There are always Christians on social media wondering if American Christians have it too easy, and whether a little persecution might be just what the doctor ordered to prevent laziness and complacency. While I agree that American Christians struggle with laziness and complacency, I don’t think desiring persecution is the answer. That’s a masochistic solution that relies on fear instead of the Gospel to produce good fruit in the children of God, and that never works out well.
It’s important to acknowledge from the outset that Americans do have it really good. As residents of a wealthy and prosperous nation where we’re free to worship and profess our faith, it can be extremely easy for us to take that freedom for granted, to start trusting ourselves instead of trusting God, and to forget that we are completely dependent on Him for our lives. In some ways, the comforts of living in a free country without extreme persecution can lead to comfortable and complacent Christians who don’t own their faith, and that’s not something to be proud of.
But the solution to our potential complacency problem is not persecution. Our first choice should be gratitude for the blessings we have to spur us on to serve God joyfully by using them. For example, I saw someone wonder online if Christians have it too easy because there are so many great resources at our disposal – conferences, books, sermons, music, etc. Of course, we could take these things for granted, and that’s bad. But to me, the possibility that we might become complacent about God’s blessings doesn’t mean we should ask God to take them away from us. Our prayer should be that we would be thankful for all these conferences and books and albums and use them to encourage and minister to others and ourselves. Giving thanks is an action that forces you to remember your blessings. Losing your blessings also forces you to remember them, but then it’s too late to use them for good.
Being grateful is a much better option than praying for persecution, for two reasons. The first is more practical. Did your parents ever talk about learning things the easy way or the hard way? It’s true, sometimes we’re hardheaded and stubborn and we’re forced to learn things the hard way. But isn’t it much better to learn things the easy way, if at all possible? Although I’m not a parent, I find it hard to believe that any parent thinks to herself, “I don’t want my kid to listen and remember what I say. Sign me up for the one who will fight me tooth and nail on every last thing and force me to administer tough love every single day of his life.”
To me, comments about American Christians needing some good ol’ persecution in their lives make it sound like it’s impossible for us to learn the easy way, at best, or that it’s inherently better to learn the hard way, at worst. It all sounds a little masochistic, doesn’t it?1 And the thing is, it’s not impossible for us to learn the easy way, even if that’s not what always happens. God is the giver of wisdom, and while He will use our negative experiences to teach us, He also teaches through His Word and the church…you know, the ordinary means of grace.
The second reason is more important, because it has to do with the gospel itself. Once we are in Christ, our motivation to live for Him isn’t supposed to be from fear but from love for Him and remembering His love for us. Isn’t that what being gospel-centered is all about? But when we wish for hardship to make us better Christians, I don’t hear grace and love. I hear law and fear. I lived by law and fear for years, and while it can make you a “productive” Christian, frankly, it’s exhausting, and it certainly doesn’t lead you to awe and worship of God.
Of course, I know we’re sinners who don’t always remember the gospel, who turn away from God, and who sometimes need a (figurative) smack upside the head. I know that we live in a fallen world where we are guaranteed to experience suffering on some level. And I know that as Christians, we should expect that the world will reject our faith. So I’m thankful that God uses these harsh realities for redemptive purposes, for His glory and our good.
But just because God can and does use these bad things for our good doesn’t mean we need to be perverse and hope that bad things happen to us. Let us first pray for God to give us the wisdom and grace to follow Him the first time, and to daily remember the gospel and be grateful.
To be fair, I’ve been particularly sensitive lately to comments from Christians that sound masochistic. As a person who struggles with depression and who fights to not destroy herself with negative self-talk, it’s easy to hear things like this and feel that my self-inflicted suffering is righteous and/or somehow good for me. I’m planning to write more on this in future posts.