Although Paul was happy every time he recalled the reception of the gospel in Thessalonica, still he was worried what might be happening to them under persecution (1 Thess 3). Persecution may have been coming from Jews, the local Greek townspeople or the Roman authorities. At that time it could have included beatings and stonings, torture, crucifixion and death. If believers weren't strong in their belief in Jesus, they certainly would not have risked any of these punishments even once, much less every day.
For Reflection: As I've said before, most of us don't face these types of persecution today. But if the early Christians could face these for believing and witnessing about Jesus, why can't we face the type of persecution we do experience - rejection for witnessing about Jesus? The number one reason most people don't speak to anyone about Christ is the fear of rejection.
Yes, we will experience rejection on behalf of the gospel message. It's a given. Jesus himself was rejected. Why should we expect to be treated any differently? Scripture says, though, that we should cast our cares, including our fears, upon the Lord (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7). Let's do that today.
Let us pray. Jesus, we do give you our fear of rejection, our fear of loss, our fear of persecution, and all other fears that we have. We trust that you will hold us and care for us and protect us. Renew our joy in you and in talking about you and what you have done.
And we remember today all those people in the world who are suffering extreme persecution. Give them the strength only you can provide, Jesus.
Jesus took all of our sins onto himself when he was crucified. Even though we had not been born yet, even though we had not sinned yet, he died for us (1 Peter 2:24). He forgave all of our sins at that time. St. Paul assures us, "He forgave us all our sins" (Colossians 2:13). Further, by his death he cancelled the penalty due to those sins which was our eternal death.
Jesus took on himself our sins, our hatred, our cruelty to one another. He also took on what others have done to us - the injustices, the theft, the cursing. He accepts the garbage of the abuser and the hurt of the one who was abused.
These assurances from Peter and Paul are past tense. Already done. But we have to appropriate them in our lives. We have to admit our sins to God and accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers. Then we need to let go of the sin, the guilt, the shame, the hurt. We can trust God with it and not hang on to it. "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). If we hang on to these things, we deny that Jesus was capable then and still is capable now of saving us. He won the victory.
For Reflection: Have I truly admitted my sins and accepted forgiveness for them? Am I hanging on to the guilt, the shame or the hurt?
Let us pray. Jesus, I realize now that I've been hanging on to the guilt and the hurt. You are more than capable of carrying these, so I give them to you. I don't want them any more. I want to take a victory lap with you.
Let's rejoin Elijah in his triumph on Mt. Carmel. Elijah prays. God sets fire to the sacrifice and the people are convinced once again that the Lord is God (1 Kings 18:30). Ahab and his false prophets are defeated. In fact, Elijah has the false prophets put to death.
When King Ahab reports to his wife Jezebel what happened on Carmel, she is none too happy. In fact, she threatens Elijah. By the same time tomorrow she intends to see him dead.
Elijah, fresh off the high of God's success on Carmel, and just having seen the 3 year drought ended (1 Kings 18:41-46), is so afraid of Jezebel's threat that he runs away and hides in the desert.
For Reflection: Elijah was a man of God, but still a man. He was subject to highs and lows, triumphs and defeats. We can ask ourselves why, when he had just seen how powerfully God worked, was he afraid of Jezebel. But the real question is, would I do any better? When I know God's power, why am I afraid?
Let us pray. God, it seems we all doubt you at some point in our lives, even when we know better. It must be frustrating for you. I'm sorry that I doubt you, sometimes on a daily basis. Lord, I believe. Help me to overcome my fear and unbelief (see Mark 9:24).
It is hard to imagine living under persecution for being Christian (or any faith belief), but Christians have the words of Jesus who tells us to "fear not." That's much easier said than done; however, I think Jesus meant it.
If we know that when we die we will spend eternity in the Kingdom of God, then we need not fear death. So for Christians fear should not arise from death itself. Many of us, though, may fear what comes before death - suffering or pain. Is Jesus telling us not to fear suffering or pain?
Well, Scripture says that perfect love (God) casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), but it appears to me that verse is meant for the day of judgment. If we consider Jesus' agony in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus is concerned about something. But what is it that overwhelms him? Is it death itself? or the pain of the whipping and crucifixion to come? or the weight of the sins of the world?
For reflection: Honestly, I don't know but I don't think it was the prospect of death itself that caused Jesus such anguish. I think it was either the physical pain to come or the weight of the sins of the world. What do you think?
Let us pray. Jesus, only you know what the persecuted Christians around the world are facing. We thank you for being with them in their time of testing and temptation, and we thank you for holding them like the Good Shepherd you are. Strengthen their faith in the face of the enemy. May your Name be always in their minds, and on their lips and in their hearts.
As we pray and fast today for persecuted Christians around the world, the song "O Holy Night" was going around in my mind. I thought that was really strange - a Christmas carol playing in my head while praying against persecution. So I looked up the words. The third verse and chorus, which I don't ever recall hearing, are as follows (according to Wikipedia).
Truly He taught us to love one another;
Today let us remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of evil and the ruling spirits of murder, hatred, slavery, persecution and oppression (Ephesians 6:12-13). We do not seek revenge or retribution.
Let us pray. Jesus, we place ourselves within your hedge of protection as a surrounding barrier and we put ourselves under your wing. We stand today with those who are too weak to stand, in too much pain or fear to utter a prayer. And we command the powers of darkness to be dispelled by the light of Christ. We tear down the strongholds of murder, hatred, slavery, and persecution. We break the chains of those who are enslaved. We declare for all the world to hear that "Jesus Christ is Lord."
"You are the light of the world," Jesus said (Matthew 5:14). As we continue with our reflection on this verse, what is another reason we don't let our light shine? What is another reason we don't speak to people about Jesus? Aside from the fear of rejection(which we looked at Wednesday), a second common fear is that we don't know enough to answer questions. We are afraid that someone will ask us a question about Jesus or Christianity or Scripture, and we won't be able to give an answer.
Does this happen? Just as with being rejected, of course it does. We don't know everything and the right answer doesn't always pop into our heads at just the right moment. However, our not knowing an answer gives us an opportunity to continue the conversation later. We can reply, "That's a good question. Let me think about that/look into that and get back to you." (Actually, my teachers in school would say, "That's a good question. Research the answer and get back to the class on that.")
No doubt some people would remind me of Luke 21:12-15 wherein Jesus promises to give us the words to defend ourselves. In that passage he is speaking about a time of intense persecution where we are called upon to uphold the gospel in defense of our life. That is not describing the ordinary situation where we are speaking to a neighbor or friend. It is describing an extraordinary situation where our life is on the line. Jesus will supply all the words we need at that time.
For reflection: Has my light been dimmed by fear? If I am afraid I don't know the answers, am I studying the Bible on a regular basis?
Let us pray. Jesus, I want my light to shine. I want my life to reflect your glory. I want people to know that my life is different because of you. I give you my fear of rejection and my fear of not knowing enough. Is there someone to whom I can speak about you today? I'm volunteering. Send me.
The image of light runs throughout the Scriptures - both Old and New Testaments. So let's stay with it for a little bit. Our text is Matthew 5:14-16. If we are the light of the world, and Jesus said we are, why do we hide our light?
One reason is we fear being rejected. We are afraid that we will say something to someone about Jesus, or even Christianity in general, and they will reject what we say and thereby reject us. Does this happen? Of course it does. As Christians we come from a long line of people who have been rejected. The Old Testament prophets were rejected in their day even though they were Jews speaking to Jews. Moving to the New Testament, John the Baptist was rejected. Jesus was rejected. Peter and the other disciples were rejected.
Rejection did not stop them from letting their light shine, from doing what God told them to do, and saying what God told them to say. Which takes us back to verse 11 of Matthew 5: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." To this we can add these verses from 1 John 4: "God is love. . . . There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."
So being rejected sometimes should not be unexpected for us. Knowing that we will be rejected sometimes helps to take the fear out of it. It will come in the normal course of events. But we won't be rejected every time, and people really need to hear the message of Jesus from us. Let's not hide our light.
For Reflection: What is greater in me - the love of God or the fear of rejection?
Let us pray. God, you are perfect love. I give you my fear of rejection. I trust that even when I am rejected you will take care of me. Help me to let my light shine today.
When God calls people to do his work he accepts no excuses. Take the example of Moses and his conversation with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17). When God tells Moses he is sending him back to Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery under Pharaoh, Moses' first objection is, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" Next Moses tries "What if they ask me what your name is?" Then, "What if they don't believe me or listen to me?" Still not willing to go, Moses objects, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." Like any good salesman, God answers every question and meets every objection. Finally Moses gets right down to what he really wants. "O Lord, please send someone else." And God gets angry. Even so, he doesn't let Moses off the hook, he simply assigns Aaron to go with him.
When God wants us to do something, he accepts no excuses. Arguing with God is useless; he has all the answers. When God calls, he qualifies, equips and empowers the person called. As reluctant as Moses was, he still succeeded.
For reflection: What has God called me to do? What excuses am I giving for not doing it?
Let us pray. Father, you are the God of No Excuses. You are God Who Calls, God Who Qualifies, God Who Equips and God Who Empowers. I come to do your will.
"Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you" (Isaiah 35:3-4; cf. Hebrews 12:12).
As we look back and forth between the Old Testament and the New Testament at these descriptions of the Kingdom of God we see that there is really no difference between them. Isaiah and the other visionary prophets got it right. Jesus and his disciples proclaim the same coming Kingdom. It's a kingdom where the righteous are rewarded, where all illnesses are healed, every tear wiped away. Hang in there. God is coming. There is hope.
For reflection: Where am I flagging? What about me needs to be strengthened? Where am I lacking hope?
Let us pray. Jesus, I know you hold me in your hands but the Kingdom seems a long time coming. Be with me today. Give me strength. Give me hope in exchange for my fear.
"I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). The Lord spoke those words to people in captivity. He was encouraging them to live their lives to the full - to build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children and grandchildren - while they were in captivity. "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jer 29:7).
Like a good father, even when he is punishing his children for misbehaving, he wants them to do well; he is on their side and planning to help them do better. He also encourages them to make the most of a bad situation. Don't sit and sulk. Don't give up. Do what you can to improve your own life and the lives of those around you. If you work for the peace and prosperity of those around you, you too will benefit.
For reflection: It has been 2500 years since this encouragement from the Lord was spoken. These are still words to live by. What am I doing to increase the peace and prosperity around me? Do I have a tendency to sulk or to keep moving forward, knowing that God has good plans for me?
Let us pray. Father, I know that you have good plans for me, plans to prosper me and not provoke me. Help me to keep holding on, moving on, going forward, working for the betterment of all. May peace and prosperity surround me wherever I go.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.