Engaging God When Persecuted

UNPACKING THE BEATITUDE:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of
righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:3-10, NIV
This is a difficult beatitude to understand. At first
glance, it is almost like Jesus is glorifying suffering and
persecution. Of course, he’s not. Jesus knows
suffering and persecution are wrong, but he also
knows that—even in painful places of persecution—
there can be blessing (especially when you are being
persecuted for doing a right(eous) thing).
Blessed are those who are willing to pay the cost for
doing the right thing, who stick their necks out for the greater good, who would rather
endure difficult consequences than sell their souls, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who emulate Christ and are willing to pay the price; those whose
truth telling ways echo God’s ways—blowing the whistle, exposing the lies, and calling
out hypocrisy—for the pushback they receive will nudge them closer to God.
“The life Jesus provides for us is a life that provokes hostility.”
Eugene Peterson, Regent College Lecture
A QUICK PRACTICE
Think of a time when you were persecuted for doing the right thing. What made you do
what you did? Write down your reasons.
Now compare those reasons with the actions of Jesus. Is what you did in line with who
he is—his ethic, character, and actions? If you think so, replay the event that led to your
persecution in your mind—and, this time, try to imagine Jesus doing the thing you did
(and then taking the heat). How does knowing that Jesus might have done the same
thing you did change your response to the persecution you had to endure? Could it be
that it was his Spirit prompting you to act in the first place?
There’s comfort in knowing that you did what you did for the right reasons. Perhaps
you’ve felt it in the past. If following Christ’s example is the “rightest reason” imaginable,
then surely his comfort is more than enough—whatever persecution you’re facing.
GOING DEEPER
Jesus never promised us an easy life. In each of the following bible passages he clearly
tells us that following him will lead to suffering and persecution. And in each of these
passages he also gives us a clue as to how we can more deeply experience God’s
blessed presence in times of trouble.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from
your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you
give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”
Jesus in Luke 9:23-24, NLT

Jesus’ truth telling
led to his crucifixion. He was willing to die for the cause. And he calls each of us to daily
take up our cross as we suffer for the truth we tell. This difficult calling is the only way to
turn from our selfish ways. Selfishly, we want easy, pain-free lives. It’s only by choosing
to do the hard thing, and being willing to bear the consequences, that we leave our
selfishness behind.
In our choosing moments we can know Christ. When we willingly make hard choices,
we emulate what Jesus did. Hours before his death Jesus agonizingly prayed, “Not my
will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:44) Long before the physical pain of crucifixion he
experienced the deep spiritual and psychological pain of choosing to do the right thing.
This is where his suffering and persecution began. There is something about willingly
choosing to take on pain that prepares you for that pain. By giving up control early in the
process, you somehow prepare yourself to face the future loss of control. By daily
leaving all things in God’s hands, relinquishing control, and giving up your life for his
sake, you be saved when it comes to facing future persecution. By letting go—early and
daily—the “loss of control” nature of persecution will have less power over you.
So, part one of this spiritual practice is to memorize these words of Christ from Luke
9:23-24. Ingest them, let them nourish your soul, and help prepare you for the next time
your truth-telling gets you in trouble.

“Then you will be handed over to be
persecuted and put to death and you will
be hated by all nations because of me…”
Jesus in Matthew 24:9, NIV

The truth that Jesus calls you to
speak and act upon comes from him.
So, when you’re persecuted for doing the right thing, it’s important to remember that
you’re doing that thing for Jesus. Of course, you’re helping “another” when you speak
truth into a situation, but Jesus is the one who’s ethic, example, and command you’re
following. It’s his cause that is helped when you speak his truth. We do what we do
because of him.
Knowing that he’s the Son of God—infinitely good, loving, and wise—can help us
choose and stick to hard paths. It’s kind of like how soldiers can trust the chain of
command, or have their wills quickened by the thought of doing this for the good of their
country. As a person of faith, you do the hard things you do for God—for his cosmic

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from
your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you
give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

Jesus in Luke 9:23-24, NLT

“Then you will be handed over to be
persecuted and put to death and you will
be hated by all nations because of me…”
Jesus in Matthew 24:9, NIV

salvation plan, his honour and glory, and his sake. There is no greater reason to
willingly suffer than for the sake of your Maker. If you really do believe that God always
has your best interests in mind, why would you ever want to do anything except what
God calls you to do (whatever the risk)?
So, the next time you face a hard choice (to do Jesus’ right thing), remind yourself of
who it is that’s asking you to do this. Fix your eyes on him, remember that he is the God
who made the universe and then you’ll find his inner strength to persevere. You do what
you do for the greatest love imaginable. You are following God’s calling! What greater
cause could a person suffer for?

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you
belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you
do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the
world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told
you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. ’If they
persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
Jesus in John 15:18-20, NIV

You belong
to God—to his just vision for all things, to his way of moving in this world, and to him
personally as his child. You’re part of God’s community—his tribe—and you’ll always
have a place there. This is who you are.
Knowing that you belong helps when it comes to risking yourself for the truth. When you
know where you’ve come from and where you’re going, when you are fully and
confidently yourself in this place, you can better bear whatever trouble life brings.
Because you belong to God, there is nothing that can take this away from you, nothing
that can ultimately destroy you, nothing that can separate you from his love, not even
death.
In a very real sense, the strength of your belonging is a superpower when it comes to
facing the persecution of others. They are not the ones to whom you belong. They don’t
define you, you’re not accountable to them. The suffering they bring is just a temporal
‘other-worldly’ thing. Your real world is with God. No amount of pain or persecution can
take that identity away from you. While the suffering, of course, will be very real, God’s
greater reality will win out. In fact, our temporal times of persecution are part of our
eternal, belonging to God, lives.
Everything changes when you understand just how much you matter to God. The next
time you are suffering for doing the right thing, try to remind yourself of what’s most
real—that you belong to God.
A PRAYER IN TIMES OF PERSECUTION
Lord, at times it’s too much to bear,
The judgement, accusation, and vitriol.
Doubt creeps in, and I wonder if I got it right,
Was I seeing your truth clearly?

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you
belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you
do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the
world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told
you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. ’If they
persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

Jesus in John 15:18-20, NIV

Did I act the right way?
In a Christlike way?
Lord, be a comforting presence in this place.
Affirm the truth-telling work of your Spirit.
Write my truth-inspired actions into your eternal redemption story.
And take my life and let it be,
Consecrated Lord to thee.
Amen

1 thought on “Engaging God When Persecuted”

  1. Pastor John Van Sloten – you are a blessing; a true Christian. This passage is very up-lifting during a very difficult time. In addition, I checked on line to learn more about you and your church as a result of the article in the Calgary Herald, Saturday, August 21, 2021 issue, “Should Churches Require Vaccine Passports?”; it brought so much joy to my heart because this is what I believe is absolutely truthful as to God’s intentions regarding the vaccine. Yet, many churches have taken the opposite stand; and it is so bothersome. They are not giving the true message contained in the Bible. Yours is!!! I have clipped is out (I may even frame it) to show to my friends and anyone who wants to hear the truth. God bless you and your parishioners. They are fortunate to have a Pastor who is not afraid to speak the truth because as you rightfully put it ” And yet, I haven’t heard any churches making this call. Which makes it hard to be the first.:” Neither have I. So I’ll be reading your article again and again. It so wonderful to hear God’s truth correctly interpreted. Thank you, Pastor John, from the bottom of my heart.
    PS: I felt compelled to let you know my feelings, even though we have never met. I will be looking forward to more of your sermons on line from now on.

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