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.
The International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (#IDOP) is a time set apart to remember millions of Christians around the world who face persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)
“Persecution is the daily reality of at least 100 million Christians around the world,” says Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director, World Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty Commission (@WEARLC1). “These Christians, who face routine harassment and difficulties, often suffer in silence and isolation. Over the years, the IDOP has served as a platform to highlight their stories and advocate their plight. Moreover, in so doing, the IDOP has also been a source of solidarity and encouragement to persecuted Christians by reminding them that they are part of a larger, global family of believers.”
…We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies….
2 Corinthians 4:8-12 (CEB)
While the number of Christians martyred for their faith every year is difficult to precisely assess, Open Doors USA estimates that, in 2015, more than 7,000 Christians were killed specifically because of their faith. Open Doors, with its list of countries where Christians are most in need of prayer, urges Christians and churches to remember those killed and pray for those in more than 60 countries still facing persecution because of their faith (see the Open Doors Facebook page).
“Under Caesar’s Sword” is a three-year, collaborative global research project by the University of Notre Dame to discover and draw attention to the ways Christian communities around the world respond to the severe violation of their religious freedom. These strategies vary widely, ranging from nonviolent protest movements of the kind that Pope John Paul II led in communist Poland, to the complex diplomacy of Christian churches in China, to simply fleeing from persecution en masse, as Christians have in Iraq. The project aims to raise solidarity with persecuted Christians worldwide and to help them respond justly and effectively. Watch the documentary film.
The above slide presentation is a production of the Office of Social Justice, a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church.
The following organizations have resources ready to help you help others become more prayerfully aware of the plight of Christian brothers and sisters around the world:
- Bible Gateway Twitter List: Religious Freedom
- Christian Freedom International (@CFI_Freedom)
- Christian Solidarity Worldwide (@CSW_UK)
- Critical Prayer Requests
- International Christian Concern (@persecutionnews)
- Open Doors UK (@OpenDoorsUK)
- Open Doors USA (@OpenDoors)
- Release International (@ReleaseInt)
- Religious Liberty Commission (@EAUKnews)
- The Voice of the Martyrs (@VOM_USA)
- The Voice of the Martyrs New Zealand (@IDOPNZ)
- World Evangelical Alliance (@WEARLC1)
- WorldWatch Monitor (@wwmonitor)
Basic Biblical Teaching About Persecution
- Christians are to expect persecution. (John 15:18-21; 17:14; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 John 3:13)
- God blesses right suffering. (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23)
- We should not be ashamed or embarrassed about persecution. (1 Peter 4:16; Hebrews 13:12-13)
- We must follow the example of Christ. (Philippians 2:1-11; 1 Peter 2:19-25)
- We must react under persecution as the Lord did. (Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:14, 17-21; 1 Peter 2:21-23)
- We are called to stand with those who are persecuted. (Matthew 25:31-46; Hebrews 10:32-38; 13:3)
- We can have the victory. (John 16:33)
- Matthew 18:21; 28:34; Mark 10:30; Luke 11:49; John 15:20; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Timothy 3:12
Jesus Warns and Teaches About Persecution
- Matthew 10:16-42; Luke 14:25-35; John 15:18-16:4
The Apostles and First Missionaries are Persecuted
- Acts 4:1-22 – Christ’s supremacy threatens the supremacy of the totalitarian and theocratic leadership. (vv. 2, 17)
- Acts 5:12-41 – Power and attraction of the gospel arouses jealousy. (v. 17)
- Acts 6:7-15 – Success of ministry arouses competition.
- Acts 7:54-8:4 – Stephen becomes the Christian Church’s first martyr; persecution breaks out.
- Acts 12:1-4 – Herod persecutes apostles for political gain.
- Acts 12:1-18 – While Peter is in prison, the church prays.
- Acts 13:49-14:7 – Opposition to the gospel forces missionaries to flee.
- Acts 16:16-34 – The gospel threatens trade, economic prosperity and the fortune-telling industry (v. 19); false accusations lead to missionaries being severely beaten. (v. 22)
- Acts 17:1-15 – Missionary success arouses jealousy; missionaries forced to flee. (v. 5)
- Acts 19:23-32 – The gospel threatens trade, economic prosperity and the idol industry; idol-makers incite riot that goes out of control.
- Acts 21:27-36 – Enemies of the gospel incite hatred and violence; Paul beaten and arrested.
Prepare for Persecution
- Understand it to be normal. (1 Peter 4:12; Philippians 1:29)
- Know the teaching of the Word of God. (Philemon 3:10; Romans 6:3-5; John 8:31-32)
- Abide in Christ. (John 15:4)
- Submit daily to the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18; 4:30)
- Rest in the will of God. (Ephesians 5:17; Hebrews 4:1, 9-11)
Conduct Under Persecution
- Matthew 5:44; 10:22; Acts 5:41; Romans 12:14; Philippians 1:28; Hebrews 10:34; 1 Peter 3:13-19
Results of Persecution
- Matthew 5:10; Luke 6:22; 9:24; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:14; Revelation 6:9; 7:13
Rewards for Suffering Persecution
- Glory in heaven. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18; 1 Peter 5:1, 10, 11)
- Eternal consolation. (2 Corinthians 1:7; Romans 8:17)
- Christ is made known. (2 Corinthians 4:11)
- Life is being given to others. (2 Corinthians 4:12)
- Grace of God is being made manifest. (2 Corinthians 4:15)
- A guarantee that God will judge righteously. (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5)
- Will reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12a)
- Spirit of glory rests upon. (1 Peter 4:14)
- Glory is brought to God. (1 Peter 4:16)
- Reason for joy. (1 Peter 4:13-14)
Place and Power of Prayer
- Prayer is desired and required for persecuted believers. (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3)
- Our prayers help struggling believers. (Romans 15:30-33)
- God works as we pray. (2 Corinthians 1:10-11)
- Spiritual battle requires spiritual weapons. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4; Ephesians 6:10-18)
- The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (James 5:16b-18)
Possible Forms that Persecution May Take
- By slander (evil report). (Psalm 31:13; Job 19:18; 55:12-14; Luke 6:22)
- Shame. Open embarrassment, dishonor or disgrace. Manner in which our Lord was accused of being conceived (born out-of-wedlock); also, manner in which his nakedness was openly displayed on the cross. (Hebrews 13:13; 11:26)
- Falsely accused. (Psalm 35:11; 27:12; Matthew 5:11; Luke 23:2, 5, 10; Mark 14:55-60; Acts 6:13; 16:19-23; 26:2, 7)
- Ensnare through deceit, trapping, tricks. (Daniel 6:4-5; Luke 11:54; Matthew 10:16-18)
- Object of conspiracy. (2 Samuel 15:12; Genesis 37:18; 2 Corinthians 11:32; Acts 9:23)
- Mocked, scorned, scoffed, and sneered at. (Psalm 42:3; Job 12:4; Matthew 27:29, 31, 41; Acts 2:13; 17:18, 32; Hebrews 11:36)
- Betrayed, treated treacherously. (Matthew 24:10; Luke 21:16; Psalm 41:9)
- Despised, to have contempt for, to loathe, to think nothing of, to consider without honor. (1 Corinthians 1:28; 4:10c)
- Hated by family. (Matthew 10:21, 34-36; Micah 7:6; Luke 21:16)
- Hated by people. (Luke 21:17; Matthew 10:22; Job 19:19)
- Defamation of character, libel, slander, evil report. (Psalm 31:13; Job 19:19; 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Corinthians 4:13)
- Feared by own people. (Acts 9:26)
- Subject to special trials. (1 Corinthians 4:9-14; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
- Imprisoned. (Luke 21:12; Acts 4:3; 5:18; 12:4; 16:24; 2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:23c; Hebrews 11:36b)
- Beaten. (Acts 5:40; 16:23; 2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:24; Matthew 10:17)
- Contradicting. (Acts 13:45)
- Stir against. (Acts 6:12; 13:50; 14:2, 19; 19:23, 25-26, 29; 21:27)
- Charges pressed. (Acts 18:12; Matthew 10:17-18)
- Threatened. (Acts 4:18, 21; 5:40)
- Stoned. (Acts 7:58-59; 14:19; 2 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 11:37)
- Afflictions. (2 Timothy 3:11; Psalm 34:19)
- Expulsion. (Acts 13:50; John 16:2a)
- Exhaustion, extreme fatigue. (2 Corinthians 11:27)
- Hunger and thirst. (2 Corinthians 11:27; 1 Corinthians 4:11)
- Spectacle. (1 Corinthians 4:9; Acts 9:16; 20:23; 21:11; Hebrews 10:33a)
- Suffer physical need. (1 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 6:4; Philippians 4:12; Hebrews 11:37)
- Martyrdom. (Luke 21:16; Acts 7:59; 12:2; John 16:2)
- Afflictions. (2 Timothy 1:8; 4:5; Matthew 24:9; Psalm 34:19; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 6:4; Hebrews 10:32-33; 11:25, 37; Colossians 1:24; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; James 5:10)
- Poverty. (2 Corinthians 6:10; Philippians 4:12)
- Loss of property and material goods. (Hebrews 10:34b)
The above list is a production of the World Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty Commission.
The above video is a production of The Voice of the Martyrs.
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