SPRING, Texas (BP) — Stories of persecuted believers fill social media and top the headlines. Faithful pastors imprisoned in Iran. Bold children beheaded in Iraq. Precious fellow Christians slaughtered in Syria.
These stories break my heart and raise familiar questions. Why does God allow the suffering —and even slaughter — of His people? Why doesn’t He rescue them and bring judgment on the persecutors? That is the enduring question the book of Revelation addresses (see Revelation 6:10, “How long, O Lord?”).
Today, as I read still another tragic account, the need to pray overwhelmed me. Yet, I felt so inadequate about how and what to pray. My first thought was to pray for their physical deliverance — to pray that all believers would have the same freedom to worship Christ that we enjoy here in America. I wanted to beg God to deliver them from their persecutors, to petition heaven that all persecution would end.
A few months ago that’s exactly how I prayed — and still do. But now those prayers by themselves feel inadequate. God has been shifting my perspective on the persecution of believers, how He uses it and how it fits into His overall purposes.
I don’t mean to say — nor do I believe — that God causes or brings the persecution. But somehow, in His mysterious economy, He chooses to use it.
Jesus Himself said the world would hate those who belong to Him (John 15:18-19). He said the world would persecute us because His righteousness in us reveals their sin (John 7:7, 15:22-24).
And Jesus declared that God uniquely works in and through the persecution of believers to provide a witness, to further His Kingdom and to bring glory to Himself (Matthew 10:18-20).
Sounds completely contrary to the world’s way, doesn’t it?
In “The Insanity of Obedience,” author Nik Ripkin asks this startling question: “Is it possible that God has purposes that are tied to the suffering of His people?” Considering what Jesus Himself said about persecution, I think I would be forced to answer “yes.” Even though it’s shocking. Even though I’d rather it not be true.
Commenting on Jesus’ experience on the cross, Ripkin also wrote, “Judging by what eventually happened to Jesus Himself, we come to understand that persecution and suffering and sacrifice are necessary parts of His [God’s] ultimate strategy, even today.”
Under this paradigm, praying solely for their persecution to end felt weak and powerless, especially when I am not suffering in ways they are. So I asked God to teach me how to pray for His people enduring great suffering for the name of Christ — and how to pray for myself and my fellow Christians in non-persecuted parts of the world.
The Holy Spirit led me to God’s Word for the answer. He prompted me to look up passages about sharing in the sufferings of Christ. For that is what our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria and other parts of the globe are doing — sharing in Jesus’ sufferings.
These passages gave me some direction, some catalyst for my prayers. The following 10 “prayers” come straight from Scripture:
1. That they — and we — would experience the overflowing comfort of Christ through the very real and abundant presence of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
2. That their lives — and ours — would produce patient endurance and that, when tested, we likewise would stand strong (2 Corinthians 1:6-8).
3. That they — and we — would learn to rely totally on God (2 Corinthians 1:9)
4. That God would help them — and us — maintain an eternal perspective, keeping Christ above all earthly things (Philippians 3:7-9).
5. That they — and we — would know Christ deeply and intimately (Philippians 3:10).
6. That Christ’s resurrection power would flood their lives — and our lives (Philippians 3:10).
7. That their suffering for Christ would be a clear, strong testimony to Christ, bringing Him glory and that when we, too, face persecution, we would point as stalwartly to Christ as they do now (1 Peter 3:15-16).
8. That they — and we — would experience overwhelming joy as together we participate in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:12-14).
9. That their hearts — and our hearts — would swell with praise for God (1 Peter 4:16).
10. And finally, for their — and our — ultimate deliverance and glory in Christ (Romans 8:17-18).
Will you join me in using these prompts to pray for these suffering believers? Yes, let’s pray for this horrific persecution to stop and the suffering of our brothers and sisters to end. And as God moves to answer that prayer in His way and in His timing, let’s also pray for the Holy Spirit to empower these believers and for Christ to be lifted high. May His name be glorified!