Psalm 119:71 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
Afflictions are defined as the circumstances that cause pain and suffering. Did you know that God causes affliction, both in the lives of His people and in those who reject Him!
I was reading recently in Psalm 119, probably one of my all time favorite passages of scripture and started to hear this resounding theme of David’s thankfulness for Gods affliction. I began to wonder how much affliction we go through and draw false conclusions to its origin.
Sometimes God brings affliction to lead people toward Him.
Psalm 119:67 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.”
Other times God uses the pain and suffering of life to draw His people into a greater strength than they could ever have achieved on their own.
Psalm 119:28 “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!”
Whatever reason God uses, you can be rest assured His purposes are good.
‘The Insanity of God‘
I’ve been reading this book by Nik Ripken regarding his missionary story serving Christ in Somalia. You remember the whole black hawk down story that was made into a movie? Well Nik was in Mogadishu while that craziness was going on, serving the people of Somalia and being a light in the darkness.
On a cross cultural trip to Russia and parts of Europe, Nik interviewed people who suffered terribly under communism and likewise after the fall of the Soviet Union. The interviews brought testimony of prison, persecution, and God’s provision.
I could never do the stories justice by giving a short summary but in the Kingdom of God these faithful men and women of God are legendary. Faithful servants who spent years enduring solitary confinement, torture, and psychological abuse, a few faltered and fell into denial while many others endured until the end, recounting God’s faithfulness through it all.
One particular story was of a man who spent 17 years in a Russian prison. Dimitri told of how the authorities tried to convince him his wife had died and his children had been taken by the state, after many years in prison he was about to break and deny Christ when God opened his ears to hear the actual prayers of his wife and children going up to God on his behalf. The Lord strengthened him to stand firm until the end through the persecution and suffering.
After hearing so many encouraging stories of faith under fire, Nik scolded several of the old saints for not relaying their stories in magazines or in books to encourage others, then one old saint took him aside and taught him a lesson.
The old saint took Nik to the window and asked him how many times he had woken his son just before dawn and encouraged him to watch the sun arise in the East, Nik responded “never”, his family would think he was crazy. The old saint then told Nik, “that’s why we haven’t made books and movies out of these stories that you have been hearing. For us, persecution is like the sun coming up in the east. It happens all the time. It’s the way things are. There is nothing unusual or unexpected about it. Persecution for our faith has always been—and probably always will be—a normal part of life.”
Nik had always thought persecution was something to avoid, but now God was showing him a perspective that reshaped his thinking.
John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
For people who have lived their entire lives in countries that allow for freedom of religion, the cost of serving Christ hasn’t been near as difficult as those who lacked the same freedoms. Going to church and worshipping without fear of prison or torture is a reality many have never known.
Why does God allow this?
When Nik recounted the stories of the youth of the Soviet Union in the 1950’s, the events looked dramatically different 50 years apart. When three pastors at the height of the Soviet Union organized a youth event to help gauge the spiritual maturity of the kids of their day, they were astonished to hear how the kids could collectively assemble the 4 gospels by memory with only a few mistakes and recreated the lyrics of more than 1200 songs, choruses, and hymns while most didn’t even own a bible.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the differences in the kids years later was not even close. They could barely recite but a handful of scripture, a few stories from the Bible, and hardly knew the books of the Bible themselves.
Is the lack of persecution a detriment to the church?
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first.”
The differences between the churches that dwell under constant threat and the churches that live in perfect freedom are miles apart.
How do we grow Stronger?
How does the church in America or any other free society grow strong when it takes nothing to live by the principles of God’s Word?
The reality of it is we have been lured into thinking that serving Christ is nothing more than holding a potluck, organizing a luncheon, or showing up for a Sunday morning service with the game in mind.
I wonder what the church in America would look like if it endured the same persecutions as the church in North Korea? If it required your life to express your faith openly and quite possibly your families life as well.
If the church is truly following Christ, they will know it because the world will hate them.
2 Corinthians 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us triumphantly as captives in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.”
As a member of God’s church, I must hold myself to the same standard of boldness in proclaiming Christ to the world. I have to be ready to be obedient as Jesus leads me into areas that may not seem comfortable, and I should be ready to be ridiculed by those who hate Christ and treat me as a lunatic for taking a stand for my faith.
If I am truly following Christ, I should expect some measure of persecution.
It is only by taking a firm stand in our faith that we can grow stronger. We can choose the easy path and then stand before the Lord with regret, or we can live out our days faithfully, with no concern for our own lives, knowing we have a much greater reward awaiting us.
Psalm 119:30-31 “I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O LORD;
let me not be put to shame!”
You will not be put to shame if you live faithfully before God. What has He called you to that you haven’t yet responded? What area of your life still needs to be given over to Him?
It’s time to cast off the shackles of this world and embrace the fullness of Christ in you. Go forth as ambassadors and fear not—the Lord goes before you!