I recently watched a mini-series study on Christian persecution in the Middle East. Can I tell you how humbling that was?!? Most of you have seen, or at least heard of the torture and deaths these Christians—our brothers and sisters—face. I can tell you the news does not do it justice. When ISIS invades those cities and takes over, they mark each home and business of a Christian with an ‘N’ (in Arabic) for ‘Nazarene’- the word used to describe Christian in the Quran. They are targeted as people to be avoided and basically shunned. ISIS gives the Christians a couple of options—pay an excess tax, deny their faith, give them their daughters/wives for the slave ring, be killed, or leave (desert everything they have and have ever known). They choose to leave—with nothing but the clothes on their backs— on foot. Can you even imagine? As if that’s not bad enough, they are often kidnapped on their trek out of town and tortured for days or weeks before being set free (if they aren’t killed). Once they arrive in ‘friendly’ areas, they are forced to live in tent cities, abandoned warehouses/homes (often with leaky roofs, no doors/windows) with multiple other families.
The amazing story isn’t simply their persecution and living conditions, it is their faith and trust in God. They live in chaos; they have every reason to hate their lives and be angry with God, yet they are grateful for all of it. They look at it as an honor to suffer with/for Christ. (1 Peter 4:14-16) They continue (actually are driven even harder) to preach the gospel to anyone they encounter. They meet together to study. They have brought ISIS members to Christ!
Besides the obvious statement that we Americans do not truly understand persecution for our faith; but we truly don’t take joy in our sufferings as they do. (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6) I can pray that if I am ever tested in terms as my brothers and sisters overseas are, that I will stand. But if I can’t stand during my discomforts and disruptions I have now, how will I stand in complete destruction? I don’t find joy in my sufferings during traffic, or when someone wastes my time, or when anything doesn’t go the way I mentally planned—do I really think I have a chance at finding joy when my life is threatened, when I can’t even stand to be inconvenienced?
We will suffer—maybe not torture and death for our faith—but still, of some sort. (Matthew 5:10, Luke 14:27, John 16:33, 1 Corinthians 4:8-10, Philippians 1:29, 2 Timothy 3:12…) The enemy comes to steal our joy; he causes the suffering. Jesus came to give us a better life. (John 10:10) Will we choose to allow our suffering to rule us, or will we allow Jesus to rule us?
Romans 5:3-5: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
…Sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules…giving us the right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)
God’s grace, the death of Jesus Christ, saves us from our eternal suffering. Isn’t it enough for us to rejoice that whatever suffering we experience here, is nothing compared to the glory of God waiting for us there? (Romans 8:18)