On Preparing for Trouble: Q and A with Jeremy Walker
The question of persecution is a live one for many Christian believers across the world. Even in the West, we must reckon with the fact that opposition to the Christian gospel is growing, and the prospect of persecution is one we must take seriously. We asked Jeremy Walker, pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, how we ought to understand and prepare for trials and tribulations that arise to challenge our faith.
BoT: Jeremy, the suffering of God’s people is a subject that the New Testament does not shy away from. What do you think are the key points that the Lord Jesus and the New Testament writers wanted to get across about the prospect of trouble in this life?
Jeremy Walker: The Lord Christ, and his disciples, are clear that trials and tribulations are to be anticipated and even, in a sense, embraced (Acts 5:41; Romans 5:3; James 1:2–3; 1 Peter 1:6–8). In other words, if we are following Christ closely then we, as servants to a suffering Master, can anticipate suffering also (John 15:18–25). As such, we need to prepare for it, and be prepared for it, not being surprised or overwhelmed when it comes (1 John 3:13). But it is worth remembering, too, that such distinctively Christian suffering is a badge of honour: it shows that we belong to him rather than to this world (John 17:14), it brings us close to Christ (Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:12–13), and it prepares us for the glory to come (Rom 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16–18). Even the way we respond to such trouble can be a powerful testimony to our faith (1 Peter 2:11–12; 3:13–17).
BoT: We’ve known an extended period of relative freedom to practice our faith in the West. What are some of the consequences of such a long period of peace for the spiritual life of the Church?
Jeremy Walker: We might hope that it would be a period of preparation, so that we are better equipped for what lies ahead. Sadly, too often a period of peace leads to lethargy and apathy, a kind of spiritual sluggishness from which we must awake (Romans 13:11–14). We can even become feeble and complaining—so unaccustomed to any kind of suffering that we resent the least difficulty or trouble. We are in danger of forgetting that “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
BoT: What are some of the spiritual benefits that the Lord can give in and through the experience of affliction?
Jeremy Walker: There are a good number, but among the prominent ones are increasing likeness to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29; Phil 3:10–11), the learning of God’s holy will (Ps 119:71), the exposing of our sin and selfishness, the loosening of our grip upon this world and the stirring of our appetites for the world to come (Romans 12:1–2; 2 Corinthians 4:16–18), and a powerful testimony to the world that this life is not everything.
BoT: What would you say to the believer disturbed by the prospect of future hardship, and who doubts that he or she will have the strength to stand in a day of trouble?
Jeremy Walker: I think I would attempt to follow Paul in “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). Then I would remind them of the importance of active church fellowship (Hebrews 10:23–25), of the examples of the righteous who have gone before (Hebrews 11), the importance of following Christ (Hebrews 12:1–2 and following), the glories of heaven to come (Romans 8:18), and the assurance of God’s presence with us in all trials, which enables us to be content in all circumstances (Hebrews 13:5). Again, bear in mind that most of the New Testament is written to suffering saints, to encourage them in their troubles and to exhort them to hold fast and to press on.
BoT: How can pastors, in particular, prepare their people for suffering and persecution?
Jeremy Walker: First of all, we need to be robustly realistic about suffering and persecution—it is the historical and geographical norm for God’s people, and many of us may be leaving the largely anomalous situation of having something of the savour of Christian thinking and acting in our societies and sliding back into a position in which Christianity is more openly despised and opposed. Then, we need to be actively preparing and equipping God’s people for this, especially the younger generations of saints, which we can do both by honestly teaching through those portions of the New Testament which address it, and by humbly modelling a righteous response to suffering and persecution when it comes (2 Timothy 3:10–15). Finally, we must draw alongside those who have already begun to feel the heat, to encourage and assist them as they press on in faith. Above all, though, we must set forth Christ as both the example for a suffering believer and the one who will bestow the reward on those who endure (2 Timothy 4:6–8). Having our eyes fixed upon him, as Stephen’s when he was stoned, is what will hold up our hearts and sustain our souls through even the most painful of Christian suffering, and give us the right spirit in it all.
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