There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:22 (NRSV)
Paul and Barnabas, and many of the characters in the Book of Acts, knew plenty about persecution. They were well received by a few and abused by many. They had to make sense of what was happening to them, so they said that persecution was part of entering the kingdom of God.
But here’s the thing I worry about: I don’t want us to sit back and accept persecution or think it’s any kind of gift from God. It’s awful to be treated badly, as an individual or as a group, and I can’t believe God takes delight in angry mobs, in bullying, or in any kind of abuse.
Life contains many persecutions, and it is through life that we enter the kingdom of God. But persecution is not good for us. It’s not something to “put up with,” and it’s certainly not something to seek out.
God created human beings for flourishing. And so when you feel like you are not flourishing, know that God is with you, not as one who leads you into persecution but as the One who leads you out of it.
It is in the journey away from persecution that we enter the kingdom of God.
And let’s just admit that the journey is still very, very hard.
God, inspire me to stand up against persecution, wherever it may be, even in my own heart. Amen.