Being Faithful. Day five...
According to the Center for Study of Global Christianity, between the years AD 30 and 2000, 70 million Christians were martyred. Of this 70 million, 45 million were martyred in the 20th century. These figures for the 20th century “exclude those killed for national, ethnic or political reasons who just happened to be Christian but were not killed because of their being Christian.”
Where was God for all these men and women? I'm sure their loved ones had some questions about God's faithfulness.
Back in the winter I had a few days in a row when it seemed as if I wasn't doing anybody any good whatsoever. And I can't stand not having any results. If I'm not helping someone make progress, I don't see much reason to stick around.
I told Sherrel, “I feel like saying goodbye to you and the kids, buying a one‐way ticket to the most dangerous part of the world, and just preaching Jesus for as long as I can, until somebody kills me.”
Was I serious? Obviously not… but serious enough that I don't think Paul was nuts when he said:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21–23 ESV)
Did the 45 million martyrs of the 20th century feel abandoned by God? Maybe… if they had enough time to think about it before they were killed… I have no way of knowing. But from what I can see in the Bible, I seriously doubt any of them preferred earth to Heaven (after the fact that is).
- (From Paul's perspective): My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:23 ESV)
- (From the Psalmist's perspective): Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15 ESV)
- (From Stephen's perspective): Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:54–57 ESV)
This is a different kind of suffering than the kind we talked about last Wednesday. This is the kind of suffering that occurs as the result of “living” our lives for Christ as opposed to the result of “not living” our lives for Christ.
But this kind of suffering usually doesn't end in death. And we need to learn how to deal with it if we are the ones left standing.
The first step is awareness. If you are suffering because you are living for God, but you think you are suffering because you are not living for God, you will drive yourself crazy trying to fix things.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18–20 ESV)
This kind of suffering is a direct result of building our lives on the faithfulness of God—building on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
Since most of us have experienced both kinds of suffering, it's important to be able to tell the difference between the two. It's important because they have to be treated differently.
When we are suffering as a result of living for Jesus (please refer back to last Wednesday's article for the other kind of suffering) God's faithfulness manifests in a different way.
He uses all trials and tribulations to perfect and complete us. And this process is one of the ways we know He has not abandoned us:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2–4 NKJV)
But He gives us a special comfort during the suffering we endure for His sake. And this comfort is His reminder that He has not abandoned us.
Paul talks about the suffering he and his companions experienced when ministering in Asia, where the opposition was continually trying to kill them:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. (2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV)
During this great hardship God strengthened them with His comfort:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 ESV)
When Jesus was praying in agony on the Mount of Olives, the Father sent an angel to comfort Him in His distress.
And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. (Luke 22:43 ESV)
We should expect no less comfort when we are suffering for His sake. It is His way of saying to us, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Have a good day,