Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed~ 1st Peter 4:12-13
Persecution. It’s a twenty-first century problem.
According to Open Doors International, a non-denominational group that monitors Christian persecution, every month 322 Christians are slain solely for the offense of being Christian. Two hundred and fourteen Christian churches or Christian owned properties are destroyed. And 722 acts of violence (rapes, beatings, expulsions, abductions, forced marriages) are committed against Christians. At least fifty countries are systematically targeting Christians for extermination; in some countries Christianity is on the edge of extinction.
Even in countries where Christians are not routinely mistreated, attitudes towards Christians are rapidly shifting. These shifts are unsettling.
Christian speech is openly discouraged and sometimes even suppressed in public arenas. The President of the United States recently called out Christians at a prayer breakfast for “not being loving” and glibly equated recent slayings of Christians by Muslim extremists to exploits committed nearly a thousand years ago during the Crusades.
Christian symbols are being removed from the public square for fear of offending those of other faiths or no faith.Christians who voice views outside accepted social norms are bullied and ridiculed in public forums and have in some cases lost their livelihoods. Many predict that that Christianity or at least some forms of Christian speech will be criminalized in the near future.
These developments have left Christians anxious about the future. Many are uncertain about what to do for Christians who are experiencing persecution in other countries. There are at least five things Western Christians can and should be doing in these tough times to prepare for the future and help others experiencing persecution.
#1 Refuse to Panic
This is not the time to become unnerved, unsettled or weird. Panic benefits no one. Christians have been persecuted in the past and we will be persecuted in the future (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4). This is a time to put our trust in God and put every effort into bolstering our faith through deeper prayer, study, service and friendships with other Christians.
#2 Commit Already
Many American Christians have a rather feeble relationship with Jesus. The typical self-identified “committed Christian” attends church an average of 1.5 times per month, does not read or study the Bible regularly, pray, follow Christian teachings, or contribute to Christian causes. None of these behaviors are prerequisites for salvation, but they do reveal commitment level. If your relationship with Jesus looks more like a casual hook-up than a committed relationship, today is the day to get off the fence and start taking your faith seriously.
#3 Live a Consistent Life
Everyone agrees that Christians should treat non-Christians with kindness. However, unkindness is not the only only misstep that hurts the cause of Christ. Lifestyle choices inconsistent with biblical teaching, sexual atheism, hypocrisy, publicly bashing Churches and tearing down fellow Christians create just as many issues as unkindness or lack of love. Christians who consistently live inconsistent lives make it easier for unbelievers to rationalize the mocking and mistreatment of Christians.
#4 Get Out There
This is not the time for Christians to retreat into their own little worlds. Locate a reliable news outlet and read up on the issues. Find out who your legislators are and contact them regarding issues that concern you, especially issues regarding religious liberty and oppression of Christians around the world. If the legislators in your state don’t care about these issues, work to elect new ones.
Prayer is a neglected discipline. Christians should pray more often, and rethink the substance of our prayers. Most prayers tend to be focused on physical and financial needs rather than the spiritual. God cares deeply about our physical needs but He is truly moved when we ask Him for wisdom, spiritual understanding, and hearts inclined toward repentance. Prayer is the most powerful and consequential thing we can do for persecuted Christians around the world. They need us to pray that they will have peace in the midst of their trials, the strength to endure the pressure, and relief from their tormenters. They pray for us; the least we can do is to return the favor.
Jesus never promised that life would be easy. Nor did He promise that everyone would like us or grasp our motivations and message. This period of history is shaping up to be one of those times when Christians are misunderstood and sometimes even hated. This is not the time for retreat or compromise. This is a time to deepen our commitment to our God and trust Him with every thing we’ve got.