Persecution can be the soil in which genuine faith grows.
IT’S WORTH CONSIDERING
Recently the Holy Spirit prompted me to re-read a book I had read about a year ago. It didn’t take long
for me to understand why. Its message was for me right now. It answered a lot of questions I had been asking. The book is The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. It is the story of a man who spent a lot of time in countries where persecution of Christians is as common as the sun coming up every day. His personal transformation as well as what he learned spoke directly to my concern for the Church in America.
This article is a compilation of some of his major points along with a few of my own comments and observations. Each quote and observation stands alone and provides the basis for an entire sermon. Taken together, they form an unforgettable picture of the real world and God’s view of persecution. Please try to set your current views of persecution aside as you read this and try to see through God’s eyes.
I ask you to be open to a paradigm shift regarding persecution because for decades the western church has been taught to pray and work for an end to the persecution of fellow believers around the world. We forget that Jesus promised that the world would reject and mistreat His faithful followers just as it rejected Him.
By asking God to bring persecution to an end, we might unknowingly be asking that people not come to faith in Christ.
Believers who are undergoing regular persecution consistently ask that they be faithful through their persecution and suffering, not that they would be delivered from it. When you have accepted Jesus and are committed to share Him with others (as we are commanded), persecution will follow as surely as night follows day. The way to avoid persecution is simply to keep your faith to yourself. If the goal is to eliminate persecution, then simply keep Jesus to yourself. This applies to believers in America as well as in China.
The problem is not that some nations don’t allow us to share our faith. We are free to share Jesus in any nation and under any government. The problem is not in sharing. It is our willingness to suffer the consequences. The question we must ask ourselves is, Are we willing to pay the price of obedience?
The simple truth is that suffering is one of God’s ordained means for the growth of his church. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12).
AS I SEE IT
Here are some random quotes and observations from the book. Stop and let each message penetrate deep into your heart:
* In Russia Nik learned: The stronger the persecution, the more significant the spiritual vitality of the believers. According to the Russian believers, “For us, persecution is like the sun coming up in the east. It happens all the time.”
* I (Nik) had always assumed that persecution was abnormal, exceptional, unusual, out of the ordinary. In my mind, persecution was something to avoid. It was a problem, a setback, a barrier. I was captivated by the thought: What if the persecution is the normal expected situation for a believer? What if the persecution is, in fact, soil in which faith can grow?
* At a conference in Russia in the 50s, a time of great persecution of Christians, 700 young believers were gathered together. Among other things, the leader wanted to see how much of the four Gospels could be recorded entirely from memory. The results: all four Gospels had been written out with only a half-dozen mistakes. Forty years later, when freedom had arrived, the same leader was asked, “How much Bible do the young people in your churches know today?” His answer: “Not much.”
* “If I am in prison and I hear that my wife and children have been hanged to death rather than deny Jesus, I will be the most proud man in the prison.”
* “Is this really the way God intends for His people to live? Am I so certain about the resurrection that I would actually be willing to live that way-and maybe even willing to die that way?”
* “I thank God and I take great joy in knowing that I was suffering in prison in my country so that you could be free to share Jesus in your country.”
* A word from our persecuted brothers and sisters: Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution. And that is our witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
* Jesus told his followers that they would suffer for His sake, so none of this should be a surprise to any of us.
* In China the network of house churches did not have, or want church buildings to gather in, or sanctuaries with rows of pews where people could sit and worship on Sunday mornings. But they certainly knew what it meant to love and to look after the concerns and needs of their members. They knew what it meant to be church for one another.
* Personal trust and respect were related to how much time a potential leader had spent in prison. In these house groups, they are experiencing the same miracles we read bout in the New Testament.
* Would we be willing to suffer as our brothers and sisters did in Russia and China in order to see the Holy Spirit work as He did in the New Testament?
* The growth of the church during fifty years of communist rule in China was even greater than the growth experienced in the church over the first few centuries after Christ.
* “You can only grow in persecution what you go into persecution with.”
* Even so, the believers in China exhibited a constant joyfulness in the midst of harsh circumstances. Through it all, they exhibited an undeniable, irrepressible joy. (The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings?)
* Chinese believers had learned something that Jesus plainly taught: that persecution can actually change a person’s faith. And the change may be a cause for celebration.
* These people (who had undergone years of persecution) had a closeness with Jesus that I had only read about.
* “Is Jesus worth it?”
* Our pilgrimage among house churches in persecution convinced us that God may actually want to use them to save us from the often debilitating, and sometimes spiritually-fatal effects of our watered down, powerless western faith.
* The primary cause of religious persecution in the world today is one thing: people surrendering their hearts and lives to Jesus. It’s that simple.
* Which do we want more, the fellowship with Christ that comes only through suffering, or the blessings of a comfortable life that come with keeping Christ to ourselves?
* Is persecution coming to America? Why would Satan want to wake us up when he has already shut us up? If we want to avoid trouble, just keep quiet. If we do, the church will remain stagnant and ineffective, but we’ll be able to maintain our comfortable lifestyles.
* What have we done with the spiritual freedom Christ has purchased for us?
* What have we done with the physical freedom our brothers and sisters around the world have purchased for us?
* Lord, what do you expect me to do now?