We don’t often think about being persecuted for our faith in our modern times, but the truth is that 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution worldwide and that on average 11 Christians are killed every day for their faith (World Watch List 2019, 5). What can we do with this information? What can be our response? One response, of course, is to pray for those who are being persecuted. Ask that God keep them strong and firm in their faith. Another response is to treasure the freedom we have to worship our Lord and Savior in this country and to recognize that we are blessed to be faithful in our following of Christ unobstructed and unencumbered. Lastly, we can respond by recognizing that following Christ can be a dangerous venture, and one that is not to be taken lightly. We may not experience persecution for our faith right now or as overtly in other countries, but we need to be aware that suffering is part of the Christian walk to one degree or another. We need to stay strong, therefore, in the face of those we may ridicule us for our faith or may question why we follow Christ. This type of “mini-persecution” should never deter us or turn us away from our Lord. This should only make a stronger. Our faith is a matter of life and death. As the Bible says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). For his power is greater than any power that world can throw at us—even death!
In the article “The Integrated Pastor,” in the Spring 2019 CT Pastors Special Issue, author Todd Wilson identifies three areas a pastor needs to take seriously to stay wholely healthy. While meant for pastors, the principles can apply to us all. Here are the three areas to focus on:
- Take the body more seriously. Eat healthy and regularly. Exercise. Get good sleep. Take care of your body when it is sick or hurting. You are your best self and the person God created you to be when your body is functioning at its best.
- Take the brain more seriously. Think positively. Don’t wallow in negative thought. Think about those things that are pleasing to God. I am always going back to Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Thinking on these things keeps our brains stronger and healthier in faith and closer to the mind of God.
- Take interpersonal communion more seriously. God has created us to be in community with others. We need to make time to be with others, to learn from them, to grow in our understanding of our place in the Body of Christ. “Encourage one another and build each other up,” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says. The mutual support of one another goes a long way to keep our relationships with others and with Christ healthy and strong.
Let these three principles guide your life as you live your best life in the Lord.
Here is the prayer:
I am feeling weak. But you, O God, are strong. And you give strength to your people. As you gave strength to Abraham, so keep me strong in my faith. As you gave strength to Moses, so keep me strong over the long haul. And as you gave strength to David, so keep me strong in the face of giant obstacles.
This prayer helps me to remember that I am not alone whenever I feel weak. Our great patriarchs felt weak in their lives, and God gave them strength. Abraham in his old age (and Sarah in her old age) were promised a son but it didn’t happen right away. But God gave Abraham strength to have faith in the promise. And Isaac was born in God’s time. God even gave Abraham the strength to be willing to sacrifice that son until an angel stopped him from going through with it. That same strength from God keeps me strong in my faith in him no matter what the promise or test.
I think of Moses, too, who felt weak in leading the Israelites out of slavery, saying he didn’t speak well. But God gave him strength to lead his people out of Egypt and guide them on a 40-year journey through the wilderness to the doorstep of the Promised Land. That same strength from God keeps me patient and confident in the extensive journeys through my life and through any qualms I may have of not being capable of completing the plans he has for me.
Then there is David, who as a young shepherd boy, seemed to be no match to the giant Goliath. But God gave David strength to fling his slingshot with a stone and fell that foe. God gives me that same strength against the giant foe of the devil that I may defeat his slings and arrows with the Word of God in my arsenal. I may be small in the grand scheme of things, but I am mighty in the presence of the Lord. Let me never forget that.
One of the most popular Christian singers right now is Lauren Daigle, and one of her most popular songs is “You Say,” It is a powerful song in these times when bullying is becoming more of a problem in schools and political rhetoric is oftentimes more mean-spirited than it perhaps once was.
In the midst of all the name-calling out there, we need to remember that we have a Savior whose name is above all names and who lovingly calls us each by name. This is what our God says to us, as Lauren Daigle reminds us:
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours
These lyrics are a firm reminder to us that we should never listen to the voices from outside or within that tell us we are not enough or that we do not measure up,
We are valued, We are precious. We have worth, because of our God who created us and made us his own through the suffering and death of Jesus. We will always belong to him.
Nothing anyone else has to say otherwise can ever change that. Bask in that certainty as you listen to this song:
I have long been fascinated with birds. In fact, in eighth grade I declared that I wanted to be an ornithologist and I did my entire science fair project on which birds ate what types of seeds and suet from various types of feeders. Our family’s backyard became a bird Shangri-La for a time.
Then I have recently realized that that I have many bird-themed items in my home that I look at every day.
In Strong and Weak, a new book being published this month, Christian writer Andy Crouch lays out for us an interesting tug-of-war between authority and vulnerability. If you are too firm, you become a dictator. If you are too warm, you become a pushover.
There are so many applications to this conundrum that I see in the workplace, as a parent, and in our role as witnesses for the faith.
The necessity of striking the right balance between strength and weakness when proclaiming the Gospel is even pointed out by Christ himself: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
We should never try to overpower people with the message of the Gospel and demand that they coalesce to our way of thinking, but at the same time we should not just tell people that anything they believe is fine.
We know the truth. Jesus is the only path to our salvation. He is THE Way, the Truth and the Life, not just one of many ways to God. The Scripture records Jesus saying, “NO ONE comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Jesus is, of course, our role model in all of this, displayed most profoundly on the cross. In his ultimate vulnerability, he revealed his supreme authority.
We can show our vulnerability in our witness by acknowledging our sinfulness and our own need for Christ, while at the same time expressing that we have the power of Christ within us because he declared victory over sin when he proclaimed from the cross, “It is finished!”
I am reminded of the experience of Paul who admitted to his frustration that he had a “thorn in the flesh” that God would not take away from him, though Paul had thrice prayed that it be removed. Finally, God provided Paul with an answer to his dilemma. ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It was then that Paul came to this realization: “When I am weak, then I am strong“ (2 Corinthians 12:10).
It is God’s grace that is sufficient enough for us, too, to face that combative coworker, that ornery child, that defensive unbeliever with Christlike care. It is God’s grace that allows us to be firm, but loving in all that we do, knowing that God has been firm but loving with us through Christ that we might have life everlasting with him. We have the power within our weak selves to do great things! So, go, therefore, and be weak AND strong!