Living in a violent world—7 lessons from persecuted Christians

June 14, 2022 by Tim Dustin in Persecution updates

At times, it feels like our country is facing a violence epidemic, from tragic school shootings and inner-city gang warfare to R-rated movies and best-selling video games. It may seem like national violence is a surging river with no cut-off point, ready to take us under its current.

However, violence is nothing new to persecuted Christians in Afghanistan, North Korea, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan and many more countries where believers suffer for their faith.

Our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church live in threat of violence each and every day; some have the scars and wounds to prove it. It’s by their actions and discipline we’re able to learn how to live in a violent world. And it’s through them that we’re able to study, adapt and grow closer to Christ.

Here are 7 things we can learn from the persecuted church about living in a violent world:

1. Always give thanks

When violence seems to walk up to our very doors, where is our focus? Are we dwelling on the attackers and our own fears?

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul writes: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.” It can be easy to get caught up in a narrative and be on the hunt for answers to such horrific acts, but the Bible instructs us to give thanks. When we least feel like it, our praise matters most.

Bae* is a Christian living in North Korea exiled from her home because she and her husband were caught with a Bible. She leads a small house church in this remote village where she is always hungry and is forced to work the fields every day. If she doesn’t meet her quota, she will be punished. If her small church is discovered, she could face imprisonment, torture or even death.

However, with each new day, Bae finds a reason to be thankful: “We thank our Father who has done such great things to prepare life for us,” she says. “We, who receive His amazing grace, keenly realize and understand His words: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the Father.’” For Bae, even just knowing Jesus’ words is enough to fill her heart with lasting thankfulness.

2. Refuse to let fear win

When violent acts fill our social media and TV screens, fear can take hold of us: Will my kids be safe at school? Is this a safe neighborhood to live in? If that armed robbery happened a couple doors down, will it happen to me next? Violence is a challenge that can seem completely overwhelming, but it’s also a challenge we can face with Christ.

God’s hopeful worlds pour over us in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” We constantly battle fear, and sometimes fear gets an edge. But that’s where we can turn to God and surrender it all to Him. We can give Him our fears and place our wills and our lives in His care. When we let Him take control, we can know we’re in the best of hands.

Subhash* was thrown in prison simply because of his faith. In India, false accusations against Christians are an easy way for non-believers to silence what they fear. In prison, facing up to three years behind bars, Subhash continued ministering. He didn’t let fear overcome him; he let God work through him. It was while he was in prison, he was able to minister to 11 individuals who would come to know Christ.

Fear, panic and anxiety can feel overwhelming, but when we surrender to God, we can find a peace not of this world.

3. Rely on God

Who or what are we relying on to save us? Politics? Policies? Our own strength? Whatever is of this world will ultimately fail. When we rely on God first and put our faith in Him, that’s when we have a firm foundation.

The “what ifs” can be relentless: What if this happens? What if that happens? But in John 14:27, Jesus tells us, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” What a perfect peace to clothe ourselves with daily—a peace that can calm our minds and spirit. When we rely on ourselves, we’re setting ourselves up for worrisome nights, but when we put our full trust in God, we have His permission to let go.

We don’t know what’s coming next. For Cecilia*, she didn’t know that when she said “goodbye” to her husband on the phone, it would be the last time she’d ever speak to him. He was targeted and killed for his faith in Syria. When he died, Cecilia could barely comprehend it, let alone how she was going to continue. Her husband provided for all the family’s needs, and he was gone now. However, even after such a tragic event, she found peace in God: “I decided to hold on to Jesus,” she said.

Today Christians all over the world are pressured, arrested, attacked or killed for their faith.

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4. Take a courageous next step

So much violence is mindless and heartbreaking, and when we start to fear what could happen, our faith begins to shrink. We shy away from challenges and next steps, and instead hold on to what we have with white knuckles. But we were made to thrive.

In 1 Corinthians 16:13, Paul writes to the church in Corinth living in a hedonistic culture: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” Is that how we’re living? Are we living faith-filled lives courageously and with strength? It’s too easy to fear violence to a point where we hesitate even leaving our homes. But God commands us to be strong and courageous.

Six months after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in August 2021, they declared that any girl in sixth grade or older could no longer attend school. But Sister Fazlia*, a Christian schoolteacher in the country, didn’t accept that crippling decree. Instead, Fazlia defied the Taliban. Knowing it could mean her life if caught, she fled the country with her nieces, nephews and seven of her students. She continues to teach them as a refugee in a foreign country. When asked where her strength came from for her to uproot her life and abandon all she ever knew, with tears in her eyes, she simply pointed to Heaven.

5. Grieve what you’ve lost

God sees your grief, and He’s right alongside you. We’re not a culture that excels at grieving. We try to push through our emotions as fast as possible, so we can right the ship and get back to our routines. Yet, when violence impacts our lives—and some of us horrifically so—God tells us to grieve.

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me so I can fix you as fast as possible.” He said, “In me, you’ll find rest.” Grieving is part of the healing process. God sees us. He knows what we’re carrying. He knows we can get weary and burdened. We’re living in a violent world with violent people, and some us must grieve some of the hardest pains. But we can find rest in Him.

Zabi* fled Afghanistan, fearing for her life and leaving everything behind. She’s now in a country completely foreign to her, facing an unknown future. In her own words, she said: “I feel so alone.” Zabi left behind a flourishing career, trusted friends and a family she loved. And although she looks ahead to an unknown future, she’s allowing herself to grieve everything she’s lost. Even though she grieves, God is still with her, cares for her and loves her.

6. Forgive your enemies

Just as God has forgiven us, we’re called to forgive others. It can be so hard, can’t it? When we’re wronged, it can be difficult to forgive. And sometimes, we may not even want to. There’s a sense of power that comes with holding a hurt over someone else’s head. But in those moments, we remember that Jesus doesn’t hold our sins over our heads. He forgives, and He calls on us to forgive others.

Hatred brews quickly when we allow it. When someone has acted against us or purposely hurt us or someone we love, we can wish nothing but harm on them. But Jesus says in Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Abda* is a Christian living in the Horn of Africa—where extremist groups, as well as communities, regard Christians as traitorous infidels. Abda was attacked by a Muslim extremist group because of he is known as someone who follows Jesus. The attack emotionally rattled him and left him with an amputated arm. Abda chose to stay in his village. To this day, he openly shares his testimony and preaches love instead of hate. He even openly walks the areas where drug addicts gather and tells them about the happiness he has found in Christ. It would have been easy for Abda to leave, but love compelled him to stay—a love that forgives instead of hates.

7. Keep persevering

Hate, persecution and violence can stop us in our tracks. It can leave us wondering, How could somebody do that to someone else? Our hearts break, and we’re left confused and hurt. Violence and the threat of it can be paralyzing.

Each of us has our own race to run. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We don’t know what’s coming next, but we do know—with God—there’s nothing we can’t handle. If we remain grounded in our faith, on Him as our firm foundation, we can walk confidently wherever He may lead us. He wants us to live life abundantly, not in our houses behind locked doors, but on the mission fields He’s prepared for us.

Even in countries like Nigeria, where almost every two hours a Christian is killed for their faith, Christians continue to gather and worship. Pastor Andrew’s church was burned to the foundation by Boko Haram, but he didn’t let the hate-filled violence against him and his congregation stop his cause. Instead, with help, he rebuilt the church, and it’s now an incredible place of restoration and transformation—even stronger than it was before. Andrew says, “After losing everything, we realized God is all we need.” Pastor Andrew and his congregation continued to persevere.

*****

No matter the violence, God is with us

After Moses’ death, God gives Joshua this promise: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). God is with us at all times.

There will be violence in this world until Christ returns for His people. Prayer and our relationship with God is our No. 1 weapon against it.

From the jungles of Nigeria to the cities of China to our own homes, God answers prayers all over the world, and He is with His people.

Trust He will be with us wherever He would have us go, no matter the persecution, no matter the violence.

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