The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Dealing with Intense Persecution: Aligning with God’s Priorities

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

Disillusionment happens when we go into a situation with unrealistic expectations. Assuming that God’s support of us will always fit our definition of support is a false assumption that many Christians make. Because we’re human, we naturally expect God to act in ways that make sense to us. “I’ll always be with you,” is supposed to mean, “I’ll beat back your enemies every time they try to take you down and shelter you from all pain.” Well, no, this isn’t how it works. Sometimes God is going to hand us over to our enemies and set them up to look and feel like they are triumphing over us. Sometimes we’re going to be in serious agony. When we just focus on stories like Paul and Silas singing worship songs in jail and Stephen getting high off of some Divine vision in the midst of being stoned, we end up thinking that we can count on God to always give us these kinds of experiences. Well, no, we can’t. God never said that He’d always give us Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego kind of courage whenever we’re looking death in the face. Plenty of times He actually wants us to go through emotional meltdowns and physical torture—sometimes right in front of our enemies. After he’d been trapped away in some miserable prison for a very long time, the prophet Jeremiah was terrified of going back. He pleaded with his king—a rebellious twerp named Zedekiah—to spare him from further torment. How humiliating is it to find yourself pleading with some God hater to have mercy on you? This really doesn’t fit our definition of “victorious” because we’ve been downing too many stories about martyrs who go out with smiles on their faces.

God’s will is complex, and when He puts you in a captive situation, you need to remember that there’s a lot more going on than just your personal experience. God is going to use such a scenario not only to grow you, but also to spiritually impact those who are against you. Having you sit around smiling unaffectedly in some bubble of empowerment is usually not the plan that is going to make the most impact on those who are watching you. Far more often, it is watching how you recover from being publicly degraded that leaves a lasting impression in the minds of others. Suffering, humiliation, exhaustion, and desperation are concepts which we all understand and ones which we all feel intensely threatened by. We can’t relate to the fellow who walks on water. We all identify with the guy who chokes and sputters as he struggles to stay afloat. Most of the time, God is going to want to maintain a strong element of identity between you and your tormentors, and He does this by limiting how much empowerment He gives you.

There is no shame in degrading into some blubbering mess in front of your captors. This is human. Often God saves the most obvious miracles for after the crisis is over, by helping you respond with grace and mercy towards those who were cruel to you. When others see proof of how successfully they injured you, your gracious response becomes far more powerful than if God had sheltered you from any injury to begin with. The man who offers forgiveness while he’s gasping on the ground in pain makes a far more powerful impact than the man who offers forgiveness from a calm and unruffled state. When other people can see evidence of how much it is costing you to obey God, your obedience becomes far more impressive to them. There are two key lessons we can learn from this. First, we need to realize that God will sometimes put us in situations where we do real suffering. Second, we need to leave God in charge of showcasing our hardships to the right people at the right moments.

Read through the apostle Paul’s epistles, and you’ll find him dropping many hints about what a rough time he’s having in ministry. Such boasting is inappropriate. You shouldn’t be letting the whole world know about the great sacrifices you’re making to honor God. When people post bios or write books about themselves in which they go on and on about who did what to them and how much it hurt, it just comes across as a bunch of self-exalting rot. “Look at me, I’m such an awesome Christian because I’ve really put it all on the line for Christ.” No, such boasting is dishonoring to God. It is God who we should be promoting as worthy of admiration, not ourselves. Certainly when God puts you through intense misery, you’re going to need to do some debriefing. You’re going to need to talk to God about it, and it’s often very helpful to talk to some of your close friends or perhaps even a counselor. But grabbing a mic and trying to wow the whole planet with your hardships? This is just carnality run amuck.

When God locked Jeremiah in public stocks all day and night, He was showcasing the fact that it was costing Jeremiah to obey Him. When God tied Ezekiel up on the ground and had him lie there eating dung flavored grain cakes, everyone got the message that Ezekiel was going through some serious misery for God’s sake. When God showcases our misery, we can be sure He’ll accomplish something useful with it, even though we often won’t see what it was. But when we try and showcase our suffering ourselves, we only end up getting in trouble with God. Trying to turn our service to God into a means by which we can glorify ourselves on earth is a very foolish thing to do. God is jealous for glory, and He isn’t going to just sit back and smile while we hog the spotlight and set ourselves up as the ultimate martyrs. Divine discipline is the reward for spiritual rebellion. We need to give careful thought as to who we want to be rewarded by for our service to God: Him or humans. If we choose the praise of humans, we will also end up with the discipline of God. It’s a package deal. God is not going to let us get away with using Him.

In the Bible, we find some very good examples of what not to do. Read through Psalms, and you’ll find David making frequent references to being stuck in captive situations. In these moments, David responds with some very bad attitudes. He embraces hatred for his enemies, he pleads with God to mercilessly punish those who David dislikes, and he talks as if his wounded pride should be God’s top concern. As tempting as it is to try and whitewash ourselves as utterly innocent and undeserving of persecution, let’s get real. None of us deserve the grace we have been given by God. None of us have come anywhere close to receiving the just punishment that our sins deserve. This doesn’t mean we ought to view ourselves as wretched worms, but we need to stay away from pompous ego trips as well. We aren’t Christ incarnate, and our captors aren’t Satan personified. We’re all imperfect human beings who God wants to draw closer to Himself. When He maneuvers you into some humiliating situation, He is inviting you to be a part of the work He is doing in the lives of your enemies. He is also asking you to trust that His love and faithfulness to you will never falter.

God never considers your suffering to be a trivial thing. When He puts you through brutal experiences, He doesn’t expect you to act unaffected. Intense suffering has a drastic effect on us. We are being continuously changed by the experiences God puts us through in this world—this is His purpose in keeping us here. We are not supposed to sail through life in some permanent state of praise-alluyah. There are times when we will need to be broken hard in order to reach the next level of intimacy with God. The more we learn to see our negative experiences as opportunities for growth, the better we will handle them.

God never just hands you over to your enemies and walks away. Everything that happens to you is coming directly from His hands. It’s critical to realize this, because God is the only One with the power to heal you from the damage that He does to you. When we see other humans as the ultimate source of our misery, we fall into the trap of thinking we’ve been abandoned by God and broken beyond repair. But when we realize that it is really God who is directing our experience, then we realize that no matter what happens, we are still in good hands. God does not break us down just to leave us in some devastated state. He cripples us for the purpose of building us back up even stronger. When He showcases our misery, it is because He is multitasking—using our suffering as a means to draw other souls closer to Him.

Humans do not enjoy suffering.  This is a good thing, and God does not want us to strive for some masochistic mindset. Instead, He wants us to see that it is not some extra terrible thing when He calls us to suffer in front of others. In such situations, there is great potential for our suffering to be the catalyst that motivates some other soul to move closer to his Creator. When you suffer in secret, you are the one who can benefit by it. But when God showcases your suffering by bringing in other humans to inflict it on you, there is the potential for many souls to be helped at the same time.

What we believe about God and His methods greatly impacts how we will respond to persecution. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and hatred for our enemies, we can choose to embrace a higher perspective and learn to appreciate what God is doing in these situations. God loves all souls and it is a privilege to be invited to participate in His redeeming work. The greater the cost, the greater the potential for spiritual gain. God promises that He will be with us in these experiences, and by this He means that He will help us deal with them in ways that will benefit our souls. Preparing for difficult assignments means practicing aligning our priorities with God now, and cooperating with His efforts to teach us to value eternal gains more than earthly comforts.

FURTHER READING:
Spineless in the Face of Death: Encouragement for Christians who Have Publicly Disowned Christ
Understanding the Limits of Satan’s Power (God’s Relationship with Evil)
Cussing God Out: How Our Meltdowns Move Us Forward

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