There are days when I’m convinced that the joy of the Lord is welling up so strongly within me that nothing can bring me down. Then there are other days when that same joy feels so far away I wonder when I ever felt it. And then I read about the persecuted church.
Our culture is growing more hostile toward Christians. Society complains about our intolerance of them but has no problems with intolerance toward us. The truth is that we as American Christians could handle things a whole lot better. We could have better attitudes. We could be more firm in our beliefs and yet also be greater examples of the love of God toward each other and toward this world.
But there’s something else we need to realize. Society cannot become less hostile toward us. Jesus Himself revealed to us this truth just before His death.
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, “THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.” John 15:18-25
The problem with this truth is not that the world will hate us. The problem is our response. And that’s where it comes back to thoughts about the persecuted church, both throughout history and around the world today. They respond with strength. They don’t lie down and surrender, but they also don’t stand around moaning and groaning about the condition of society. There are a few verses in Hebrews that ring true of the persecuted church, past and present.
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Hebrew 11:32-34
Do you see it? Some endured suffering. Others might have been able to miss it on their own, but instead they purposefully and intentionally stepped up and shared in the sufferings of their persecuted brethren. But, that’s not all. They stepped out, cared for others who were suffering, and “accepted joyfully” the punishment they faced for standing up for truth.
See why this makes me stop and second guess my own perspective on joy? I have never faithfully maintained and attitude of joy through hardship from start to finish. And my hardships have never been those of persecution. Just of life.
But the greatest encouragement to me is that apparently even the recipients of Hebrews occasionally lost that joy, and needed to be reminded of their “former days.” They needed encouragement to return to that same joyful endurance. I think those words are applicable to us today as well.
Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. Hebrews 10:35-39
These words are followed by the famous faith chapter, where we take a run through the lives of ordinary men and women who lived faithfully. They had good days and bad days. They rose and they fell. But, overall they maintained their faith.
It’s ironic to me that thinking of those who endured and now endure hardships and persecution because of their trust in God can restore my joy. To be honest, it seems rather twisted to think that way. But, somehow it also makes sense. What greater joy than the joy that no wretched circumstance can ever truly steal? What great joy than that of knowing victory is secure? What greater joy than knowing that I never stand alone in any suffering, not only because the Lord is by my side, but also because countless numbers of His children have walked the same path and come out alive…eternally!
Next time I feel my joy ebbing, may I remember. And just maybe someday remembrance of my joy might be the encouragement another brother or sister needs in times of pain.