"Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day." Deuteronomy 8:11
The church in China is a phenomenal example of the gospel’s explosive power in the face of persecution. In the 1940s, the rise of communism led to the dismissal of all missionaries, leaving behind approximately one million Chinese Christians. With no missionaries, very few Bibles, and facing severe persecution, the believers were impoverished with no economic or political leverage. The future of Christianity in China seemed bleak. Which is why it’s shocking to learn that recent reports tell us there are over 100 million Christians in China today.
Rather than suffocating the gospel, the dire circumstances actually had the opposite effect. Why? Because the believers had nothing and no one to depend on except Jesus. They discovered that He was all they needed. Despite being persecuted and marginalized, their lives displayed the joy and satisfaction found in the riches of Christ. And as a result, the life-changing reality of Jesus impacted their society with exponential growth.
Without a doubt it is an exciting outcome to what was a seemingly despairing situation for believers in China. And it’s a reminder to us of how God can use trouble to take the material stuff out so that the real treasure of Jesus can come in.
As you may know, in China’s larger cities the economy is starting to boom. In a recent conversation with a friend who ministers in China, I asked him if the Christians are relieved that affluence is starting to return to their country. I had hoped that after years of living with harsh circumstances they could begin to enjoy some simple pleasures that a more prosperous life might bring to them. My friend’s response was somewhat surprising. He told me that the church leaders actually hope and pray for the opposite. They don’t want the affluence to come. He said, “We have noticed that the Christians who are becoming more affluent now have lost their edge for Jesus Christ and are becoming more taken with earth-side gain than with Jesus. It is sapping the strength out of our church.”
But it’s not just a challenge in China. It’s a challenge for all of us whom God has blessed with a measure of abundance. It’s why Paul wrote: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. . . . Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
The very thing that we may think will be the demise of our lives—trouble—can actually serve to strengthen our lives by forcing us to cling to Jesus and Him alone. And the very things that we think will enrich our lives may in fact impoverish us. To the affluent, self-sufficient church in Laodicea that didn’t feel they needed Him, Jesus warned that from His point of view they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
When we are consumed by the stacks of stuff in our world, we run the risk of missing the true treasures that are found in Christ alone.
Today is a great time to learn a lesson from the persecuted church—that amidst all the clutter of our material treasures, He is all we really need.
- Most of us don’t deal with persecution on a daily basis, but the question still remains: If you were to suffer a personal loss, how would that loss help you to become more dependent on Jesus?
- How have difficult circumstances impacted your walk with Christ? How Christ-dependent are you when things are going well?
- What steps can you take to safeguard your heart, ensuring that even in times of prosperity your heart will remain focused on the Lord?
- For extra insight, read Deuteronomy 8:11-20. In this passage, Moses challenged the Israelites to maintain hearts filled with gratitude and trust as they entered a season of prosperity in the Promised Land. Why do you think Moses needed to warn the people? What can you learn from this passage?