On November 22, 2005, Iranian Christian minister Ghorban Tourani was abducted and murdered after several death threats. Meanwhile, it has been reported that there are concentration camps in North Korea housing Christians, who are systematically gassed and executed. On February 15, a five-minute video surfaced depicting the decapitation of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by an extremist Muslim group.
Matthew 5:10 calls them blessed, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We are about to enter a week in which we will focus on praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are experiencing persecution. This is such a heavy, heart-wrenching topic that before we begin we need to clear our minds and focus. We do not want to dishonor God with prayers that misapply Scripture, misrepresent His character, or misunderstand what persecution really is. As we pray, we need to keep the right perspective and hold the honor of God above everything else.
Admittedly, I have never experienced persecution to the degree many others have. No more than a snide remark and raised eyebrows, if that even counts. And I am thankful I do not know what it is like. But those of us without firsthand experience can look to the truths found in Scripture to set the framework for our prayers.
It is far too easy to become unsettled and upset when addressing an issue such as this. And while we do not want to be stoic and emotionless, we equally do not want to get carried away with feelings that are not founded on truth, especially the truth about God and His Church. To begin setting our minds straight and preparing our hearts, we need to understand what persecution is and what it is not.
Persecution is not defeat.
We must not forget this. When we hear the horrors facing our brothers and sisters in other countries or the injustices committed against Christian business owners here at home, the last thing we need to do is chalk a victory up to Satan. We are the Church. We have God, Who is immortal and immutable in His purpose. He has set Christ on the throne and given Him dominion over everything, even the lives of the persecuted Christians. We may not see His hand or know His will, but we must hold onto the fact that the Judge of the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25).
Persecution is an honor and brings glory to God.
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). Persecution is granted to us. Don’t miss this! What an honor to be chosen to follow in the footsteps of Christ, to die like the thief beside Him, so that men enslaved to sin can see the gospel written in our flesh and believe! Instead of praying that we personally would be spared from the hand of the wicked, we should ask for the grace necessary to carry us through when it happens.
Persecution is part of a glorious tapestry God will reveal in eternity.
Martyrs are not dead corpses to be pitied. The glory they possess now is beyond our wildest dreams. Their spirits are before their Creator and they feel the weight of glory more than we ever will this side of death. Death was never the end for them, nor is it for us. It is only the door we pass through to greater worlds and ever-closer communion with our Savior. Every martyred Christian is a seed planted and watered. When the curtain is finally drawn and Christ returns with the saints, we will see what a harvest they produced! There will not be enough room in the world to contain the reward of their suffering – and the suffering of Christ with them.
We do not have to understand persecution. It is enough that Christ our Lord knows more sorrow than we ever will. It is enough that He paved our path in His own blood, every footstep wracked with the agony of being forsaken by God, rejected by His people, and tortured by Gentiles. It is enough that He died, swallowed hell to the dregs, paid our debt, ascended into heaven, and will bring our souls safely to Himself.
So when we pray this coming week, let us pray joyfully because of our great King Jesus. Let us pray with tears because of the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Let us pray with peace, knowing that all things work for the good of God’s people (Romans 8:28). Finally, let us pray victoriously because nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38), not even the most menacing threats the world can level against us.