“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5:10
It sounds pretty lofty to say “blessed are those who are persecuted, but it doesn’t feel much like a blessing does it? How are we supposed to feel grateful and view persecution as a blessing when it feels like a curse? We know we ought to be grateful in the midst of trials but it’s not so easy to understand what that looks like. Too often it is easy to fall into the fake-it-til-you-make-it trap of just articulating gratefulness, hoping if we say often enough the words, that they will eventually make their way into our hearts. But the bible says that good and evil spring from the heart, that our words are the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:34-35), not the other way around. Is it enough then to pay lip service to a grateful heart? Or does true gratefulness overflow from the heart?
How then are we to cultivate this? We’ve so often heard in television and other popular culture that we “can’t help what we feel.” We can control our mouths but how can we control the actual content of our hearts? When looking for wisdom, proverbs is always a good place to start and it doesn’t fail in this instance. Chapter 4 gives this instruction:
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.
According to this we can guard our hearts through our choices, but not through the recitation of empty words, rather by fixing our gaze directly on the truth, keeping our path straight and turning away from evil, and keeping our speech honest and sincere.
Gratefulness is the required sacrifice of those who would glorify God
When we fix our eyes on Truth Himself, and meditate upon his attributes and character, how could we fail to have gratefulness for our very existence swell up within us and burst forth in and endless flood?
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” -Psalm 50:23
Gratefulness is the required sacrifice of those who would glorify God! It’s easy to think of being grateful for the blessing of persecution as a super spiritual level of holiness, optional for those who are very advanced, but scripture represents it as a basic requirement of righteous living!
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. -1 Thessalonians 5:14-22
Blessedness is our normative state
As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, blessedness is our normative state, in trial and in prosperity, and our knowledge that we inhabit a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28) and serve a king who is a consuming fire, will naturally produce in us a reverence and awe of Him that will fill our hearts with the gratitude that is the only possible response to even a partial glimpse of his nature, character, and power.