Life is full of difficulties. If you are a devoted follower of Jesus, you probably understand that those difficulties don’t go away at conversion. Tough times and opposition are part of a disciple’s life! We often call this spiritual warfare, as we recognize that these things come from an enemy who wants to destroy us (John 10.10a).
In its basic form in our typical western culture, spiritual warfare is like a sunburn. It is painful and irritating, leaving us uncomfortable and distracted. While the blame for being overexposed to UV usually lies with our own choices, we may actually be more angry at the sun than ourselves! This kind of spiritual warfare generally does not change us for the good; instead, it is more of an annoyance that often makes us indignant and resentful.
Sometimes spiritual warfare rises to a greater intensity and presents more like a forest fire. It appears overwhelming, leading us to feel powerless and fearful. We may suffer the loss of property, dignity, or our sense of being in control. It is this sort of experience where God is more likely to get our attention and turn our hearts toward Him. The present Coronavirus pandemic is a prime example, as it has bred worry and panic in virtually every nation around the world. Overcome with fear and uncertainty, scores of people are reaching out to God in prayer while others withdraw in desperation.
The spiritual battle can burn even hotter. In highly-persecuted environments, it is like a blast furnace. This is a level of suffering unknown to most of us in western cultures, and we find such a level of suffering difficult to imagine. And yet, God uses this kind of experience to cleanse and purify His people – just as the heat of a furnace purifies gold. Instead of irritation or fear, it results in a true sense of intimacy with the Father. People emerging from this kind of experience are changed deep within, reflecting the essence of Christ as they identify with Him and even give thanks for the suffering which they endured.
As we clearly see, God uses the difficulties of this life to test our faith and shape us into Christ-likeness. While few of us would go so far as to pray for persecution, we must ask the Father to use what is happening in our world right now to bring us to Him, to purify us, and to make us into the people He wants us to be.