Wait a minute! Is that the question we should be asking? Where in scripture are believers promised to be a fellowship of comfort and ease? When did the Christian movement experience the shift away from a life of sacrifice? When did we begin to spend so much time arguing over the temperature of the auditorium or the amount of padding in the seats?
Recently Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board (IMB), was speaking during a missions conference at Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City. He said, “We have created in our nation something that is foreign to God. … It is a suffering-less brand of Christian faith.
“We have done everything we could to keep from suffering as believers in this nation, so much so that we are liable to hand to the next generation the most suffering Christians have ever had in this nation’s history.”
Shanti,* center, prays in a crowded room. She asked God for years that this room would be filled with other believers praying and worshipping alongside her. It took years of persevering persecution and isolation, but God is answering her prayers. *Name changed.
Looking around the world you will find that Christians in other nations are serious about Jesus’ words: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” – Luke 9:23 (NKJ).
Elliff believes when it comes to giving to missions, we do not sacrifice and we do not experience suffering in the least. We have lost the concept of what it means to sacrifice.
“In sacrifice something always changes,” he said. “If we can give what we give and still drive what we were driving, and still wear what we were wearing, and live where we were living, and eat what we were eating, and go where we want to go, where’s the sacrifice?”
We cannot imagine what people in other nations go through to serve Jesus. It happens in North Korea, India, Egypt, Nigeria, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Somalia, and the long list goes on. In fact, last year North Korea was ranked as the number one persecutor of Christians in the world for the 12th year in a row.
The Gospel Coalition website (thegospelcoalition.org) reported, “Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today.”
Only a few weeks ago, many news organizations reported that the number of Christians murdered for their faith almost doubled in 2013 over the previous year. The source for the information is an annual survey by Open Doors (opendoorsusa.org), a ministry that monitors the persecution of believers worldwide.
Hardline Islamist regimes and Islamic terrorists – many funded by the United States and other Western governments – were behind most of the suffering and slaughter. Ruthless dictators and demanding governments produced other cases of death and suffering.
Some of those practices may soon be aimed at believers in our own country – or are we already seeing it? Are you ready? Is your church focused on creating a comfortable, suffering-less brand of faith?
From the beginning of Christian history, persecution and martyrdom have been common. Starting with Jesus and His followers – Stephen, the apostle Paul and countless others – have suffered and died for the faith.
Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index, recently shared on his Facebook page a quote from Leonard Ravenhill, “The church used to be a lifeboat rescuing the perishing. Now she is a cruise ship, recruiting the promising.” Are we too much like a cruise ship?
We have forgotten the price paid by suffering believers like John Huss, Martin Luther, John Wycliff and many others. They stood for truth and paid a high price. Truth is not always popular.
Martyrdom will silence a man or woman, but it will not silence truth. God’s truth stands forever. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” – Isaiah 40:8 (NKJ).
Has American Christianity become a “form of godliness” with an emphasis on the life of comfort and pleasure? Are we molded more by social pressures than by the eternal truth of scripture?
I confess that it is hard to sacrifice my dreams and my goals for God’s purposes. But if I am to be serious about living the Christian life, I cannot permit my wishes to rise above His will. It is impossible to live for His glory and avoid suffering at the same time.
Our goal must be to be conformed to His image. That is the target in our journey through this temporary world.
Take a moment to examine the truth of three scripture texts. The first one says we are to be conformed to the image of Christ: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” – Romans 8:29 (NKJ).
What does it mean to be conformed? Dictionaries tell us that it means, “To act in harmony with or in accordance with standards, attitudes or prevailing practices; to comply; to become similar in form or character.”
The second text teaches that we are not to be conformed to the world or pressed into the world’s mold, as one translator expressed it: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” – Romans 12:2 (NKJ).
To resist the conforming pressures of the world’s system and to submit to the mind of Christ becomes a demonstration of God’s perfect will in us.
The third scripture verse concludes that knowing Christ results in the experience of resurrection power, the identifying marks of his suffering and the personal impact of His death: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” – Philippians 3:10 (NKJ).
Suffering and sacrifice are essential to the discipleship process. Without these ingredients, there will be no purity, no maturity, no lessons learned, no growth, no example, no glory to God.