I’m excited to be writing the devotions for my church again this week! (See this post for last week’s devos.) My favorite musician (aka Daniel Rische) wrote a new musical interlude for this week, and if you want to check it out, you can listen to the audio version here.)
This week I’m writing about Acts 14 and how success can bring opposition.
We had just finished eating lunch with a pastor from a country in Southeast Asia. He had come to the States for a few weeks to give an update on the small but vibrant church that met in the basement of his home. In his country, it was illegal to convert from another religion to Christianity, and he and his fellow church members had faced the kind of persecution that seems unimaginable to most of us in the West. One member of their congregation had lost his job due to religious discrimination. One woman had been disowned by her family. Another man had been thrown into jail without cause.
When he had finished giving us the update about his church, one of my friends asked, “Pastor, how can we pray for you?”
The room was filled with palpable silence as we awaited his answer. Would he ask us to pray for religious freedom in his country or an overthrow of the current government? Would he request safety and physical protection for his family? Would he ask for financial provision for his church? Would he ask for the means to move to a safer place?
“Actually,” he said, his voice thick with emotion, “my church prays for you.”
“For us?” We were incredulous.
“Yes, for the church in America.”
No one could formulate a response. We just stared at him.
“We are worried for you in America,” he said. “You are so comfortable here. If you do not face trials because of Jesus, how will your faith be proven true? How will you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Here I’d been wondering how his faith could stand up under so many trials, and he was wondering how my faith could stand up without them. Clearly I had a lot to learn about suffering for Jesus.
Reading the accounts of the early church in the book of Acts can feel like a cross-cultural experience for us—it turns our preconceived notions about faith upside down. As Western Christians, it’s easy to think that if we’re facing opposition, we must be doing something wrong. If we are criticized, we wonder if it’s time to throw in the towel. If we run into conflict, we decide maybe this wasn’t God’s will. If we feel the pangs of doubt and discouragement, we figure this must not have been our calling after all.
But the book of Acts lets us in on a secret American culture will never tell us: success doesn’t automatically lead to smooth sailing. In fact, sometimes success leads to opposition.
When Paul and Barnabas embarked on their missionary journey, the very fact that people were listening and responding to the message of the gospel was what got them in trouble. If they’d just been coasting along, not making waves, the Jewish leaders no doubt would have left them alone. It was only because God was at work through them that they found their lives in danger: “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers” (Acts 14:1-2).
As difficult as this opposition was, there were some unexpected upsides to this time of hardship: it deepened their reliance on God and solidified their relationship with other, giving them an even more unified bond in Christ.
The same is true for us. For all that opposition is uncomfortable and frightening, it unites with the God who can protect us in the midst of trials and with our brothers and sisters, who walk through it with us.