I am sure you must receive a lot of letters. I really, really hope you answer this one. For years I have been struggling with the concept of God’s safekeeping of His children, using Psalm 91 as a reference. In South Africa, we Christians are still blessed in that we are not yet severely persecuted for our faith. On the flip side, there is a high level of violent crime in the country, and lawlessness prevails.
The reason for my letter is this: How do you pray with unwavering faith for God’s protection, using Psalm 91 as a reference when you read how the early Christians were fed to the lions? Surely they were praying for God’s protection for their lives, notwithstanding all the Christians that are today being put to death for their faith.
I have asked this question to a lot of brothers and sisters, and most of the time, the answer is “You have no faith” or “You might as well stop praying.”
Esther, this is not a letter where I am trying to catch you out or to prove the Bible wrong or something like that. I was born-again years ago, but this subject of God’s protection is really holding me back and is the cause of much distress in my life.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and for your great willingness to help God’s people.
You are asking a question that has been asked since Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). We must find the answer in the Bible. And please keep in mind that we live in a fallen world, a spiritual battlefield where the enemies of God relentlessly wreak havoc at every opportunity. None of us are exempt from tribulation in this world.
The best place to start to understand this age-old dilemma is in Hebrews chapter 11, known as the Hall of Faith. Everyone listed in that chapter was a faithful believer in God who “died in faith” (v. 13). They understood that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth (v. 13).
They were looking forward to their eternal home with Jesus Christ (vv. 14-16), the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-22:5). Moses gave up his position and the wealth of Egypt to suffer persecution with the people of God (vv. 24-26). Many other men of faith suffered persecution and death (vv. 36-37).
Paul was the greatest apostle who wrote fourteen books of the New Testament. He suffered more persecution than any of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). All of the Apostles were persecuted and all but John and Paul died as martyrs.
We must keep in mind that all believers who truly desire to live for the Lord will be persecuted in one way or another (2 Timothy 3:12), and that we were all called to suffer persecution just as Jesus did (1 Peter 2:20-21). This is a hard concept for us to accept but the Lord promises He will be with us through persecution. That is essentially what we can gain from reading Psalm 91, and other encouraging Scriptures.
Psalm 91 is one of my favorite passages. I read it often. It is one of many Scriptures that give us hope and remind us that we are not alone; that the Lord is with us no matter what, and that His heavenly angels also watch over us.
Yet we live in a fallen world. We must also remember that since we are all sinners it is often through trials, tribulations and persecution that we are sanctified and strengthened. Please study the following passages carefully to see this truth:
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:2-5).
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-12).
Jesus said that those who follow Him will receive great rewards in the life to come, but will also suffer persecution (Mark 10:29-30).
We must be careful not to become obsessed with impending doom and calamities or the devil could lead us away from our faith when persecution does come:
“And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:2-4).
No one wants to think about suffering, especially at a time when the prosperity gospel epidemic has infiltrated the Church. But we cannot ignore Scripture. We must accept all the Scriptures, the whole counsel of God and not isolate a few Scriptures to try to make a case for something.
Jesus was very clear that we would have tribulation but also that He would not abandon us and would be with us always. If you look around, do you know any believers who do not suffer from something? Yet we also have many blessings. We must keep things in their proper perspective.
Alan, please carefully examine the verse below to see how important it is for us to endure some type of suffering:
“For it became Him [Jesus], for whom [are] all things, and by whom [are] all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make perfect the leader of their salvation through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10).
If Jesus in His humanity had to suffer persecution how much more do we have to suffer?
When Peter and John were beaten for preaching the gospel they rejoiced being counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus (Acts 5:41).
Suffering for Jesus is a great honor; we should understand that suffering for Him is a blessing.
As long as we live on this fallen planet we will be dodging the enemy’s bullets. Some of us get hit harder than others. But that is when we must keep trusting more than ever that what we see and experience outwardly in the physical world is not the same as the benefits we will reap in our future eternal home. The natural man rejects such dynamics but the spirit-man can better accept them.
“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).
I know this is hard to understand and accept but instead of feeling crushed when we encounter persecution and suffering or getting angry at God when we see others suffer—we should be thankful that God has considered us and them to be worthy to suffer for Him. How greatly He suffered for us!
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20).
We are not immune to the workings of Satan although an important point is this: How many times have we been spared from harm from which we are unaware? I would say many times, more than we know.
God the Father sent His Son to this earth to suffer, to save His creation. This is a concept far beyond our mortal understanding. After all, why couldn’t God just snap His fingers and wipe out all the evil so we could all go on living happily ever after?
No one knows the answer to that question except God. But He does give us clues. We are immersed in a spiritual battle which is extremely volatile. Satan and all the demons are in full attack mode and will be until Jesus returns at the Second Coming, when He will put a stop to all this pain and suffering.
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” ( 1 Peter 4:12-14, 16).
We should memorize and never forget this verse:
“For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Alan, I can appreciate your concerns but until we are face-to-face with the Lord we will not understand many things. But again and again Scripture reveals to us that those who suffer for the sake of Christ will be blessed and should count it an honor.
What we should focus on is our enormous blessing of salvation, that the Lord died and suffered an excruciating death on the cross so we can be given the chance to be part of His eternal kingdom. Those of us who are saved must be exceedingly grateful that we will not have to stay in this fallen world and that we are destined to be with the Lord for eternity.
Suffering for God’s glory is a concept that is tough to understand but that truly is where faith comes in. You will not be so distressed if you give your total trust to the Lord and accept the Scriptures in their entirety and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Alan, please try to let go of thinking so much about what could befall any of us; we must trust that whatever happens, that the Lord will carry us through and give us the grace and strength to handle any situation. Keep your heart and mind focused on our promised eternity that is so incredible that we cannot even begin to comprehend it. We need to focus on what is lovely and pure and not give so much attention to calamities and the “what ifs.”
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).
In God’s love,
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).