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 (from China; he was imprisoned for his faith in Jesus Christ, for over 20 years.), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5:11)
Those who are persecuted because of righteousness are 'blessed'. When people insult you because you are a Christian, you are 'blessed'. Suffering for righteousness is participating in the sufferings of Christ. Every Christian should participate in this suffering; 'Blessed are you when people insult you...great is your reward in heaven' (Matthew 5:12).
I want to look to the reward, not to the circumstances. The greatest help during these times of persecution is to keep looking to Jesus. He is always near. The greater the persecution, the nearer He is. The reward in heaven is only an extra bonus.
'Blessed are you.' Blessed is He.
A moment of introspection: Here in the United States, we Christians have long been thanking God for His manifold blessings, some of which might be freedom of religion, accepted/established Christian Church, prosperity, individual freedom of expression, and many more blessings. But we intercessors with Christians In Crisis know that there is more to life than prosperity, more to life than sufficient food to eat, a job, an education, a trade, an accepted and respected position in the community at large, etc.
Where we find prosperity a blessing, an Iranian pastor (who suffered much for his Christian witness) told Tom White (Director of Voice Of the Martyrs, US), "Prosperity without persecution is boring."1 Mr. White asked one Iranian woman about obstacles and difficulties she encounters as part of being a Christian in that country, and she stated "When they spit on me, I consider that my baptism from God."1 We have already explored the depth of meaning in Matthew 5:11-12, wherein Christ told His hearers, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, ..."
Believers in India do see persecution as a blessing, because it allows the glory of the Lord to shine through.2 Perhaps contrarily to our own response to being blessed with acceptance in the community wherein we live, an elderly woman minister reported her persecution at the hands of her community, saying "I prayed, 'Lord, the people of this village shamed us against your name. What do You want us to do now so we can continue God's witness?'"2 When Hindu radicals started beating an Indian minister, he later admitted he felt hurt, but [he] remembered Matthew 5, and remembered studying about the early martyrs. He reported that he came away from his abuse at the hand of community residents and police, more excited about Christ. "Such persecution", he says, "increases faith."2 Another pastor, having lost his young son, allowed God to turn the tragedy of his son's death into a testimony to His own glory.2 Another Indian pastor, having attended a VOM-sponsored conference with other pastors who had been attacked, was emboldened by their testimonies and redoubled his own ministry efforts.2 These and countless other testimonies of those who find it a blessing to suffer for Christ and His Kingdom reveal the working out of the blessing.
In these stories, we hear and consider the nature of blessing. Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides three views of the word, "bless": (1) to invoke divine care for, (2) to confer prosperity or happiness upon, and (3) to hallow or consecrate. As intercessors, we may gravitate to the first definition (to invoke divine care for) as we pray for the persecuted. Yet that adds depth to our understanding of persecution as a blessing. As intercessors, we are blessed to bless, certainly. As American Christians, we are also blessed to be blessed (in regards to conferring of prosperity or happiness upon). Yet, as aggressive persecution comes to our homeland, we will come to a better understanding of the boringness of prosperity, the blessedness of baptism from God, how persecution can increase our own faith, and how we, too, can turn persecution into opportunity to continue God's witness. We may well come to be emboldened through the coming persecution of Christians here in America. In the words of Pastor Samuel Lamb, "Blessed are you." "Blessed is He." As we serve God, may we seek to bless. In our lives, may we come to understand more deeply what it means to be blessed by God and, in accepting His blessing, bless our heavenly Father even more. Let's look to the reward, not to the circumstances that befall us. Keep looking to Jesus, who is always near.
1. "Take Up Your Cross", by Tom White, Director of US Voice Of the Martyrs, quoted from VOM Newsletter, April 2010, p.2
2. "The Blessings of Persecution", by Patrice Johnson, quoted from VOM Newsletter, April 2010, pp. 3-7