Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about Christian persecution around the globe. It’s hard to ignore while Isis and other Islamic extremists slaughter believers in Iraq and Syria. And, of course, today marks the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. And while 911 was not specifically Christian persecution, the fact that the United States was founded on Christian principles certainly adds fuel to the fire.
Why does God allow His people to be ridiculed, discriminated against, beaten, and even killed because they follow Jesus?
Shouldn’t we pray that all believers have the same freedom to worship Christ that we enjoy here in America? Shouldn’t we beg God to deliver them from their persecutors? Shouldn’t we pray that all persecution come to an end?
A few years ago that’s exactly how I prayed. But God has been shifting my perspective on the persecution of believers, how He uses it, and how it fits into His overall purposes.
Before we go any further, let me clarify something. I don’t mean to say – nor do I believe – that God causes or brings the persecution. But somehow, in His mysterious economy, God has chosen to use the persecution of believers to further His Kingdom.
First, let’s see what Jesus said about this topic:
- The “world” will hate believers because believers belong to Jesus (John 15:18-19; Matthew 10:22) – This isn’t just a feeling or the experience of some. It’s fact. Jesus Himself said this is the way it would be.
- The “world” will persecute believers because we follow Jesus (John 15:20; Matthew 10:17) – Jesus does not call us to persecution. He calls us to “go into the world and make disciples.” He simply made it clear that if we obey Him, we will be persecuted.
- The “world” will persecute believers because our righteousness in Christ reveals their sin (John 7:7 and John 15:22-24) – Holy lives reveal the righteousness of Christ and thereby expose the sin of the world. When Christians take a stand for Christ and firmly follow biblical principles, the world will respond with persecution.
- God uses persecution for His purposes – God never wastes the suffering of one of His children. It is an opportunity to testify to Jesus, to bring glory to God, to advance the Kingdom (Matthew 10:18-20).
- Persecution for the name of Christ is a reason to rejoice – Sounds completely illogical doesn’t it? Yet Jesus said we should rejoice when we are persecuted. That a reward waits for the persecuted in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12).
- We should not intentionally seek persecution – This last point is important. We should not allow the possibility of persecution to keep us from witnessing or fully obeying Jesus. However, we also should not purposefully or foolishly encourage it. Jesus told His disciples to “flee to another” place when they are persecuted in one (Matthew 10:21-23).
- The only way to stop persecution is to stop sharing the news about Jesus.
Last spring a friend recommended I read The Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin. Ripkin interviewed hundreds of persecuted believers in dozens of countries around the world. He shares many of their stories, including God’s faithfulness and miraculous activity in the midst of their terrible persecution. He relates how God used their suffering to bring glory to Himself and expand the Gospel of Jesus. And how suffering believers prayed for their persecutors to come to know Jesus (see Matthew 5:44).
God had already begun to shift my perspective on Christian persecution, but reading The Insanity of Godcompletely busted the old paradigm. I dare to say you cannot read this book and remain the same.
In Ripkin’s second book, The Insanity of Obedience he takes the stories and outcomes he shared in the first book and boils it down to some practical principles on Christian persecution and suffering we can get our faith around. Using Joseph’s imprisonment in Genesis as an example, he asks this shattering question: “Is it possible that God has purposes that are tied to the suffering of His people?”
Considering what Jesus said about persecution we laid out above, I think I would be forced to answer “yes.” Even though it’s shocking. Even though I’d rather it not be true.
Here are a couple more quotes from the Insanity of Obedience that hit me between the eyes:
“Judging by what eventually happened to Jesus Himself, we come to understand that persecution and suffering and sacrifice are necessary parts of His ultimate strategy, even today” (page 5).
“Through our pilgrimage, we have been challenged biblically to believe that God can use even unspeakable pain for His purposes. And we are able now to say with confidence that God uses persecution and suffering for His purposes. Exactly why God uses persecution and suffering is a holy mystery, but the fact that He does use persecution and suffering is a certainty!” (page 12)
I could share many more passages and examples from Scripture to support these statements. But I don’t think it would make the truth any less shocking to our systems.
God has chosen to use the suffering of His people to further His purposes.
What does that mean for us here in America? Does it change the way we behave? The way we pray for ourselves and for those who are persecuted around the world? I’m still trying to answer those questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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My insight and thoughts on Christian persecution has been changing, as well, Kathy. Although I pray for God’s mercy and protection on those who are being so brutally persecuted in other parts of the world, I know He is using it to further his Kingdom. I have not yet read THE INSANITY OF OBEDIENCE, I plan to do so. THE INSANITY OF GOD was eye-opening and convicting. I pray that if we in America face that kind of persecution, we Christians will be as firm in our resolve to proclaim openly our faith and never deny it.
Hi Jane, I am about a third of the way through “The Insanity of Obedience.” I wonder if God is not changing our perspective to prepare us for the day ahead.
I’ve often wondered how we in America would handle extreme persecution as they do in other nations. This study is a good reminder that God can use everything as he says in the scripture in Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Great article, Kathy!
Hi Lori, thanks for stopping by! Things in America are definitely changing. I won’t be surprised to see the persecution of Christians continue to rise in the US and God begin to use it to purify the church.
I have found myself overwhelmed at times when praying for the persecuted Christians in Iraq, North Korea and many other places. This experience has led me to begin praying that the new awareness of the awful persecution will cause the church (here in America & other free places) to wake up.
I found your blog on this subject very interesting and I agree with what you have said. I read an article that I think you would like also. I will go to your facebook page and share it there.
I appreciate your boldness
Lynn, thanks for coming by. I just read the article you posted on my FB page. Oh my! It is so spot on! This is exactly what I’ve been reading about, thinking about, and praying about. I’m going to share it to. In fact, right here: http://dotheword.org/2014/06/02/10-reasons-north-korea-is-not-the-worst-place-to-be-a-christian/
Glad you read & shared the article. This subject is certainly causing me to ponder and pray. I have not heard of the books by Nik Ripkin that you have mentioned, but think I will put them on my to read list.
Kathy, I think God is moving among Western Christians to prepare us for the coming persecution. Last February retired missionaries from Ethiopia came to visit us. Ripken is a personal friend of theirs. They brought his second book to us, so of course, I had to read the first one also. My way of praying for the persecuted has changed also. I’ve prayed so much for Pastor Abedini imprisoned in Iran to be freed but more so for his strength as a witness to Christ’s love and power to his guards and fellow inmates in that prison. I’m more aware of the persecuted Christians’ joy in the impact their witness for Christ may have. Would that we who currently have such freedom to witness would embrace that responsibility with the same fervor as those being persecuted for their witness. Thanks for your sharing. Kay
Kay, “The Insanity of God” completely rocked my world! And yes, I agree God is working to prepare us for difficult times ahead. He will use persecution right here in America to refine His church.
To me, this has always been a given. Of course those who share Jesus will suffer persecution and of course our God will use it for good according to his plan. It’s right there in black and white on the pages of our Bible. I can’t understand how it is that some of us don’t recognize this. I appreciate you for shedding light on it. Along the same lines, I confess it annoys me to no end to see Christians praying for world peace. I mean, really, don’t you read your Bible? There will never be world peace. I wish I didn’t think such critical thoughts of others, but I do. I need to take the log of judgment out of my own eye so I can see clearly to lovingly attend to the splinter in their eyes.
Hi Diane! Like you, I’ve intellectually known what the Bible says about persecution. But after reading Ripkin’s book and actively seeing it happening in the news every day, in my heart and mind God’s Word came together with this life. And you are so right about peace. Jesus Himself said He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Until Satan is ultimately defeated, evil will continue to do its work. Satan and His forces will continue to war against Jesus and His people. But praise God, we know how it will end! I pray that in the terrible suffering of believers around the world – particularly now in Iraq and Syria – God will be glorified and the name of Christ will be lifted high. I pray for God’s strength, boldness, comfort, and provision for them as the suffer for the name of our Savior. May they stand firm until the end.
Amen. Your prayer is also a lesson to me on how to pray about persecution. Thanks Kathy.
Hi Kathy. I enjoyed reading your “changing perspective” about Christian persecution.
Sending you a timely article that a friend sent to me today: The Coming Persecution of Christians in America
Here are some thoughts on the article:
The current social and political climate is setting the stage for greater persecutions that Christians will be seeing in the very near future and we should be standing up, speaking up and challenging the opposing Satanic agenda.
If this is the Will of God that America is destroyed before very long, then so be it. However, as Children of God through faith in Christ, we are still entrusted to be engaged in the battle – watching and warning those who are lost and misguided and to be Defenders of the Truth – God’s Truth.
32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
34 For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
35 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:
36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
37 And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
Yes, Kathy, Praise be to God that we know how it all ends and that the Victory belongs to Jesus – Yeshua Ha Mashiach, and that He allows us to share in His Victory!
Thank you very much; enjoyed your article and all comments.
First of all, I would like to thank you for writing this. It was inspiring and helps bring perspective to me in a time of persecution that I have been subjected to. I agree with what you said in your article 100 percent, and will offer my opinion on why we are subjected to such obstacles to overcome in our life. I think its because it gives us empathy for Jesus, and with that we are better able to serve him. We have this one life in exchange for an eternity of awesomeness, so whatever trials you go through during this time helps you understand how great your afterlife will be, and you should not grumble or sue or damn anyone for anything because the better we act toward this seemingly unfair world; we will be rewarded with greatness forever.