We Christians in America live insulated lives in a land where freedom to worship is taken for granted. Though Christianity here is often openly ridiculed and mocked by those in academia and the entertainment world, this can hardly be called persecution. But in other parts of the world Christians suffer greatly, being driven from their homes, unable to find employment, tortured and sometimes killed. Being well informed of the plight of our brothers and sisters in Christ will help us to pray for them and better prepare us for whatever resistance we may experience as we serve Christ here in America.
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Back in the first century, as Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey, this was part of their message of encouragement to new disciples. They had great success proclaiming the Gospel and planting churches, but also encountered much resistance and persecution. Paul was nearly stoned to death at one point.
Trials and tribulations are a part of living in this fallen world, and persecutions in particular, whether they be mild or severe, are to be expected for the disciple of Christ. It is noteworthy that Jesus, right in the middle of expressing the blessings that will come to all who sacrificially follow him adds, “along with persecutions” (Mark 10:30).
And it gets better! The beatitudes of Matthew 5 end with Jesus blessing those who are persecuted saying, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He then comments further saying, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great…” (11-12). Persecution leads to blessings!
It may be surprising, but severe persecution still goes on and in fact, considering the vast numbers, is worse today than ever. The incidents of personal attacks and church burnings in the Middle East, as well as parts of Asia and Africa, are numerous and ongoing. Certainly the thousands of Christians imprisoned in North Korea, Iran and other countries need to be in our prayers but another country, India, has in recent years also become increasingly dire. According to Open Doors USA, India is experiencing a wave of Hindu nationalism that targets Christians and Muslims. Christian converts from Hinduism face daily harassment which often leads to assault, hospitalization and death. See In India, the Persecution No One’s Talking About (Feb. 28, 2018).
As fellow members of the Kingdom of God, it is incumbent on us as followers of Jesus to remember and pray for those who are persecuted (Hebrews 13:3) and likewise be prepared to speak up for what we believe, letting others know the reason for the hope that is in us; “yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Our life in this world is to be more like boot camp than an extended vacation; indeed we are daily engaged in real spiritual warfare. Jesus promised not a life of ease but of tribulation (John 16:33). So yes, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” so let’s pray for those who are in the thick of battle and prepare ourselves for the same. Keep persevering and looking up!
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