In the book of Genesis, Joseph is unfairly imprisoned, persecuted for his faith and for doing the right thing. But what if Joseph hadn’t been imprisoned, or had been rescued before he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams? Joseph would never have been put in a position of power, would never have prepared the land for the great famine that was coming, and God’s chosen people would have likely died of starvation. There was a greater purpose for Joseph’s story which we only see now, on this side of history. In his book The Insanity of Obedience, Nik Ripkin writes, “…as we think of suffering believers today, we are compelled to wonder if it is possible that God may have a higher purpose than lessening the suffering of these persecuted believers.”
Even so, for those of us who do not live under daily persecution, it can be difficult to relate to or know how to respond to the difficulties our persecuted brothers and sisters face. We must always remember that Jesus warned us we will face persecution by following him (John 15:20), but he also promised us the Helper (John 15:26) when persecution comes.
Open Doors is on the ground in over 60 countries serving persecuted Christians in places like North Korea, Kenya, and Iraq. The names, faces, circumstances and needs are vastly different in every place, but there is powerful common ground. Persecuted Christians all have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of persecution, and the first thing they all ask for is prayer.
Not an end to their suffering. Not a rescue operation. Not punishment for their persecutors. Not democracy. Not financial support.*
Prayer. Every member of our persecuted family wants us to pray for them in the midst of their suffering.
The first thing persecuted Christians all ask for is prayer. Not an end to their suffering. Not a rescue operation. Not punishment for their persecutors. Not democracy. Not financial support. Prayer. Every member of our persecuted family wants us to pray for them in the midst of their suffering.
The reality of Christian persecution is that it is spiritual. Jesus Christ, the foundation of our faith, came and met the deep spiritual need of a world that continues to reject him. The message of Christ is offensive; therefore, as his followers we naturally offend this world. But the reality of prayer is that it forces us to be dependent on God.
This is an invaluable weapon in the spiritual warfare that is persecution. As Westerners we tend to dismiss prayer as a passive response, but Brother Andrew (the founder of Open Doors) insists, “Prayer is not preparation for the battle; prayer is the battle.” Through prayer we learn to see persecution through God’s eyes.
Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). We have a tendency to see people as monsters when they bring extreme pain upon other people, to think of them as other than human. But the gospel reminds us that we as humans cannot save ourselves. It reminds us how much grace we have been given. The gospel reminds us that Jesus went to the cross for our sins and for the members of ISIS, of Boko Haram, the Kims, and all the others. Persecutors have names, faces, families and souls—they are human, lost and broken as we once were. Therefore, the focus of our prayers is not that the persecution would stop. Instead, we pray for Christ’s name to be exalted among the nations through the faith of the persecuted church and the salvation of their persecutors. Through the salvation of their persecutors, they are no longer persecutors but fellow Christians.
In addition to praying for our brothers and sisters to remain obedient, we must also be obedient in bearing witness to what Christ accomplished. By sharing the goodness of Jesus Christ with those around us, we are standing with our brothers and sisters in persecution. The more we share Christ with those around us, the more we unite with our brothers and sisters standing strong through persecution.
The persecuted church is asking for your prayers. Get started praying for them by joining Open Doors USA this weekend for the International Day of Prayer Simulcast. Watch live on Friday, October 30, 5 p.m. PDT or download the program and watch it with your church, small group, friends and family. Join the global church as we stand united with them and, in prayer, lift up our persecuted brothers and sisters.
*Points here come from Nik Ripkin’s book The Insanity of Obedience