Pray for the Persecuted
When we read headlines about people groups being persecuted for their faith, it may seem—at first glance—that there’s nothing we can do. After all, in many cases, we live thousands of miles away and we often feel over-extended in just managing our own families and responsibilities. Nevertheless, our hearts yearn for a way to ease the hardship of Christians who are discriminated against, harassed, unjustly arrested, beaten, imprisoned or even killed by regimes who oppose Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, the Bible provides us with fitting examples of how Christians can make a difference for persecuted believers. One of the most powerful ways to support Christians facing hardship, of course, is prayer.
In Ephesians 6:18, for example, Paul instructs believers to be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. In the next 2 verses, Paul requests more specific prayer for himself as he faces persecution. “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
In this passage and in many other places, we find the Bible offers practical insight for how to pray for those facing persecution including these 5 compiled below.
1. Pray that whatever their circumstances, God will give persecuted Christians the right words.
In Ephesians 6:19-20, Paul asks fellow believers to “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
2. Pray that persecuted Christians will understand and find peace in the sufficiency of God’s grace, even in their weaknesses.
While facing physical threat, especially, Christians may be put into scenarios where they must make instantaneous choices under great pressure. For this reason, we pray for the persecuted church to understand the promises of 2 Corinthians 12:9 which says, “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
3. Pray that Christians facing hardship will draw from a source of power larger than themselves.
Christians facing persecution often have very little control over their lives, including their own safety and health. They often battle against government accusers that do not provide them the right to a fair trial or representation that is more prevalent in the Western world. Because of this, it’s critical to pray that believers in trying circumstances are able to see, like Paul, that their hardship helps them rely on a God who is far more powerful than them.
“For we were so utterly burdened beyond out strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:7-9, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
4. Pray God would be present with persecuted Christians in their hardship, protecting them according to His will.
In Matthew 26:39, Jesus Himself faced an unjust trial. Even He prayed to God, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me,” which is the first part of his prayer that inspires us to ask God to deliver persecuted Christians from harm. At the same time, the second part of Jesus’ prayer goes hand-in-hand with praying this request. “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” Part of our prayer can be that God will deliver Christians from chains, as he did for Peter in Acts 12. But we also pray that if God does not see fit to supernaturally intervene in such a way, that we will intervene to strengthen these believers no matter the outcome.
5. Pray their witness would inspire those who seek to harm them.
In Luke 6:27-31, the apostle said, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” When Christians are able to maintain perspective like this, their actions are often noticed by those who persecute them. In the case of Paul and Silas, in Acts 16:25, their behavior—praying and singing and praise in the face of hardship—were observed by both their jailers and other prisoners. In acting out of faith despite their circumstances, they were able to share the gospel with their captors in an opportune moment, and the jailer and his family came to believe, as well (Acts 16:34).
Release International, which campaigns for persecuted Christians worldwide, has highlighted China, Nigeria and India as ‘countries of concern’ in 2018.
In its latest Persecution Trends Report it says China has been cracking down on Christmas celebrations in some districts, banning Santa Claus and Christmas hats to further tighten its squeeze on Christianity. Release warns Christians in China are set to face a harsh new year, with tougher regulations on religious affairs coming into force in February giving the state greater control over churches and other places of worship.The Communist Party is believed to be becoming progressively more suspicious of the influence of Christianity, which is experiencing significant growth in China.Reuters
The restrictions are being promoted to ‘block extremism’ and prevent the use of religion to ‘endanger national security and undermine social order’. They reflect the Communist Party’s fear that foreign powers are working to undermine its authority by supporting Christianity.
Release partner China Aid says the clampdown on Christianity in the atheist state is at its severest since the cultural revolution.
In Anhui, an official public security notice declared: ‘Public places are not allowed to celebrate Christmas. Even creating a Christmas atmosphere – such as putting up Christmas trees, Santa Claus, wearing Christmas hats, and all other items related to Christmas is severely restricted. All Christmas-related activities are required to be cancelled.’
In Zhejiang, officials tore down a Christmas tree and in Hangzhou authorities warned Christians not to attend a Christmas celebration, leaving empty tables that had been laid and decorated.
In Nigeria, Christian villages have been coming under sustained attack by armed Fulani herdsman. The militants are driving Christians from their farms, killing and displacing thousands. A Nigerian partner of Release says the Fulani are being armed and encouraged to drive out Christians from the north in pursuit of an Islamist agenda.
The rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism in India lies behind increasing attacks against Christians there.
Countries of concern in the Middle East include Iran, where authorities are target Christian leaders for arrest and imprisonment, and Egypt, where Christian girls are being groomed and kidnapped.
Release is asking Christians to pledge to pray for the persecuted throughout 2018.
From Asia to Europe, Africa to Latin America, Christians are facing persecution for what they believe. We live in an increasingly hostile culture that no longer values the foundation upon which it was built—that is biblical Christianity. As I have been thinking and praying about this topic more and more recently, I have become increasingly burdened as I watch the growing situation in Iraq (with ISIS), and the increased persecution of Christians all around the world.
According to Open Doors USA, Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. The U.S. State Department reports that Christians, in more than 60 countries, face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ. Christians Solidary Worldwide reports that one of the worst countries in the world for persecution is North Korea. With the exception of four official state-controlled churches in Pyongyang, Christians in North Korea face the risk of detention in the prison camps, severe torture, and in some cases, execution for practicing their religious beliefs. North Koreans suspected of having contact with South Korean Christians or other foreign missionaries (such as those from China), and those caught in possession of a Bible, have been known to be executed. Open Doors explains that in forty-one of the fifty worse nations for persecution, Christians are persecuted by Islamist extremists.”-
The statistics I quoted above paint a disturbing picture about our world and where it is headed. Thankfully, God’s people don’t have to despair, since we are a people with the hope of the gospel—a message that is the hope of the world. The Church has continued and thrived in the face of persecution from its earliest days and will continue to thrive as it is faithful to the gospel.
Jesus stated that in this world we would experience trouble and persecution (John 16). Paul told Timothy that anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ will experience persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the disciples that, “blessed are those who are persecuted” (Matthew 5:10-12). He also said to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and modeled the truth of how He expects His people to handle persecution on His way to Calvary. The persecuted church testifies of our need to get out of our “comfort zone” and proclaim the victorious work of our Risen Savior.
Be Aware of the Situation
Christians here in the United States (and elsewhere) can support our fellow brothers and sisters being persecuted by gaining knowledge of what is going on around the world. I recommend checking out Voice of Martyrs and other organizations like it that are doing heroic work for the sake of the gospel.
Pray for the Afflicted
Second, the Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:3 to pray for those in prison. Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” The preacher of Hebrews here gives his readers a profound lesson about those who were experiencing mistreatment and imprisonment.
Be There as a Friend
There are three ways we can seek to fulfill this verse. First, we can be there for others when life gets hard. The presence of a friend has been a boon of encouragement and strength to me in my Christian life.
Give Assistance as You’re Able
Second, we can provide direct help. Paul thanked the Philippians for sharing with him in his affliction by giving him money to carry on his ministry in other places (Phil. 4:14-16). By giving to him financially, they also encouraged him spiritually.
Finally, we can care by praying. Paul’s closing words to the Colossians in Colossians 4:3-4 were an appeal for prayer. They could not visit him and money would have been no help at that time. By remembering him in prayer, they could support him powerfully. Following’s Jesus’ example, who did not come to be ministered to but to minister, we should lose ourselves in the sustained, sympathetic, and loving care of others.
As Christians, we are commanded over fifty times to “one another” each other (love one another, prayer for one another, etc.). It is my hope and prayer today that you would join with me in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Praying for one another is one way we can practically show the world that we love Jesus and one another (John 13:35). Get involved and speak up—your voice matters.
Photo Credit: Pray For the Persecuted Chains
“Quick Facts About Persecution” ERLC, accessed August 1, 2014.