This is an adapted excerpt from Scott Sauls’s latest book, From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership (David C. Cook, 2017). Used by permission of David C. Cook.
If you’re a Christian leader, boss, or influencer, a time may come when your faith is costly to you and also to those you lead and serve. A time may come when certain organizations get put out of business because faithful Christianity becomes incompatible with the dogma, moral vision, and laws of the land. A time may come when religious freedom gives way to religious persecution for those who stand firm in their commitment to be disciples of Jesus versus disciples of prevailing culture.
Perhaps what was true of Christians in ancient Rome, and what is still true of Christians in other parts of the world today, will also become true of us—losing our livelihoods, our friends, our families, and even our own lives for Jesus’s sake.
Even if these things do occur in our lifetimes, it shouldn’t come as a shock. Jesus said that, in this world, we will have trouble and that people will hate his followers because of him. Jesus said that anyone who remains loyal to him will be persecuted and have false things said about them. He said that if we want to be his followers, we’ll have to deny ourselves daily, take up a cross, and follow him.
Likewise, the apostle Paul said, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). And he also said he wanted “to know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10).
Do Not Fear
If things get worse for Christians in the United States—much worse than they are now—we shouldn’t be undone or obsessed about reclaiming the “good old days,” as if the good old days ever really existed.
If your hope is in Christ, your long-term worst-case scenario is resurrection and everlasting life.
Rather, the Bible’s encouragement not to fear stands true especially in a climate of opposition and persecution. Jesus is with us and is for us in any and every circumstance. If Paul can declare from a Roman prison cell that, through Christ, he was able to be content in every situation—whether facing plenty and abundance, hunger or need—then we can certainly, and in any circumstance, declare the same.
Our hope isn’t anchored in this present world but in the world to come. Because this is true, our long-term, worst-case scenario is resurrection and everlasting life, an eternity of perpetual and unending strength, momentum, and bliss. The wind will forever be at our backs. It’ll be a world in which, as C. S. Lewis has said, every day will be better than the one before. It’ll also be a world in which, as J. R. R. Tolkien has said, everything sad will come untrue—sorrow will be no more, and all things will be redeemed.
So lead on, Christian leader. Even if things get so bad that you are tempted to throw in the towel, even if your every effort to love, lead, and faithfully serve your neighbors gets squashed, even if the world responds to your love with rejection and resistance, you must continue to love on and to lead on. Even if the world starts feeling like a sinking ship, there is good reason to find a piece of brass on the Titanic to start polishing.
For the task of Christian leaders is to remind themselves—and also those they lead—that neither death nor mourning nor crying nor pain nor opposition nor hostility nor persecution nor anything else gets to dictate the storyline in the story of God, the last chapter of which has been written and published and has solidified history’s future.
Historically, Christians have most influenced society not as some sort of ‘moral majority’ but as a life-giving, love-driven minority.
Pause for a moment and exhale. Then, breathe this in deeply:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . .
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31–33, 35, 37–39).
Do you believe this? Even if you struggle to believe it, it is no less true. In the end, Jesus wins.
Strength in Weakness
But there’s more. If Christian leaders and influencers and organizations do fall on hard times, if we lose favor and become a persecuted minority, it might actually mark the beginning of our truest impact. Any serious reading of Scripture confirms that it’s not from a place of worldly or political power and privilege that God’s people through the centuries have found their firmest footing. It’s from a place of weakness and disadvantage. Historically, Christians have most influenced society not as some sort of “moral majority” but as a life-giving, love-driven minority.
No amount of cultural opposition stopped Jesus from working to change the world through love.
This is why I’m inspired by these words from the novelist Madeleine L’Engle:
We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
Beneath L’Engle’s words is a truth that rings true: No amount of cultural opposition stopped Jesus from working to change the world through love.
As his followers, opposition is our opportunity to walk in the path of the One who loved us and gave himself for us, to resist cynicism and despair and fear. We can channel our efforts toward lives of radical kindness, generosity, and love for a hurting world—even if a hurting world doesn’t love us back.