Prepared for Persecution
By Cole Richards, President of The Voice of the Martyrs
Part I: The “At Any Cost” Mindset
Our Lord has taught us the first step in preparing for persecution, and our Chinese Christian family members have walked it out in exemplary fashion under a brutal Communist regime for more than 70 years. Christ instructed us to count the cost of discipleship and take up our cross daily. Following Him is costly, but since He is infinitely worthy, we must continue paying without a thought when persecutors raise the price by opposing us.
VOM’s founder, Richard Wurmbrand, said, “A man really believes not what he recites in his creed, but only the things he is ready to die for.” The first step in preparing for persecution is identifying the things we will do at any cost. We will read God’s Word, pray, worship, gather with other believers and witness for Christ, and nothing will stop us from doing these things with willing and glad hearts. Because we do these things in obedience to the commands of our Lord, their worth is beyond evaluation. The value of everything else in this world pales in comparison, including our very lives.
When I talk with Christians here in the U.S. and in other free countries, the word that constantly comes to mind is unprepared. Persecuted Christians in restricted nations have counted the cost and considered Christ worthy, so they prayerfully approach each day with an obey-at-any-cost mindset. Anchored by an understanding of God’s greatness and with their desires fixed on His eternal kingdom, they approach life differently from most Christians in free nations. Too many Christians in free nations live in fear of those who oppose us while worrying about losing the things of this world.
For decades, our Chinese Christian family members have boldly, lovingly and humbly obeyed Christ, no matter how their government opposed them. When their gatherings were made illegal, they held church services anywhere necessary to avoid the secret police. And they also prepared for the inevitable arrests so that when pastors were imprisoned, others in the congregation were ready to take their place. Meanwhile, the imprisoned pastors embraced their time in jail as a new ministry assignment from the Lord: They simply continued their work.
Today, the Chinese Communist Party has arrayed a horrifying technological apparatus against Christians. Hundreds of millions of facial recognition cameras help track believers’ whereabouts and create a digital record used to punish them for their so-called disloyal and illegal activities. Their response to this heightened surveillance has been the same as their response to previous threats and attacks. They simply continue in obedience with joyful hearts, having counted the cost and considered Christ worthy of any price they must pay. Are we, our families and our churches ready to respond to opposition in a likewise manner? If not, then we are not prepared for persecution.
Part 2: The Enemy’s Objective
To love our Lord is to count the cost of discipleship and consider Him entirely worthy of our faithful obedience, no matter the price and no matter the opposition. As we commit daily to being His witnesses to a lost world, proclaiming His love and truth and raising up disciples from all nations, we must understand that we will be opposed. In fact, the more faithful we are, the more serious the opposition. It is critical that we remember this truth and know why it is true.
Think of the tremendous human and financial resources that are spent opposing Christ at all levels of the fallen world, from the halls of government to rural villages. As you read the testimonies of faithful believers in this magazine, consider that their persecutors exert themselves and expend precious resources to pursue and punish them, rather than merely shrugging their shoulders at the silly Christians and ignoring them. For example, when we read the story of Zamira and Atamurat (p. 10), we should understand that it is expensive to arrest and imprison Christians. What do the persecutors hope to receive as return on their investment?
Modern Western culture has harmed us by obscuring the answer, making the tangible, material world so central to our thinking that we either rarely think of the spirit world or refuse to believe it even exists. God, who is spirit, created powerful spiritual beings, angels, and many of them are fallen. Their leader is devoted to our destruction, and though his power is nothing compared with God’s, he is active and has an ultimate objective. Among the many false conspiracy theories of our time, there is a true conspiracy that we must not overlook — the vast conspiracy of evil spiritual beings and their ultimate objective to silence a faithful witness for Christ.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Note that in the original Greek, the complete phrase is “the evil one.” Christ taught us to pray in this way because we cannot be prepared for persecution unless we understand the enemy and his objective. Our battle is not against other people, but rather the spiritual forces of evil that hold them captive (Ephesians 6:12). In obedience to Christ, let us resolve to pay the price to see the captives set free.
Our enemy wins if we misunderstand the battlefield, spending our resources on lesser objectives, fighting and clawing for the things of this world instead of working for the benefit of God’s eternal glory. Our enemy wins if we allow the message of Christ to be weakened or corrupted in order to make it more palatable to the whims of the fallen world. And our enemy wins easily if we are loud about other things but silent about the goodness and greatness of our Lord. Let us take our places alongside our persecuted Christian family members by being bold, faithful and joyful witnesses for Christ — to our children, neighbors and a lost world.
Part 3: Our Heritage
As we obediently follow Christ by sharing His love and truth with the lost, we will face opposition at every turn. Our enemy works tirelessly to steal, kill and destroy — all with the objective of silencing Christ’s witnesses. Christ’s faithful witnesses have always been and will continue to be suffering witnesses who must take up their crosses daily. We do not seek suffering, but we resolve to obey our Lord at any cost, understanding that those costs will surely come if we are faithful.
Once we understand the reality of opposition and, undeterred by the enemy, choose to pay the price of obedience, many questions arise about applying scriptural principles in difficult situations: I must love my enemies and win them for Christ, but how is that possible? How can I proclaim truth in love to people who seek to silence truth by identifying it as hate? I must obey God rather than men, but how and when should I defy authority?
Many people respond to opposition by seeking instruction in the particulars, as if a how-to guide or seminar might teach them how to overcome it. But Scripture does not provide this kind of instruction. Having worked with persecuted Christians around the world for more than 25 years, I can assure you that no training curriculum or checklist of supplies will prepare you for persecution the way they might prepare you for crises such as natural disasters. Persecuting groups and regimes often overwhelm Christians’ physical defenses, and anything that can be stockpiled for a crisis can also be stolen by an enemy (Matthew 6:19). We are called to actively advance God’s eternal objectives rather than merely defend our possessions in this world.
We cannot possibly prepare for persecution in every particular, so God has given us something much better than training seminars, instruction manuals or checklists. In addition to Christ’s example, God has given us countless testimonies of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. In Scripture, throughout church history and continuing today, their testimonies exemplify biblical discipleship in the face of any opposition. Their stories are our Christian heritage.
We must pass on this heritage to the young people in our lives. We sometimes err by overemphasizing the transfer of knowledge while underemphasizing the importance of exemplars — and of being one for them ourselves. Instead of just repeating discipleship principles, let us show them how to be disciples through our own victories and failures as well as those of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. The stories found in this magazine are a great start, and please do not miss the thoughts of VOM founder Richard Wurmbrand on the subject (p. 15). What a great God we have! In Him we have not only the love of a heavenly Father but also the encouragement and inspiration provided by His other children, our brothers and sisters for eternity.