What’s the difference between exercising and not exercising?
Increased heart rate.
Your heart rate is a great indicator of the presence (or absence) of exertion. If you put on the lycra and walk out the front door to exercise but your heart rate doesn’t rise, you might look the part, but you’re not actually exercising.
I don’t enjoy the burning sensation in my legs as I struggle to finish my short time on the exercise bike, or the ache in my arms that begins far too quickly as I get started on a set of push ups. It’s uncomfortable and when the pain levels rise (far too quickly) I’m tempted to give in and return to eating chocolate on the couch.
But at the same time, I love the discomfort. It’s a welcome sign that I’m on the right track. It is evidence that not only do I look the part – I’m actually exerting myself and on the path to increased fitness. As much as I may not like it, in the back of my mind I'm reassured as I remember “It's meant to feel like this.”
As I traveled with Open Doors and met with persecuted Christians in Iraq earlier this year – family after family who had suffered greatly as a consequence of their faith in Jesus – I remember thinking:
“This is what the Christian life is meant to look like. This is what we’re meant to expect.”
Not that each of us should expect to ISIS to turn up and demand that we reject Jesus or get burned alive. Although that may happen. But that the Christian life is meant to involve persecution. We’re meant to expect hatred, insults, suffering. This is what we signed up for.
Afterall, isn’t this what Jesus told us we should expect in John 15?
“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
Or 2 Timothy 3:12:
“…Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
In the West, we act surprised when people hate us – as if something strange were happening. But the Bible makes it clear that the shock should occur if we *aren’t* persecuted:
“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
The Bible never instructs us to get out and get persecuted. Instead, the Bible makes it clear that as we go out, we will get persecuted. Faithfully living the Christian life will inevitably be met with opposition. There seems to be no Biblical category for faithful Christian living that escapes persecution.
And while of course persecution isn’t enjoyable, it is a clear indicator that we are on the right track, that we are following Jesus. We can view our experience through the lens of the Bible and exclaim:
“This is what Jesus warned me about! I should praise God that I bear His name!”.
If we exercise but don’t experience an increased heart rate, we rightly conclude that we’re kidding ourselves – we’re not actually exercising.
So what do we conclude if we are Christians but don’t experience persecution?