If you want to find joy’s miracle growth then you must take on persecution. Yes, it sounds strange and even backwards, but often that’s the way that the Kingdom of Heaven works. I’ve seen this odd contradiction at play here in Jackson. I don’t know how, but some of the nicest Christians I’ve met here are homeless or those living in poverty—and they often know the Bible better than I do.
This just goes to show that having it all is not how you acquire joy, because true joy goes deeper than materials. Real joy is a tangible, spiritual thing, and it’s often found in fullness when persecution forces you to choose between God and the rest of the world.
Missionary Heidi Baker has come in contact with that joy time and time again. I know because I’ve seen it in her. Many who are in Heidi’s shoes have chosen to take on their persecution with bitterness—and understandably so—but Heidi has chosen to take it on with joy and she does so in a way that is absolutely infectious! One of the most startling things I’ve ever heard anyone say from the stage came from her. Overcome with love and zeal she joyfully shouted out, “I’ve decided the only way to go is to be martyred!”
I’m still in awe of that moment. There was not a hint in her voice that she didn’t mean it and given her ministry in Mozambique, it could totally happen. She’s already been shot at, imprisoned, beaten, threatened and much more.
Saint Francis of Assisi had an intriguing way of looking at martyrdom as evidenced when he said, “Our friends… are all those who unjustly inflict upon us tests and ordeals, shame and injury, sorrows and torments, martyrdom and death. They are the ones we should love most, for what they’re really inflicting upon us is eternal life.” That’s an unusual round-about way of reading joy into persecution, but that’s the logic of the Kingdom of Heaven for you.
Richard Wurmbrand, founder of the Voice of the Martyrs, tells a story in which a missionary started laughing as she was about to be beheaded. When her captors asked her what was so funny, she replied, “I was just thinking how ridiculous my head would look rolling down the hill!” They decided to let her go.
It’s there in persecution that we are truly blessed, for as 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, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12).
The Apostle Paul ran into persecution often, yet despite all of the hardship he said, “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Cor 7:4). He even illustrated the joy found in persecution by reporting the testimony of the Macedonian churches to the Corinthians: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Cor 8:1-2).
You have to love the contradiction of that last line: affliction+joy +poverty=generosity. Again, there’s another example of the backwards Kingdom of Heaven for you. The math doesn’t make logical sense, but a spiritual sense.
Yet so often we look at persecution as the antithesis of a thriving church. I remember praying with a church’s board once that constantly raised up “yes’s,” and “amen’s” to what I was saying—that is, until I started praying for persecution to strengthen them.
This is an excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.
Baker, Heidi. “Furious Love Event.”
Francis of Assisi. Through the Year with Francis of Assisi: Daily Meditations from His Words and Life. Translated by Murray Bodo, Cincinnati, OH, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1993, entry March 16th. Referencing, St. Francis of Assisi’s Rule of 1221, Chapter XXII.
Wurmbrand, Richard. The Sweetest Song. Bartlesville, OK, Living Sacrifice Book Company, 1988, p. 210. Quoted in John Crowder’s book, The Ecstasy of Loving God, p. 297. See Chapter 15 of this book for more illumination on the topic of joy in martyrdom.