Even in your worst suffering, even in your darkest valley, even in the most agonizing persecution, you can rejoice and be glad because God is with you, because God is accomplishing his purposes, because this light and momentary affliction—even if it leads all the way to death—is preparing you for an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond all comparison. And so expect to be persecuted; when it appears to have come, honestly evaluate your persecution; and if you are convinced this is, indeed, suffering for righteousness’ sake, then embrace your persecution as a means through which God is at work for the furthering of his kingdom, the good of his people, and the glory of his name. And rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer dishonor, or even death, for his sake.
The Christian faith is counterintuitive in any number of ways, but perhaps none so much as in its perspective on suffering and, particularly, its perspective on suffering persecution. We may see this most clearly in the actions of the apostles who, after being imprisoned and beaten, “left the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
Of course they must not have been surprised to suffer persecution because, as I’ve pointed out in a couple of recent articles, Jesus had told them to expect it and evaluate it. But he did more than that, and he does more than that to us. Jesus tells us to embrace persecution—to embrace it as his will.
I thought of softening “embrace” to “endure.” It’s certainly true that we need to face persecution with patience and perseverance. But Jesus seems to calls us to even more than this. He says we should go so far as to embrace persecution. That’s not to say we should never pray for it to be lifted, or that we should never flee from it, or that we should never turn to the courts where we can appeal for justice, for these may all be good and honorable actions to take. But it does mean that as long as we face true persecution, we should rejoice in it. Jesus says “blessed (or happy) are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” He says even to “rejoice and be glad” in persecution. (Matthew 5:10-12).
Is this really possible? Is this really reasonable? It is! It is because we know that our God is sovereign and that nothing happens apart from his plan, which means that in some way our suffering is God’s will. It’s not a mistake. It’s not meaningless. It’s not nothing. It’s an opportunity to respond to God’s sovereignty with hope, with trust, and with godly character. It’s an opportunity to shine God’s light in the midst of darkness.
6 Reasons to Rejoice in Persecution
We need to consider: How is it possible to rejoice even during something as painful as persecution? Let me offer six reasons you can rejoice and be glad even when persecuted.
The first is this: persecution proves your citizenship. You are a follower of a Savior who was persecuted. Even though he lived a life that was perfect and unblemished, still the religious authorities, the civil authorities, and the common people all turned against him and put him to death. If that was his story, why wouldn’t it be yours? He told you it would be yours. He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We should expect to suffer like our Savior suffered. In that way persecution is proof of your citizenship in his kingdom, proof of your alignment with Jesus.
And then there’s this: persecution displays your faith. Passing through the test of persecution proves the validity and the strength of your faith. You’ll never know how strong your arms are until you have to lift something heavy, and you’ll never know what your faith is made of until it is put to the test. James says “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12). Many fall away when their faith is tested; but those who truly love the Lord will persevere and emerge with their faith tested, proven, strengthened. They can rejoice!
Also, persecution shapes your character. In Romans 5 Paul says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). It takes tremendous heat and pressure to form a diamond deep in the ground and it takes suffering and even persecution to form Christian character deep in your heart.