This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Jesus Freaks, compiled by DC Talk and the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, a Chinese saint remarked about Christian suffering, providing us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3)
“Humanly speaking, we know that no one likes to suffer physically. But I know that if the Lord leads me into it, He will give me the strength to survive it.” (Pastor Li De Xian)
A moment of consideration: Do we ever find ourselves, today, feeling wearied or even perhaps beaten down by the continuous barrage of insults to and persecution of Christians? Do we ever, under the assault, feel like giving up and giving in to the forces arrayed against us? Might we claim, “Fainthearted R Us”? Humanly speaking, you’re in good company. But in such situations, Pastor Li and the author of the Book of Hebrews urge us to consider and trust. In looking to Jesus Christ, and considering His endurance of hostilities towards Himself, we see only momentary consideration given to compromise (Matthew 14:36). Acknowledging and sympathizing with those of us trying to avoiding physical suffering, Pastor Li yet expresses his confidence and trust in the Lord, counting on Him to grant him the strength to survive the suffering. Even so, we are prone to avoid uncomfortable situations, to compromise with the world in order to avoid psychological, emotional, physical or spiritual pain. We might say, “just this once,” “okay, maybe,” “perhaps it wouldn’t hurt”--each compromise leading us further from Christ. The apostle Paul urged us not to compromise, as he exhorted us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).
Paul Harvey told the story of the uncertain soldier in our Civil War who, figuring to play it safe, dressed himself in a blue coat and gray pants and tiptoed out onto the field of battle. He got shot from both directions!
The Bible is full of examples of individuals who compromised in one form or another--and of their ensuing losses. Lot, who separated from Abram and moved as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:12,13; 19:1-29); Samson, who compromised with Delilah (Judges 16:1,2); and Solomon, who loved many foreign women (1 Kings 11:1-4) are but a few examples.
What about times when we are tempted to compromise our faith or beliefs? Will we stay strong or try and wear the blue and gray? Think about it!
Compromising, leading us away from our Savior, leads us closer to Satan. Consider this situation, in which compromise begins with negotiations with Satan:
A hunter raised his rifle and took careful aim at a large bear. When about to pull the trigger, the bear spoke in a soft soothing voice, “Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? What do you want? Let’s negotiate the matter.” Lowering his rifle, the hunter replied, “I want a fur coat.” “Good,” said the bear, “that is a negotiable question. I only want a full stomach, so let us negotiate a compromise.”
They sat down to negotiate and after a time the bear walked away alone. The negotiations had been successful. The bear had a full stomach, and the hunter had his fur coat!
Satan says to you, “Let us negotiate.” But there are some things that cannot be negotiable. We cannot compromise the church with the world. Christ and His church deserve our very best and utmost loyalty. (Matthew 22:37; Luke 12:8-9) Jesus mentioned the impossibility to remain faithful, and instead negotiate or compromise, when he spoke against our being able to serve two masters. (Matthew 6:22) Though speaking of materialism (tool of worldliness), the passage reminds us of the following passage from The Pilgrim’s Progress:
You have read in the Scriptures that “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) You may find, as did the Apostle Paul, that in every city bonds and afflictions await you. (Acts 20:23) Therefore, you cannot expect to travel far in your pilgrimage without having trials in some form. You have had some of this come to you already, and more will soon follow... Then I saw in my dream that they had left the wilderness and entered a town where there was a fair that continued all year long. Evangelist was no longer with them. The name of the town was Vanity, and the fair was Vanity Fair. The people were vain, caring for nothing but money, pleasure, and fame. The town was very old, and the fair had been going for many, many years.
Of the several things to note about this passage, one was that the evangelist had departed; another was that the Apostle Paul said we should expect difficulties and hardships as part of life. What happens to our sense of Christ and the nearness of Immanuel, when we succumb to compromise? The Apostle Paul requested Timothy to come to his aid, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me...” (2 Timothy 4:9) Jesus finds us having departed, when we compromise. Tryon Edwards (American theologian and great grandson of Jonathan Edwards), observed that “Compromise is but the sacrifice of one right or good in the hope of retaining another--too often ending in the loss of both.” Compromising, we let go of one good, hoping for another “good”, and eventually are shorn of both. Pastor Li expressed his trust in God’s provision of staying power for surviving physical suffering, rather than avoiding the compromise. Charles Swindoll is correct, in saying that “The swift wind of compromise is a lot more devastating than the sudden jolt of misfortune.” Suffering may suddenly come upon us, but compromising is itself much more damaging and devastating. Facing suffering? Seek the Lord and, in His strength, trust His power and its security; we are weak, as humans, but He is strong. (His power gives us strength, and that shines through brightest when we are struggling. We lean on God and know we can do great things through Him. His grace is all we need!)
Our nation has lost many human rights, lately. According to Charles Sumner (powerful speaker, and leader of the anti-slavery forces in Massachusetts, ca 1870s), “From the beginning of our history the country has been afflicted with compromise. It is by compromise that human rights have been abandoned.”
The Apostle Paul viewed suffering as building one’s endurance (Romans 5:3-5). He acknowledged that hardships and suffering provide staying power, and are to be expected as we live our lives for Christ. But the Apostle Peter likewise provided guidance for, and a perspective on, suffering: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13-17) Pastor Li acknowledged suffering as part of life, too, and in such times he sought God and His strength. Praying helps during trials, and we might pray, as a Christian woman prisoner did (in prison in Vorkuta, Siberia, USSR, ca 1960s):
“God, accept all my sufferings, my tiredness, my humiliations, my tears, my nostalgia, my being hungry, my suffering of cold, all the bitterness accumulated in my soul... Dear Lord, have pity on those who persecute and torture us day and night. Grant them, too, the divine grace of knowing the sweetness and happiness of Your love.”
While she did not petition God for strength during her incarceration, she was honest with Him and was concerned to pray for her persecutors.
Reading how mob violence brings suffering to Christians here in this country, and around the world, that is one form of possible hardship. We may never be confronted by angry mobs, yet even this may happen in our country as it is around the world. No matter what may befall us, whether from angry individuals or incensed throngs describing us as oppressors, racists, intolerant bigots, we are to take God’s Word seriously, and in the Book of Joshua, we too are warned not to compromise, submit or acquiesce to any other belief system: “Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses [God’s Word], turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day.” (Joshua 23:6-8) With Pastor Li, may we also trust God to strengthen us to stand firm. When we’re confronted by suffering, Paul encourages us to lift our gaze to heaven and fix our eyes on Jesus, where we find the strength to press on in strength and in prayer. Jack Vinson, in Kiangsu Province, China, in 1931, was confronted by a bandit who told him: “I’m going to kill you. Aren’t you afraid?” Jack Vinson replied simply, “Kill me, if you wish. I will go straight to God.” Jack’s courage inspired his friend E.H. Hamilton to write this poem:
Afraid? Of What?
To feel the spirit's glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace?
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid? Of what?
Afraid to see the Savior's face
To hear His welcome, and to trace
The glory gleam from wounds of grace?
Afraid? Of what?
A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;
Darkness, light, O Heaven's art!
A wound of His a counterpart!
Afraid? Of what?
To do by death what life could not--
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
In the peril of the moment, Jack obtained the strength he needed, from God’s throne--in his need, strength to accept martyrdom. Life is becoming less certain, fraught with cares about COVID-19 and its variants, societal coarsening, unrest in every part of our land, betrayal by every branch of government, and more every day. Be strong in the Lord; seek His strength and His will. Call upon Him in times of trouble and of peace; foster your relationship with Immanuel, and with the Holy Spirit. And when hardship comes, hold fast to the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is strong; abide in that strength!