“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12 NKJV).
When you are a moderately well-off, relatively educated, fairly average-looking, Caucasian-American male, you don’t encounter a large amount of persecution in daily life. In fact, I was recently in Michigan visiting my wife’s family, and I experienced far more persecution in a mere three days for being an Ohio State fan than I have ever received for following Jesus. In America today, when you introduce yourself as a pastor, church musician or whatever a “worship director” is, you still receive a certain level of respect. People might assume you are weird, and perhaps they apologize for stray curse words said around you, but it is unlikely that they will immediately want to cause you bodily harm. Despite this lack of experience with persecution, I still believe we have an important calling directly from Jesus to be happy in the midst of persecution for righteousness’ sake.
If you’re anything like me, your first and only experience with persecution came by way of a book titled “Jesus Freak.” This book, co-written by legendary CCM hip-hop supergroup dc Talk, was a favorite of youth pastors across the United States when it was released in 1999 (four years after the group’s double platinum album of the same name). The epic tome —complete with shredded page ends so you knew it was serious about persecution —was filled with stories of persecuted Christians through church history. These brief retellings of believers locked up or led away to the gallows for their faith were perfect for teenagers’ short attention spans and mushy brains. Youth pastors loved reading these stories with the hope of inspiring us to make stands for our faith, and they asked the question: “What would you be willing to endure for the gospel?” The borderline scare tactics notwithstanding, this message was effective and has stuck with me. I often find myself asking “What am I willing to endure for the gospel?” or more accurately “What am I willing to seek out in order to endure it for the gospel?”
If we are to sit around living righteously and waiting for persecution to find us, we may never be able to fulfill this encouragement from Jesus. So in this beatitude, we must not be passive. Instead we must pursue persecution. That is not to say we should go around angering people to provoke reviling, as many do and cite the visceral reactions they elicit as proof of completing God’s work. Instead we need to labor in supporting people undergoing persecution already, and we should help them carry their burdens.
When my wife and I decided to become foster parents, we did so because we believe we have a calling from God to use our relatively chaos-free lifestyle to help shoulder the chaos of the children and families we invite into our lives. In the same way, we are to use the space in our lives created by our lack of persecution to invite the persecution of others into our lives for their sake and for the sake of the kingdom of God.
One of the ways my wife excels in this is by using her “mom powers.” Moms have this innate ability to advocate for things and get them done when all others have reached an impasse. Do you have a problem with your cable bill? Send in a mom. Do you need an Independent Education Plan created for your child? Send in a mom. My wife uses her unique “mom powers” to champion the children who come into our home in ways that go far above and beyond. My hope is that we all might recognize our “mom powers” and use them for good —that we might lift our voices as advocates of the persecuted, not only around the world, but also around the corner in our own neighborhoods.
What if we decided to use the comfort we’ve built into our lives not simply as a resource for ourselves, but as a source of power to give away for the comfort of others? What if we took the advice of Isaiah 58:10 and truly poured ourselves out on behalf of the oppressed, ensuring the evil things people say about us result from working too hard for others? We could ensure that the reviling and persecution we encounter would result in the light of God shining in our communities, and we would find our treasures solely in heaven (Matthew 6:20) while being blessed in the midst of persecution.
Ephram Wilkoff is the worship director and a local ministerial candidate at Edgewood Free Methodist Church in Rochester, New York. He and his wife, Kay, are foster parents to many and forever parents to Mya and Glenn. He is passionate about multigenerational churches and Cleveland sports teams. Follow him on Twitter @wilkoffe.