By Benjamin H. Liles
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ~ Matthew 5:10
As I sat here thinking on how to write this my cats I have with my wife kept hounding me. One ran around howling, while the other simply misbehaved. In this way I feel pained, annoyed, and even harassed. That aside, other terms that are synonymous with the word persecute are as follows: oppress, abuse, mistreat, chase, hunt down. Noah Webster defined the word persecuted as "Harassed by troubles or punishments unjustly inflicted, particularly for religious opinions." Those who helped put the King James Study Bible together have this to say: "the plural use of "ye" (which is you) in v. 11 indicates that He foresaw this persecution as touching all His followers."
How do we, as believers, in Christ hold on to not only our faith in Him who died in our place, but also to His righteousness that He imparts to us? What are we to do when things get tough? Peter wrote, "For if anyone endures the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God, this is to be commended" (1 Peter 2:19, Berean Study). In other words, because we are made aware of our lives before God, we will endure pain and suffering, but Peter says, "it is to be commended." How can we remain blessed and assured our prayers are heard?
Don't get me wrong I'm not trying to blur any lines or even get around by not answering those questions I posed. Rather, I have this illustration to offer to show what life in Christ is like. Imagine a flower that has been growing for some time. It goes through seasons in its life where it gets drenched heavily by rains, and then there are times it seems to wilt as the sun beats down on it continuously. And still it thrives. Why? What is the secret of this tender little flower that blossoms and grows so that others see it? the roots of that flower go deep. Those times it rained continually? That water is a reservoir to the flower when no other source is found. Those times where not a drop of rain has dropped, so much that there's a drought? That flower has an ample supply due to the reservoir of water that is so deep.
As Christians, especially those who are more mature, if we allow God the right to work in our lives our "root system" can become so deep within Him nothing seems to move us. When those times of mourning, pain and loss seem to be unending (the rain) He is there to uphold us. When it seems the trials of life, where people misunderstand us, berate us, and even come against us (just as the sun in a drought) He sustains us.
I love how James, the brother of Jesus says this: "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. See how blessed we consider those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 1:12; 5:11, Berean Study).
Those answers I was going to give to those questions are thus:
1) We can hold on to our faith and the righteousness our Messiah gives to us because He first endured and suffered before we ever did. He was taken before the Roman government in Judea, was condemned to die a criminal's death, crucified, died, and was buried. But also take heart for He rose again on that third and glorious day. We have life with Him because His life was first given on our behalf.
2) When things get tough, especially in the case of that flower, we can dig deep. We rely on the word to get us through. By careful meditation on God's word, calling forth scripture to help us bear through, delighting ourselves in Him, and thanking Him for all things can we come through any thing.
3) We can remain blessed and assured that our prayers are heard because before Jesus went to the cross we see Him in Gethsemane praying alongside us, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words" (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). He's been there. He took it all for us.
Perhaps the most telling of what it's like to prosper and remain bless during persecution comes by way of Paul. He wrote, "Now I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this out of need, for I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:10-13).
Father God, You know all things. You see us in our distress. You are here with us in our suffering and in our pain. You hear us and You subject Yourself to the same as You did so many years ago on our behalf. I'm not saying You allow Yourself to be crucified again in our place. I am saying, though, You are near us. Your kingdom is ever close to us. Your Son helps and strengthens us. He revives our souls. Thank You Jesus for being with me even in this hour. I praise You for your feet took the strike which was meant for me. Your hands took the nails I was suppose to bear. You took God's wrath upon Yourself, and You gave me Your life. Thank You. I know I will come through this as You did too. The Father upheld You and brought You back to life. So I know I will see You and be with You. My faith is made full. In Jesus' name. Amen.