Boldness in the Midst of Persecution
Regardless of personality or personal preference, I can unashamedly profess that everyone who follows Christ is called to boldly follow Him and proclaim His name courageously. Now, that’s easy to say and even easier to write about, but in the midst of an increasingly liberal culture where Christianity is oftentimes antagonized, even mentioning the name of Christ could put you at risk of being ostracized from a meaningful community, like your circle of friends, colleagues, or even your family. I have friends whom, till this day, still struggle with reconciling their faith with their family’s expectations despite being heavily involved in ministry for several years. While it could be extremely difficult to publicly proclaim your faith and devotion to Christ, this important factor should not be taken lightly or brushed off.
To truly be a disciple and not just a church attender or an observer in the crowd, you’ve got to take that necessary step forward and leave the fear behind. You have to tell them, sometimes before they even ask, that you do know the man named Jesus and you are his devoted follower; lest the rooster crows and you’re still biting your tongue so hard it bleeds.
Imagine what Peter must’ve felt like after the incident when saw his friend, brother, and his God, being forced to carry that heavy cross alone while walking to Calvary Hill to get crucified for his sake. If it were I, I would feel so much regret and self-hatred. I’d feel like the worst human being on the planet for denying such an important person in my life. I could only guess how Peter must have felt.
The deep regret ate at him so badly that once he saw the figure of Christ again after His resurrection, Peter dropped everything and swam to Him unyieldingly. In the end, Peter preached the Good News until he was crucified upside down, by request, in the name of Jesus—the one whom he had thrice denied in his youth.
Discipleship is a Call to Follow
Peter wasn’t the only one who died preaching the name of Christ. James was also in line to be beheaded for his faith, and his accuser was so moved by his courage that he repented and converted on the spot. They were both beheaded on the same day. Further, Barnabas was burnt to death. Mark was beaten to death. Paul was beheaded. Matthew was crucified. Thomas was thrown into an oven. Luke was hanged. Every single one of these martyrs were probably preached in our Sunday services and even quoted on our Facebook statuses, but did you ever take a step back to really look at the fate awaiting these familiar names?
Discipleship is a call to follow and to proclaim the Good News even unto death, because the reward of being in fellowship with Christ overshadows all of the present sufferings. The apostles knew this full well. I know it in my bones that they died joyfully, despite the excruciating pain, because they knew that it was not the end for them. Not really. Like how Stephen saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God seconds before he was stoned to death, I believe that these martyrs were welcomed into heaven by Christ himself, arms wide open.
Revelations 12:11 says, “And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” If persecution is what’s keeping you from boldly proclaiming your faith, then you are sorely missing out on your fellowship in suffering with the one who goes before you, walks beside you, and lives in you—Jesus Christ.
A week ago I experienced my first harsh round of persecution in a long time. I’ve gotten a lot of criticism and discouraging messages before when I first became a Christian, but over time I’ve gotten better at choosing friends. Last week, however, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and post my article, Why Pursuing Happiness Will Make You Miserable, in a public Facebook group with over 28,000 Berkeley students to see. I wrote a brief message saying how I hoped it would encourage someone out there, and I left the post alone.
Minutes later, I received the first comment. It read, “Really…?” I laughed it off and replied with, “Yep! It’s free!” (jokingly referring to how the group was meant for things free or for sale). Soon after, other surprising comments started pouring in like ice in a hailstorm. It said things like, “No. Just, no,” and one comment even called the article “harmful.” While I was reading all of this, I was preparing my first discipleship picnic with some girls in my youth group. As I drove to pick them up one by one, at each stop I would see new hateful comments popping up on my phone screen. I felt so disheartened. I didn’t know how to put this problem aside so I could focus on my girls. Even though this was nothing compared to the persecution that the martyrs experienced, it was still shocking and discouraging to see people being so incredibly mean and hateful when you’re only trying to help. In that moment, while my sweet girls were laughing and talking amongst themselves in the car, I experienced a small glimpse of what it was like to be in Jesus’ shoes. He wasn’t just persecuted by strangers—He was sent off to die by the hands of His very own creations.
For the rest of the time, I was able to put my phone aside and have a beautiful discipleship with my girls. That picnic was one for the books. We had delicious homemade food and wonderful conversations! I left that park feeling so grateful and rejuvenated. Truly, God had prepared a table for me to dine and rest even in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23:5 explains, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.” That was really what He did for me by allowing me to have an encouraging picnic with my girls, even while I was receiving so much hatred from complete strangers. He gave me protection and made a way for me to praise and worship Him in the midst of the storm.
If you have been hesitating about whether or not you should take that next step and share your faith publicly, know that you will not be taking that step on your own. I thought that I was going through my anxious time alone, but it wasn’t long before God sent His angels to let me know that He was there, listening to my anxious mumblings and quieting my heart when it became too restless. God spared no time to let me know that He was right there with me, and He will do the same for you.
You should be worried if you never receive persecution as a Christian—not because persecution is good, but because it is a great indicator of whether you are boldly speaking the truth, hiding behind your timidity, or conforming too much to stay relevant to the culture. I’m not encouraging you to go out and shove religion down peoples’ throats. I’m challenging you to take that next step in your faith, whatever that might look like.
This is not about you, your insecurities, or even overcoming your fears. The moment you decide to proclaim your faith is the moment you have officially declared war with the enemy. It’s all spiritual warfare, but there is no need to fear because our God is the God of heaven’s armies. He will do the fighting for you and He will lead you through the storm.