We’ve been hearing about persecution a great deal recently, especially in Syria. People being brutally treated and often killed. And then everyone in America gets mad and shares pictures around Facebook like that’s going to change something. (Sorry, I probably shouldn’t go there at the moment. It’s kind of beside the point.) *Cough* Where was I? Oh yes…
Tonight I just read Matthew 10 to my little brother as I put him to bed. Verse 39 says:
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
It occurred to me, Jesus was talking about priorities. A person who “finds his life” places a comfortable life as a higher priority than Christ. And whoever “loses his life for My sake” prioritizes Christ first at the expense of his comfort. I think about those Christians in Syria, who are literally losing their lives for Christ. I don’t have to guess about what they place as their highest priority. They are willing to follow Him no matter the cost. These, these are the people of whom Jesus said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” ~ Luke 6:20-23
Blessed are the people who are willing to give up everything in this life, for they will recieve it all and more in the life to come as their reward. Blessed are the people who place Christ as their highet priority, over money, food, laughter, and acceptance. Blessed are those Syrian Christians who willingly give even their lives for the sake of Christ.
And then I think of the church in America, and I’m frightened for her:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” ~ Luke 6:24-26
Could it be that these verses could apply to us? Are we rich, full, laughing, and well-liked at the expense of our faith? Do we prize our comfort so highly that we are horrified when anyone suggests traveling to the Middle East to be with the Christians who are undergoing persecution – when the Bible clearly calls persecution a blessing and “a gracious thing”? (1 Peter 2:19-21) If we are so afraid, what will happen to us when that persecution arrives in our own country? (And trust me, at the rate we’re going, it will.) Do we place our comfort so high that we will be unwilling to give it up for the sake of Christ?
At STEP Advanced last summer, our group leader challenged us to consider what we wanted more – physical comfort, or Christ, and I have pondered it often since. So now I ask you: which do we, the American church want more? If a day should come when the American government will shut down any church that does not tickle their ears, will we choose our comfortable air-conditioned sanctuaries with nice carpets and padded pews, or will we choose persecution? Which do we want more, comfort or Christ? If ISIS were to invade America and put to death the faithful Christians, will we choose to deny our Savior to save our bodies, or will we stand firm and lose our lives for His sake?
I look at my own life, with its relative comfort. I have a nice room all to myself, nice stuff, a nice job, nice notebooks and paints to keep me happy, wonderful friends to spend time with. I have a pretty easy life. If it came down to it, would I be ready to give it all up for the sake of my Savior? Am I ready to make that big of a sacrifice? It’s a question I have difficulty answering in the affirmative. Why? Because I haven’t prepared myself to sacrifice that much.
I’ve talked about this before, how the little things always come before the big ones. Well, I think it applies in this instance as well. If I want to be able to make that big sacrifice someday, I must first sacrifice the little things now. I can start by sacrificing my money for those who are needier than me. I can sacrifice my time for those who need some love. I can sacrifice emotional comfort to sit and mourn with those who mourn, and offer them the comfort with which God has comforted me over the years. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) If I want to endure great persecution with joy, I must first learn to joyfully endure the small persecutions when people don’t appreciate my beliefs. (Considering I tend to avoid all conflict and just keep my mouth shut about what I believe, I don’t think I’ve mastered that one.)
Let’s be ready. I beg you, let’s prepare, so that we will not falter in the time of trial. This is my prayer, that God would prepare the American church for persecution. But it has to start with each one of us: each one of us daily giving up the little comforts for the sake of another, standing out from the crowd because of what we believe, humbling ourselves to love those who insult us. It has to start here and now, with the small things. With the small sacrifices, with the small persecutions. Otherwise, how will we be prepared to face the big ones?