In a Storm, May We Be the Ones Who Hold an Umbrella for Others:
Persecution, the Way of the Cross, and Our Response in Love
The church worldwide has suffered great persecution in recent days. On May 13, there were bomb attacks on three churches in Indonesia. According to reports, four of the attackers were family members, and were influenced by “Islamic state” extremism. This is just one example of the physical and spiritual persecution many churches endure.
In the short term, persecution has been a fact of life for many Christians, and in other cases, challenges that simply cannot be avoided. Jesus was persecuted by the scribes and Pharisees when he walked the face of earth. After he resurrected and ascended, the apostles preached about him and were likewise persecuted, and every apostle ended up giving his life up for Jesus. The two thousand years since are a history of the persecution and revival of the church.
Persecution is not only short-term difficulties, but a long-term reality for all who walk the way of the cross. Paul says as much to Timothy, writing, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
To be sure, none of us by nature desires persecution. We would rather “live a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:2), but things don’t always go as we wish. I’m sure we wish conflicts and plenty of other things would never happen, but some things in this life are beyond our control. So how are we to face persecution?
The Way of the Cross
The way of the cross is full of persecution. It began as soon as Jesus took on flesh. When Jesus was only a baby, already King Herod was seeking to kill him. When he returned to his hometown Nazareth, he was driven out by his own neighbors. As he preached, healed the sick, and cast out demons, he drew the hatred and persecution of the Pharisees and Jews.
You often hear Christians quip, “Be like Jesus,” and say they want to take up their cross. But where does it ever say the way of the cross is smooth and easy? Be sure of this: the way of the cross is full of persecutions beyond what we can imagine.
How then should we carry our hearts as we face persecution?
In Romans 5:3, Paul writes that “suffering produces endurance.” When do we need endurance? Is it when things are easy? When things are easy, we have no use for endurance. No, it is when things are hard, when we face suffering and adversity, that we need endurance. Hardship, then is our opportunity to learn endurance. Let us not miss our opportunity! In addition to enduring, we need to pray. Paul writes, “be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). We are not only to pray—we are to pray constantly.
God has not promised us blue skies and smooth sailing on the way of the cross. It was not smooth sailing even when Jesus was on the earth! He constantly encountered all sorts of persecution and hardship. Scripture reminds us that when Jesus finished ministering, he would go by himself to a desolate place to pray. In fact, Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane right at the moment when his greatest suffering began. He did not pray to the Father so as to remove that suffering; instead he submitted to the Father’s will, and faced the coming suffering.
Faithfulness in Prison
Many generations of Christians have been persecuted throughout history. The Christians in World War II Germany were one such generation.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a good representative of those times. He experienced great persecution under the horrible Nazi rule, but he never ran away. He bravely took up his cross and endured the persecution.
On the brink of World War II, many people urged Bonhoeffer to flee Germany to protect his own life. But soon after an American friend brought him out of Germany, his heart turned to those Christians still being persecuted, and he resolved to go back. Back in Germany, he continued to serve in the church while also lending energy and support to the anti-Nazi rebellion.
In 1943, Bonhoeffer was locked in prison, but he continued to inspire and encourage everyone he came into contact with through his indomitable and selfless spirit. He even comforted others in prison who had been hurt, helping them get free of their grief and sorrow. Such help meant the world to the people in that prison.
At a time when Nazism was pervasive and spreading, Bonhoeffer chose to stand on the side of life, goodness, justice and truth. He refused to compromise even though he knew it would bring him intense persecution, and he always believed that Germany would only be saved by turning back to the Christian faith. Furthermore, in resisting war and the Nazi rulers, Bonhoeffer was not being unpatriotic. Just the opposite, he resisted because he was patriotic, and did not want to see war bring disaster upon his country.
In a time of such unmatched persecution, Bonhoeffer dared to hold fast his faith, give up his life and bear his cross. His devotion has borne fruit in the generations after him, becoming a source of endless spiritual riches to Christians everywhere. Works such as Letters and Papers from Prison and The Cost of Discipleship have encouraged many Christians in the midst of suffering and persecution.
Interceding for Others
But for many of us, it can be difficult to feel or see such persecution, and even when we feel the storm coming, we don’t know how to respond in love. We often use the term “body of Christ.” Here’s a question for you: When brothers or sisters in the body are persecuted, do you care? Do you pray for them? If not, then perhaps we have not truly considered what it means to be one body. When any part of your own body is wounded, then your whole body feels it. Some parts may feel it more than others, but the whole body is nonetheless affected.
When other Christians are being persecuted, believers tend to fall into one of several groups:
- Some believers or churches act as if it does not concern them. In an age of individualism and indifference, we have lost compassion for those who suffer.
- Some believe that those Christians have brought that persecution upon themselves—they were asking for it somehow. Fellowships that follow the prosperity gospel, especially, see faith as a means to benefits in this world, and for them the way of the cross is unnecessary.
- Other Christians do not care because they simply do not know what is happening. They plead ignorance.
But there are still other Christians who feel their connectedness to the body, and who groan and pray for those members of the body that suffer persecution.
Jesus sacrificed himself for others. We often hide from and avoid helping others, preferring to spare ourselves the trouble. Jesus saw others’ suffering as his own. We are loathe to give them even the tiniest bit of love. To truly “be like Jesus,” we should love others like he did and care for those members who suffer persecution.
Believers should be patient and firm in suffering, and comfort others with the strength they receive through prayer. In times of persecution, unceasing prayer is our greatest strength.
Original Article: 山雨欲来，愿我们都是为对方打伞的人, by OriginalFLY on 今日佳音.
Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.