Oh, poor little me!
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah, (Acts 5:41-42, emphasis mine).
This passage always blows my mind, how the apostles rejoiced because they were persecuted. This was in today’s reading in my “read through the New Testament in 1 year” reading on Bible Gateway.
The first time I wrote about this passage was 2 years ago during my Faith Trip (recounted day-by-day in my book Look, Listen, Love). At the time I had been waiting for over a week in a nice apartment by the beach in Abruzzo—oh poor little me, right? Well, it was a struggle for me because I was anxious to go join Jesus is the Answer in Romania. I had stayed overnight with JITA in Tuscany a few weeks previously in one of their containers. They travel throughout Europe (and other parts of the world) in tricked-out containers, sharing Jesus under a big circus tent through street entertainment or compassion work (depending on the area). In Tuscany it was largely entertainment evangelism, but in Romania it would be compassion work. I wanted to get out and share the Gospel, which I had thought was important for the Faith Trip. But God wanted to do some interior work on me, which was the true objective of the Faith Trip. Since the Faith Trip had been His idea, and since He’s, well, God!, obviously, He got his way. But meanwhile I cried and whined like a big baby. It’s embarrassing!
So God used this passage from Acts to give me some true perspective. I thought I was suffering for my faith. No, darling, here’s what true suffering looks like, and here’s how a saint endures suffering: rejoicing!
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets, (Luke 6:22-23, emphasis mine).
Since that time I’ve gained more understanding about persecution. Last year I read Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand—right before visiting southern Hungary. I heard Pastor H. Koraćs Gėza speak in a church while I was there. Pastor Gėza had been a pastor under Communism, and having just read Tortured for Christ, I felt moved to apologize for the fact that my country had done nothing to help the situation of Christians under Communism. Pastor Gėza responded that Christianity had actually flourished under Communism. He said that the Church faces a far more dangerous enemy today: complacency. I realized that he’s right.
I’ve heard of missionaries who told an underground Chinese house church that they’re praying for democracy. The Chinese told them: “Please stop! The church is growing under persecution.”
In fact, throughout church history, Christianity has always thrived under persecution. It wasn’t until Christianity was legalized in the 3rd century under Emperor Constantine that the gifts of the Holy Spirit began to decline.
Even before that, all throughout the book of Judges, you can see that when they enjoyed prosperity, Israel forgot about the Lord. Then God allowed trouble to come, the people repented and sought the Lord, and the Lord blessed them. And the cycle started all over again.
So today’s Bible reading was a reminder that when the going gets tough, Christianity thrives, even if Christians are experiencing temporary difficulties, trouble, or persecution. If we take a moment to consider, everything that happens in this life is temporary.
This morning I got a message from a dear friend who is right in the middle of persecution by people around her and attacks from the enemy, as well. Here’s what I wrote to her (hope it helps you, too!):
There are 2 times when the devil attacks believers:
- When he sees that God has blessed you and used you mightily; and
- When he sees that God is about to bless you and use you mightily.
The first comes after the blessing, and the other comes before the blessing. So when the enemy attacks you, start to praise God for those blessings that have been or are coming. Nothing makes him back away from you like praise. And praise salted with tears is precious to the Lord. He will bless you even more for praise that comes from your brokenness. Why? Because praising God in your brokenness takes faith! Without faith it is impossible to please God.
And remember, it’s all temporary! Oh, yes, and God is good!