My wife and I have never been rich. We've struggled with bills from time to time and had to worry about which things to pay off first. We've even gone without some things we would have really enjoyed. But several years ago we got the chance to go on a mission trip to a city on the Mexican border and we got to see what real poverty looks like. We saw people whose homes were made of cardboard and whose only source of heat was a small propane cook fire, people whose diets consisted of the same food every day because beans or corn were all they could afford. My wife got a much closer look at the conditions of poverty than I did and when we came back she told me, "I'll never complain about being poor again." Because we're not. Not really.
The comparison between our "poverty" and the poverty we saw on that trip was brought to mind when I read a verse from 1 Peter recently. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are (1 Peter 5:8-9, NLT). Now, Peter was writing to people who really did suffer for their faith, people who lived with the daily threat of arrest, torture, execution, being fed to tigers in the great arenas, and crucifixion. Some of them had been tortured and arrested for their faith and Peter tries to encourage them by reminding them that they were not alone, that other believers all across the world were also experiencing those same threats and tortures.
But I wonder what Peter would say to us in America today. We live in a land where we can live out our faith without fear of government reprisals, without fear for our lives or the lives of our children. And even if some of our freedoms might be threatened from time to time, we have a legal system with built-in protection measures were we can fight those threats to our liberty. Actual incidents of Christian persecution are mild and legally punishable. But we have brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe who still live with the same threats Peter's readers did, brothers and sisters who face imprisonment, death and dismemberment because of their faith in Christ, brothers and sisters whose families disown them and cut them of for choosing to follow Jesus. What are our puny trials compared to that? Peter might encourage us by telling us not to feel sorry for ourselves because we don't really have it very bad. He might encourage us by telling us to pray and fight for those who really are suffering for their faith. And he might be very short with us if we complained about not being able to pray before a football game when people he knew had been arrested for praying in their homes.
Those of us who try to follow Christ in America will have trials and persecutions. But we must keep them in perspective, remembering that our own burden is not very heavy compared to our fellow believers around the globe. We must remember them and the suffering they go through, being encouraged and inspired by their example and joining in their struggle to build the Kingdom of God in spite of it. After all, relatively speaking, our persecution is pretty minor.