I recently had the opportunity to attend a six session, community Bible study with an incredible group of new friends. God laid it upon the heart of one couple to open their home to everyone in their “circle” for this study. Brad and I were invited because of the connection of our son to their family. What began as a commitment quickly turned into a relationship that we believe will be a lifelong friendship. This connection was not born out of church affiliation, social status, family or racial ties. We are simply a group of people who hunger for deeper fellowship with God and one another. What I have experienced during these few months is the heartbeat of God. Watching His children come together, lay aside denominational boundaries to love one another, fellowship with a meal and study His Word, I know brings tremendous joy to my Abba.
The study focused on the lives of Christians who are currently under persecution from Isis in middle eastern countries. It was a sobering look into a world that is hard for us, as American Christians, to fathom. In each session we heard stories of men, women and children who are persecuted for the decision to reject their Muslim heritage and follow Christ. The testimonies of their sacrifice, courage, joy, perseverance, forgiveness and faithfulness left me feeling inadequate, ill equipped and unprepared. Wondering if I would have the strength to stand in the face of adversity. Would I be able to boldly proclaim that He is the one true God? Could I loose everything and still declare that He is a good father? Could I watch those I love suffer and know that it is all for His glory?
The truth is . . . alone I can not, but in Him I can do all things! – Phil 4:13
The truth is . . . I overcome by the blood of the lamb and the Word of my testimony. – Rev. 12:11
The truth is . . . in this world I will have tribulation but Christ has overcome! – John 16:33
The truth is . . . although I am counted as a sheep for slaughter, I am more than a conqueror, and nothing in heaven or on earth shall keep me from Him. – Romans 8:36-38
The truth is . . . adversity, struggle and persecution will come, but He is GREATER! – 1 John 4:4
There was one thread that wove itself in all of the stories I watched. It was a three stranded thread of love, hope and faith. When these people were awakened to the love of Christ and given hope of a future with Him, their faith became unshakable. Seeing their faith in the midst of adversity forced me to take a hard look at my own faith. Seeing their joy forced me to review the petty things in my life that daily rob my joy. Hearing of the faithfulness of God to them in the midst of their greatest struggle, convicted me. I realized that their faith is not stronger than mine, it has only been tested in a greater way.
In Matthew 16:24-25 we are told by Jesus to deny ourselves. Hebrews 12:8-11 encourages us that our troubles indicate that we are truly children of God. In James 1:2-4 we are told to rejoice in our trials because they test our faith and produce patience, making us more like Christ. The truth is, I can only increase my faith, when my faith is tested. My faith is tested through trial and persecution. How can I know the level of my faith if it is never tested? How can I say I am a follower of Christ if I am never given the opportunity to walk through adversity and the fruit I bear be revealed? Hidden fruit does no one any good. It eventually rots, stinks and brings disease. Only exposed fruit is beneficial. The Bible says I am to be known by my fruit. People should be able to look at me and see that I am a Christian. The Christians in the video were branded with a symbol to indicate they were followers of the Nazarene. The truth is their fruit branded them long before Isis did!
The goal of the enemy is to silence the voice of the Christian through persecution. Persecution brings loss, destruction, pain and death, but it does not bring silence. Persecution tries to distract from the greatness of God by focusing on a momentary discomfort. Persecution exposes people to the grace of God as the faith of the persecuted is tested and made stronger. Being a Christian does not mean I get to escape persecution, it simply means that I have the power in me to withstand it. Adversity and persecution have defined Christianity. Throughout history those who love God have been treated harshly, looked down upon, spoken ill of, tortured and killed for their faith. Being a Christian does not guarantee me an overcoming life, it gives me life as I overcome (Oswald Chambers).
Lord I thank you today for your grace and faithfulness to me. Give me the courage to stand strong, bear my fruit and not be distracted by adversity as my faith is tested. Help me to understand that I am never more like you than when I face adversity. Let all that I endure for your sake scream of your goodness and draw others to the knowledge of who you are.