Voices raised in song, hands clapping, the drum beating. I was kneeling on the ground, worshipping with my brothers and sisters in Christ in a language I barely knew. I was living in a country where Christianity wasn’t always welcome, but these men and women were singing without a care in the world.
The joy of the Lord had transformed their lives.
I sang along, fumbling through the unfamiliar words, grateful to simply be in this place. Then I heard it — the sound of angry voices shouting and rocks hitting the nearby metal gate. The hatred rang out, contrasting sharply with the happy music inside the compound.
This terror I felt was just a small part of what persecuted Christians face every day. It’s why they need our support on Nov. 4, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. And yet, they rarely pray that their persecution will end. They sometimes even view their trials as a blessing.
Here are some of the blessings that come from persecution:
1. You are connected to a “great cloud of witnesses”
The Bible is full of stories of people who are persecuted for their faith. And for centuries since, Christians have suffered all around the world. Persecution is not something new, and many believers take comfort in the stories of those who have gone before them.
In Hebrews 11, the writer shares stories of great heroes of the faith. Toward the end of the chapter, he describes the experiences of the persecuted, those who are unnamed to us, but well known to our Heavenly Father.
“… some were tortured … others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with a sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy …” (Hebrews 11:35-38, ESV)
Those who suffer persecution today are not the first and won’t be the last — but they can take comfort in knowing they are not alone in their sufferings.
2. You experience Christ in a new way
When the mother of James and John came to Jesus, she asked Him to proclaim that her sons would sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in His kingdom. She wanted her children to be heroes of the faith, to be in close relationship with the Messiah. But Jesus replied, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22, ESV)
The cup He was to drink is the cup of suffering. The cup of the cross. As Christians, we are asked to drink that cup as well. Later, in John 15, Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18, ESV)
When Christians are persecuted, they can rest in the knowledge that Jesus understands their pain. He knows what it is like to be hated and mocked. He knows what it is like to be put to death. In the midst of your suffering, He will be your comfort.
3. You develop spiritual strength
Paul was a man who was incredibly familiar with persecution. He was chased out of cities, thrown into jail, and threatened with death. But he didn’t begrudge that treatment … rather he chose to see it as something that was developing his spiritual strength.
He said, “but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)
Persecution is like a refining fire, forcing us to rely on the Lord for everything. It makes you ask yourself, “Am I really willing to die for this?” You must make the hard choice to believe in the Lord and to love others, even when they are hurting you.
Thankfully, it isn’t all up to you. In 2 Corinthians Paul says, “For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV)
It is in our weaknesses that God is able to demonstrate His power. Therefore, when we suffer persecution, we are able to lean on the Lord and trust that He will get us through whatever comes.
4. You receive a heavenly blessing
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was quick to mention the blessing that would come to all who experienced suffering and persecution for His sake.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-11, ESV)
Jesus promises that those who experience persecution here on earth will receive a blessing in heaven. It is important to remember that, in the midst of our pain here on earth, this is not our final destination.
One day, we will join our Savior in the place where there will be no more weeping and no more pain.
5. The church continues to grow
As persecution grows, so does the church. We have heard so many stories of non-believers who, after witnessing persecution, actually came to Christ! There are few things people are willing to die for — but the world is craving something true to believe in.
In his letter to the church of Philippi, Paul writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12, ESV)
He goes on to share that the entire imperial guard knows that he is imprisoned for his faith — and that it is making an incredible difference. Rather than crushing the church, persecution was causing other believers to become bolder. The church was growing, just like it did in the book of Acts.
Paul remembered that time well. After all, he was present on the day that Stephen was stoned for his faith. The believers scattered that day, but they did not stop preaching the Gospel. What was supposed to destroy the church only made it spread farther — and the same is true today.
Persecution is a terrible and scary thought. However, we serve a God who brings beauty from ashes and strength from weaknesses. When we hear from Christians who are suffering from persecution, they do not ask for the persecution to stop.
Nov. 4 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. On this day, Christians all over the world will come together and lift up our persecuted brothers and sisters in prayer. As we pray, we can remember to thank God for the blessings of persecution — thanking Him that what the world intends for evil, He works for good.
Click here to find more information and resources for the International Day of Prayer.