The last few years have brought changes that have significantly shaken the previously cushioned existence of the developed nations of the West. Christians have not been immune from this shaking.
With the sudden advent of Covid life changed dramatically. The future became more uncertain. The war in Ukraine, hard on Covid’s heels, has served to further shake our sense of security. While clearly devastating for Ukrainians, the war has impacted on all of us. The plight of the Ukrainians, a daily visual reality, arouses empathetic dismay. Tied into this is the fearful possibility that the war could widen making the spectre of nuclear holocaust more tangible than it has been for a considerable time.
Woven through these macro events is the advancing of an ideology deeply threatening to Christianity. Wokeism with its lethal cocktail of critical race theory, intersectionality and identity politics has embedded itself in western culture. It is a movement fuelled by the left-wing media and by some in the LGBT community (particularly some transgender people). It is a threat to all who oppose its agenda. It seeks to silence opposing voices and authentic Christianity undoubtedly is one opposing voice.
The present economic instability of the world tends to destabilise society in other areas too. Dissatisfaction becomes strident and fear generates anger. The outcome for Christians in the West is that the world is a more precarious place than most of us have known. Uncertainty in life is more pronounced. Persecution, once virtually inconceivable, is now a real possibility.
Of course, if we widen the lens beyond the West, we discover Christians in many countries live daily with hardship and persecution and have done so for many years. The stabilities of the last seventy years in the West have been unusual in the bigger story of the world and the church. The church for much of its history has, like the C1 church, lived with hardship, opposition and often life-threatening persecution as it does today in many parts of the world.
How have Christians living with adversity and persecution risen to these challenges?
Well one thing is certain, it is not by having all the answers. Job is an example of a believer traumatised by circumstances who was given no pat answers. It is not certain that answers would have really helped him cope with his distress. The one answer that would really help him cope is the answer Job is given by God, ‘Trust in me’. Job’s answer is a vision of the surpassing greatness of God (Job 38-40). Peace lies in trusting in him.
This is the first and most foundational of a number of ‘answers’ Christians are given to enable them to navigate the strains and threats of life. I thought it may be helpful to list some of the faith responses that lead to the peace of God that surpasses understanding in our lives even in troubled times.
- Trust in God. The ‘answer’ given to Job in his distress was ‘Look at me’. It is the foundational answer to all distress encountered in the Scripture; we are to look to God. Both NT and OT urge God’s people in their troubles to look to the Lord. Psalm 105 is one text among many that express that humble dependence on the Lord.
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants. look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant. to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.
In the NT we are exhorted in the Christian race to ‘fix our eyes upon Jesus’. (Hebs 12:2).
We draw strength for the Christian battle of faith as we look upon God and. Christ and the resources that lie in them. We don’t look at the waves but at the God who commands the wave and who can speak peace and stillness into our heart in the midst of the storm as we look to him. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding is the wisdom of proverbs.
- Pursue joy. Paul experienced much suffering for the sake of the gospel. It was while in prison that he writes to the Philippians and says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice’ (Phil 2:4) A key source of strength for the Christian life is rejoicing (Neh 8:10). We rejoice in the many blessings God has given us in every day life. Preeminently we rejoice in the Lord. We rejoice in all he is for us and all he has given us. We even learn to rejoice in suffering because of the spiritual character it produces in us. To rejoice in our suffering removes its ability to drag us down and depress. We can see why Paul placed such a premium on rejoicing. Sometimes that rejoicing may be exuberant at other times quiet and gentle but both fight unbelief, fear and depression.
- Be realistic. Recognise that suffering is part of what we expect in life. Man is of few days and full of trouble (Job 14:1). He is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards (Job 5:7). Yet we remember too, ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles’ (Ps 34:6). The Lord hears the cries of his people and comes to their aid. It is vital to be realistic and accept that in the world we will have trouble often generated by others but Jesus reminds us ‘fear not, I have overcome the world’.
- Apply the great truths of the faith to daily life. Remember God is our father who cares for all his creation (Matt 10:31). Jesus reigns at God’s right hand and all authority has been given to him. He rules over Putin and every other world ruler. He rules over ideologies and cultures. We live not for this world but a world to come. Here we are strangers and pilgrims without roots heading for a world to come (Hebs 11). There are many great truths given to strengthen our hearts in the adversities of life. They are ours to draw from.
- Learn to distinguish between the voice of Satan and the voice of God. Satan always speaks to destroy. Don’t be dismayed by his fiery darts, those sudden destructive arrows that dismay, wound and disorientate. Have the shield of faith raised to deflect them and absorb them. The whole armour of God is available to equip us for battle against spiritually malevolent powers bent on our destruction.
- Rest in God. Perhaps there are times when our minds are too jaded and tired to think. It is time to ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Ps 46:10). He will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint (Jer 31:25). For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.“ (Isa 30:15). The Psalmist writes, ‘I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.’ (Ps 131:2). And again, ‘For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.’ (Ps 62:5,6). God is often to be found in ‘the gentle stillness’ (1 Kings 19:12). Waiting on the Lord is a common experience in the Psalms. ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.’ (Ps 130:5,6). Waiting on the Lord is no vain thing. ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.’ (Ps 40:1). In Christ, who is the Lord, we find rest, ‘Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’
- Make regular use if possible of the God-given means of grace. We should endeavour to read and pray. Daily devotions of prayer and reading is a good practice. Seek to reflect a little on the truths of the faith. Meet with other believers and enjoy Christian fellowship and encouragement.
The list could go on. The Lord has provided a wide variety of means to enable perseverance in faith. These are not necessarily direct answers to our ‘why’ questions but they do answer our ‘how’ questions; how can I persevere in this adversity I’m facing The race can be arduous and seem interminable but it is not. It is in reality a light affliction and but for a moment preparing us for an eternal weight of glory.
Let Hebs 12 have the last word.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.