I just finished reading a book by Nik Ripken called The Insanity of God. In addition to having a provocative title, it is a powerful book. Ripken is considered to be the world’s leading expert on the persecuted church in the Muslim world, and towards the end of the book, he offers some conclusions on persecution. To say the least, I found them challenging and convicting. Here is just a sampling:
“For decades the western church has been taught to pray and work for an end to the persecution of fellow believers around the world. We enlist our congregations, our denominations, and even our governments to speak out and pressure oppressive regimes in hostile nations to end discrimination. Sometimes we even demand that the persecutors be punished. We seem to forget that Jesus Himself promised that the world would reject and mistreat His faithful followers just as it rejected Him.
Could it be that the only way that Almighty God could actually answer prayers asking Him to end the persecution of believers . . . would be to stop people from accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior? If people stopped accepting Christ as Lord and Savior . . . persecution would end immediately. That would be the only way to completely end persecution. It sounds like a ridiculous question, but should we really be asking God for the end of persecution? By doing that, we might unknowingly be asking that people not come to faith in Christ!
Ruth and I have seldom encountered a mature believer living in persecution who asked us to pray that their persecution would cease. We have never heard that request. Rather, believers in persecution ask us to pray that “they would be faithful and obedient through their persecution and suffering.” That is a radically different prayer.
Why is it that millions of the global followers of Jesus who actively practice their faith live in environments where persecution is the norm? The first and most basic answer is that these people have given their lives to Jesus. The second answer is that they have determined in their hearts that they will not keep Jesus to themselves. Having found faith in Christ, they have such a passion for Jesus that they must share the Good News of His sacrificial love and forgiveness with their families, their friends, and their neighbors. By doing that, these believers are choosing to be persecuted.
What that means is that, for most believers, persecution is completely avoidable. If someone simply leaves Jesus alone, doesn’t seek Him or follow Him, then persecution will simply not happen. Beyond that, even if someone becomes a follower of Jesus, persecution will likely not happen if the faith is kept private and personal. If a person is silent about their faith in Jesus, the chance of being persecuted is very small.
So if our goal is reducing persecution, that task is easily achieved. First, just leave Jesus alone. Second, if you do happen to find Him, just keep Him to yourself. Persecution stops immediately where there is no faith and where there is no witness. The reason for persecution, then, is that people keep finding Jesus—and, then, they refuse to keep Him to themselves.”
(Ripken, Nik. The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected (pp. 306-307). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)