This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free, compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Pastor Samuel Lamb (imprisoned for over 20 years, and persecuted for his faith in Jesus Christ, by Chinese Communist Authorities), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
When we suffer for our faith in Jesus Christ we should never complain to God or hate those who cause the suffering. The Bible teaches us again and again that suffering is a mark of true discipleship. Those who complain do so at their own cost, they will only suffer more and thus lose their victory, and when you lose your victory, you lose God's blessings. Therefore, hardships and trouble are times to experience the help of God and is that not what we want: God's help?
'God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.'
I have had the privilege to be punished by 21 years of imprisonment. That's what my accusers named it: punishment. It turned out to be my privilege.
The troubles were many. Oh, how I longed for God's help. It has taught me this spiritual truth: The greater the need, the greater the help. What a blessing. I dare say--if a preacher has never suffered he cannot fully comprehend God's help. I have experienced plenty of trouble... it opened the way to see plenty of God's help. Available for me, available for you.
A moment of introspection: On the back cover of a Precepts Ministries 40-Minute Bible Study on Being a Disciple: Counting the Real Cost, the authors of the study made the following remarks:
"These days it's often difficult to identify any differences in lifestyle between those who profess to be Christians and those who don't. But Jesus challenges those who choose to follow Him to count the cost."
Pastor Samuel Lamb highlighted the similarity between the cost of discipleship and the troubles experienced because of being a disciple of Christ. In our own strength, or perhaps our own weakness, it comes all too easily to seek retribution or redress for a perceived or tangible affront. We get mad; we sometimes act out our anger. Jesus Christ said that "You've heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-44). Suffering is a mark of true discipleship. Put in another context, Christ said to His disciples "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes." (Matthew 10:23) Christ does not say to complain or to hate the persecutors or maligners; flee from the persecution, He says, if needed--not complain and thereby lose their victory in Christ. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Jesus Christ wishes us to take hold of God's blessings; He warns us that as disciples we should expect persecution (John 15:18-21). He anticipates our propensity for complaining and hatred of those who abuse us, so He prepares us in how to respond when persecution comes our way. Persecution is sadly present in too many lands, today, and is coming to the West. Just last Friday, September 26, 2014, one woman in Moore, OK, was beheaded by a new Muslim convert, and another nearly missed that fate--and is recovering in a hospital from multiple stab wounds. Christ warned believers in centuries to come, that intense persecution will be experienced. (Luke 21:12-19) Today, Christians around the world are the most persecuted religious group. Christ instructs us to "bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them." (Romans 12:14)
William Barclay, in his review of The Letter to the Romans, and specifically this verse, said the following:
"The Christian must meet persecution with a prayer for those who persecute him. Long ago, Plato had said that the good man will choose rather to suffer evil than to do evil, and it is always evil to hate. When the Christian is hurt, and insulted, and maltreated, he has the example of his Master before him, for He, upon His Cross, prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing Him. There has been no greater force to move men into Christianity than just this serene forgiveness which the martyrs in every age have showed. Stephen died praying for forgiveness for those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:60). Among those who killed him was a young man named Saul, who afterwards became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, and the slave of Christ. There can be no doubt that that death scene was one of the things that turned Paul to Christ. As Augustine said: 'The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.' Many a persecutor has become a follower of the faith he once sought to destroy, because he has seen how a Christian can forgive."
Pastor Samuel Lamb emphasizes, "Therefore, hardships and trouble are times to experience the help of God and is that not what we want: God's help?" We know that God helps those who suffer for the sake of His Son. He protects and supports; He encourages and gives hope; and He enlivens the weary, feeds the hungry, answers prayer and brings peace amid chaos. We do want God's help. We want to be blessed despite being reviled or slandered on Christ's account; we want to rejoice and be glad in the face of persecution. So let's not complain or curse or hate our tormentors. Again, Pastor Lamb helps to clarify: "When we suffer for our faith in Jesus Christ we should never complain to God or hate those who cause the suffering. The Bible teaches us again and again that suffering is a mark of true discipleship. Those who complain do so at their own cost, they will only suffer more and thus lose their victory, and when you lose your victory, you lose God's blessings." If persecution comes, may we be victors who bless our attackers with prayers of forgiveness.