In today's polarizing world where Christian values and Biblical beliefs are often labeled as "hate speech" and not being "inclusive," Christ-followers should be prepared to face what could possibly come their way as they stand for God.
Pastor Andrew Brunson knows this very well and urges believers to prepare for it even before it happens.
Brunson knows persecution, having been incarcerated for his faith for two years in Turkey over trumped-up charges of terrorism and spying. He said that he almost turned his back on the Lord while in prison, but was able to stay in faith because he had developed an intimacy with Him, characterized by an intentional coming after His heart.
"The thing that best prepared me for my time under persecution was cultivating that love for God and running after His heart," he said.
What worries Brunson the most, however, is how many Christians, Charismatics in particular, tend to focus on only one aspect of the Christian life -God's presence- and largely ignore the other, equally-important part that the Lord Jesus Himself warned about: persecution.
"I'm especially concerned about my charismatic brothers and sisters," Brunson said. "We have an emphasis on presence and on glory and encounters and miracles. When those don't happen, how are we going to handle it?"
"I think many charismatics could be in danger," he continued. "Jesus specifically warns that the love of many will grow cold, and this is talking about offense in the heart. That distances people from God, and it specifically happens in times of persecution, which I believe is coming."
Brunson emphasized that many might be disillusioned with God because of several things, namely increasing wickedness, the judgments that God will bring, the persecution that might happen to those who stand for Christ, and even just the seeming "silence of God" that people will have to go through. These things, he said, puts some Christians at risk of disillusionment and turning away.
"Jesus warns that many people will be knocked out. I think this is especially a risk for charismatics because of the heightened expectations that we have," he said.
Brunson said Christians will need to do more than storing up food and supplies, even arming themselves for defense when the trouble comes. Christians must prepare themselves so that they will not be offended at God for the things that might happen, particularly those mentioned above.
This is especially true for Charismatics who hold to the belief that God is a good Father who will provide for and protect His children and will not let them experience trouble. This is also applicable to those who put a rather large emphasis on Jesus Christ as a miracle worker and not on Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant and Savior, a Man of "suffering and grief."
That said, Brunson warns that Christians must prepare themselves theologically and strengthen and condition themselves for the spiritual warfare that is to come. Strang noted that while Western Christians might've seen persecution come as a "trickle," Brunson warns of "a tidal wave on the horizon, and it's coming toward us very quickly. It's not some far-off threat."
"Someone said to me recently that Jesus will not be unequally yoked to his bride," Brunson said. "She will also be a bride who has suffered. So we need somehow to begin, as a part of our theology and teaching, to prepare people that actual suffering can happen. That can be more difficult than we expected."
Brunson warned that persecution can come in many ways. These include "silencing, marginalizing, shaming, canceling people." It also includes struggling with Big Tech, "how we get our message out to other Christians, to nonbelievers also," especially if Christians get banned on social media or their websites and podcasts are no longer hosted by tech companies.
He also warned of Christians losing their credit card processing providers or banks, and added that in the future, churches might also lose their tax-exempt status simply for advocating and speaking Biblical morality, Biblical sexuality, and so on.
"We need to prepare ahead of time so that when we are afraid (or under pressure) we do not run but stand firm," he said.
Preparing to stand firm
Pastor Brunson outlined several ways to prepare for persecution.
First and foremost, he said Christians must work on, as of paramount importance, "cultivating love for God."
"Over the years, this pursuit of God's heart prepared us for difficult assignments, including my time in prison. So, God knew that I would struggle; He knew that I would break," he said. "But He also knew that because of all of those years of drawing close to His heart in the most difficult times, I would turn toward Him and not away."
The second thing to do comes naturally once Christ followers cultivate that love for God: "running after His heart."
"So, the truth is that intimacy fuels perseverance, and we are willing to suffer for those we love," Brunson said. "The thing that best prepared me for my time under persecution was cultivating that love for God and running after His heart."