What must believers do to persevere through persecution? – Part 1

I recently sat down with my youngest son to build an alligator from a lego set we bought him. Before I opened the box I thought, “I got this. I mean, how hard can it be to build a lego alligator?” Well, let me just say, my tune quickly changed as soon as I opened the box. Whoever designed that alligator had a great imagination. They were using Lego pieces in ways I would have never imagined. Instead of trying to go at it on my own, I did the wise thing, I pulled out the instructions and followed them step by step. And in no time, we had an alligator.

Putting that alligator together with my son reminded me that we are created with a need for instruction. While we all inherently know that’s true, there is something in us that drives us to go at it on our own.

But if we can’t handle putting together something as simple as a Lego alligator without following the instructions, what makes us think that we can handle the difficulties the world throws at us on our own?

We need instruction. Not just anyone’s instruction. We need God’s instruction. Especially, when we are facing something as difficult and all-consuming as persecution.

Because our God is a good God who loves us and wants what’s best for us, He gives us what we need. He gives us the instruction that we need so that we can persevere through persecution. Let’s look at what He has to say.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pe 5:6–11)

One of the greatest acts of betrayal a father can experience is when a son rises up against him. Throughout history, many fathers, leaders, and kings have had that experience. King David is no exception. His son Absalom made a power play for the throne. After four years of secretly working behind the scenes to build the support of the people, he put his plan in motion. By God’s grace, on the day Absalom decided to cash in on his hard work, David heard about the conspiracy and was able to escape to the wilderness.

While he avoided Absalom for some time, the day of battle finally came.  When that day came, David did something strange. Something you wouldn’t expect a deceived father, a king who had been humiliated, his throne ripped from him to do. He told his army to “deal gently…with…Absalom” (2 Sam 18:5). David not only gave that command because he loved his son, but because he fully trusted in the Lord. We know that because Psalm 55 allows us to peer into David’s heart during this difficult time. Starting in verse 16 he says,

“But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old, because they do not change and do not fear God.” (Ps 55:16–19)

Instead of taking matters into his own hands, David turns to the Lord. When we are facing difficulties we must do the same.

Believers must humble themselves under the mighty hand of God

We learn this from David, as well as we learn this from Peter. After telling us to literally clothe ourselves in humility in verse 5, Peter says in verse 6,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” (1 Pe 5:6)

Pride says, “I can do it on my own. I am strong enough to handle it.” Humility says, “I recognize that I’m not strong enough, that God is mightier than I, and that I don’t have to do it on my own.” We don’t have to pull own our bootstraps and go out it on our own, instead, we are to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand like David did, trusting that God can and will deal with the difficulties of life, especially when it comes to persecution.

Why can we humble ourselves?

We can humble ourselves for several reasons, but I’ll offer two:

(1) God is great and mighty God who fights on behalf of His people.

Throughout biblical history God has done just that. Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt is one of the greatest displays of God’s care and glory besides the cross of Christ. If you remember, God’s people were enslaved in Egypt. They were being treated terribly. Hearing His people’s prayer, God rises up against the Pharaoh, displaying. His power through 10 plagues that ultimately result in Israel’s release.

God, however, wasn’t done showing His power. With Israel’s back was against the Red Sea and the Egyptians bearing down on them, God literally parts the sea so that His people are able to walk across on dry ground. Seeing that the Israelites were getting away, the Egyptians ran into those walls of water which were soon to become their tomb. As they were running through this magnificent site, God removes His mighty hand and the waters came crashing down, drowning the mighty Egyptian army. Our God is a mighty God, who uses His power on behalf of His people

(2) God is a great and mighty God who cares for His people.

Did you know that there are 7.6 billion people on planet earth? That is unbelievable! A number I can’t even fathom. With so many people there is no way that we could ever know what is going on in their life. We can’t even do that for the 5,000 or more people that live here in Decatur.

But you know who does know? God knows. He doesn’t just know about us. We aren’t just a statistic to God. No, He knows us intimately. He knows us in that way because He cares about us. Because He cares about us, we can cast our cares on Him. Look at verse 7,

“casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pe 5:7)

Our God is a God who cares, which means that nothing that we are facing is insignificant to Him. It doesn’t matter if it is something that is small or big, God cares. Because God cares, we can cast “all” not just some, “all” of our anxieties on Him. Anything that causes us to worry, we are to take it to God. Don’t think that the problem you are dealing with is too small for God to be bothered with. No problem that we face is insignificant to Him. Our God is a God who cares!

So we need to quit trying to handle things on our own. Instead, we need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, allowing Him to handle it for us. That is what He instructs us to do and that is what we must do. This is especially true when we are facing persecution. That’s because persecution is not a flesh and blood battle it is a spiritual battle, it’s spiritual warfare. We need God to fight that battle for us, to strengthen us, to work in and through us. We need Him to deal with our persecutors.

 

How Can We Praise God During the Hard Times?

If you ask most people, they will tell you it is easy for them to thank God when things are going well, but it’s not so easy to praise God when life throws them a curveball. If I am honest with myself, it is much harder for me to thank and praise God when I have suffered loss, persecution, or hardship as well.

Realizing the difficulty of thanking God in the hard times is what makes Habakkuk’s words so amazing. In chapter 3 of his book he says,

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab 3:17–19, ESV)

So Habakkuk vows to thank the Lord, even during times of hardship. In fact, he promised not to allow anything to get in his way of praising and rejoicing in the Lord. How can Habakkuk make that promise? How can he promise ahead of time to rejoice in the Lord when everything around him comes crashing down? When he is facing hardship and suffering loss, what is it that allows him to take joy in God?

What is it that allows us to be thankful when things are difficult? I believe Habakkuk clues us into four truths in these three verses that allow us to thank God even in the difficult times.

(1) We can be thankful in difficult times because God is unchanged (v.17)

As Habakkuk begins his promise, he paints a picture of loss for us. Specifically, he envisions losing things that are vital to the economy. The fig trees are not going to blossom. Fruit will not be found on the vine. The olive trees will cease production. The fields will yield no harvests. Cattle and sheep will be lost. Losing all these things at once would put a major strain on the economy and the people of the land.

We know this to be true. Several years ago our country experienced an economic disaster when the housing bubble burst. During that time people not only lost their homes but many lost jobs as well. All that loss resulted in the economy tanking because no one had any money to spend.

All the changes that happened during that time not only had an effect on the economy but also people personally. Some went without food and other basic necessities. Others saw their marriages eroded. Still others experienced strained friendships. While others experienced loss when their houses were taken or they had to move away from friends and family to other parts of the country to find work. Surely, all of this caused stress, worry, anxiety, and tension.

I am sure Habakkuk would have felt that as well. But even so, in verse 18 Habakkuk promises to give thanks to the Lord. How can that be? How can Habakkuk promise to be thankful during such difficult times? Habakkuk new a crucial truth about the Lord, he knew God was unchanged. While things in this world will change, God won’t. In Malachi 3:6 we read,

““For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal 3:6)

And in Hebrews 13:8, we learn:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8)

Since God and His promises will not change nor fail us, we can promise ahead of time to be thankful even during the worst of times. One promise we can count on is that God will provide a way for us to experience salvation, which leads us to the second reason for why we can be thankful in difficult times.

(2) We can be thankful in difficult times because we have salvation (v.18)

As much as we would like to think life is stable and certain, it isn’t. In reality, we are never far from problems in this life.

Not too long ago my dad told me about a guy on his softball team who was diagnosed with stomach cancer. One week he was playing alongside my dad in a softball tournament. The next week he was sitting in a doctor’s office being told he had stage 4 stomach cancer for which there was nothing they could do. He died in a matter of months.

Or take my mom for instance. One day she noticed that one of her fingertips was turning black. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with Scleroderma, a disease that changed her life and ultimately took it.

Or consider my grandma. One night she went to bed just as she always did. At some point in the middle of the night, she had a stroke, which left half her body paralyzed and her unable to speak. She lived the rest of her life in a nursing home being cared for 24 hours a day.

You see life isn’t as stable and certain as we think, but there is one thing that is certain – our salvation. Everything else can be taken from us – Our job, house, health, ability to communicate, our freedom, and even our life – but our salvation is certain. In Romans 8:1 Paul writes,

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro 8:1)

You see, those who have repented of their sin and believe in Jesus, as their Lord and Savior, no longer have to fear God’s punishment because Jesus has taken it for them. Of that, we can be certain not only because God’s Word tells us, but also because God is unchanged. There will never come a day when God will change His mind about how we are saved or who is saved. For that, we can be thankful even while facing hardships.

(3) We can be thankful in difficult times because God is Sovereign (v.19)

God being sovereign means that He is in control of everything. As the One who is in control, He either causes or allows everything to happen  according to His eternal decree. Hearing that might make us uncomfortable because it means there are things that happen that God could have stopped but doesn’t. But while God’s sovereignty may initially make us uncomfortable, it ultimately should comfort us because it means God is in control and He can and will work all things out according to His eternal plan. Isn’t that what we learn God is doing in the book of Romans? In Romans 8:28 we read,

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Ro 8:28)

In penning that verse, Paul doesn’t mean for us to think everything will work out just hunky-dory for those who are Christians. Nor was he trying to tell us that every bad thing actually has a “silver lining”, or that every terrible thing is somehow actually a good thing if we learn to look at it properly. That is not what Paul is saying. Instead, Paul is telling us God will ultimately use everything in our lives to glorify Him and bring us to salvation. The only way God can use everything in our lives to glorify Him and bring us to salvation is if God is sovereign, which means He must be and is in control of everything. Since God knows and is working everything out according to His plan and purpose, we can praise and thank God even in difficult times.

(4) We can be thankful in difficult times because we are triumphant in Christ (v. 19)

In Christ, we are triumphant over the evil in our lives now because none of it will separate us from God (Rom. 8:31-39). We will be triumphant over our enemies in the future when Jesus returns because He will vindicate us and destroy our enemies once and for all (Rev. 19-22).

Before then, we will face difficult situations, but none of them will ultimately defeat us because God will keep us in Christ. In Christ, we will be and are victorious and triumphant. So when we face difficult situations, we should thank God because He gives us the strength to continue in the faith, and He will one day free us from those situations, conquering our enemies and ushering in a New Heavens and New Earth where we will live in sinless perfection for all eternity.

Conclusion

So when you face difficulties in this life, and you will, don’t run from God, rather run to Him, praising and thanking Him for all you have in Him despite the difficulties and hardship you are experiencing.

Admittedly praising God in the difficult times is not easy, but by remembering our God is unchanged, He provides us with salvation, He is Sovereign, and He causes us to be triumphant in Christ, should make it possible for us to stand and say with Habakkuk,

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab 3:18–19)”

Question for Reflection

  1. What else allows us to praise the Lord during difficult times?

Resources

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Post developed from my sermon: How can we praise God during the difficult times?

Are You Prepared for Persecution?

Christian persecution is not something new to us in the 21st Century. Throughout church history, believers have suffered persecution. “They have been beaten, ridiculed, defrocked, and defamed. They have suffered poverty, isolation, betrayal, and disgrace. They have been hounded, harassed, and murdered” [1].

Persecution Should Not Surprise Us

Persecution should come as no surprise to Christians. In John 15:19, we learn that we will be hated by the world.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (Jn 15:19)

Also, in 2 Timothy 3:12 and 1 Peter 4:13, we learn that we “will”, not “might”, face persecution. So if we are following the Lord, we will face persecution in some way, shape, or form; it is inevitable because we are rubbing against the world’s ideas. We are telling them what they want, what they believe, and what they do is not ok, even if we are not explicitly stating it. By the simple fact that we aren’t doing, wanting, or believing, what they believe is enough to cause the world to hate us. People love their sin (Jer. 14:10). They want it to be approved of, even celebrated. When someone, or a group of people, is not willing to do that, persecution arises.

What is Persecution?

Persecution occurs anytime we are attacked for our beliefs. Attacks may include anything from a smirk, to a laugh, to the loss of a job, to a verbal or physical assault, to being driven from our home, or even killed for what we believe. Persecution takes many forms. But it is nothing new. It has been happening from the beginning – Cain killed Abel because God looked on him in favor – and it will continue until Jesus returns.

The Advantage of Knowing

Knowing persecution is coming, actually works to our advantage because it allows us to prepare for it now. Prepare is something we must do. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be blindsided or sucker-punched by persecution. Instead, we should be prepared.

How Should We Prepare For Persecution?

(1) Meditate on the Promises of God

Reading and meditating on God’s promises, particularly those that deal with His return (Matt. 16:27; 24:4-5; 11; 23-27; 24:30-31; 24:37-39; Mark 8:38; Luke 17:28-30; 21:34-36; Jn, 14:1-3; 1 Jn 1:7-9; 1 Jn, 3:2), should help us see that persecution is not the end. Jesus will return. He will be victorious (Ps. 2; Dan. 2:44; 7; Phil. 2:9-11; Rev 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16). We will be vindicated for our beliefs (Rev. 6:9-11). We will live in a perfect world free of persecution (Rev. 19; 21). Knowing and understanding these things are huge, if we are to face persecution with hope.

(2) Learn More About God and His Plan

We need to know that our God is not oblivious to persecution, as if He is sleeping in the heavens, while Christians are getting their heads cut off on earth. He knows what happens in this world, because He is intimately involved (Matt. 6:25-34).

We also need to know that our God is not powerless to defeat our enemies. Nor does persecution happen outside of God’s plan. He has a plan and purpose for everything that happens in this world (Ps. 139; 15-16; Dan. 7; Jn. 17:1-8). As such, He is able to work all things together for good, according to His will (Rom. 8:28). We may not understand or even know the purpose of our suffering, but God does.

As Christians, we must trust that God knows best and His will is perfect (Is, 43:3). We can trust God because of who He is. Scripture tells us our God is All-Powerful (Jer. 10:10), All-Sovereign (Is, 64:8; Acts 1:7), Omniscient (Matt. 6:25-34), Holy (Lev. 22:2; Is. 43:15; Matt. 6:9), Righteous (1 Pet. 1:17), Just (1 Pet. 1:17), Compassionate (Matt. 7:11), Loving (Ex. 34:6), and much more. Since our God possesses these attributes, we can trust His will, even if we can’t understand it.

(3) Seek Support 

Christians are born again into community. At the moment of salvation, we become apart of a body – the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). As members of the body of Christ, we are called to seek and give support and comfort to one another in times of persecution (2 Cor. 1:4), bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), and encourage and build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11), as we face trials of various kinds (James 1:2).

Don’t let persecution sucker-punch you, instead prepare for it now, because it is coming.

Question for Reflection

  1. How are you preparing for persecution?

Resources

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[1] George Grant, A History of Persecution, Table Talk Magazine August 2015, 11.