preparing for persecution

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11,12)

Blessed are the persecuted… these are not words we are inclined to dwell on. Christians in western democracies in the last couple of centuries have taken their religious freedom for granted. Indeed, our culture has, in a broad sense at least, privileged Christian beliefs and values. This privilege is fading fast. Christianity is increasingly identified with a past that many wish to disown and with values that are now considered oppressive. Christians are rocking on their heels.

Perhaps it is time to prepare for rejection at a level most Christians alive presently in the West have never known. Below is a few ways we may begin preparing our minds for greater opposition.

  • It is not wrong to hope not be persecuted. While there is blessing in persecution, persecution in itself is not a virtue. The early church was scattered as people moved elsewhere to escape persecution. Paul often had to flee for his life. (Cf. Matt 10:23) There is no shame in praying, ‘let this cup pass from me’. Persecution is a trial from which we may legitimately ask to be kept. It is not something we should seek with misplaced bravado. Instead, pray that the authorities will allow us to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (1 Tim 2:2). However, in the final analysis, faith says, ‘nevertheless not my will but yours be done’.
  • Persecution in one form or another and to varying degrees is to be expected. Paul says all who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution ( 2 Tim 3:12). Jesus taught his disciples that just as the world had hated him it would hate them too (Jn 15:18). He taught them to expect persecution (Jn 16:1-4, 33). The world is opposed to Christ. That is why throughout its history the church has often endured exacting persecution. In many parts of the world it grapples with severe persecution today. For many of us, the world’s hostility has been slight. This may soon change. If it does, we should not be shaken in faith for we were promised no less. We need firm clear resolve. Jesus ‘set his face’ towards Jerusalem (Lk 9:51-54). He knew what would happen to him there but he was firm in his resolve. He is our role-model. Peter writes,’ 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet 4:12).
  • The call of the gospel was a call to cross-bearing. This is tied in closely to the previous point. We died to a life of self-pleasing. When we became a Christian we contracted to take up our cross and follow him. Some of course become Christians not having evaluated the cost and when the implications of following become clear some turn away (Jn 6:60-70). Such, says Jesus, are not worthy of the Kingdom of heaven (Lk 14:25-34, 9:62). The way to life is by way of a cross. Those who love their lives lose them and those who late their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (Jn 12;25, 26). It is because he loves us that he calls us to give up our lives for it is in dying we live. It is in a text stressing the constant love of Christ for us we read ‘for your sake we face death all the day long. We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered‘ (Roms 8:36). The way of the cross is the way of love; Christ laid down his life because he loved us and we lay down ours because we love him.
  • Fear God not men. Jesus said, ‘Do not fear them who can kill the body but not the soul. Rather fear him who can kill both body and soul in hell’ (Matt 10:28). Remember it is those who endure to the end that are saved (Matt 24:13. Cf. Hebs 3:14, 10:39). It is those who conquer who enter the kingdom while among those cast into the lake of fire are ‘the cowardly’ (Rev 21:7,8). There are healthy fears and fearing God’s judgement when we’re tempted to abandon faith is one (Hebs 2:1-3, 6:4-8, 10:26-31).
  • Resist devilish unbelieving thinking. The prospect of persecution will test the mettle of our faith. Reactions to the threat of persecution may differ from person to person to person, however, it is likely that any latent weaknesses in our faith will reveal themselves. Doubts that sometimes may have flitted across the back of our minds will clamour for centre stage. They will gain a new found potency. We need to label them for what they are. These thoughts are charlatans. They arise from fear and need to be condemned as unworthy. They are ultimately satanic and destructive. We will need to resist them and for that we will need the armour of God (Eph 6). Perhaps the important point at the moment is to recognise is that these attacks are not unusual. They have been experienced by many before us. That’s why we are given the armour. We should take encouragement from the words of James, ‘resist the devil and he will flee from you’ (Jas 4:7).
  • We will not be tried beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13). Although the context of this promise is the common trials of life it holds good for the trial of persecution. We are promised too a way of escape not necessarily from the trial but in the trial. The way of escape is surely found in looking to him as our source of all comfort and strength.
  • God is with his people in their persecutions at every point. Grasping this is what strengthens our spirit. He promises he will never leave us or forsake us. And if the Lord is our helper we need not fear what man can do to us (Hebs 13:5-7). If God is for us who can be against us (Roms 8:31)? Our Heavenly Father knows our needs and will meet them (Matt 6:26-32). The world may persecute but we need not fear because Christ has overcome the world and will enable us to overcome (Jn 16:1-4, 33). We may feel weak and vulnerable but the Spirit of God dwells within and he is neither weak nor vulnerable. He will give us courage and endurance (2 Tim 1:7). Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (I Jn 4:4). And so we entrust our souls to a faithful Creator (1 Pet 4:19).
  • Refuse to think anxiously about the future. Jesus teaches us to refuse anxiety. It is futile for it cannot change anything and it is foolish for our Heavenly Father knows what’s we need. We are given grace for one day at a time. (Matt 6:25-34). Sometimes our minds create fearful scenarios in the future. These imaginings are not helpful. They paralyse and enervate. They are enemy of faith for our focus is on an imagined situation and not on the Lord. God gives grace for what is real not what is imagined. When Jesus told his disciples they would be persecuted he taught them not to be concerned about what they would say if interrogated for they would be given the words to say (Matt 10:19). The God who provides for our needs today will provide for the needs of tomorrow when and if tomorrow comes. There is a line between preparing our minds for the possibility of persecution and fretting or worrying about it. In fact, part of preparing our minds is determining to refuse to give credence and house room to worrying thoughts and imagination. Paul, writing to the Philippians believers says, ‘The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:5-7).
  • Don’t focus on the suffering but on the glory that follows. It was the anticipation of future glory that enabled OT believers to persevere in faith often in the face of severe persecution (Hebs 11). It was because he saw the joy to follow that Jesus endured the cross (Hebs 12). In a couple of occasions in the gospels it seems that as the cross approached Jesus focuses on the glory that lay beyond (Lk 9:51; Jn 17:4,5). Our sufferings here, Paul reminds us, are short and slight compared to the eternal weight of glory that shall follow (2 Cor 4:17 Cf. 1 Pet 4:12). Indeed suffering here will increase the glory… blessed are you when men persecute you… for great is your reward in heaven (Matt 5:11,12). If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him but if we deny him he will deny us (2 Tim 2:12).
  • Derive courage from the faith of others. If God enabled them to endure he will enable us to endure also. They witness to his keeping power (Hebs 11). These were ordinary people it was their God who was extraordinary. We are not alone but part of a vast army of believers spanning history who have overcome the world by their faith (I Jn 5:4).
  • Fix our eyes on Jesus. He is both the supreme inspiration for faith and the sole and sufficient object of faith (Hebs 12: 1-3). Don’t look at the waves look at the Lord. Again and again in Scripture we are exhorted to look to our God and no time more so than when fear rises in our hearts. Have no fear of sudden terror trust in the Lord (Prov 3:25,26). The antidote to fear is always faith. The Psalmist says ‘I have set the Lord always before me. He is at my right hand therefore I will not be afraid (Ps 16:8).
  • Do not be afraid, only believe (Mk 5:36). Most, if not all, of the above points are essentially a call to refuse fear and embrace faith. Jesus urges this because it is possible. It is a question of the will. Will we fear or will we believe? The choice is stark and absolute. It is in many ways it is a no-brainier. Who wants to live with fear? Who wants to feel they failed because of fear? How destructive would such cowardice be – now and eternally?

But how do we conquer fear?

We do what we find in the Psalms repeatedly; we speak to ourselves in the language of faith? I won’t have the courage to face persecution... the Lord will be my courage. I won’t have the strength to withstand the pressure… the Lord is my strength. I won’t know what to say... the Lord will tell me what to say. But these are fearful foes... if the Lord is for me who can be against me? I don’t have enough faith... the Lord will give me faith. To every fear the final answer is ‘the Lord’. He loves us deeply and will keep us in every situation. Nothing can come between us and his love (Roms 8:37-39). Our trust is not in ourselves but in the Lord. We are weak but he is strong.

The antidote to fear is the assertions of faith. Faith says firmly, Lord I believe help my unbelief. Fill your heart and mind with the greatness and goodness of your God. Speak to yourself in the language of faith. Speak to yourself over and over until the truths of faith are deeply rooted in your soul.

Listen to the opening words of Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

This is the language of faith. It is faith’s assertion in a time of trouble when the foundations of life seem to be collapsing all around. When we feel fear, when the securities of life are in danger, when we face trouble in the shape of potential persecution then let us do what the Psalmist does, let us assert that God is our refuge and strength. Let us trust in him. (Cf. Psalm 31:14, 37:39, 56: 3,11, 73:26, 91:1,2). The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe (Ps 18:10). As the disciples did, let us ask the Lord to increase our faith (Lk 17:4).

  • Last but not least, maintain the disciplines of faith and means of grace. Let us read God’s Word and hide it in our hearts. Let us draw near to God in prayer. Live humbly and obediently putting away the sin that so easily overtakes. Abide in him. Keep ourselves in the love of God. Meet where possible with God’s people.

Peter writes,

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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