The persecution of the Church of Christ began in earnest shortly after Pentecost. The church was still in it’s infancy, and already the authorities were beginning to make plans to get rid of it. Your first reaction is, "It's all the devil's work!" Perhaps, but it was all part of God's wonderful decision! He allowed it for a great and wonderful reason. First of all, these things have joined the congregation in Jerusalem into a close unity, because each of these people had one common enemy: the Jewish authorities. Later, we see much larger, spectacular effects.
What is the believers’ reaction when the Jewish Council threatens them? Do they say it’s not worth carrying on, and then everybody goes his own way? Do they sit down and shudder with fear, and moan, "What will become of us?" No, it actually brings them together to pray for the matter.
Read Acts 4 where Luke tells how this persecution does not discourage the young believers, but rather encourages them to seek the help of God in prayer. But take note what they ask, not that God must destroy their enemies, but that God will give them boldness so that they can proclaim the Word. They also ask the Lord to make them instruments of emphasizing His omnipotence through "wonders and miracles." This means extraordinary deeds that believers perform to reflect God's great power, and the response of the people who see these things happen. These wonders and miracles for which they are praying have nothing to do with human power or ingenuity, but happens only in the Name of Jesus Christ, the One who can let us see and experience God's great power.
But it's not just "wonders and miracles" that have great power. We should never underestimate the tremendous power of prayer. Prayer changes things! Those first Christians experienced this very clearly, when the place where they were gathered was shaken by the mighty presence of God. The believers are filled with the Spirit of God. It was also the sign for them that their prayer had been answered, and that they had received the necessary heavenly equipment to continue doing God's work.
Luke says that these people are not going to hide from Herod & Co. now, but that they will do exactly the opposite, to boldly proclaim the Word of God.
Emengencies teach you to pray. Unfortunately, we often pray for the wrong reasons and for the wrong things when the emergency presses. "Save me, Lord!" Is our first reaction when things go tough. "Use me, Lord!" is what our reaction should rather be!
Suffering often makes you think innovatively, and problems turn into challenges. We experience it so often that someone who loses his job is forced to think out of the box. He started his own small business, and soon it developed into a thriving business. A teacher constrained from Religious teaching sacrificed her recess time to share the gospel with children. It was not long before there was a crowd of children who had never had exposure to the Gospel, who gathered around her, hungry for the Word. Dozens of Bibles were snapped up by these children, and so the Gospel not only reached the children, but also their households. Suppression of the Word here has precisely resulted in the Word being spread.
Yes, the persecution of Christians in Israel at the time caused them to flee into the wide world for their lives. The direct result was that the Gospel spread throughout the world, because they carried it as far as they went.
Suffering also has a different effect on a believer: it makes you sensitive to other people who are suffering. I myself have been through deep waters for the past few years and everything that could go wrong, went wrong. But the Lord picked us up spiritually to reach new heights. He also used me to give new hope to many people who were discouraged, because I was there myself. Despite all my problems, I am bubbling with joy today. You can also be.
Don't let suffering get you down. Habakkuk rejoices: "Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no corn, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, I will still be joyful and glad, because the LORD God is my saviour.” (Hab. 3:17-18) Let us, through our own suffering, make this the jubilee in our hearts, and make joy our life philosophy.
Thank you, Lord, that You have also deemed me worthy to experience hardship for You. Please give a rejoicing heart to everyone who reads this devotional and is suffering.