An American Christian leader recently stated that he was in China visiting pastors of the underground church there. When he was getting ready to leave, some of the pastors said they were praying for Christians here in the States. This statement prompted his question, 'What are you asking God to do?' Their startling response was that we Americans would face persecution, as they do in China. They did not say this maliciously, because they suffer persecution, and we face very little. Their attitude is that we are soft spiritually, and if we come under physical persecution, it will strengthen true believers and send the rest scattering.
With all due respect to the Chinese Christians, and I am sure they are among the heroes of faith of whom this world is not worthy, I take issue on this point. From my study of the Bible, I don't find anyone seeking or praying for persecution. In I Tim. 2:1-2 Paul says, "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." Paul's instruction is that we pray for our leaders and government officials so that we may avoid physical persecution. The object of our prayer for these individuals is that we may lead a godly life before others without fear of beatings or imprisonment.
Among the millions of Christians living on this planet, those of us here in America have the greatest freedom. There are those living in North Korea and Saudi Arabia who face the sentence of death for converting to Christianity. Many other countries have similarly harsh punishments for believers. In others the government turns a blind eye, while Muslims practice Jihad or Hindus burn Christian villages. Persecution is not something that we as Christians are exempt from. Read the book of I Peter. Persecution is rather to be expected. And if God does send persecution, our response is to rejoice as Jesus says in Matt. 5:11-12 and Peter reminds us in I Pet. 4:12-13.
So why would a God who has the power to send plagues to destroy Egypt, give the Israelites the Promised Land, and perform the other miracles we read of in the Old Testament, not be able to keep His children from persecution? The obvious answer is yes, but from what I read, our brothers and sisters do not consider persecution to be out the ordinary. They expect the hardships, but they know Jesus is with them, and that knowledge takes them through the rough times. Persecution is not a punishment from God. It is what God allows to draw His children closer to Him. Perhaps this is why the Chinese prayed as they did. If you study the heroes of faith in the Old Testament, and I think Joseph is a great example, you will find that many went through severe hardships before God really used them. The reason God was then able to use them effectively, is that the imperfections of the 'diamond in the rough' had been painfully cut away, and now a sparkling gem was ready to glorify God.
If we can get away from the 'it's all about me' attitude, and remember that it is all about God and He is working in lives to bring glory to Himself, then we will have less questions about what God is doing. It is much more important to allow God to work in our lives, than it is to tell God what and how much we want. We must keep in mind that He is our Sovereign and we are but His slaves. As such we can also take heart in this promise: in every trial I go through, I know that God is going with me and I know God loves me.