Friday, October 3, 2014

How to Handle Persecution

Photo by: David Castillo Dominici

If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. The Bible says, Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). This wasn’t written to discourage us. It's a plain fact. Lest we get a black cloud complex, we remember what happened to the perfect Son of God while He was on earth. He wasn’t to blame in any way, yet his peers called him illegitimate (not understanding the virgin birth), a devil (He was God!), and an impostor. They wanted to kill Him, simply because He told the truth about Himself. Jesus was tortured, spat upon, flogged, and killed on the cross—all because He loved us and laid His life down for us. (John 10:17-18)

We’re missionaries, and sometimes we suffer for no reason at all. So, we throw a pity party—maybe private, maybe public, maybe for all the family to see. “Poor me. I’ve been attacked.”

Some missionaries—count me in on this one—do dumb or completely ignorant things that have negative consequences. Maybe we don’t understand the culture, or we say something that doesn’t need to be said, or we just make a stupid boo-boo. This isn't persecution. This is suffering the consequences of being human and making mistakes.

Some missionaries frustrate those to whom they minister. They talk about controversial issues often and openly. They compare the native people’s customs with “the way we do it in America.” (The people don’t care about our politics, our sports, and our customs. We are visitors in their country, and it’s our duty to adapt to them.) Baiting might bring on persecution, but that kind of persecution isn't because of godly living or representing Christ. It’s because of a lack of tact and wisdom.

Let’s address true persecution, because it's so very important to know how to handle it.

Persecution from the World

It is absolutely inevitable that sooner or later unbelieving people around you will turn against you. It might only be one person. It could be one person who infects others by telling lies. Or, it might be the whole neighborhood. Persecution has many forms, from unkind words, to defacing the church, to outright threats and attacks. Missionaries all over the world are acutely aware that the people might not understand what they're doing. Those people might persecute in ignorance—like saying the missionary is there to get money out of the people, even though he is fully supported by churches outside their country. (They don’t know. They see how you dress, the car you drive, the house you live in, and they jump to wrong conclusions.) Persecution might come from an outright rejection of your message. In some very religious countries, the people might be extremely offended by the preaching of Christ. Some “persecution” comes from young people trying to have “fun.” They might get a kick out of writing a threatening note, making a demand, throwing a firecracker in the door, defecating at the entrance, defacing, or robbing the church. (All of these have happened at our church.) It’s something to do on a Friday night. They don’t think of it as harmful; it’s just “fun.” Whatever kind of persecution we receive from the world, we should consider the source: unsaved people, people without the Spirit of wisdom. Jesus said, These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). Be of good cheer. Jesus has already overcome this kind of persecution. In Him, we can maintain a calm, peaceful spirit.

Persecution from Believers

This is when someone who should be walking with the Lord is critical without reason and makes your life miserable. It could be someone in your church or one of your co-workers.

When it’s someone in the church, especially a new Christian, it helps to understand that he’s in the process of sanctification. If it’s serious, his offense can be dealt with biblically using Matthew 18:15-17. Work towards a resolution. The offended person (you) should pray, then go and humbly confront the offender, with peace being your goal.

The Psalmist David understood how hurtful it is to be wounded by both friends and even his own son. Listen to David’s anguish in these passages: Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me (Psalm 41:9). “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me (Psalm 3:1).

I’m always encouraged when I read missionary biographies. I can’t think of one missionary man or woman who wasn’t severely criticized by the public back home, his own mission agency, or a co-worker. Read about Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, William Carey, David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael, Eric Liddell, and all the rest. Each was criticized unfairly, yet they went ahead and did God’s work. They persevered. They forgave, even though the hurts went deep.

The example of Jesus, who suffered verbal and physical abuse without striking back, should help us know how to react. Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2:23). God is The Judge. Even Jesus, equal with God, committed His hurts to His Father.

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21). Give the problem to the Lord, if there’s no resolution possible. Only do good to the person that offended you. Keep the offense to yourself, and leave judgment and revenge to the Lord.

Here are a few practical pointers for missionary women:
  1. Don’t be surprised by persecution. It will come.
  2. Determine in your heart you will be an encourager and, with God’s help, never to slander someone else.
  3. If the persecution comes from the world, pray for the lost person, understanding the source.
  4. If the persecution comes from a Christian friend, either forget it in forgiveness, or try to resolve the problem. (Matthew 18:15-17; Mark 11:25)
  5. Only do good to others, even those who have done you wrong. (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27)
  6. Watch what you say—in your home, in the church, on the phone, on social media, and on your blog. Make sure your words are filtered by the Holy Spirit. Pray as you go. It’s perfectly okay to leave something unsaid. If you blow it—when you blow it—be humble and ask for forgiveness.
  7. Don’t be guilty of judging others wrongly or of being unkind. If you have a grievance, go prayerfully and privately to that person and have a loving chat.
  8. If someone picks a fight, don’t respond. (No one can fight all by himself!)
  9. Don’t be catty.
  10. For those who work in a team ministry: If you are the less-experienced missionary, yield to the more-experienced missionary. Let the “older” missionary lead. Communicate clearly your ideas, but let the older missionary lead. Don't overstep your bounds. If you want to take on something extra, ask first. If you don’t understand your place in your team, ask for clearer guidelines.
  11. When hurt, forgive. Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Colossians 3:13).
  12. Value your mission purpose (to win the lost and disciple believers) over pettiness (she doesn’t like me).
  13. Resist the temptation to compare yourself to other women. It is never helpful. You are who you are, and they are, too. The Lord Jesus Christ is our model.
  14. Keep God’s priorities as your priorities: 1. Personal relationship with God  2. Relationship with husband  3. Being a mother  4. Ministry and all the rest. (1 Corinthians 7:34)
  15. Rejoice in the Lord, always. (Philippians 4:4)
But I say unto you, Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you,
and pray for them which despitefully use you,
and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).


David and Dee Dee Sterling said...

Very wise advice! Great post!

Charity said...

Another great post with great counsel! Thank you, sister!

Amy Meyers said...

Very helpful thoughts! Thank you for not questioning that persecution happens, but assuming it, and then helping us to address it.

MrsJohn said...

Thank you for this excellent post, Lou Ann. So much practical, godly wisdom!