This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to be Free, compiled by staff of Open Doors. In the following quotation from Andres Noriega, (pseudonym for a Cuban pastor who has known persecution), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character hope, and hope does not disappoint us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Many of us believe that our faith will grow best in favorable conditions, without any resistance, without any hardships or without being put to the test. But it is not like that. Fellow Christians in my country have often said that they would be better believers, more devoted and more faithful if they could live in a country where there is freedom of religion. They make a big mistake. Our thinking is wrong when we believe that our faith would grow if the circumstances were easier. Faith, like a muscle, grows as it is exercised. The inactivity, the calm, the lack of struggle can be more dangerous to our faith than the presence of persecution. It awakens in us the sense and reality of who we really are; it helps us, or should I say it forces us to depend on God.
A church without any struggle, hardship or persecution can easily fall asleep, become inactive and then lose the victory, because in order to gain a victory you need a battle. True faith does not need favorable conditions of peace and prosperity. True faith needs favorable (yes, favorable) conditions of persecution and trials.
That is Paul's message in Romans 5; that is also his experience. And by the grace of God mine too. Therefore: rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).
A moment of introspection: Fooled. Hood-winked. Duped. Taken in. Bamboozled. Tricked. These, and other words, come to mind when I read brother Noriega's description, "Many of us believe..." That phrase is often followed by the word, "but...", signifying that our presumption just isn't so. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, saying "Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand..." (2 Corinthians 10:15b, emphasis mine) Paul himself experienced opposition from Jews in Corinth on at least two occasions, as he sought to convince them of Jesus and His being the long-awaited Messiah. Through experiences like this, of being reviled and attacked, God's church in that place, and throughout the world today, finds that faith does grow best then it is exercised. Said in another way, "When despair and trouble come, the Christian must have the courage to exercise his faith on the evidence of what God has done in the past. One must remember Job's confidence: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him" (Job 13:15 - 1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching, G. Curtis Jones, 1986, Broadman Press). Unexercised faith is a weak faith; unopposed faith does not develop well, and wanly stands for the truth. Untested or unexercised faith knows that God is, and that He rules over creation. To exercise faith, though, is to call to mind, to implement one's knowledge of God's power, mercy, sacrificial love, grace, et al, in the face of adversity and trials. In such circumstances, one's faith can become more "real"; in such instances, faith in God becomes a sustaining and illuminating asset that can carry one through to the other side of conflict and opposition. Exercised faith "proves" God through experience. Exercised faith understands the call of God on one's life, and responds to that call with assured confidence.
But better still, faith that is acted upon "forces us to depend on God". This statement from brother Noriega resonates with King David's Choirmaster, who wrote, "Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me!" (Psalm 70:1 - ESV) In this verse, the lyricist puts into words a means to help us grow in our faith, to depend on God. In times of adversity, in moments of indecision or despair, in tumultuous days of doubt, exercise your faith. Dig deeper into the God who is our rock (Psalm 144:1), our proof (John 20:24-29), our shelter (Isaiah 25:4), our protector (Psalm 121) and defender (Isaiah 19:20). Seek His strong sureness when under duress; claim His divine proof when confronted by doubt or unbelief. Take shelter during the storms of life, and depend on our protector and defender when faith is tested. Let God's mighty Word soak into you, seep into your thoughts and intentions, shore up wavering wills and emotions. Depend on God; exercise your faith. The Psalmist explores an exercised faith in Psalm 26:1-3:
1 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;
3 for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.
Persecution and trials test us and try us; within those troubles and oppositions, trust the Lord without wavering. Always keep His love before you, and walk in the Way of His Truth and Light. Christ is that Way, that Truth (John 14:6), and that Light (John 8:12). Luke, the physician averred that “In him we live and move and have our being...” (Acts 17:28a). We believers who act out our faith and our trust in God do so within that sacred milieu, and faith becomes truer and more real. Brother Noriega sums up our new insight as he repeats, "True faith does not need favorable conditions of peace and prosperity. True faith needs favorable (yes, favorable) conditions of persecution and trials."