I recently had a particularly negative experience trying to share the Gospel.
I saw a man with a walker in a parking lot. I stopped my car and approached him. I introduced myself and asked if I could pray for him.
“No,” came the gentleman’s reply, “get the h*** out of here!”
Not to be intimidated I decided I would plant my feet and talk to the other people who were gathered for a smoke outside of the apartment building. The entire time I’m speaking all I hear is the first gentleman yelling at me to leave.
I eventually left feeling as though I had struck out. This, however, was not my worst experience in sharing the Gospel.
“They’re Gonna Kill You!”
When I was 18, I was in Florida, attending a conference. I was leaving the parking lot of the apartment where we were staying when I saw an elderly woman who was struggling to bring her bag of garbage to the dumpster. I approached her and offered to help her with her garbage and then asked to pray for her. She graciously consented and I prayed a simple prayer of healing. She wasn’t healed, but was thankful for the prayer.
Suddenly I hear a voice screaming at me from across the parking lot, “They’re gonna kill you!”
I looked and saw a middle aged man standing behind his car. He continued to shout at me.
“If you keep doing what you’re doing, they’re gonna kill you!”
The man was evidently demonized. He spent a minute or so cursing the name of Jesus and blaming God for everything wrong in the world. I decided it would be fun to annoy him so I smiled and said, “Thank you for the encouragement!” as I walked away.
Threats of Violence
I once asked a guy on the street if I could pray for his broken wrist. He responded by cursing me out. I was a bit stunned by his outsized response and asked as he was walking away, “Dude, what if you felt better?” to which he responded, “What if your teeth were in the back of your skull.”
I walked away shaking my head at the strangeness of that encounter and quietly respecting the creativity of his threat.
Another time I went to a biker party with the intention of praying for some folks. I approached the club leader, “Pops”, and asked if I could talk with some of the guys and pray for them. He told me that was ok as long as I left if I was asked.
I began having a productive conversation with a guy at the bar when a rather belligerent gentleman horned into our conversation. He began to try to rile me up with lewd comments. When that didn’t work he began to threaten me and told me to leave. Because of my promise to “Pops” and because I enjoy not being beaten up by bikers, I left.
“People Hate You.”
At the university campus I minister at, I have developed a reputation. Some are terrified of me because I have had prophetic words and words of knowledge about them or their friends. They won’t come anywhere near our ministry because they are freaked out by the Holy Spirit.
Other people at my campus or in my community hate me for different reasons. They believe I’m a cult leader, or a charlatan who is trying to use people for money. Others hate me simply because they hate Jesus and I represent Him.
One of my friends asked me for coffee on campus one time. “JonMark, how do you deal with it?” He asked.
“Deal with what?” I said.
“How do you deal with people hating you so much?”
My friend proceeded to encourage me by going into detail about what everyone he knew thought about me. It was a very uplifting conversation. (Sarcasm.)
The Fellowship of His Suffering
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, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV)
I left that conversation with my friend feeling incredibly heavy in my heart. I wondered if I was doing something wrong to cause these people to hate me so much. I was encouraged, though, by the words of the Apostle Peter:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.1 Peter 4:12-16 (NIV)
In this passage, Peter tells us that when we suffer insults, false accusations, and persecution for the sake of the Gospel, we are participating in the suffering of Christ. The Apostle Paul proclaimed that he longed to know Christ, not just in the power of His resurrection, but in the fellowship of His suffering. (Philippians 3:10.)
Have you ever shared in the same suffering as someone else? There is a closeness that develops between two people who have undergone shared suffering. I’ve spoken to war veterans who tell me that they can’t talk to civilians about their experiences, but there is a bond of brotherhood between them and their fellow veterans because of their shared sufferings. That bond cannot be broken.
Now imagine the loneliness of Christ’s suffering on the cross. He hung upon that tree knowing that He was suffering the punishment for the sin of the world and that the face of the Father, for that moment, was turned from Him.
The loneliest place of God’s heart is the place of His suffering. Everyone wants to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. Everyone wants His blessings. No one seems to want to know Jesus in the intimacy of His suffering. Suffering with Him, however, is promised for those who would truly follow Him.
Pride and a Martyrdom Complex
Peter’s encouragement about suffering for the sake of Christ includes a warning; “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” (1 Peter 4:15)
I’ve met so many people who are convinced they are being persecuted for their faith. A whole lot of suffering, however, is self-inflicted. Often when people react negatively to the sharing of the Gospel, they are not reacting to the message, but to the tone. It is vital that in our sharing of the Gospel, our words are seasoned with grace. The reality is that pride makes more martyrs than persecution ever will.
The Spirit of Glory
In 1 Peter 4:12, we read that persecution is actually evidence that the “Spirit of glory and of God” rests upon us. As I think about some of the most mocked and maligned people in Christianity, it is never the people who are doing nothing for the Kingdom of God. I have close friends that are being slandered as false prophets, false teachers, and wolves in sheep’s clothing by self-anointed “discernment” bloggers. These friends are people who are leading hundreds of people to Christ, are seeing miracles of healing all over the world, and are some of the most humble and genuine people I know. Nevertheless, they are mocked and persecuted for their ministry by ignorant folks.
When Peter tells us that mockery, insults, and persecution are actually evidence of the Spirit of glory and of God resting upon us, he is telling us that the Spirit of glory Himself, actually draws persecution. Those who are anointed of God, are visible in the spiritual realm to every demon in the region, and when they begin to bring the Kingdom of God into their areas of influence, they draw the slings and arrows of those principalities.
In light of this revelation, it makes sense that as I prayed for that woman in the parking lot, that the demonized man became unhinged and exploded at me with threats of “They’re gonna kill you!” I was drawing the ire of the principalities which controlled that poor gentleman because the Spirit of glory rested upon me and I was bringing the Kingdom of God into that area through praying for that woman and sharing the love of the Father.
I’ve heard some people who have taught on evangelism tell people that the worst thing that could happen is someone could say “no, thank you”. And on a normal day, that’s usually true. However, the Apostles had a very different experience. They were mocked, beaten, stoned, beheaded, crucified, and exiled because of their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus. Christ’s love, however, is our champion and our strength through all of it, as the Apostle Paul says:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)
“For your sake, we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our strength through insults, mockery, and persecution is the love of Christ. His love makes it worth every bit! I can say along with Paul, “I long to know You in the power of Your resurrection and the fellowship of Your sufferings.” I would rather go through it all and have Him than have an easy life without the intimate knowledge of His love!
There is nothing like fellowship with Christ! There is nothing like knowing Him deeply! If people hating me, thinking I’m a cult leader and a liar is the cost for serving Him, knowing Him, and walking in His power daily, so be it. It is a small, small price to pay for the privilege of being His. I won’t even call it a sacrifice. I rejoice to be associated with the name, “Jesus”.
May God bless you and may you be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ.