By CHARLES JONES
The topic of persecution is more prolific than ever. In the previous century, the world saw more Christian martyrs than all of the previous centuries combined! And yet, in my regular day-to-day life this reality hardly touches the fringes of anything I go through. But just last night I had the special privilege to spend time in a small house church—almost entirely comprised by believers who'd fled their homes.
I entered into this small house church with a little hesitation. I did not know what I was getting into. One by one I met these beautiful, kind and diverse believers. Half of them were from Iran, just some hundred kilometers or so over the border. Some were studying engineering or were in medical school; yet, Jesus was worth more than any of these “gains”. Some were new believers, while others were a little older in the faith.
All I could think was, “Wow… These people who have fled for their lives. How brave; howcourageous to continue on in the Lord… What would I do if I were them?… Does my Christianity stand a chance standing before theirs? Would I have anything to encourage or share with them?” Oh how easy it is to become inward-focused! The glory of these people had encumbered me with their shining faces as they looked to Him.
Hearing only a brief piece of their stories, my heart was struck with the power of their testimony, the true worth of this King who was not ashamed to be called their God. One woman from Iran shared how she thought she was found out by the government to be a Christian—consequently, she and her husband decided to flee. They've only been married for a year yet.
In my heart I was racing for “ideas”—as if I had any power to help. My immediate reaction being to challenge the government. The absurdity of this response is not lost on me, an American with "constitutional rights" to believe whatever I want to believe. Yet, when I asked any of them about the challenges and dangers they face, not one of them failed to end with the smile that Jesus is worth it. That is their confession. Their joy is overflowing with Him. Not only that, but this woman declared that the Church is growing in number and strength in Iran. In the midst of persecution, the Church is bolstered! True does the anthem ring: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
I now realize they have something I don’t. There is actually an envy that may be suitable for us in other contexts where persecution is not present. Not that we seek persecution, but there is a mark of glory that rests upon the persecuted church. We should not miss out, whether traveling there in prayer or physically moving and living there, from the invitation to join the church crying out, “Worthy is the Lamb!” with our lives and in the honest confession of our hearts.
The present-day crisis has created a vacuum leaving the region open for nearly endless possibilities. There are believers from more affluent countries, helping and bringing support, life and strength; bringing the message of Hope–Jesus Himself. Persecution will arise in every country across the globe (Matt 24:9), so we might as well submit our lives to Him who holds the earth now, and willingly follow His call to stand with Him, love Him, and if need be, willing to suffer, be persecuted, or even die for His Name.
For honestly, what is this life? A mere breath, answers the Preacher in Ecclesiastes and Wisdom in Proverbs. This life is a short stint to where we live out whatever we believe to be worthy and true. What a glory to lay our lives down for Him who laid down His for us. Not that we are narcissistic, but we live for an entirely different world, and from an entirely different source. These persecuted peoples have a glory that is unable to be described with words. We should not feel bad for them—rather, a holy envy would be more appropriate.
Suffering and persecution is a vehicle for maturing, being strengthened in the Lord, and even the sharing in Jesus’ glory, including His resurrection! For the glory of the hated, persecuted—and ultimately slain Lamb, do we willingly follow Him who has His robe dipped in blood; this Man, He is worth it. Worth it all. He is Risen! And glory to God, He is worthy!