Of course persecution will increase, but let's not let that upstage what God is doing in the foreground of this story - expanding His Kingdom. - Southeast Asia's Regional Director, Voice of the Martyrs Ministry
Spiritual warfare, including persecution, is the direct result of advancing the Gospel. Instead of bringing us to a place of despair, times of trial should bring us to a place of prayer and celebration! Warfare reminds us that we are fighting for something greater than a comfortable life: we're looking for an eternal Kingdom.
I, for one, need reminders of this. It is why the persecuted church is such an inspiration to me. All of us, the Bible says, will endure trials and tribulations. Remembering our brothers and sisters who endure similar sufferings is what gives us the motivation to stand firm when the enemy attacks. (See 1 Peter 5:9.)
And attack he does. I believe that one of our weaknesses in the West is that we do not perceive spiritual attacks for what they are. In fact, we do not usually think "spiritually" at all. We attribute trials and tribulations to so many other potential sources: our own inadequacies, "life" in general, or the thoughtlessness of others. Rarely do we notice the unseen hands at work in the heavenly realms, acting and reacting to our prayers and pursuits.
We succeed in the Spirit, loving a difficult family member, and then wonder why, the very next day, that same person mocks or attacks us. We obey the Lord, moving to a new house in a new city, and then wonder why we feel so alone and discouraged. Or we decide to invest a skill or "talent" the Lord has given us into Kingdom ministry, and find that another, larger problem surfaces in our family, robbing us of all the time, money, or energy we had planned to devote to the Lord.
It is no accident that persecution comes, whether directly or indirectly. One of the most difficult lessons I have had to learn as a believer in Christ is that the enemy can persecute me very effectively without me ever recognizing him as the source. After all, I have not yet been beaten or martyred for my faith, as some have. Persecution can take many forms, not all of them physical. The sooner we recognize this, the easier it will be to avoid the devil's deception.
The question is, how do we deal with these "thorns in the flesh?"
Take a look at the apostle Paul. Not surprisingly, when he felt persecuted, he prayed. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10: "...there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me - to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (NASB)
"I am well content-" did you catch that?! I am not yet at the place where I can honestly say I am "well content" with persecutions, difficulties, insults, and weaknesses! In fact, just last week, I felt exactly the opposite: I came to church one morning feeling decidedly discontent about a number of things.
I had enjoyed doing some powerful church ministry two days prior. The following day, I encountered family tensions that tested my patience and made me angry. In addition, there were several well-placed reminders of financial lack, and - to top it off - some physical issues seemed to crop up out of nowhere. My flesh felt infested with "thorns," those symbols of the curse I rather wanted to avoid!
In occasional moments of weakness, I know I am not alone in wondering why God treats His servants this way. And then I remember: He doesn't. The enemy does! The enemy torments the servants of God right up until Revelation, and no matter how special we think we are as Christians, we cannot expect anything less.
We are not residents here - only pilgrims. We are not entitled to certain rights or conditions - we are called to deny them. He who loses his life will find it again, in the end.
Those words can be tough to swallow. Everything in our flesh is wired for comfort, ease, and self-gratification. We mistakenly assume that when Christ promises us "peace," He means an absence of conflict or confrontation. In fact, Jesus promises peace in the midst of conflict, as when a stoned Stephen gazes into heaven and stills his soul, finding the grace to forgive his tormentors.
Even Paul, above, admits to pleading with God to remove his thorn in the flesh. And this is where I was that Sunday morning, when it seemed all hell had broken loose around me - yet again. My flesh was thinking, "I don't now how much of this I can handle!" But like Paul, I prayed.
And then I saw it.
I saw, in the Spirit, the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus' head at the crucifixion. I saw a multitude of thorns, all woven together to make a fake "crown," piercing His flesh. But He had not done any wrong. He was not angry at his family, or disobedient to the Lord, or faithless, as I am sometimes. He was persecuted as a Suffering Servant of God.
In that moment, I saw that there was a deeper understanding of Paul's prayers I was not taking into account. It was through Jesus' weakness that God's power was perfected. Suddenly, I knew none of my trials mattered. Christ was enough.
You remember that Jesus also pleaded with God to take away his "cup" of suffering - death on a cross. (Luke 22:41-44.) Far worse than a thorn, it was a sword that pierced Christ for our transgressions. God chose to use the weakness and death of Christ to release abundant grace to us: power that now enables us to overcome trials and persecution.
I saw, that Sunday, that every thorn in Christ's crown represents, for us, a "thorn in the flesh" that He has overcome.
Christ didn't become King wearing a bejeweled, glorious crown. He became King by conquering the pain of persecution and rejection through prayer and sacrifice. He was mocked and pierced by that thorny crown. It seemed to all that the enemy had crowned Him with failure. There was no evidence in Christ's prayers at Gethsemane of a godly victory, but only of a demonic defeat.
Yet even as Christ's blood spilled onto stony ground, the Kingdom of God was advancing rapidly. The grace of God was released into this world for those whose thorns were becoming too painful to bear. Perfect power eclipsed imperfect weakness. A gracious Healer extracted our thorny torment. Joy and celebration erased clouds of depression. And our potential for powerful, overcoming prayer was restored!
Acts 4 shows us a victorious church, now empowered by the resurrection. Although they are facing threats of persecution, their prayers become more bold than ever. "Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your Word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the Name of Your holy Servant Jesus." And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness." (Acts 4:29-31, NASB)
When the enemy causes us to focus on the "thorny" parts of our stories, we must make a conscious choice, as Christ did at Gethsemane, to move from fear into faith and flesh into Spirit. Christ conquered persecution with prayer. We can do the same, knowing that our thorns are not symbols of personal defeat, but indicators of personal power.
The Kingdom of God is advancing every time we reach out or speak out. We can celebrate despite our thorns! Christ's power is available to overcome every type of thorny trial we will ever encounter. He paid the price. His blood was shed in agony to remove any agony we might still feel in our spirits. We are free to pray, to worship, to celebrate, and to laugh in the face of persecution. It is the enemy who, for all his malevolent sowing, will himself reap everlasting persecution.
Interested in praying for the persecuted church? Click here for more information from Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry supported by His Inscriptions. You can adopt a front-line worker in a persecuted nation, send Bibles to countries where they are scarce, and learn how to pray for those facing severe trials.
Prayer is the way to give God, not the devil, the starring role in the drama of your life.
© Deborah Perkins / www.HisInscriptions.com
Deborah Perkins is a seasoned prophetic writer, speaker, and Christian leader with more than 30 years of ministry experience across denominations. At God's request in 2013, she founded His Inscriptions, an online ministry devoted to helping people worldwide build life-giving communication with God. Through her website, inspired teaching and a weekly blog, Deborah offers discipleship to those who want to grow their relationship with God. Deborah is also fond of her hubby, 3 sons, and dark chocolate - in that order! You can order her newest Bible Study, How to Inherit Your Spiritual Promises, on Amazon.
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.