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The blessing of persecution

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Today I want to share with you some thoughts on persecution.

In the Scriptures we we are told that when we follow Jesus we will suffer persecution,

Indeed, all who desire to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

2 Timothy 3:12

Now, if you are like me, I do not particularly relish that prospect… yet in the Scriptures we are told that we are to take pleasure in persecution,

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10

And moreover, the Scriptures state that persecution leads to great rewards,

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 5:10

How can this be? I thought persecution was all negative… even the dictionary definition seems to indicate this as it states that;

Persecution is the unfair or cruel treatment over a long period of time because of race, religion or political beliefs.

Cambridge Dictionary

In our increasingly secularised world, more and more Christians who are seeking to live an authentic life based on the Word of God, are being confronted with persecution. The hostility is real… the question is, how do we deal with it?

Our perception of persecution defines our walk

No one likes to suffer, and in our modern mind that is exactly what persecution is. When we are persecuted we see ourselves as the victim of unjust treatment. Because of this outlook and its perceived negative consequences many Christians shrink back in fear and prefer to remain silent and live their lives in the shadows. Their fear paralyses them and they are not able to openly live out their walk of faith. This is a very understandable path to take, and if we are honest with ourselves I think we have all, at one time or another, been guilty of this position.

So the question still remains, how are we to deal with this persecution which we will suffer as we follow Jesus?

The answer in a nutshell… a change in perspective.

From victim to victor

As I was pondering on this, reading accounts of persecution in the Scripture, and perusing the experiences of modern day martyrs of the faith in the history books a whole new way of looking at persecution opened up to me. 

A new perception emerged wherein the persecuted is not the victim but rather the victor. 

I started to see that persecution is actually the vehicle through which we, as Christians, are driven into a deeper relationship with the Lord, where we enter into and experience His Love and Life on a new level, one in which our joy is fulfilled.

Let me explain…

Persecution drives us

The Greek word for ‘persecute’ is διώκω diókó which means ‘to hound, cause to take flight, to coercively drive.

This word διώκω diókó is also used to describe how the wind ‘drives’ a sailing ship and this is a good illustration to keep in mind as you ponder on this concept.

This word διώκω diókó does not mean ‘follow’. The persecutor does not ‘follow’ the persecuted, he ‘drives’ them. 

It is this ‘driving’ that brings the believer into places they would not normally have gone. Indeed it can drive them into uncharted waters, strange places… much the same way a ship may be driven in a storm.

In Acts 26:11 we read of this very thing where the believers were ‘driven’ by Paul, before his conversion, into ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’ cities.

And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Acts 26:11

Think now also of the martyrs during the reformation. For their faith they were driven onto the stake to be burned, stretched out on the racks or even tied up onto a pole in the sea to await the incoming tide that would seal their fate. I think we can all agree that that is not a place you would chose to go… persecution drove them there.

Experiencing the intimacy of our Lord

So how were these Christians of the past able to bear this unjust and cruel treatment. Was it all a negative experience? To the onlooker, on the surface, it may seem to be just that… I mean they obviously suffered and for many it ended in death.

But let us dig a little deeper. If you take the time to read some of the biographies of these martyrs you will come to see that these people, who were driven to these physical places of torture,  experienced a deep intimacy with the Lord that allowed them to not only endure the hardship, but rejoice in it. 

They were given the strength to stay true to the Lord and not compromise. 

Persecution drove them to that place of suffering in order for them to experience that deep intimacy with the Lord wherein they not only tasted it for themselves but were able to also witness of His pure Love and Life to all who were present.

Persecution was not only the vehicle to seeing and experiencing our Lord on a deeper level it opened the door for them to enter into it and take possession of His Love and Life.

Examples of persecution opening doors

We see this illustrated in the Scriptures in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the faith… to whom the windows of heaven were opened.

In our modern history, we can return our attention to the martyrs of the reformation. It is recorded that many sang praises unto the Lord whilst undergoing the most terrible ordeals. Those that watched these spectacles were often themselves led to the Lord because of the strength, dignity, peace and joy these martyrs displayed in their final moments. 

Like Stephen, these martyrs died a physical death but they, together with all the faithful ones through the ages, received a glimpse of the glory that will be revealed in us at the fulfilment of time and this glimpse gave them the strength to endure.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…

Hebrews 11:13

If the glimpse of glory had this effect… just imagine what the future fulfilment of His glory will look like!

Rejoice in Persecution as it is imperative to your growth

I am praying that the thoughts I have shared with you today have encouraged you and transformed your perceptions on persecution. 

Persecution is an integral part to our Christian life and growth. Without it we stagnate, like a ship in the windless waters of the doldrums. 

Let us not take the victim approach to persecution, but rather see it as the means by which we are propelled into places where we never thought we would go… places that may seem strange and foreign to our physical eyes… but as we shift our focus, we will notice that this is the place where the Lord is waiting for us and as we enter in, we will come to experience Him in such an intimate way that we will not only come into possession of His Life and Love but we will also become a conduit of that Life and Love for others.

This is something that each Christian needs to experience and walk out for him or her own self. It is not something that can be taught… it must and will be experienced by each one of us. 

It is my prayer that the Lord will lead each of us as we navigate this path to righteousness and that the blessing pronounced in Matthew 5:10 may take on a new and deeper meaning to each of us.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 5:10

I pray that you have been blessed with the thoughts I have shared with you today. In the study guide for this episode, which you can download by clicking on the link in the description box below, I have included a short list of biographical books and movies which talk about the experiences of some persecuted Christians in history. I hope they will inspire you to walk forth boldly for our Lord and His Kingdom.

Thank you for watching and we look forward to seeing you again next time.