There is a wonderful authenticity and simplicity in the faith I see among those who face persecution. They have such wonderful endurance in the face of hardship. Yet, it is often experiences of these very hardships that have led God to develop these characteristics in them.
I’ve been reading a book called ‘I dared to call Him Father’ which is an autobiography of a lady called Bilquis Sheikh, who was born, and grew up in, a Muslim family in Pakistan. It talks about the miraculous way she was called to be a Christian and the reactions of people around her to it.
She faced incredible hostility from her community and family, who tried everything, from ignoring her to trying to kill her, yet she remained true. Sometimes this can be completely alien to us in the West. Why didn’t she just give up?
It is the development of godly endurance and the experience of the value of God Himself that helps people through situations such as this. When Paul was given his ‘thorn in the flesh’ to stop him from being proud and feeling he can rely on himself, God said ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).
People can be fickle, and only God can remain firmly reliable through everything.
There’s a feeling that we are strengthened by our experiences into what God wants us to become. It means we learn to value Him completely and trust in Him only. People can be fickle, and only God can remain firmly reliable through everything.
It isn’t just something developed by spiritual superheroes in other nations either. I can’t claim that my level of suffering matches hers, or our brothers and sisters facing war and persecution in Syria or Iraq, but I feel that some truths have been pertinent in my life recently when I have gone through struggle.
I’ve struggled a lot with self-worth. Certain thoughts can taunt me and cause anguish when they come. I can feel then that no-one cares about me or people have fun when I’m not there. It has left me crippled at times, feeling I can’t do anything and left me feeling utterly miserable alone in my room.
Yet, I take great comfort in knowing that Jesus has experienced the same too. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he experienced such pain and loss when he realised that he must suffer and be cut off from the Father for us. It is said later that ‘for the joy set before him he endured the cross’ (Hebrews 12:2). He so relied on God being the joy of his life that he went through the suffering he did. He certainly did not wholly trust in the feelings of his companions, who couldn’t even stay awake to watch with Him! Our trust in God needs to be total, and make our trust in other things look microscopic in comparison. Suffering is a way of achieving this, for our greater joy is in God.
I helped to organise a Secret Church event as part of a student group called Just Love. At the event we talked about the underlining joy experienced by people facing persecution, of quoting Scripture by memorizing it. Yet, there is a sense in memorizing Scripture, the words of God become a part of us, and we learn to rely more wholly on Him. Try it- I’ve found it hugely useful!
In Syria, despite all that is happening, churches are being packed with people who hungry for this living Word. Christians who have stayed have seen God grow their endurance in their total reliance on Him, and this has allowed the church to grow too.
If only we could trust in God so much in our nation. We can see God grow us, and, in that, we can see God grow the church in our nation as something full of real people with real issues. I don’t want to diminish what anyone is going through, but I challenge you to ask God to reveal to you the purpose in your difficulties, wherever you’re at. Pray that you would see God’s hand in what you suffer, in the past, present and future.