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).
Around the world, many believers are persecuted — imprisoned, even killed — for their faith.
Since Jesus laid down His life, 43 million Christians have become martyrs.
Right now 200 million people face persecution for believing in Jesus and 60% of those people are children, according to Christians in Crisis International Ministry, a prayer advocacy ministry for persecuted believers.
Sara (not her real name) knows first hand what it is like to be persecuted. The week before Sara and her husband planned to open a Bible School, 4 men attacked their family with metal hatchets.
Because of the attacks, Sara had 3 skull fractures, a punctured eardrum, internal bleeding and needed stitches badly.
“Before the attacks, I considered myself sensitive to the persecuted church,” Sara said. “But then I woke up one night and I was one.” The experience strengthened Sara’s resolve to support those suffering for their faith.
How to Pray from the Bible
Because the New Testament was written to persecuted believers, it is filled with examples of how to pray for our brothers and sisters under attack.
Here are 5 examples from Ephesians:
- Please pray persecuted believers would know the hope God gives (Ephesians 1:18).
- Pray the Holy Spirit would strengthen them (Ephesians 3:16).
- Please pray persecuted believers would know how much God loves them (Ephesians 3:17)
- Pray they would know how to share the gospel (Ephesians 6:19).
- Please pray persecuted believers would fearlessly tell others about Jesus (Ephesians 6:20).
To create additional ways to pray from the Bible, take any book from the New Testament (except the gospels). Search for verses with the word “pray.” Then use those verses to create prayer requests, just as in the 5 examples above.
How to Pray for Practical Needs
Along with the example prayers in the Bible, there are some practical needs persecuted believers would love your prayers for:
- Please pray persecuted believers would have access to a Bible.
- Pray they have the courage to remain in their homeland.
- Please pray for believers who have been rejected by family and friends. Pray that God would surround them with a new Christian “family” who loves them and supports them emotionally and physically.
- Pray for God to be an advocate for women who are socially vulnerable or have lost the custody of their children because of their faith.
- Please pray that God would provide persecuted believers with jobs and safe places to live.
Learn more ways to pray for the persecuted church and read news alerts on current crises by visiting the Web site for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Support in Addition to Prayer
“These people we call the persecuted church are people just like us,” Sara says, remembering when she was attacked. “We need to pray for them. It weighs on them when they know the police are after them, but it also weighs on them when they can’t feed their families.”
“When we support them, it sends them the message ‘I am not forgotten — not by God and not by my brothers and sisters.”
- Send a believer in hiding their first Bible.
- Write letters to the government on behalf of persecuted believers.
- Help pay the legal costs to defend a Christian falsely accused.
- Help provide for a family whose father has been imprisoned or killed for his faith. (Help is given until they can find alternative means of support.)
Find a list of other Christian organizations united to help in these ways and more at www.persecutedchurch.org.
When members of the body of Christ suffer, the whole body suffers together (1 Cor 12:26). Even if we are geographically removed from those being persecuted, we can still draw near to them spiritually:
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body”
The apostle Paul himself was well acquainted with suffering and persecution. In fact, many of his pastoral letters were written while he was behind prison bars. Since Paul was a man acquainted with grief and persecution, we can learn how to pray for the persecuted by looking at his life, ministry, and pastoral letters. Here are 7 ways we can pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters, taken from the ministry of Paul:
1. Pray that they would see the grace of Christ as all-sufficient, magnifying God’s power in their weakness.
“‘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.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)
2. Pray that they would treasure Jesus more than life itself.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus”
3. Pray that their unshakable joy in Christ would be a witness to their persecutors.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them”
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
4. Pray that their future glory would overshadow their present afflictions.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
5. Pray that they would trust in God’s wisdom, strength, and deliverance—not their own.
“Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
(2 Corinthians 1:7-9)
6. Pray that God would give them the right words to say as fearless ambassadors for Christ.
“and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison– that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
7. Pray that God would protect and deliver them to safety, according to His good and perfect will.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints”
“At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.”