Persecution: Opportunities, Privileges, and Rewards

How’s that for a title? Does it sound like a slick sales spiel prompting you to sign up for something you don’t really want?

The earthly life in me says, Waaaiiit a minute!—and shrinks back at the prospect of being the target of hate and trouble because I carry the name of Christ. Yet the new, heavenly life within me has set my heart on something more than my own comfort—the opportunities, privileges, and rewards that come through persecution because I am connected to Christ.

OPPORTUNITY

The words are from Jesus Himself. He doesn’t sugar coat the facts of the life He calls us to. He doesn’t have a promo that promises all glory and blessing. He tells us bluntly that those who are His disciples will encounter all kinds of trouble. But this is an opportunity! He says. On a worldly level, it’s a hard life He is calling us to … but in His kingdom, in the values and dynamics of heaven, this is opportunity!

In Luke 21, Jesus talked to His disciples about the future and His eventual return to the earth. And hard times were—ARE—ahead.

“But before all this occurs [the events preceding the “end”], there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.” (Luke 21:12-13)

Jesus’ focus is on spreading the Gospel. He reminds us that our short breath of life is but part of a much larger picture, one that is centered on God’s will for His creation. And His will for His children is that we become a part of His work here.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul writes about hard times (including persecution), and reminds us that our steadfastness in these times is a chance to show Christ’s life shining in ours. It’s a chance to show God’s power and faithfulness. Our steadfastness is an opportunity to spread the word of God’s grace to more and more people.

God has a plan, you see, and His children are partners with the rescuer Christ Jesus in carrying out the plan. We are called to do good and spread the Gospel, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for us. He is our example. We follow in His steps. (see 1 Peter 2:21)

PRIVILEGE

And that is the great privilege — to be partners with Christ in His rescue work. To bear His name.

I’m thinking of how proudly some wear jerseys and shirts with the names or numbers of their favorite football players. Or tee shirts with business names. In the book of Acts, we find the disciples flogged for the preaching they’ve been doing—and when they’re released, they rejoiced that God had “counted them worthy to bear disgrace for the name of Jesus.”

In our suffering for the sake of furthering the Gospel mission, we become partners with Christ.

And the wonderful thing about that partnership is that He is there, helping us. Because He went through trials and suffering Himself, He helps us now. (see Hebrews 2:18). When we’re under attack from the world, we know it also attacked Him. We’re partners.

And as such, His Spirit and power work through us. Our lives are so closely connected to Him that we are like vine and branches. Our weakness makes room for His great power. After a stroke that affected his vision and writing, Steve Fuller wrote, “Every trial is a gift of more of Christ’s presence.”

He pours Himself into us.

Becoming a part and a partner of Christ—what a privilege! To my soul, this is the ultimate good thing that comes out of hard places.

Oh, Lord Jesus, I want to be worthy of wearing your name and of being your partner in this mission.

REWARD

“Dance for joy,” Jesus said, “when people hate you because you follow me. How God will bless you now and in the future! And a great reward awaits you in heaven.” (See Luke 6:22-23 and Matthew 5:11-12).

“When people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil…” Does that situation sound familiar?

Then, says Jesus, you have a great reward awaiting you—and He talks as though it’s going to be exciting stuff!

We’ll look more at the praise, glory, and rewards awaiting us when we get into the section on Hope for the Future (later this year).

For now, those few words of Jesus are enough to plant my feet firmly and point my eyes ahead to the new city.

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

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May I squeeze in a few more words?

I have to include this quote from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest. I think it speaks to me because it describes so well how I feel at times—and my hope for those hard times.

A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands.

Peace to you, brothers and sisters, trusting yourself to God’s hands.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
(Romans 12:12)

 

 

 

Psalm Prayer:

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.
(Psalm 119:50)

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So much MORE on hope for hard times:

Deuteronomy 8:2-15; Job 42:1-6; Psalm 23:5; Psalm 31:1-8; Psalm 32:7; Psalm 46:1-11; Psalm 66:8-12; Psalm 84:5-7; Psalm 105:16-19; Psalm 119:67-72; Psalm 126:5-6; Isaiah 27:7-9; Isaiah 48:8-11; Isaiah 61:3; Daniel 11:35; Daniel 12:10; Matthew 5:4, 10-12; John 14:16; John 15:18-21; John 16:33; John 17:13-19; Luke 6:22-23; Luke 21:12-13; Acts 5:40-42; Roman 5:3-5; Romans 8:17, 28, 35; Romans 12:12; 1 Corinthians 1:7-9; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5; 2 Corinthians 4:6-10, 15-18; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Colossians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3, 5; 2 Timothy 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 5:8; Hebrews 10:32-38; Hebrews 12:5-13; James 1:2-4, 12; 1 Peter 1:6-7, 9; 1 Peter 2:18-21; 1 Peter 4:12-16, 19; 1 Peter 5:10, 12.

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

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