November 18, 2014

Setting my mind on comfort? Or on Christ?

Last night at our small group, we talked about persecution. Christians around the world are being mistreated, even murdered, for no other reason than that they believe in Jesus Christ. One of our group mentioned that it was not like that in the early church because the persecution had reasons, or at least it did in the minds of the perpetrators. Christians were going against the emperor worship of that day, so were considered rebellious law-breakers. Those who didn’t understand the Lord’s Supper even accused them of cannibalism and drinking blood. These and other charges made it seem as if believers in Christ should be punished or deserved to die.

Today in certain parts of the world, Christians are being killed just because they are Christians. Reports say hundreds of believers die each DAY for their faith. We’ve heard first-hand accounts of horrid atrocities. One would expect that the Bible offers at least comfort for the persecuted, or at most retribution and justice, but Peter brought a surprising perspective to those who were suffering . . .

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ 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 Peter 5:4–11)

In our culture, the down-trodden are usually told to stand up for their rights, fight back, refuse to take no for an answer, and by no means allow anyone to make them suffer, yet Peter says to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and wait on Him to remove the problem.

My first thought is that pride is always behind my self-defense. I fight back because I am important and no one has any right to treat me badly. However, as I think that, I also think that God is in charge and there is nothing that happens to me without going through Him. He allows it.

Even in a Christian prayer group, that idea is met with dismay, skepticism, or downright denial. How could God allow anyone to suffer? Yet He not only allows it; He sent His own Son to die the worst death possible. Peter rebuked Jesus for even thinking such a thing, proving that we mere mortals are feeble-minded when it comes to understanding the mind of God.

Peter makes it plain; our suffering is under the mighty hand of God and our real danger is not that we experience discomfort, pain, or even death, but that we give in to the lies of the devil. He wants us to resist God instead of resisting him, and to be oblivious to both his lies and God’s truth.

God’s promise here is that suffering is not forever. God has a purpose, and when that purpose is accomplished, He restores, confirms, strengthens, and establishes His people. He isn’t cruel; He just has a much loftier goal in mind, a goal that surpasses our expectation of being happy and comfortable all the time.

My suffering is rarely physical, and rarely mistreatment from those who persecute Christians, but that “roaring lion” hassles me and attempts to make me forget God and deny my faith. For that reason, I can identify a little with those in faraway places who are hiding from people with guns and knives. The threats are different, but the fears and anxieties are similar. Both are terrified that God has forgotten us. I can pray for the persecuted with a deeper passion and urgency because I’ve also heard that roar.

The bottom line is that we humble ourselves before God, not resisting His plan for our lives, but yielding in faith and trusting Him to make of it what He desires. At the same time, we are to resist our enemy who has an entirely different plan; he wants to destroy God’s people. Satan can threaten our life of faith with swords, but he can also ruin it with an excessive and proud desire to stick up for the right to always be comfortable.

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