisfying for her?

Kate: I think there’s a difference in satisfying vs. really wanting everything God has for us. I’ve been a Christ-follower for over twenty-five years now, and I still want to know God better. I still want to know Him more completely, more fully. I still want to experience Him more deeply in my life. I still want my life to align more and more with His.

I think that’s what I see, as I interact with Muslim women whose hearts are hungry for God. Those women want more.

Nancy: So they’re sensing there’s something more than they’re experiencing in Islam.

Kate: Let me rephrase that—they’re not sensing by default that there’s something more than they’re experiencing in Islam, because they don’t know there’s any chance of something more. But when we share the love of God, when we share the teachings of God, when we say something as simple as, “God loves you,” . . .

Nancy. . . that’s revolutionary . . .

Kate: Absolutely. Then the question in my Muslim neighbor’s mind is, “If God loves me, can I know that love? Is that true, really? Is there more? Wow! Oh, I want to listen to this more.” I’ve had groups of people in Afghanistan say, “We need you to come back because your stories are full of life, and we need them.”

I think as we share Jesus’ stories, as we share Old Testament stories . . . one of the most wonderful things to do is to read the Bible with people of different faiths, with people of different backgrounds. Ask them, “You’re a Muslim. You have grown up in the pillars of Islam and the teachings of your prophet in the holy Quran. Here we are reading this story about David’s sin with Bathsheba, for example. What do you see here? Teach me.”

Nancy: So they would be allowed to read the Bible with you in that context?

Kate: In the United States they can. In Afghanistan, for the most part, they can’t. So we accomplish that by sharing the stories. I bring the Bible in my heart, a living Bible, and then we talk about them together, and we can also do that here in the States, share these stories.

And I think what we want to do is . . . Sometimes we need to refrain from teaching and instead share the stories, share what the Bible says. Then ask the person themselves, “How do you hear that? What does that make you think of?” What richness they’ve brought into my life.

Nancy: Well, the opportunity is right around us. You don’t have to go to Afghanistan to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and we don’t have to be intimated or afraid. I think that’s what you’ve helped me see, Kate. We don't have to be afraid of those who adhere to Islam. To some of us, that’s just terrifying to us, but we don’t need to be terrified.

God is opening hearts. He’s put eternity in their hearts. He’s put in many of their hearts a longing to know the God of the universe. He’s given us the truth, and by means of relationship, and conversation, and having God’s Word hidden in our hearts, and being prepared and open to share it as opportunities are there. It’s a great privilege and responsibility we have.

Maybe God’s putting someone on your heart right now as you’ve been listening to this conversation.  Maybe it’s a person who is a Muslim; maybe it’s just someone who is your neighbor who goes to the Presbyterian or the Baptist or the Roman Catholic church down the street or whatever—but somebody who doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

What are you doing to reach out to establish relationship, to pray, to be sensitive and alert to opportunities, to share the treasure of Christ that God has put in your heart?

I want you to get a copy of Kate’s book In the Land of Blue Burqas. It’s a great read, not only about Afghan women and the practice of the Islamic faith and the penetration of the light of the gospel into that country, but also a great challenge as we think about the light of the gospel penetrating the darkness of our own country.

We’ll be glad to send you a copy of Kate’s book, just as our way of saying “thank you,” when you send a donation of any size to Revive Our Hearts. So give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. Let us know you’d like to make a contribution to Revive Our Hearts, and be sure to let us know you’d like this book of Kate McCord’s, and we’ll be happy to send it to you.

We’re going to continue this conversation for one more day. This is a longer series than we normally do, but I feel like we’re learning so much that we need to know in this world where the Islamic faith is so strong, so pervasive. So I’ve asked Kate if she’d come back for one more day as we continue with this discussion. Join us please for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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