Lebanese pastor Sami Dagher delivered an impassioned charge to those attending the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C.: Go back to your home countries and preach the Gospel fearlessly. And when you suffer, be encouraged because you are in divine company.
“We are partners with Christ in the heavenly calling,” Dagher said. “We are partners in grace. We are partners in the divine nature. Why shouldn’t we partner in suffering?”
Dagher, a trailblazing church planter in the Middle East for decades and a ministry partner with Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, addressed a plenary session of the Summit, preaching from 1 Peter 4:12-16 about the expected suffering of Gospel-bearing Christians.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you,” Dagher said, quoting from 1 Peter 4:12 (ESV).
The tendency of many believers, he said, is to blame their suffering on God for failing to protect them, much as the ancient Israelites did in accusing God of forgetting them while the pagan nations prospered.
“Brother and sisters, I pray in the Name of Jesus, listen carefully,” Dagher said. “All the evil work which is going against the church today—it is the work of Satan.”
Just as in Jesus’ day, there are zealots of false religions who oppose the Gospel and God’s people at every turn, some even thinking they are doing God’s work, Dagher noted.
“You might ask me why we shouldn’t count [suffering] as strange,” Dagher said. “‘They are fighting us. They are killing us. We’ve done nothing wrong. We’re trying to help them. We’re trying to teach them. We’re trying to heal the sick among them. Why are they doing this?’ Don’t be surprised.”
Dagher said there are four reasons why suffering shouldn’t seem strange to the obedient Christian.
First, the truthfulness of Jesus’ teachings should remind us that suffering is normal. “All this I have told you, so you will not go astray,” Dagher said, citing Jesus from John 16:1-3, which speaks of being thrown out of synagogues and killed for preaching Christ.
“Brothers and sisters, our Lord knew the future,” Dagher said. “He knows what the church is going through. He was not afraid for our suffering; He was afraid for us going astray.
“Don’t allow Satan to make you doubt the power and majesty of our God,” Dagher continued, quoting John 16:33. “‘In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.’ And we are going to walk behind our victorious God.”
The second reason suffering shouldn’t be considered strange is that Jesus suffered.
“Because Jesus suffered, why shouldn’t we?” Dagher asked. “Jesus said, ‘Arm yourself.’ Put it in your mind when you accept Christ, when you come to Christ, you are going to suffer.”
The apostles Paul and James also give encouragement, said Dagher, noting Paul’s analogy of a woman suffering labor pains until the baby is born “and she forgets all her suffering.”
“That’s why James said to us, ‘Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.’ This is what the Holy Spirit wants us to be. He wants us to stand fast. He wants us to have our face unmovable, unshakeable because we are worshiping the living God—Christ who rose from the dead. And He is coming again.”
A third reason suffering should not be a “strange surprise,” Dagher said, is that “we are living in a strange land.”
“Listen to what David said—and David was a prophet and a king. He said, ‘I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me’” (Psalm 119:19, KJV).
Just as it would be foolish, Dagher said, for him to buy a home in the U.S. as a resident of Lebanon, “we are strangers in this land, and we spend 99 percent of our time just decorating our homes and doing things for ourselves and it’s going to be burned.”
“Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer—‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done’—we are saying to the earth, ‘Be burned,’ because when He comes, everything will be burned. But there is a promise: ‘I will make a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness will dwell’ (see 2 Peter 3:13 and Isaiah 65:17), so don’t be afraid and don’t work too much for this world which is going away. Let’s work for the Kingdom of our God because we are strangers.”
Finally, Dagher said, suffering should not be counted strange because it is a test from God.
“When God gives a test, it’s a very hard test. And the problem with this test is we cannot cheat.”
Dagher said one needs only to look at Job, whom God described as upright and blameless, as one who endured testing from Satan as God allowed.
“And after so many days of pain and suffering and losing all his children and all of what he had, he got victory—because he had faith in the love of God. He had faith in the justice of God. He had faith in the power of God.”
Remember, Dagher said, that trials are a testing. “I truly believe that God is testing us Christians, not only in the Middle East. He is testing us everywhere, to see: Do we stand or do we run away? Do we backslide, or do we stand?”
The same God who promised to rescue and save His faithful people “from the hands of the wicked” in Jeremiah 15:19-21 is the One who will be with Christ followers today,” Dagher said.
“Let’s go back [to our nations] and preach the Gospel of Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation. It’s the dynamite of God unto salvation. Without the Gospel of Christ, nobody can be saved, and that’s why He put this in our hands. He gave us the biggest responsibility on earth. Go and preach the Gospel. Let’s go back and preach the Gospel without fear, knowing that no one could come to God without the Gospel of Christ.”
The Scripture quotation marked ESV is taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version. The Scripture quotation marked KJV is taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.