We should take sensible precautions to protect our lives and the lives of our loved ones. But what happens when as a Christian, your pathway leads to persecution, and maybe even death? Virtually no ministry wants to dive into this morbid subject, so I guess I will.
Don’t get blindsided. Peter writes, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking” (1 Pet. 4:1). This call to personal readiness reminds us that there may not always be an escape. At long last, you might find yourself trapped with no way out.
I don’t want to ruin your day, but at some point in the violent craziness of this world we need to remember the words of Jesus, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16). We must keep a realistic mindset. Don’t lull yourself into thinking, “This could never happen to me, in my country.”
When his life was threatened by religious extremists, the Apostle Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen and received protection from the military (Acts 25-27:1). But at some point this strategy dried up. He found himself in “a situation.” The very government that had protected him later sentenced him to death.
I don’t know what it’s like to be in those shoes. I’m writing this post in a comfortable living room with a cup of hot coffee. I’ve had my morning devotionals (they were good), and a Bible study with some of the guys in the church. My worst suffering today has been getting up at 5 a.m.—laughable when you think about it.
From everything I’ve read and seen, true martyrdom (not the kind where you kill a bunch of people and then kill yourself, which is called mass murder-suicide) often occurs in a sweaty, traumatic moment when a believer doesn’t get to make a heroic soapbox speech.
The Bible suggests that martyrdom furthermore involves measures of grace not commonly experienced while believers typically go about their daily routines. Peter writes, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Pet. 4:14).
The word “if” means a particular situation of suffering must occur before the Spirit of glory rests upon you. Even though being insulted doesn’t indicate loss of life, it at least portends that a greater, unknown depth of grace lies in store for a believer caught up in painful circumstances.
When Stephen (the first Christian martyr) was being stoned by a fanatical mob, he looked up into heaven and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:54-60). This crisis moment required a special supply of grace.
Up until then, Stephen had no doubt been living and moving here on earth, without seeing anything in the sky except birds and clouds. But when the rocks began hitting, grace increased.
Jesus Himself sketched out what we were supposed to do in front of hostile authorities: “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt. 10:19-20).
The phrase “in that hour” denotes a special time and situation when a believer’s life may be on the line.
I don’t know much about the more critical moments. Honestly, I’m not eager to find out. For now, I have the grace of God needed to deal with the challenges of Pleasantville. I have grace that keeps me focused on Christ rather than getting lost in cars, houses, and toys. My present grace helps me forgive folks who don’t always seem to deserve it, to love them the way I ought, and to care even when I’m exhausted. The grace measured out to me these days grants encouragement when I feel the frustration of a thirty year ministry that never hit the big time. It makes me delight in the glory of Jesus like a silly boy splashing around in a creekbed.
God is the God of all grace.
That’s important, because owing to the world in which we live, Pleasantville can become Auschwitz in the blink of an eye.
Photo credit: Moshe Reuveni