BRUNSON: Be Faithful with No Regrets
In this article adapted from Andrew Brunson’s “Prepare to Stand” video series, Brunson discusses some of the blessings that can come when we are faithful in spite of persecution. The Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins, and that Christ’s followers will suffer persecution as well. Looking back on his two-year imprisonment in Turkey, Brunson sees that even during the darkest times, God was at work.
Throughout this series, I’ve been open about the difficulty of persecution. Now, I want to encourage you with some of the positive results — call them unexpected blessings — that can come from persecution.
But first, let’s summarize some of the risks and the steps we have talked about so far. I’ve highlighted four dangers that can knock us out if we’re not prepared for persecution: the danger of acting according to fear; the danger of the heart becoming offended toward God; the danger of pursuing pleasure as an escape; and the danger of being derailed by deception.
I’ve also suggested six steps that prepare our hearts to stand. Step one is to talk about persecution so we’re not caught by surprise. Two, develop fear of God, in the right perspective. This is the best way to counter fear of man. Three, pursue the heart of God. This is the most important thing we can do. It underlies obedience, fuels perseverance, and overcomes offense. Four, build perseverance. This is how we persist under pressure. It strengthens us against the temptation to escape through pursuing pleasure. Five, build community. And six, guard the Word. These last two are safeguards for us, our families and our churches against sliding into deception.
So what can we expect if we practice these steps and remain faithful under pressure? Blessings! Let’s talk about 10 of these.
Persecution can draw us closer to Jesus. I love Jesus more now because I’ve suffered for Him. I have said that what best prepared me for the trials I experienced was my pursuit of God’s heart — the years of building intimacy with Him.
Because I loved God, I was willing to take risks for Him, to suffer for Him. But I also found that because of my time in prison, my love for Him grew stronger and more committed. My sacrifice in the end fueled a more intense love, because now I had more invested — I had paid a price for this relationship, and the more it cost me, the more precious it became. Suffering for God can build our love for God.
As I’ve explained, I felt very distant from God when I was in prison, even to the point of feeling abandoned. I talk about it as a dark night of the soul. So I was really surprised when I realized that I came out of prison with a deeper intimacy than I’d had before. It’s a different intimacy, one that comes from being tested. My love for God was severely tested, and the testing and proving of our love brings us into a more confident intimacy with God.
I pursued God with an unusual desperation. I’ve never been so God-focused in my life and never spent so much time praying as I did in prison. Hours and hours a day talking with God, pressing in to Him, surrendering to Him. The truth is that pressure can push us to run after God in a way that we don’t normally do. I love this verse in Psalm 42:1-2: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs after You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God” (BSB). Yet the psalmist is under tremendous pressure. He’s surrounded by enemies, terribly discouraged, feeling forgotten by God. Pressure makes us run after God as never before.
I’m closer to the heart of Jesus now. I’ve mentioned that for years I would pray, “Father God, draw me so close to Your heart.” In this pursuit of intimacy with God, I focused on running after His presence, which is why it was so painful and confusing to me when I lost all sense of His presence. Yet God has shown me that He was answering my prayer throughout my imprisonment.
Every time I experienced something that Jesus experienced and tried to respond as He did, it brought my heart into a bit more overlap with His. Jesus faced opposition and suffered great stress. He was greatly misunderstood and mocked and scorned, even as He surrendered to God’s will. And He, too, felt abandoned by God and yet persevered. Experiencing the hardships that Jesus experienced draws us closer to His heart.
Through suffering, we end up bearing more of His nature. I used to say matter-of-factly to people who were thinking of ministering in Turkey and were anxious about the potential danger: “Come with the assumption that you’ll die for your faith here. It’s very unlikely that you’ll suffer that way, but come with that mentality.” And this would startle them. I would perhaps say the same thing now, but I would say it with more compassion, gentleness, grace and humility. Now that I have suffered and been broken, I’m more understanding of the fears and frailty of others. Suffering changes our hearts, so we bear more of the nature of Jesus, who is gentle and humble in heart.
Suffering made me more sensitive to sin and concentrated my mind and heart on living for God. Peter says to the suffering church: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2, ESV). I don’t have time to explore how this happens, but I can tell you that it does. After being imprisoned because of my allegiance to Jesus, I recoiled at that which would compromise, dilute, devalue or stain the sacrifice. I’m very aware that I’m sinful and susceptible to sin, but because of suffering, I’m more focused than ever on living for God. Suffering trains us to reject sin and to live for God, potentially a deep and long-lasting reorientation of the heart.
I learned perseverance at new levels because suffering builds perseverance. This is so important to God that the Apostle Paul tells us that we should even rejoice in our suffering for this reason. And James says, “The testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4, BSB). Every time we flex the muscle of perseverance, we become stronger and more determined. Being faithful to God in persecution is enough. That’s what God asks of us.
Persecution puts us on display for other believers. I’ve mentioned how my mother said to me, “There’s a long line of people who have suffered for Jesus Christ. It’s a very long line that stretches back 2,000 years. My son, it is now your turn to stand in that line.” As my imprisonment dragged on, I tried to strengthen myself by thinking often of the line that stretched before me, the great cloud of witnesses. I would say to myself, “If they did it, I can do it, too.” But I also became keenly aware that others would come after me and that I needed to leave them an example of faithful endurance. I had to stand in that line and endure. We leave an example for other believers.
We are also on display for unbelievers, and this is a powerful witness because it is so costly. So prepare to be put on display. I ended up on display not only for other prisoners and for my guards, but eventually before all of Turkey, and even before millions around the world. I love what the Prophet Daniel says about those living in the most difficult times: “But the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action” (Daniel 11:32, ESV).
If you know your God, you shall stand firm. If you want to stand firm, then know your God. Remember, we are children of light. Light shines in the darkness. It’s on display. And those who want to escape the growing darkness will know whom to go to for life. They will come to us. This brings me to the last result I want to emphasize …
Those who endure persecution will be greatly rewarded for eternity. We tend to deemphasize reward, perhaps because we don’t want to appear to be motivated by personal gain. But Jesus emphasizes reward. He urges us to live in such a way as to gain this reward. And to those who suffer persecution, He says, “Your reward will be great” (Cf. Matthew 5:12).
What we do here really does matter for eternity. Jesus will honor those who prove their faithfulness in difficulty.
In concluding, I want to leave you with a final thought. There’s a great line from a book I read in prison: “To do right is always worth it. Not always today, but always tomorrow.” This is the heavenly perspective.
Norine told me during some very dark times in prison, “If we go through this the right way, at the end, we will have no regrets.” When she said this, she didn’t know whether I would gain my freedom in this life or not. She was pointing me to what really matters. Be faithful. Be obedient. Run the race well. He is worthy and He is worth it.
This article was originally published in Decision Magazine and was adapted from the video series “Prepare to Stand” by Andrew Brunson. To view the videos, visit FRC’s website.
Andrew Brunson is Special Advisor for Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.