Recently I had the opportunity to spend a weekend with other like-minded Christians, with the aim of making us more aware of the struggles faced by those persecuted for following Jesus, and how we can speak up on their behalf.
The weekend challenged my prayer life. Most of the time, I viewed praying for persecuted Christians as a calling for ‘someone out there’, but since I’ve been convicted about my responsibility towards the persecuted church. 1 Corinthians 12 reminded me that the church is not just my local Christian family who I meet with every week, but it’s also the global body of believers – we are all part of one family, one body, hence ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.’
But the conviction did not stop there! I was led to question my whole walk with God. If I’m honest I was ashamed by the apathy I found myself in. I know I am not alone. Western Christianity itself has been stunted by this; we are too complacent, too apathetic, too comfortable!
It made me realize just how much people who are persecuted for their faith really give. They stick with God when it is hard, some to the point of imprisonment, and even death. If we faced the same challenges, would our faith and churches look different?
You bet it would. Persecution is horrific, and although we pray for an end to persecution, it’s obvious to see that God can turn bad into good – and he can use those terrible experiences to create a stronger, more passionate church.
Here’s some challenges to our complacent western attitudes…
1. Persecution makes church family essential
One night during the weekend, we had the opportunity to meet in a field like the many in the secret church. What started off with excited laughs, was soon taken over by fear and sympathy. We worshiped in silence, braved the chilly temperature to read God’s Word and pray together. Our discomfort seemed insignificant to the potential torture our brothers and sisters faced for just meeting together. We feared rowdy guys and insects (well I did!), an unjustifiable fear compared to that of being caught, tortured or even killed for believing in Jesus – yet, my persecuted family remains fearless!
According to various surveys published, although more than 50% of the British population claims to be Christian, less than 25% identify themselves as ‘churchgoers’. Sad! Fellowship is a fundamental part of Christian life – we need it to encourage, instruct and support us.
“Let us not neglect meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.”
When those who can potentially die for meeting together are able to do so, how much more should we! Too tired? Too busy? Is that really an excuse?
2. God can use persecution to refine
Like fire is to a metal, persecution is to the church. It purifies by burning off the contaminants to make us glow brighter than we ever could. Persecution has the power to repel the counterfeits until we are left with one passionate body.
If you take time to read the stories of many persecuted Christians, you see that the presence of the Holy Spirit was often most tangible during the tough times. Often, when people persecuted or on fire for God, they depend on Him – they are teachable and shaped by the Spirit to walk like Jesus and see the Word and world through His eyes. Just like metal, God can use the pressures we face to mold and refine us.
Christianity is increasingly a cultural thing ‘we do’, rather than a personal thing ‘we are’.
We take freedom for granted, seldom remembering the price many paid for it. Christianity is increasingly a cultural thing ‘we do’, rather than a personal thing ‘we are’. Hea Woo, the North Korean lady imprisoned for her faith, managed to start a revival in one of North Korea’s labour camps. How? Her radical faith drove her to help her fellow prisoners despite her own physical pain.
Heat causes metals to expand and glow, likewise persecution exposes our passionate love for our Saviour, so passionate that it is irresistible! This is the Christianity I long to see in Britain!
There is a lot we can learn from our persecuted family. Their passionate, fearless lives must challenge us, as well us move us to uphold them in prayer and action.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Persecution is not a recent problem. Since the time of the apostles Christians have been tortured, murdered and ridiculed for their faith… but as Tertullian wrote, ‘the blood of martyrs’ has proved to be ‘the seed of the church’.
Nevertheless, I cannot imagine my right to express my belief in Jesus being stripped from me. Persecution is an injustice hence I will never wish for it; what I wish for however, is the rebirth of a radical Christianity in the West – full of passionate belief, pursuing holiness and putting faith and love in action. If that is what we looked like, who would want to look away?