For many years one of my hobbies has been lifting weights. When I first started at the gym, I saw very little progress. It was disheartening to be pushing and pulling all of those heavy weights with few visible results. But then, slowly, muscle started to grow. The more I lifted, the more results I saw. And so nowadays, while it's still hard work, it's worthwhile because I know that the pain of lifting weights has a purpose.
Spiritually, and in all areas of life, it's exactly the same. Sometimes we experience different pressures pushing and pulling us. We don't like it. We prefer an easy life. But perhaps God has a greater purpose in the pressure. In Acts 1: 8, Jesus instructed the disciples to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth".
However, by Acts 8, which was probably five years later, they still hadn't left Jerusalem. No one had attempted to preach in Judea or Samaria.
Jerusalem was the religious capital of the nation. It was there that the disciples had their powerful experience on the day of Pentecost. Therefore it was familiar territory associated with positive memories. Judea was physically a distance away and Samaria was a complete cultural change from what they were used to.
Yet, in Acts 8: 1 and 4 we read: "…all the believers… were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria… [they] preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went".
What was it that pushed them out? Acts 8: 1 tells us: "A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem…" It was the external pressure exerted on them from persecution. The level of discomfort significantly increased in the place that had become too comfortable.
History shows us the church often grows more through persecution than prosperity. Without pressure, passivity often sets in. On the other hand, adversity can lead to greater advancement; adversaries can activate dormant abilities within us; opposition can open up new opportunities to move in a new direction. If you're facing pressure at the moment, ask yourself: 'Could this pressure have a greater purpose? Is God growing and developing me through these challenges?'
As the famous evangelist Smith Wigglesworth once said: "Great faith is a product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come after great trials."