Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pray For Those Who Are Suffering Persecution

There was a time when Americans didn’t believe persecution for one’s faith even happened any more. In fact we had our eyes opened in a big way in the 1960s when Richard Wurmbrand, a Jewish believer in Christ, had to take off his shirt before a Congressional hearing in Washington to convince people that he had been beaten during the Cold War in Romania. He needed to show us with his own body that his Communist jailers in Romania had tortured him for his faith. (Read Richard Wurmbrand’s “Tortured For Christ” to learn about this amazing man who later started Voice of the Martyrs.)

Well, today believers in the United States no longer doubt that persecution of Christ followers happens worldwide. Globalization has made this very clear to us. Our smart phones tell us each morning of some new persecution. Those being persecuted need our prayers and we are the ones chosen to lift them all up.

The Bible says when members of the body of Christ suffer, all Christians suffer together 1 Corinthians 12:26. Right now violent persecution around the world is rampant. Though we are physically distant from those being persecuted, we can draw near to them spiritually. Jesus told us that when we do good for those hurting, hungry, thirsty and so on…we do it for Him. “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.

What are some ways we can pray for the persecuted church around the world?

Pray they would see God’s grace in their situations, and that they would sense God’s power in the midst of their weakness. The Apostle Paul was dealing with a difficult situation in his life he actually was asking the Lord to remove from his life. Paul says:

“But he (God) said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Paul was actually denied his request by God. I love Paul’s response to being told “No” by God. ‘Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ 2 Corinthians 12:9. Some of our persecuted brothers and sisters worldwide are often feeling tremendous weakness in the midst of the brutality they are up against. May we join others in praying for them to feel God’s power and mercy in the midst of whatever they are going through!

We can also pray they would have the strength to treasure Jesus more than life itself. When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned for his faith he said ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21. Paul actually took the time to explain what that meant. He said “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

Paul was clear here. He believed it would be better for the people he was helping that he stay alive so he could be with them and help them in this difficult time. But for him he believed dying was honestly better! He believed it to be better because he knew he would get to be with Christ forever. And he knew this was the reality no matter how his jailers chose to kill him. Historians tell us that Paul was tortured and later beheaded by the Emperor Nero. Nero was an evil man who actually made Christian’s into human lanterns to light his evening events by taking a hook through their heads so they could not move as Nero’s men poured boiling material over them to burn their bodies.

Persecution in the days of Christ was horrible to endure and it is horrible today. In the last century believers in Christ have suffered in increasing numbers. If you want to learn reliable details you can go to to learn of what is going on in 2015 worldwide.

God knows how hard this is when His followers are experiencing persecution, torture and in some cases death. Most of us can’t imagine the horrors and the fears of extreme persecution and it is especially hard for those experiencing it to see their family and friends suffer. The truth that it is better to die and go to heaven is as true for them today as it was in Paul’s day. It actually would be far better! But to be in the middle of terrifying persecution is very hard and their love for Jesus and His powerful love for them right in the midst of this can be their strength.

In the same passage we have just been talking about Paul said this:

“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” Paul was determined to rejoice in spite of his tough circumstances. But he also told his friends what their prayers were doing. And that because of those specific and powerful prayers he was receiving Christ’s Spirit who was strengthening him in his circumstances.

We can all diligently pray that persecuted people all across the world will experience Christ’s Spirit in ways that are tangible to them in their circumstances. When the 21 who were beheaded in Libya died last month one of their brothers said this: “ISIS gave us more than we asked when they didn’t edit out the part where they declared their faith and called upon Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith”. To me that sounds like men who had the Spirit of Jesus Christ with them before they died. It’s that very thing we can pray for!

Paul was very much aware of his impending death at the end of his life. He said “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.”

Think about his statement. He was commissioned by God to do work that was so important it required him to ultimately give up his life for this work, and this God. Yet even with that inevitable death sentence of persecution Paul was able to say this: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts: 20:24.

Understandably many of us put Paul up on a pedestal for all the persecution he went through. He mentions in one passage that he had “been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” He says all of this was because he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who he believed needed to hear these life giving words. And Paul paid dearly for his bravery.

But Paul would not want us to put him up any higher than the women and men who have suffered persecution for honoring Christ in the last 2000 years. He knows that each of these precious people suffered for something they believed in. And more important for Someone they believed in, Christ. The book of Revelation says that the Devil was triumphed over by people who followed Christ. It says “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11.

This verse makes it clear that the blood of the Lamb, Christ, was what allowed them to do this triumphing, but it was also through the word of their OWN testimony. We have a testimony that comes from the lives we lead. A testimony is simply the telling of the truth of something you have witnessed. In this case, the testimony was embodied in the life of a faithful person. The “word of the testimony” of the Coptic Christians in Libya was that they were speaking Christ’s name up till the end so all 21 of those men triumphed by the word of their testimony about Christ. And they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Paul would appreciate your holding him up as a hero of the faith. The Bible says we are to “give honor to whom honor is due.” But when we get to heaven, Paul will be appropriately honoring these men as heroes who stayed strong through their beheadings, because they are. And any who are martyred through death will be heroes as well.

I also think Paul would tell you that any who are persecuted for years imprisoned and tortured but do not die because of it are heroes as well. There will be a lot of honor being given to a lot of precious souls when we are together on the New Earth with God one day. I am so grateful I get to be part of that group that gets to give the honor.

Life is precious to God. We are to honor our life by taking care to live our lives in God’s will. We need to pray for our brothers and sisters and lift them up in prayer all the time because so many are going through things that will test their faith, their endurance and their strength as never before.

Pray creatively. Think about your own life and imagine what you would want someone to pray for you. Get on websites about persecution and learn specifics of real persecuted peoples’ lives and the lives of their families who may be left behind. I have a friend who prays weekly with another friend. They try in their weekly prayers never to forget the persecuted church. Whenever they have an illness or when one of them had cancer, they prayed that if their persecuted brothers and sisters were in their situation that God would provide whatever was needed. Because they knew someone in prison who had a sinus infection or who had cancer would not get medical treatment. So they asked the Great Physician to step in. They believe they are going to see answers to these prayers one day. And get to rejoice with the folks they prayed for.

Pray that all under persecution will have joy and that their unshakable joy in Christ would be a witness to their persecutors. When I read stories in the Bible about the apostles being in prison and singing hymns to the Lord I always wondered how they could do that. But it is possible to have joy because we know that we are God’s children and even death will not separate us from Him. The Bible says: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25) Pick up a copy of Jesus Freaks if you want to hear some amazing stories of modern day persecution and people who could sing in the midst of things they were suffering through.

Even in the midst of our pain it is possible to still honor God and let others see it. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God” Philippians 1:27-28. Standing firm is one indication of how real our faith is. I know many of us pray for ourselves that we could allow Christ’s strength to pour through us no matter what is asked of us.

Pray that their future glory would overshadow their present afflictions. Our Christian brothers and sisters are suffering at the hands of evil and we need to pray for them. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” Romans 8:18. Our Christian brothers and sisters will get justice in God’s timing and be rewarded for all they have had to endure. In the meantime it is us who need to stay in prayer for them.

Pray that our brothers and sisters around the world would trust in God’s wisdom, strength, and deliverance—not their own. “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:7-9. We must rely on God and not ourselves and pray for others to be strong in the midst of all they are going through.

Pray that God would give them the right words to say as fearless ambassadors for Christ. Pray that those being persecuted can stay strong and stand on the word . . . stand and speak God’s words no matter what is going on. “And also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” Ephesians 6:19-20.

Richard Wurmbrand explained to a world that needed to understand persecution that he and other believers were indeed being bold in declaring Christ in a Romanian prison. He said “It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists'] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.”

As we watch others being severely persecuted we wonder if we would be strong enough to do this. We need to pray and stay strong in Him for we know the end of the Bible and we are on the winning team no matter what we go through here on this earth. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison– that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” Colossians 4:2-4.

Pray that God would protect and deliver them to safety, according to His good and perfect will. Though we don’t always understand His will we know He is still with all of us. Let’s keep each other lifted up in prayer at all times. Many feel abandoned and feel no one cares for them. Many are suffering unbearable things. But they are not alone. Let our prayers continually go before our God and pray that God returns soon for His bride/the church.

We may be called into other forms of action than the duty and privilege of prayer. Letters and emails can have real impact on foreign governments who are wrongly imprisoning people for their faith in Christ. We can take our prayer into action as well. Go to if you are interested in writing letters on behalf of these folks. They would love to know of your prayers by hearing about it from you! And their jailers note that these letters are coming in and some have been released because of letters received.

Until then let’s pray without ceasing for others because our prayers are greatly needed. “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints” (Romans 15:30-31) “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 1:22) Paul was like anyone else, wanting to be released back to his friends. That is one of the prayers I pray often for my dear persecuted brothers and sisters!

Our Lord has been preparing our heavenly home. Time on earth is about up and we are so close to the end it seems we can feel it. But until that time we are to take care of each other, love each other, pray for each other, and protect each other as best we can, knowing that God is here with us and knows exactly what is going on. It is in His strength we can go on.

One thing I hope we who are on the prayer team for folks suffering from persecution will never forget. And that is that Christ loves them so very much. Paul says it this way “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” Romans 8:35-37. What a thought. That no amount of persecution can ever separate those precious brothers and sisters from His love…and that they will not just be conquerors but more than conquerors. But it is a wonderful promise.

And this promise meant everything to the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded last month on a beach in Libya. A brother of two of the beheaded men made it a point to thank ISIS for allowing the victims statements of faith to stay on the video. Besher Kamel thanked ISIS for not editing out the men’s declaration of faith in Christ. The last words of some of the men who were murdered were “Lord Jesus Christ.” Besher was blessed to know that his brothers had remained strong in their faith up to the last seconds of their lives. And if Mr. Kamel knows his Bible well he knows something else about the special privilege his brothers will receive one day.

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, John is seeing a vision of what is to come. He says “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God…they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years had ended”.

The Kamel brothers would love to have lived out their normal lives on this earth I am sure. They had family and loved ones they longed to see. But one day we are going to meet these Kamel brothers. And we can ask them about their experience of being strong in the last days and minutes of their lives. But we can also learn of the amazing privilege they received from Christ in getting to reign with Christ in the first thousand years of His reign. This is a privilege that will only come to a few. Not a privilege any would seek out, but one that Jesus rewards in an amazing way.

As you position yourself in these dark times of persecution to be a praying follower of Christ, know that you have been given important work to do. The forces of evil seem to be getting an upper hand. But the Kamel brothers of a beautiful Coptic Christian church got to exhibit the power of God protecting them as they faced death. And the power of Christ truly won out over evil. The ISIS perpetrators don’t know that yet.

The 2nd century church father Tertullian wrote “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The Bible says one day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” and that includes the perpetrators themselves. Wouldn’t it be glorious if the death of those precious martyrs and our fervent prayers actually impacted the perpetrators and some of them joined us in eternity as ones who chose to follow Christ?

May each of my brothers and sisters around the world suffering feel the prayers of others for them and may they not give up. Pray that the Lord will give us all strength to endure until the time of Jesus’ return. God bless each of us with His mercy and grace.

Mark Phelps

1 comment:

  1. It's damn unforgivable that even in this day and age, there's still religious persecution and violence.