Recently I read one of the most thought-provoking and spiritually challenging books I’ve read in a long time, The Insanity of God. Written by Nik Ripken (a pseudonym) with Gregg Lewis, this book chronicles the experience of Nik, a missionary who served in Somalia and later spent time visiting believers in settings of great persecution around the world. I won’t ruin it by sharing all of the stories, but I do want to share some of the lessons I believe the Lord is trying to teach his church today through these authors.
In the book, Ripken and Lewis share the compelling stories of believers who have lived through persecution for their faith. Despite great hardship, these believers and their churches seem to thrive in a way our American church can hardly relate to. It leads one to think Jesus really meant it when he said, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted.” These believers see God move in ways that seem to come straight from the Book of Acts.
Our usual inclination when we hear of persecution is to resist it, to fight against it and to try to stop it. We feel like persecution is abnormal and that we should pray that God will remove it. However, in his travels, Nik has come to the conclusion that “the primary cause of ‘religious persecution’ in the world today is people surrendering their hearts and lives to Jesus.” If he is right and that is true, it has great implications for us and our faith. It means that our obedience to Christ to go and make disciples will lead to increased persecution. Persecution is the normal consequence of our obedience. Could it be that those of us who experience little persecution may not be much of a threat to the enemy? If we are not making disciples, there is no reason for the enemy to bother with us. When we put our own reputation, comfort or safety ahead of sharing Christ, we miss the purpose God has for his church. “Believers who do not share their faith aid and abet Satan’s ultimate goal of denying others access to Jesus.”
Maybe avoiding persecution should not be our highest goal. “If our goal is reducing persecution, that task is easily achieved. First, just leave Jesus alone. Second if you do happen to find him, just keep him to yourself. Persecution stops immediately where there is no faith and here there is no witness. The reason for persecution, then, is that people keep finding Jesus – and, then, they refuse to keep Him to themselves.”
When believers are obedient and the church is growing, there is often persecution. In his travels, Ripken has learned much about the effect of persecution on devoted followers of Jesus. “I understand that one of the most accurate ways to detect and measure the activity of God is to note the amount of oppression that is present. The stronger the persecution, the more significant the spiritual vitality of the believers.”
The point is not to seek persecution for persecution’s sake or to stop working for justice in the world. The point is to realize that Jesus meant it when he commanded us to go and make disciples. And he told us that it would lead to persecution. The promise for us in that persecution is that he will be there with us. And that is how we should pray for our brothers and sisters enduring persecution in the world today. Pray that they would remain faithful and know the presence of the Lord continually, even in their suffering. And for ourselves, let us pray that we will be faithful witnesses. Let us be willing to share Jesus across the street and around the world, even in the “hard places”. And when that leads to opposition, as it invariably will, let us also walk in faith, knowing that as we obey, the Lord is with us, too.
All quotations from Ripken, Nik. The Insanity of God. 2013, B and H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN.