Praying is Partnering with Our Brothers and Sisters Around the Globe
My favorite statement about Christian persecution comes from the book God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew,Open Doors’ founder. In it, Brother Andrew recounts something a man named Wilhelm said while Andrew was visiting East Germany in 1958. There, the government was trying to indirectly replace Christian love for God and the instinct to worship him with love for the State and patriotic emotion. Wilhem said:
You can’t use strong-arm tactics against the Church without strengthening it. It’s always been that way. Under persecution a man looks at his faith to see if it’s worth fighting for, and this is a scrutiny that Christianity can always withstand.
Wilhelm’s statement is about Christian life under Communism, but I think it relates to the kind of persecution we see happening all over the world today. The self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), among other extremist groups, has made it clear who is being targeted: “people of the cross” or “slaves of the cross.” Of course, our hearts break in unison for the atrocities inflicted upon those who bear the name of Christ, but the Church continues to grow in spite of the persecution.
Consider Wilhelm’s statement; these atrocities are “strong-arm tactics” against followers of Jesus Christ. When faced with persecution from groups like ISIS, Christians must count the cost and decide if what we believe is worth holding onto. As people of the cross, we know people are willing to sacrifice many things in the name of our God.
At Urbana 15, I had the honor of meeting so many of you. I heard your stories and your desire to faithfully serve God wherever he sends you. I saw your eyes flit about as you studied the World Watch List. I experienced the same burden you did to do something for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Many of you will go to the very places you saw on the World Watch List. There were several who said they were leaving in a few short months.
In John 13, Jesus commands his disciples: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (verses 34-35 ESV). This passage stirs me each time I read it because it does not simply refer to the Christians we see face to face; it includes those who are persecuted, those whom we have not met. The way we love those whom we have not seen is through prayer.
In John 13, Jesus commands his disciples: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another…” The way we love those whom we have not seen is through prayer.
At the Gospel in Action session on December 29, you heard stories from fellow Christians who experienced the power of prayer in the midst of their persecution. From them we learned that prayer is the thread that unites us with the persecuted. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer with it, remember? After a night with our full attention on the persecuted church, we walked away with resolve to remember the persecuted. And what an encouragement to learn that over 9,000 of you committed to pray for the global Church! But many may be struck with the burning question of how to pray:
How do I begin? How do I pray?
Pray that they will persevere in the midst of their suffering, setting their eyes on that which is unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Pray that their hearts are filled with forgiveness for their persecutors, forgiving as Christ forgives us. (Matthew 5:44)
Pray that they will not fall into temptation or doubt; pray that they will resist anger and bitterness, choosing instead to pursue righteousness. (Matthew 26:41)
Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen them when they are weak and remind them that God’s grace is sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Pray that they would have compassion for their persecutors; pray that their persecutors will repent and experience the mercy of God. (Acts 26:16-18)
Pray that Christians would have access to Bibles, and that God would train them in the Word so that they may in turn train others. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Pray for those who fear discovery and must worship God in secret; pray that they will experience peace. (Isaiah 26:3)
Pray that they will remember God’s promise to not abandon his people, though they may be rejected by family or society. (Psalm 94:14-15)
Pray for unity among persecuted believers; pray that they will be of one mind as we are one in Christ. (John 17:20-24)
Pray that they will experience joy as they abide in the goodness of God; may they rejoice in his salvation and love. (Psalm 13:5-6)
Pray for the families of those who are imprisoned, tortured, or killed; may they be comforted by fellow believers. (Psalm 68:5-6)
Pray that they will put on the full armor of God so that they can stand firm in the faith, resisting the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)
Pray that they will also continue to pray, casting their cares on Jesus and being anxious about nothing. (Philippians 4:6)
Recall each of these prayer points when you hear stories on the news about persecution. If you haven’t already, sign up for the Open Doors Weekly Prayer Alert and use the requests to help inform you of the specific prayer needs in countries around the world. As you learn, share the stories you hear with those around you and bring others along to join in the prayer battle. It doesn’t matter if you pray by yourself or with others. Fast once a month and spend that time praying, plan a prayer vigil on your campus or in your community, or bring your own creativity into how you raise more prayer for the persecuted church. The key is to not stop praying and to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).
Last year we saw an unprecedented escalation of violence against Christians, making it what Open Doors’ CEO David Curry calls “the most violent attack on Christian faith in modern history.” Interestingly enough, we said similar things about 2014. What we are seeing is persecution not decreasing but increasing across the globe, but the victory is won in Christ. In the words of Brother Andrew, “God is never defeated. Though He may be opposed, attacked, resisted, still the ultimate outcome can never be in doubt. Every day we see fresh proof that indeed all things—even evil ones—work together for those who are called by His name.” Therefore, as persecution increases, the call to strengthen and encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters also increases. We have the opportunity to make 2016 a year marked by solidarity throughout the Church, and I believe that we will.
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If it hasn’t already, there’s a good chance that your path in missions will include a short term missions program. If you haven't already had to, there’s a good chance you’ll need to avoid some pitfalls along the way, especially the pitfall of fear.