The Testimony of Faith

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets; who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned; they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:32-38).
When I read the stories of great characters of the Bible and of the hardships they faced, it is difficult to accept the impatience and unwillingness to suffer the least inconvenience so often experienced among contemporary Christians. Let the preacher go more than five minutes past the hour, or the temperature be more than a few degrees different than one’s comfort zone, and the complaints are loudly heard. Many seem to expect padded pews, well decorated auditoriums, air conditioning, and “interesting” assemblies as the minimum requirement of acceptable religion. And don’t even think about serious sacrifice of time, effort, or money, much less the very suggestion of persecution.
While the above describes some western (i.e., American) “Christians,” I have learned by experience that it certainly does not describe all. Even less does it describe many very dedicated disciples in other parts of the world. On my last visit to Shyafru Bensi in the Himalaya mountains of Nepal, I was joined by a preacher from a village two mountain ranges away. He walked two days, ascending to 14,000 feet, and struggled through about 3 feet of snow in the passes. Yet he came gladly to study the Bible for four days with other Christians. Typically in such seminars two or more men will share small cots, others will sleep on a thin woven bamboo mat on the floor, and they will sit all day with crossed legs on the floor during classes. In some cases men have lost their jobs from attending these classes. Crops and chores have gone unattended, with subsequent hardship and loss of income. Others have endured persecution from other religions because of their insistence upon faithfully practicing Christianity.
One does not have to travel around the world to find dedicated believers who have suffered persecution and undergone hardship for their faith. Paul assures us, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). American Christians have also lost jobs, been ostracized by families, and given great sacrifice in the name of Jesus. We rejoice when we see or hear of such, “glory[ing] in [their] tribulations” (Romans 5:3). Their examples remind us of a number of important facts.
First, God has never promised his people ease and comfort. In the calls of the prophets, there are many warnings of hardship and rejection to come (e.g., Jeremiah 1:17-19). He does promise to be with us and help us, and to provide a “way of escape” from any temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is extended to mean that God will help us to endure any hardship we face (Romans 8:31-39). Christianity has never been intended to be easy or convenient. It always tests us, proving our love and devotion to God.
Secondly, our hardships are not new nor unique to us. Others have faced the same or worse. We are not being asked to do the impossible, or charged more than our faith is worth. Just the opposite. Thousands, even millions, have walked where we walk, have endured the same or similar trials, and have proved the worth of faith over and over again. We have a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who have “been there and done that” and who are even now cheering us on in our attempts.
Finally, our reward is far greater than the price we may pay for our faith (Luke 6:38). Whatever suffering or hardship we endure, it is as nothing compared to the glory we will receive. God’s mercy and grace will abundantly reward all those who seek him (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Nothing we lose in this life will be valued once the inheritance of God has been received by his children (Matthew 16:26,27).
The apostles learned to “rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). May we learn the same lesson, and may our trials help us to grow closer to God and more steadfast in our faith.

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