Upside Down Blessings
Upside Down Blessings
Wed-4-Revival Reed DePace September 16, 2020
A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God
to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us[*]
Suffering By Degrees
This morning I did it again. I spilled some tea. Muttering under my breath, “Can’t wait till Jesus returns so I won’t have to suffer this anymore,” I was reminded of the blessings of suffering. We’re living in times in which large parts of the church (the East and Middle East) are experiencing some of the worst suffering the Church has ever faced. Meanwhile, here in the land of plenty, we’ve begun to experience the next degrees of biblical persecution.
The idea of degrees of persecution is found in 1 Peter 3:14 and 4:1:
But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don't worry or be afraid of their threats…. So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. (1Pt 3:14; 4:1 NLT)
The word for “suffering” here has a wide-range of usage, denoting degrees of suffering inflicted from outside oneself, usually by others. In 1Pe 3:14 the suffering is threats from others on account of the believer’s profession of faith. This is what we might call social persecution: people voicing threats against a believer. In 1Pe 4:1 the suffering is actual physical harm inflicted on account of the believer’s witness. This is what is experienced by our brothers and sisters in such countries as India, China, Pakistan, and Iran.
The Christian witnessing their faith in America has been experiencing degrees of social persecution for at least the last decade, from being trolled on social media to being sued over wedding cakes and flowers. Cancel culture (using social media to shame Christians into supporting sexual deviancy, or removing a believer’s job/career) is the next degree of persecution.
The latest degree of biblical persecution is ominous: actual civil government oppression. This is undoubtedly happening. Certainly with the initial COVID-19 shutdown orders, it was not clear that churches were being targeted by civil governments. Yet this last month has given evidence that this is clearly the case. Multiple cases in California make it clear that civil governments are punishing churches and using COVID-19 concerns to justify their actions. This is evident in the disparate treatment they apply to churches. Abortion clinics and porn studios are allowed to operate, with social distancing requirements obviously waived. Protests are completely appropriate (again, with no social distancing). Other larger venue events are allowed, with social distancing requirements at least relaxed.
Yet churches? They’re still under the most restrictive of rules, making it all but impossible to meet together. Those that have objected have been fined, dragged into court, and vilified as monsters worse than the rioters who have been burning down American cities for months. Don’t let anyone diss you for seeing this. Join together with a group of like-minded friends to exercise your free speech rights, bring weapons, and at least threaten to destroy other citizens’ livelihoods (and now lives), and these civil authorities’ response: no problem. Join together with a group of like-minded friends to exercise your religion rights, bring Bibles, and at least threaten to pray for other citizens to be saved from hell, and these civil authorities’ response: Evil! How dare you!?
A Little Tea Spill
My purpose in writing the previous is not to stoke your (as righteous as it might be) outrage. Instead, it is to set you up to consider the upside down blessings of this increasing persecution. Most of us have not (will not?) suffer physical persecution.
Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won't become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. (Heb 12:3-4)
Yet it is increasingly looking as if some of us (many?) will suffer some degree of material persecution:
Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. (Heb 10:32-34)
Pause and ponder this: what would persecution remove from your life that is hindering your walk with God? Is it some material comfort, freedom to control your coming and going, absence of threat against your home or your job? Or is it just the simple suffering of spilling your tea which you’re free to make anytime you want?
Upside Down Blessings
According to the way the world works, suffering persecution for Jesus never produces blessing. Yet in the Church, things are upside down from the ways of the world. Suffering any degree of such persecution is always a blessing because it yields great Christlikeness:
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-- though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1Pt 1:6-7)
The upside down blessings of suffering persecution for Christ include something even more wondrous: such sufferings increase our witnessing:
They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: "Jesus is the Messiah." (Ac 5:40-42)
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. (Rom 5:3)
It is reasonable to be upset about the increasing degrees of persecution against Christians in our land. It is reasonable to even be scared by just the threat of it. Yet let us not remain in that fear. Let us look to our brothers and sisters suffering worse degrees of persecution for the name of Christ. Let us take comfort in their prayers for us that we too might experience the blessings of such persecution. Let us trust ourselves to Christ who has already suffered unto the worst end, that we might suffer unto the best end: overflowing glory and joy at his return.
In the strength of these upside down blessings, let us take the gospel to our family/friends/neighbors/strangers.
Dear Lord, persecution is increasing in our land. Give us the strength of faith to trust you with this. Then bring forth the upside down blessings of this: increase our witnessing to family/friends/neighbors/strangers.
Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.
[*] This weekly prayer devotional focuses our attention on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (Ps 85:6)? For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isa 44:3-4). Pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block in your schedule over the next week and use this devotional to focus your prayers. As you can, consider fasting from a meal and using that time to pray for revival in our church.