"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking... Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings..." (1 Peter 4:1, 12-13 ESV)
In America Christians have not suffered very much. It's caused us to think this is normal for Christian life. It's not, according to the word of God and according to the experience of thousands of our brothers and sisters around the globe. Signs indicate that suffering and persecution could be just around the corner for American believers.
Peter instructs us to prepare ourselves for it ("arm yourselves" with this "way of thinking"). Are American believers armed with this way of thinking? Or have we mistakenly brought our abnormal experience of no persecution into our theology? Have we built a false theology (the extreme health/wealth, word of faith perversions) that sees God's highest purpose as pampering us? What will we do when suffering and persecution come?
In Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper quotes Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, who was tortured for fourteen years in a Romanian prison (1948-1964). Listen to what Wurmbrand says:
"What shall we do about these tortures? Will we be able to bear them? If I do not bear them I put in prison another fifty or sixty men whom I know, because that is what the Communists wish from me, to betray those around me. And here comes the great need for the role of preparation for suffering which must start now. It is too difficult to prepare yourself for it when the Communists have put you in prison.
I remember my last Confirmation class before I left Romania. I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church, but to the zoo. Before the cage of lions I told them, 'Your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to do with men who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.' They had tears in their eyes when they said yes.
We have to make the preparation now, before we are imprisoned. In prison you lose everything. You are undressed and given a prisoner's suit. No more nice furniture, nice carpets, nice curtains. You do not have a wife any more and you do not have your children. You do not have your library and you never see a flower. Nothing of what makes life pleasant remains. Nobody resists who has not renounced the pleasures of life beforehand."
Oh, Lord, have mercy on America. You blessed us beyond compare, and we spent it on ourselves. We have overeaten to the point of discovering brand new diseases. We buy what we do not need with money we do not have. We trample people to death on day-after-Thanksgiving sales at Wal-Mart in our rush to buy unneeded gifts, and we do it in celebration of Christ's birth. Oh, Lord, have mercy on us! We have made man the focus and not God. We have built our theology on lies, believing that we will never have to suffer. Oh, Lord, we are not prepared; not fit for persecution. We don't ask to be persecuted. But we ask that you so move in our hearts that we renounce the pleasures and idols of this life and culture. Move in us until we are ready to die with Christ. Only in this way can we live for Christ!