8/6/2014 2:00:00 PM
Perhaps you've felt like your adversaries invited you over for target practice – because they needed a target! The more I hang around God's people, the more I hear about the indignities they receive from neighbors, co-workers and family members specifically because of their relationship with God. It can be disheartening, to say the least. But it's also an occasion for praise.
The thing I am coming to see about the Christian life is that every believer feels like that from time to time, and should
feel like that. The Gospel is foolishness to those who do not yet believe, and frequently those who carry the Gospel will be targets of unbelievers' foolishness.
David certainly knew what it felt like to be in the crosshairs of the ungodly people in his life. One of his responses was recorded in Scripture as Psalm 140, which reads in part:
Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;
preserve me from violent men,
who plan evil things in their heart
and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's,
and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah
Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
preserve me from violent men,
who have planned to trip up my feet.
The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,
and with cords they have spread a net;
beside the way they have set snares for me. Selah
- Psalm 140:1-5, ESV
We see attacks on God's people frequently in the culture today. If you don't believe me, just spend a few minutes online reading about the situation in Israel, or watching American news channels covering the conflict.
It's pretty clear, even if you watch CNN or MSNBC, that the terrorist organization Hamas is the aggressor in the conflict, and that Israel is defending itself against people who are dedicated to Israel's destruction. But the news media somehow manages to find people who live in an alternate reality, one in which Israel picked this fight and relishes the opportunity to destroy the women and children that Hamas has purposefully put in harm's way. We are living on our heads
, to coin a phrase.
How do we respond to situations like these? We might choose David's approach:
I say to the Lord, You are my God;
give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!
O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,
you have covered my head in the day of battle.
Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;
do not further their evil plot or they will be exalted! Selah
As for the head of those who surround me,
let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
Let burning coals fall upon them!
Let them be cast into fire,
into miry pits, no more to rise!
Let not the slanderer be established in the land;
let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
- Psalm 140:6-11, ESV
The persecution of the righteous is a story as old as mankind. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were thrown into the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 because they refused to bow down to a statue dedicated to the king, Nebuchadnezzar. What's not immediately clear from the context is that Daniel's three friends had been some of the highest-ranking officials in the kingdom since shortly before they were brought to Babylon from Jerusalem by their kidnappers. They and Daniel had been promoted over many others to their positions, and those who had been passed over were only too eager to tell Nebuchadnezzar who had violated the edict to bow at the sound of the music.
Fifty-some years and a transition in kingdoms later, something similar happened to Daniel himself. People who were jealous of Daniel's position convinced Darius to pass a law requiring all prayers to be directed to Darius alone. Daniel was the target of the law, and he likely knew it. It didn't keep him from his practice of prayer, and he was caught and thrown into the den of lions.
Of course, Daniel 3 tells us how God protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego in the furnace, and Daniel 6 tells us how Daniel survived a night with the lions. In each case, the persecutors got their comeuppance. Our problem is, we don't want to experience the heat of the furnace or the hot breath of the lions. We don't take persecution as a sign that we are in the very center of God's will, even though that's exactly what it means.
Being singled out and attacked for one's faith isn't always pleasant. We are to rejoice in all things, but I understand that it's difficult to praise Him for persecution. And yet, the conclusion that David came to is that praising Him is entirely appropriate. Hopefully as we grow in the love and knowledge of the Father, we will too.
I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence.
- Psalm 140:12-13, ESV, emphasis added
- August 6, 2014