Today I want to address that which is both a highly neglected Christian responsibility and a highly underappreciated Christian privilege. The exhortation from Scripture goes as follows:
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” Hebrews 13:3
Praying for the persecuted brethren around the world. Why did I call that a responsibility and a privilege?
I consider it a responsibility because it is something we must do! God will hold us accountable because of how we treat our brethren. The text above draws from a common principle in Scripture: The Golden Rule. In everything treat people the same way you want them to treat you, (Matt 7:12), and Love your neighbor as yourself.
I would consider it a privilege also because God has given us the means to help our hurting brethren! His eyes are watching for believers on their knees, fully willing to serve them (2 Chron. 16:9). His Almighty arm is at our disposal–or as Martin Tupper said, “Prayer is the slender nerve which moves the muscle of omnipotence.”
Consider the following three texts on prayer:
“I urge you…to strive together with me in your prayers…that I may be rescued” (Rom. 15:30-31, emphasis mine). “And God will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers” (2 Cor. 1:11, emphasis mine). Paul says that Epaphras was “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers” (Col. 4:12, emphasis mine).
Do you see in each of those texts that by praying we join the labor of others? When I pray for persecuted brethren, I am right along side them!
With all of this in mind, below are five needs of the persecuted church we can bring into the throne room. I know there are many more. I selected these 5 prayer requests by observing the life of the apostles, who were persecuted heavily in the first century. By observing how they behaved and what they requested during their persecutions, we can know how to pray for those currently going through the same suffering.
1. Pray for their deliverance from prison, trials, etc.
We have already seen in two of the above passages that the apostles requested prayer for deliverance from their trials. Second Corinthians 1 mentions Paul and Timothy’s “affliction in Asia,” “excessive burden,” and resultant “despair of life” (v. 8), or, “a sentence of death within themselves” (v. 9). In Romans 15, Paul was asking to be “rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea.”
Another example of this is found in Acts 12, when Herod had killed James, and imprisoned Peter. Verse 5 says that “prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” First off, notice that their prayers have fervency! Also, notice that it was the church that was praying! Although some may say that the church was simply those gathered brethren in a single household in verse 12, I think it extends far beyond that. Verse 17 says that the news of Peter’s deliverance was reported also to James and the brethren. This seems to show that believers all over the area knew of Peter’s imprisonment and were also in fervent prayer for him.
2. Pray for the Lord’s will, even if it’s not to end persecution
“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!’ ” (Acts 21:13-14).Praying for the persecuted church is a highly neglected responsibility and privilege. Click To Tweet
Paul had known from his conversion that his walk with Christ would include ample hardship. In Acts 9:16, God says to Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” In chapter 20, Paul was heading to Jerusalem, having been shown by the Holy Spirit that “bonds and afflictions await him” (vv. 22-24). The same applies to Peter, who says in his second epistle that the Lord has “made it clear to him” that he was going to die, referring to Jesus’ statement in John 21:18-19.
Not only was suffering a large part of God’s plan for the apostles’ ministry, but the same holds true for all believers. Philippians 1:29 teaches us that suffering for the Lord is a gracious gift from God. First Peter 3:17 and 4:19 consider the suffering of believers to be rooted in the will of God.
3. When persecution is God’s will, pray that the persecuted church would have a godly attitude
From the texts above concerning Paul and Peter we see that they accepted God’s will and resign to His plan, whatever it entailed. They were ready to suffer as painful a death as God would have if it meant bringing glory to His name! Pray that the words of Paul in Acts 20:24 would be the motto of our brothers in those countries!
Let’s observe some other attitudes the apostles had:
- 1 Peter 4:19. When it is God’s will that we are persecuted, we must “entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” Our discomfort is never an excuse to slack! What makes this even more powerful is that the same phrase is used earlier concerning how Jesus trusted God! Chapter 2 states that although Christ had all the power in the world to free Himself (Matt 26:53; John 19:11), He chose to “entrust Himself to Him who judges righteously” (2:21-25). Remember that when we return good for evil and leave vengeance to God, the Bible says that “He will reward us” (Prov. 25:21-22).
- 2 Timothy 1:7-8. We are to be unashamed of the gospel. It is by the power of God, and by the spirit of power He has given that we join in the sufferings of the gospel and fight to be unashamed.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:4. Paul appraised the church for their steadfastness and faith throughout all of their persecution. These persecutions are spoken of in Paul’s first letter to them. He mentions that they “endured the same sufferings at the hands of their own countrymen” (1 Thes. 2:13-16).
- 1 Peter 5:8-10. Often the activity of satan here is explained as a generic temptation for sin. This is true, but the immediate context here is the devil seeking to devour persecuted Christians. There are other Christians going through the same experiences of suffering.
Along with the encouragement that other Christians are enduring the same maltreatment, Peter also reminds them of their future reward. He states that “after they have suffered for a little while,” God will perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish them (v. 10). This is similar to the words of James, that those who “persevere under trial” will receive the reward “promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12).
Let us pray, then, that the Holy Spirit would grant–in infinite proportions!– the ability to entrust their souls to their faithful Creator just as Jesus did; the power from God to endure unashamed in preaching through all suffering as Paul did; the steadfastness and faith for which the church at Thessalonica was appraised (by God along with Paul!); and that they would stand firm against the devil, as they are aware of his tricks.
4. Pray for the church’s joy when undergoing persecution
All throughout Scripture, suffering is said to bring joy to God’s people. We can rejoice and leap for joy because we gain great reward (Luke 6:23). We can rejoice because no matter what they do to our bodies, they are unable to kill our souls (Matt. 10:28). We can rejoice because no opposing force can ever separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:31-39). We can rejoice because the goodness of our experience in heaven will be commensurate with the badness of our sufferings in this life (2 Cor. 4:17). We can rejoice because we look toward things which are eternal rather than temporal (2 Cor. 4:18). We can rejoice because God is glorified by our martyrdom (John 21:18-19). We can rejoice because we are looking forward to a better city (Heb. 11). The list goes on!
Observe two accounts in the book of Acts concerning the apostles’ joy through their experiences. In Acts 5, after the apostles had been flogged and ordered not to preach the gospel, here is their response:
“So they went on their way…rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name!” (v. 41, emphasis mine)
A similar thing happens to Paul and Silas in chapter 16. We are told that the crowd of people “beat them with rods” (v. 22). This beating probably lasted a while, for it says they had “struck them with many blows” (v. 23). They were then thrown into jail and put in stocks. What was their response to all of this? “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25).
5. Pray for the salvation of their persecutors
This is the heart of the very first martyr, and of every martyr since then! Recall the last words of Stephen, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)!
I cannot put it in more sobering words than those of Richard Wurmbrand in his phenomenal work Tortured for Christ (Living Sacrifice Book co.,1967). He witnessed the immense love that the Holy Spirit sustained in the believers toward their persecutors. Observe,
“I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.” (p. 55, emphasis mine)
This is entirely counter-intuitive! Everything in our flesh would want revenge or our persecutors to go to hell and pay for it. May the Spirit of God fill the church today to respond in love and keep preaching!
For updates on how to pray, visit The Voice of the Martyrs.