Prayerful Preparation For Persecution
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12).
Persecution is not something we look forward to, yet it is a reality of every believer’s life if we are passionately seeking to be like Jesus. Scripture tells us that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). If our families are living for Jesus, determined to demonstrate righteousness within a dark world, we must be prepared to suffer insults, false accusations, and even more intense persecution as the enemy aims his flaming arrows at us. It is time to take our stand against the devil and become the face of Christ to our unsaved friends, family, coworkers, classmates, etc. How do we find the strength to face harassment when we live lives that reflect Jesus? John 16:33 carries a powerful promise that deals a knock-out blow to the forces of evil intent upon damaging our witness for the perfect Son of God: "But take heart! I have overcome the world."
As we have journeyed through the beatitudes, it is clear that Jesus has laid out a life plan for individuals and families. Each step of the journey finds us being blessed…even when the lessons are difficult or uncomfortable to learn. The ultimate goal of our lives is to make Jesus Christ known. To do so, we must decrease so He can increase (John 3:30). The beatitudes are a call to us to become less so He can become greater.
The perfect timing of God has always amazed me! He does not randomly disclose His thoughts to us, but reveals them in just the right order so that we will have all of the tools necessary to grow in our walk toward living out the righteousness of His Son. Growing in Christ is a process of spiritual maturity that takes place when our hearts are set upon a deepening relationship with our Father.
This process begins with humility, the result of becoming poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). Until we humble ourselves before God, acknowledging that He is the sovereign, all-powerful Lord, we are unable to progress any further in our spiritual growth. Next, we learn that humbly accepting God’s perfect comfort when we are mourning allows us to extend His comfort to others (Matthew 5:4). Strength under God’s control (meekness) is a condition for navigating the difficult waters of our tenure on this earth (Matthew 5:5). We learn such strength through our humble dependence upon God as He walks us through the difficult times of our lives. As we grow in our knowledge of Christ, we develop a more intense hunger and thirst to live righteous lives (Matthew 5:6). We deeply desire for our Father to live out His righteousness in us. As He fills us, He teaches us to be merciful (Matthew 5:7), and our hearts seek after purity (Matthew 5:8). Because our lives begin to demonstrate the lifestyle of Jesus, we are enabled to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
In the midst of the process, we are blessed in powerful, life-changing ways: with the kingdom of heaven, with comfort, with the inheritance of the earth, with being filled, with being shown mercy, with the promise that we will see God, and with being called sons and daughters of God. What tremendous gifts our Father showers upon us when we choose to willingly and wholeheartedly go after lifestyles that reflect His Son to the world!
Each step of the process develops in us the character of Christ. However, as believers must quickly learn, when we move toward Christ-likeness, we have an enemy who is bent upon our destruction. If we have not internalized the characteristics of Jesus, and carefully prepared our families, the attacks can devastate us. An important thing to carefully internalize and teach our children is that Scripture clearly states that we will be persecuted for the sake of living like Christ. It is how we choose to react in the face of persecution that can either strengthen or damage our walk of faith, and our witness to others.
As already stated, according to John 16:33, we are able to claim victory over the enemy when he attempts to accuse us before man and God. He is known as the accuser of the brothers (Revelation 12:10). The best preparation for facing persecution is to strengthen our connection to the Vine (John 15:5-8). If we, His branches, will stay attached to Him, our dependence upon the Lord’s peace, provision and protection is secure. It is when we relax our hold on the Vine and attempt to face the persecution of the enemy on our own that we will fail. What is the best way to stay attached to the Vine? Prayer! It is the ultimate connective tissue between our hearts and the heart of our Father. Prayer is also the key component to our arsenal of spiritual weaponry as we battle the devil on a daily basis.
Praying For Those Who Persecute You
Take some time to teach your family what Matthew 5:10-12 means and begin to pray through the passage this month. Of all the passages in the beatitudes, it is most critical to pray through this one. Why? Because Jesus clearly showed us what to do when we are persecuted: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:43-45). Lead your family in reading through Matthew 5:10-12 again. Focus on the elements of Jesus’ teaching and be ready to stand firm in the midst of persecution. Be determined to pray for those who persecute you because you live for Jesus. I have defined some of the key terms in this passage to help you in your understanding:
Blessed: To be blessed is to be spiritually prosperous. It has nothing to do with earthly gain. Regardless of circumstances, believers can continually enjoy and find satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation.
Persecuted: To be persecuted is to be harassed, bullied, singled out, and discriminated against. We are to expect that people will be used by the enemy to speak lies in order to discredit our testimony, our Lord, and us.
Righteousness: God sacrificed His Son on the cross for the sake of our righteousness. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we have a true, personal relationship with Jesus that is manifested in the way we live out our lives, then His righteousness has become our own. Righteousness is freely given to us by the Lord, but we must still receive it by faith.
Kingdom of heaven/Kingdom of God: The kingdom of heaven is the rule of God and is both a present reality and a future hope. It is true fellowship with God that cannot be earned because it is His gift to us. Jesus taught that the kingdom is of such great value that one should be willing to give up all he has in order to gain it. "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men" (Romans 14:17-18). "All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering" (2 Thessalonians 1:5).
Here are some additional passages of Scripture to pray through:
• "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. 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, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name" (1 Peter 4:12-16). Pray: Father, teach us to learn how to rejoice even when we are suffering because of Your Name. Help us to remember that our enemy is the devil and not the people he may choose to work in and through to damage us. Give us strength to be proud of the Name above all names!
• "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:13-17). Pray: Lord, prepare us to have an answer for everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in Jesus. May we always be gentle and respectful in every response, never speaking in anger. We want to set Christ apart in our hearts as Lord and Savior without fear. Please help us to continue to be eager to do good to everyone and in every situation.
• "Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:10-11). Pray: Holy One, You have said that we are in good company when we suffer, because Your prophets were also persecuted for Your sake. Thank You for the promise that You will fight for us if we will be still (Exodus 14:14). We don’t want to whine or complain when we are treated badly. Give us strength to rejoice because we know that the way we are living is doing damage to the kingdom of darkness.
• "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).
• "For surely, O Lord, You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favor as with a shield" (Psalm 5:12).
• "The way of the Lord is a refuge for the righteous" (Proverbs 10:29). "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and they are safe" (Proverbs 18:10).
• "A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all…" (Psalm 34:19).
• "We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:3-10).
Final Thoughts on the Beatitudes
Please carefully consider these past eight studies on the beatitudes and the Lord’s blessings as you grow and mature in Christ as a family. Pray through them, discuss them, and determine how you will live them out in practical, life-changing ways. As you learn and take to heart the messages of Scripture, Jesus has a final encouragement: "…Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it" (Luke 11:28).