by John Crilly
Two thousand one hundred twenty-three. That’s 2,123 martyrs for the cross in 2013 according to Open Doors, a non-denominational group that supports persecuted Christians (TIME, January 8, 2014).
That’s almost six people every day—one every four hours. I don’t even have a context for that. As I write this, I have to stop and pray for God’s mercy on the many brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the midst of persecution right now.
I don’t know anything about being persecuted. I am coddled. I am marketed to. Billions of dollars are spent trying to get me to think a certain way, look a certain way, like certain things, view certain things, need certain things, do certain things, vote a certain way, and follow certain things.
In the global perspective, I am already blessed. From an American perspective, I am already blessed. Not because I am persecuted, but because I am white. I am middle class. I am male. If I look at www.globalrichlist.com, I am sobered to find that I am in the upper 0.09% of the richest people in the world.
I am already blessed. Or so I think.
Then, I read Matthew’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ teaching. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In God’s economy, everything turns upside down. The persecuted are the blessed ones. The persecuted get the kingdom keys.
This blessing is not because of what they have, but ultimately because of Whose they are—not blessed because of riches, but because of righteousness. And righteousness isn’t something you or I can acquire; it is a free gift of grace, from Jesus.
How does this play out in any way in my gospel witness, or yours?
On November 2, 2014, Nik Walenda successfully completed two tightrope walks, setting two new Guinness world records, one for walking the steepest tightrope incline between two buildings and the other for the highest tightrope walk while blindfolded.
I watched this event on live tv, in anxious awe as this man walked on a tightrope between two high-rise towers over the Chicago River. Nik is a seventh-generation member of The Flying Wallendas family of aerialists. His ancestors have been circus performers since the 1700s. Karl Wallenda made the family famous in the 1920s for his tightrope act without a net. Nik a is a direct descendant of Karl, in a lineage of daredevil circus trapeze artists and tightrope walkers.
As the media created the drama around the event (as though the event needed any more drama—a guy on a wire the width of a nickel walking 600 feet in the air in 40 degree temperature, with wind gusts of 20 mph), they interviewed Nik.
He acknowledged that he was compelled to do this work, it was in his blood, and he knew the risk was death. Nik was completely sold out to this vision. Nik was “all in.”
Nik was willing to follow his passion at the risk of everything. He felt like he had to do it, to share this to inspire others to dream big. He had counted the costs and found the risk worth it. He didn’t earn this passion, this talent, this acrobatic gift. He nurtured it, exercised it, and cultivated it. But he knew he did not earn it—it was in his blood. He carries on the life perspective of his great-grandfather, who said, “Life is being on the wire. Everything else is just waiting.”
It is a compelling witness to be “all in.” I am drawn to Nik Walenda’s courage and passion because he is single-minded. What if it was normal for each disciple of Christ to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, believe God at His word, and decide to be “all in”?
Maybe I have to ask myself… am I “all in”?
Do I want to be?
I suspect the decision to be persecuted for righteousness is not a decision made in the moment, but the outflow of a life that is “all in” for Jesus. Think about Daniel, in the top level of leadership in what is now Iraq, thrown to lions because he was wholehearted in his devotion to God. He simply continued to follow the pattern that he had established—of personal, consistent prayer to God.
His decision not only brought persecution and deliverance, it brought glory to God. The ruler of the whole civilized world proclaimed that Daniel’s God was the living God who rescues and saves (Dan. 6:25-27).
Think about Mother Teresa, having poured out her life for the poor of India, in love and devotion to God. When she spoke out against abortion at the annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast in February of 1994, Bill Clinton could only say: “It’s hard to argue with a life so well lived.”
And an “all in” life is a powerful witness. All in love. All in service. All in humility. All in. Author Parker Palmer says “Let your life speak.” Persecution or not, it speaks. An all in life speaks clearly, reflects a Savior who only gave us his all, and draws a watching world closer to the kingdom. Are you all in?
John Crilly is the national field director at Q Place, a ministry empowering Christians to engage in meaningful conversations about God with people who believe differently. Check out Q Place on Facebook.