If you've attended worship services in the United States all your life like I have, you've probably heard this, too:
"Thank you, God, that we are able to gather together freely and worship You without fear of persecution."
I'll be honest: It's a sentiment I certainly agree with, but don't often think much about. Freedom of worship is all I've ever known. It's all my parents and grandparents have ever known as well. In fact, I can't say that I've ever met, in all my life, anyone who has ever experienced anything else, or who even knows anyone who has experienced anything else.
That's just how far removed from persecution I am.
So, the prayer quoted above takes on a whole new meaning in the light of this news story.
Imagine it. Gathering together to worship, only to be interrupted by a mob of hateful opponents, bent on not only stopping the worship, but dispersing the worshippers, by whatever means necessary.
Call the police? The government is on the side of the hostile crowd, and the facility you used for worship right up to that moment is now sealed off from your use.
Fight the crowd? Not exactly in line with Jesus' command to turn the other cheek, nor with His reaction to Peter's sword strike on Malchus. To respond in kind would be to forfeit every shred of credibility as followers of Christ, and accomplish the mob's very goal.
Demand of God how He could possibly let this happen to His children? While crying out to Him about such a trauma would be the only normal reaction, the realization would quickly set in that Jesus never promised His followers the respect or support of their neighbors, colleagues, or countrymen, or even their families.
In fact, it's quite the opposite.
"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." -- John 15:18-19
"...all who desire to live godly in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution." -- II Timothy 3:12
As hard as it can be to accept, there are some things God simply does not promise His children, and the average American Christian's absence of fear of persecution is probably more of an anomaly than a norm.
While it is right to make the most of our freedom to serve God and share the Gospel, our freedom must not be allowed to create within us a feeling of entitlement to the approval of those around us.
And while we should pray for the preservation of our freedom, we should be prepared to follow Jesus even if we are not always afforded a comfortable set of circumstances in which to do it.
A story like the one above might cause you and me to reflect on just what, if anything, following Jesus has really cost us in this life. And what we would be willing to have it cost us if our circustances were different.
Have we prepared our minds for the possibility of following Jesus in a hostile environment? Are we assuming our current favorable situation will endure right up to the moment Jesus comes again? Are we assuming nothing here will ever be different? Are our children developing a faith that assumes it will always exist in a supportive environment?
Lord, please preserve our freedom to serve You, please help Christians who suffer persecution for serving You, and please prepare us for more difficult times, if they are to come.