In Matthew 5:11-12a (NIV), Jesus said: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (emphasis added). Is anyone glad? Is anyone rejoicing? Few whom I know of. The leader of a nearby house of prayer has said that since the last presidential election, many Christians have given up and stopped coming to pray. He said this is a trend at many prayer centers around the nation. As persecution accelerates, this trend increases. Anger and discouragement are broadcast over Christian media and mumbled in private conversations.
Why are we not rejoicing? To answer that, look at the last line I just quoted: “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven” (emphasis added). If our hearts were set on a heavenly reward we would surely rejoice. So, what is the earthly reward we are seeking? Winning the culture war — returning our government to the Christian values in our Constitution, legislating against such evils as abortion and gay marriage, and stopping the erosion of our religious liberties. These are all worthy causes we should be continuing to champion! But our lack of rejoicing reveals that these have also become idols. Instead of rejoicing in our heavenly reward, we sink into despair over the loss of our desired earthly reward.
In light of this, I will say something that may shock you — God will allow us to lose the culture war, and He will do this for our own good! But I say this with a contingency: we will lose it only if we continue to expect Him to give us our idol. The context following the passage I just quoted hints at why we have made this idol: You are the light of the world…” (vs. 14a). Who can rejoice in the midst of the storm? He who trusts in God, who makes him a light that shines in the storm. Who cannot rejoice? He who puts his trust in convincing the pagan world around him to shine God’s light. For our sakes, God will not indulge such competition for our trust.
In the midst of the storm, if you feel desperate for peace, is the peace you seek biblical? In his book, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Brad Young says:
The Greek word for “peace,” eirene, usually means an absence of war. The Hebrew word, shalom, however, has a much greater range of meanings. It derives from the three-letter root, sh [shin]-l [lamed]-m [mem]…which means, “to make complete or whole…The word refers to a person’s health, spiritual state, or even his or her prosperity. In essence it includes every aspect of an individual’s well-being and inner strength. “Peace” in Hebrew means wholeness or completeness. In certain ways it denotes a person’s healing or salvation.
Young goes on to say that ancient rabbis understood that this, not the absence of war, was the meaning intended in the Aaronic blessing with which the Lord commanded Aaron and his sons to bless the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”He says that in Bible times, when a person enquired about another’s well-being, he asked, “How is your peace?”
Do you want to find peace in the midst of the culture war? It will not come by winning that war and making this world a peaceful environment. It will come only when you find the light of God’s peace within your own heart.
I sense that a principality of discouragement has cast its pall over us. But principalities have no power over us if we are in Christ, for they have no power over Christ. It is we who give them power — we give this spirit grounds to discourage us. In light of what I have said thus far, an obvious way to end that is to focus on our heavenly reward instead of the earthly reward of winning the culture war. A less obvious way has to do with the smaller earthly rewards we seek.
Are you discouraged about your life? I have talked with many people lately who are. Through experience I have found that God often allows discouragement to have its way with us until we deal with the grounds for our discouragement. That often takes the form of personal heroism in the sainthood we strive to attain. If only I could be the most loving father or mother, the most doting husband or supportive wife, the most effective minister for the Lord, and a man or woman with the holiest walk. But after years of struggle, it is still not so.
In your struggle to become a good mate, have you lost hope that you can ever attain an ideal marriage? Dispense with heroics; the real question should be, have you done the best you can? The widow in Luke 21 must have lost hope that she could ever donate a heroic sum to the temple (if she had ever put her hope in that). But she did have two mites. It was 100% of what she had, and that’s all that mattered to Jesus. Have you dreamed of providing your children with a model upbringing, yet you are still too lost in the malaise of your own childhood brokenness to take charge and make it happen? If you have given 100% of your widow’s mite, God will come through for your children. “All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace” (Isaiah 54:13, NIV). Has your ministry not yet fulfilled the vision God has given you for it? If you have done your best, God is pleased. Have you struggled with an addiction for years, yet still fight to maintain sobriety? If you have given (and continue to give) 100% to the fight, the effort is sufficient. “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12, NIV). Personal peace is not acquired through winning your personal war. It is acquired when God has won the war for your trust, and you come to rest in His commendation of your obedience instead of your accomplishments.
In April, I wrote an article about the dark night of the soul — a season in which the fun and excitement go out of the Christian walk temporarily. You no longer easily hear God’s voice or feel His presence. The joy of the spiritual life dries up. This is another discouragement God uses to bring us into a truer peace. The dark night ends when your heart no longer strives for the heroics of spiritual gifting and accomplishments. You are satisfied with nothing but God Himself and His sweet ineffable love. In the article, I quoted Jeremiah: “The Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24b, NIV). Jeremiah could find his portion in nothing but the Lord, for in his day, the culture war was already long lost. Almost no one held to a biblical standard. All he could look forward to was a promise of coming doom, and his entire nation exiled to a foreign land. He found it impossible not to feel distraught, and he voiced that frequently. Yet even in the worst of cultural circumstances, he found joy in the storm: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him (vss. 32-34, NIV).'”
If we repent of making an idol out of winning the culture war, will we still win that war? If it was up to God alone, I would say yes. But the people of our nation must comply, and God has not shown me if they will. I do suspect that at the very least, if we lay down our idol, our nation will respond to our call far more than it does now. For we will have stopped scolding pagans for failing to shine God’s light, and we will have begun to be that light.
Those whose trials have worked Jeremiah’s message into their hearts may very well gain an intimate marriage, great parenting skills, a stellar ministry and perpetual sobriety. Those coming out of the dark night may step into a profusion of miracles. And who knows, we might even win the culture war! That is, if we share His priorities. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33, NIV). But by then, we’ll no longer need these blessings to sustain our joy. If we gain them, well and good. If we don’t, we will be satisfied, for we will have Jesus, and He is sufficient. In fact, this state of heart and mind is precisely why He will be able to trust us with such blessings.
Are you desperate to win the culture war? Maybe that’s the problem. Be desperate for Jesus. Only for Jesus! When you meet with others to pray, repent for making winning into an idol, and ask God to remove the grounds for your discouragement. Pray to lift away discouragement from those who have not yet repented, so they may come to their senses and join you prayer. Only then will you stand a chance of gaining ground in the culture war.
But even if we lose that war and the church is overrun with persecution, believe Jesus when He assures you that you will still have ample reason to rejoice. And you will have a ready answer when He asks you…
…”How is your peace?”