If One Part Suffers…

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.  (John 15:20-21, NIV)

Christians around the world are suffering. They are being mistreated, persecuted, and martyred at the hands of governments, political groups, and individuals — simply because they are followers of Jesus Christ. Only a few of their stories are being shared by news outlets; as of this writing Voice of the Martyrs has identified 60 “restricted areas” and “hostile nations” around the world.

Those of us physically removed from the suffering can feel helpless. We do not have the power to stop the violence or change the mindset of the persecutors. But God has given us the means to strengthen and support our brothers and sisters who are suffering for Him: prayer.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3, NIV)

…There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it… (I Corinthians 12:25-26, NIV)

…The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16, NIV)

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (I Peter 3:12, Psalm 34:15-16, NIV)

We can remember those who are suffering in our prayers. We can show our concern for the persecuted through prayer. We can strengthen and support those being mistreated through prayer. The Bible promises that God hears and acts on the prayers of His children. It also reveals that our prayers — which are sometimes ridiculed as useless and childish by non-Christians — are powerful and effective in God’s hands. In fact, our prayers often accomplish more than our actions.

What can we pray for those who are being persecuted? How can we, who have not faced severe hardship, know what they really need? Fortunately, God’s Word offers guidance.

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. (Matthew 26:39, NIV)

First, we can follow Jesus’ example and pray that the persecution, mistreatment, and abuse stops. Our loving Father always wants to hear what is on our hearts, and we do not want others to suffer! It is perfectly acceptable to ask Him to intervene and rescue people from suffering. But, as Jesus models, we must ask in submission to God’s will. He has a purpose and plan that we cannot fully see or comprehend, and what we are asking may not fit with His will. Some may think this makes our prayers useless or worthless, but that is a lie Satan uses to discourage us from connecting with God through openness, prayer, and surrender. Far more life is confident that God hears our prayers and will answer them in the best possible way.

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11, NIV)

But as for me, afflicted and in pain — may your salvation, God, protect me. (Psalm 69:29, NIV)

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (Ephesians 3:16, NIV)

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, (Ephesians 1:18, NIV)

We can also pray for spiritual strength for those enduring persecution. We can pray that they will see God’s hand at work and that His provision, faithfulness, and love will be evident. We can pray that He keeps their hearts at peace regardless of their circumstances. We can pray that their hope is secure in Him and allows them to see their role in the spiritual battle raging around them. We can pray that they experience far more life as the Spirit empowers them with all they need to remain spiritually strong.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:38, NIV)

…What has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12, NIV)

…With the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. (I Thessalonians 2:2, NIV)

The way in which Jesus suffered and died caused at least one witness to recognize His true identity. We can pray for the gospel message — that forgiveness for sin and eternal life in heaven are found in Jesus Christ alone — to be heard and accepted because of persecution. We can pray for the light of salvation to shine brightly through the darkness of suffering and draw people to Christ. We can pray that our mistreated and martyred brothers and sisters reveal the power and glory of God in their lives and in their deaths. We can pray the places with greatest opposition are the places where God’s kingdom advances the most.

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (Revelation 2:10, NIV)

Praise God that this life is not the end. Those who suffer and die for Him on earth will reap far more life eternally!

Sisters,
If you were surprised to read so many places are spiritually “restricted” or “hostile”, visit persecution.com to learn more.
Will you join me — and followers of Christ worldwide — in praying for our brothers and sisters who are suffering?
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

For His Name’s Sake

There are a lot of deep and challenging questions about God that I cannot answer. It is not fair that God allows some people to suffer more than others. It is not fair that evil and sickness and disasters wreak havoc in the lives of “good” people. It is not fair that God created Satan and has given him reign over the earth. Ultimately, it is not fair that God has predestined some people to spend eternity in heaven and others to receive punishment in hell. But it is also not fair that Jesus willingly submitted to being tortured and killed on the cross to pay for our sins. It is not fair that He will bear those marks forever while we — who deserve to be separated from God forever — are welcomed into His perfect eternal home.

As I pondered this, I was reminded of the phrase, “for His name’s sake”. Doing a word search, I found it in 3 Bible passages:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3, NIV)

When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to [the Lord’s] miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. (Psalm 106:7-8, NIV)

Through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about believing obedience among all the nations for the sake of his name. (Romans 1:5, NTE)

The simple truth of these verses is this: in whatever they face, God works in and among His children for His name’s sake. He provides all they need for His name’s sake, to reveal His character. He protects them for His name’s sake, to display His power. He draws them to love, obey, and follow Him for His name’s sake, to demonstrate His grace.

Those who live in relationship with God are not protected from everything bad, but He limits the evil that is inflicted on them. Here are two examples from Job’s life:

 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” (Job 1:12, NIV)

 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” (Job 2:6, NIV)

God was working for His name’s sake. He let Satan do anything he wanted to Job except kill him. What kind of Father would allow His child to suffer like that? One who is all-knowing and all-powerful. God knew Job’s heart and character would withstand. He knew Job’s response would be a lesson and encouragement for people for thousands of years in the future. God let Job suffer for His name’s sake.

God even brought good from Job’s situation. In fact, He brought more good than the pain and loss Job suffered.

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. (Job 42:12, NIV)

When we suffer for His name’s sake, it is never wasted. I have experienced some hard times in my life that I would not want to repeat. But I can also say I am glad I went through each one because they grew my faith. They exposed my weaknesses and revealed God’s strength. I experienced His love and provision. My prayer life was deepened. My understanding of the Bible was expanded. God became more real and personal to me. His name was glorified as He provided all I needed through my suffering. Looking back, I can see how He was working for His name’s sake.

Sometimes when we face intense difficulties, we experience a crisis of faith. Our misperceptions and doubts are exposed. We may question our beliefs or even God’s existence and goodness. There is nothing wrong with this; God is not threatened by our doubts. Working through a crisis of faith actually strengthens our faith. Wrestling with hard questions solidifies our beliefs. We bring God glory by working out our faith during these times. His name is honored.

Millions of people have suffered terrible persecution because of their faith in God. This is not just in the past, it also happens today. God gives them supernatural strength to endure, even to the point of death, for His name’s sake. The gospel message spreads where people witness this faith that is proven to be real, deep, and powerful. The suffering of those faithful believers is not in vain; it is for His name’s sake. If you asked them, they would agree.

Right now, there are many who reject Jesus, curse His name, and ridicule those who follow Him. But the Bible describes the day His name will be revered by all. Those who have suffered for His name’s sake will overflow with joy on that day!

Therefore God exalted [Christ Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, NIV)

Sometimes we are spared from hardship for His name’s sake. Other times we endure hardship for His name’s sake. He invites us to experience far more life in every situation when we embrace it for His name’s sake. Will you accept His invitation?

Sisters,
Are you more aware of God’s hand on your life when things are good or bad?
When has He shown His character, protected you, or drawn you to follow Him more closely through your circumstances?
Do you trust God to bring good from your challenges? If not, why do you believe He has allowed them in your life? Is that belief confirmed by Scripture?
If your knee will bow in adoration, thank God for far more life that will last for eternity!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Far More Good News

I have been contemplating the question, “What do our lives look like when we are passionately pursuing Christ?” I’ve been wondering about the commonalities among people living this way. During one of my God Times, this passage caught my attention:

Live as citizens who reflect the Good News about Christ…don’t let your opponents intimidate you in any way…God has given you the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him.  (Philippians 1:27, 28a, 29, GW)

It seems the Philippians were passionately pursuing God. Three things stood out to me about Paul’s instruction: reflect the Good News; don’t let opponents intimidate; and it’s a privilege to suffer. Let’s explore them.

First, like the Christians in Philippi, we are surrounded by bad news. We constantly hear of problems, tragedies, evil, and dissatisfaction. I am tempted to withdraw from media to avoid the negativity it promotes. But the bad news around us creates a perfect backdrop for the good news of Christ! The message of Christ offers the safety people are seeking. Far more life shares the Good News of peace and hope in Christ.

When we experience far more life, we naturally want to tell others about it. We want them to know Christ and discover the richness of a relationship with Him, too. We hear the bad news that burdens them and want to offset it with the Good News that changes everything. Sometimes we have the opportunity to speak, other times we do not. Either way, I appreciate the heart Paul had for the Thessalonians:

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. (I Thessalonians 2:8, NIV)

Far more life is sharing life with others. There is something special about relationships that are centered on following God. There is a depth of connection that forms as we walk through life together. I have belonged to small groups and ministry teams that sacrificially supported each other through hard times, genuinely loved each other through trials and misunderstandings, and joyfully celebrated together when God blessed a member or granted our prayers. Many defining moments of my life have been shared with these dear people! We live far more life together.

Second, we face opponents who want to intimidate us. A Christian worldview is not popular, in fact it is often denounced and ridiculed. We are wise to carefully choose what we say and when we say it. But we don’t have to be intimidated about believing and living out the Good News of Christ. Far more life is boldly accepting and living out God’s love.

When I think of loving boldly in the presence of intimidating opponents, I appreciate the example of Guido in the movie Life is Beautiful. Despite being in a Nazi concentration camp, he goes to great lengths to keep his young son physically and emotionally sheltered from the reality they are facing. He also finds a way to communicate to his beloved wife that he is still alive. Guido successfully lives within the restrictions placed on him by the Nazis but is not intimidated by them. He lives out his love with boldness. No external situation he faces can extinguish it. The same is true of God’s love within His children. Far more life stands strong against opponents.

This leads us to the third statement: God has given us the privilege of suffering for Christ. Privilege of suffering? We think of privilege as an easy life, removed from difficulty. But God has a different perspective:

But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God (1 Peter 2:20b, NIV)

Why is suffering for doing good commendable before God?

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you…if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  (I Peter 4:14, 16, NIV)

God’s children are not understood by this world. That leads to insults and suffering. God is proud of His children who endure that suffering graciously because they understand the Good News of Christ and the spiritual dynamics of this world. He is pleased when we keep doing what He says is good despite being misunderstood and oppressed. What was true of the first century Christians and is true of many Christ-followers around the world today:

Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. (Hebrews 10:33-34, NIV)

Far more life takes suffering in stride and remains focused on eternal glory. It remembers this world is not our true home and this life is just a moment in eternity. Hebrews 11 is filled with examples of men and women who lived out that reality. After a long list of examples, the writer concludes: “the world was not worthy of them” (verse 38). Those men and women put their faith in God and the Good News of Christ above all else. They lived far more life and they suffered at the hands of those who could not comprehend it. We are not alone. We are not the first. We are probably not suffering the worst. But we can live far more life in our suffering.

So, what do our lives look like when we are passionately pursuing Christ? Far more life!

Sisters,
How do you reflect the Good News of Christ?
How do you share your life with others?
Does opposition intimidate you? Or make you bold?
How have you experienced the privilege of suffering for Christ?
Embrace far more life as you passionately pursue Christ this week!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso