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).
Practically everyone in the church today is aware to some extent of the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
The church in China is suffering significant church destruction, arrests, and attacks on house groups. The agenda of present Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Hindutva, that everyone in India will be Hindu, has led to increased persecution across the country.Reports from Pakistan, Nigeria, and others detail outright deadly attacks on the body of Christ simply because of faith.
A Closer Look at Persecution
Spiritual conflict resulting in persecution has been present since the beginning. Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis4:8). Christ confronted the religious leaders of his day for their history of killing those who brought the truth of God (Matthew 23:35-37; Luke 11:50, 51, 13:34; Acts 7:51-53). Tradition tells us that all the apostles except John suffered martyrdom. And we know John’s own suffering was significant. A recent study estimated that more than 69,000,000 Christians have been martyred for their faith since the church began, with the majority occurring in the 20th century alone.It is not difficult to conclude that persecution will continue to escalate and not resolve until Christ returns.
For you and me, the assault takes the form of loss of liberty to openly practice our faith. Author David Limbaugh has chronicled the form of these attacks, which includes the promotion of political correctness, an insistence on the acceptance and support of diversity and tolerance, and penalties for those who do not participate. Our commitment to truth and faithful witness should deepen as we more fully understand the severity of this conflict.
A key Bible verse (although not the only verse) regarding persecution is Hebrews 13:3. The NIV 2011 translation emphasizes our persistent involvement through the addition of the word continue. As we remember our brothers and sisters who are faithful in suffering, we should be called to action in various ways. This call to perpetual involvement follows the reminder that we are part of a kingdom that will not be shaken or moved at the return of Christ and final judgment(Hebrews 12:28, 29). Therefore, we are to be people of love and hospitality and involve ourselves routinely in the lives of those who suffer for faithful witness (13:1-3).
In addition to remembering our brothers and sisters who suffer, we can also join them in their spiritual struggle. By far, the best way to join with them is prayer.
Similar issues of faith exist in every circumstance. Using these as a foundation for our prayers can assist greatly in directing our petitions in the right way and supporting those who are the objects of our concern.
Praying for Love
God is love(1 John 4:7-21) and his children are people of love. Even though persecuted, their primary response is love and prayer (Matthew 5:44). Congregations in the first century church faced significant challenges, and their loss of love resulted in Christ’s condemnation (Revelation 2:4, 5). Therefore, we can pray for those who suffer that they retain their first love and demonstrate love to those who have chosen to be enemies of Christ and his church.
Praying for Endurance
In every circumstance, we can pray for the patience, endurance, and perseverance of those who are confronted. Patient endurance comes when faith is tested and results in Christian maturity (James 1:3, 4). This maturity solidifies character and strengthens hope so that in all circumstances the believer will certainly not be disappointed, but always be satisfied and strengthened. An understanding of the working of God’s grace in this regard leads to rejoicing (Romans 5:3-5). We pray for the working of God’s will in suffering and participate with our brothers and sisters in the glory of God.
Praying for Conversion
A meaningful prayer in every circumstance is the conversion of the persecutors (Matthew 5:45). God desires that all be saved. He confronted his enemy Saul. Saul’s repentance led to a superior life of service. The same result still occurs in areas of the world where persecution is open and significant. At one time in our lives we were disobedient (Romans 11:30), and in that way enemies of God. We should therefore also desire that all be saved. Pray that the persecutors come to know of the grace of God through the faithful witness of the persecuted.
Praying for Deliverance
We can also pray for the present circumstances for those who suffer. Paul prayed for deliverance (Romans 15:31; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 1:10, 11) and was rescued for further service. We can pray that those in jeopardy also will be delivered. Those in peril also need the basics of life, and our prayers for provision are meaningful. A great number of the persecuted, once delivered and restored, want to continue in service. Our prayer support for their future ministry undergirds God’s desire of faithfulness to the end. As we receive reports of present circumstances, we can use the facts as the basis for this aspect of our prayer participation with them.
Participating with the Persecuted
The persecuted church has a great gift for the church that does not live in an adverse spiritual climate. They understand and practice Heaven’s expectation of forgiveness and faithful testimony without reservation and regardless of the circumstance (Matthew 6:14,15; 10:32, 33). Our participation with them should affect us in our daily walk, as we understand more than ever the holiness of God and the price paid for our salvation. Wholehearted participation with them should transform our lives to resemble them more than before.
Occasional testimony from the persecuted church reveals that they are willing to forgive their persecutors and not deny Christ because they live by the promise that one day Christ will return with his rewards (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:35, 36; Romans 8:17, 18; 2 Corinthians 1:8, 9; Philippians 1:27, 28; 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7; 2 Timothy 1:8-12, 2:10-13, 4:16-18; Hebrews 10:33, 34, 11:35b; James 1:2, 12; 1 Peter 1:6-9, 3:13-17, 4:12-13, 5:8-11; Revelation 2:8-11, 3:7-13). Today’s church has lost her sensitivity and response to this precious promise. It is a subject of discussion in 25 of the 27 New Testament books. We would benefit tremendously if we followed the example of the persecuted church as she places her hope in God’s final promise, that one day he will send his Son with eternal recompense for those who have suffered in this life.
We should remember; we should pray; we should place our exclusive hope in Christ’s return. Participation with those who suffer in this life leads us to a higher level of faithfulness on behalf of our glorious Lord.
David Brackemyre and his wife, Cheryl, have a 20-year association with The Voice of the Martyrs as volunteers and employees. The faithful witness of the persecuted church has affected their outlook on service and eternity.