According to an article today in the Christian Post, persecution of Christians in the 10/40 window has increased by 400% in the past ten years. (Read the complete article here.) We are commanded to remember those being persecuted for their faith in Jesus and pray for them. “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.” Hebrews 13:3
An unexpected knock interrupted the house church meeting. The believers inside, still grieving over the death of one of their leaders, had been on their knees into the night praying for the release from prison of another one of their pastors. Then came a knock at the door in the dead of night. Was it the police, or just a stranger who had lost his way and saw a light in the window?
And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. (Acts 12:13-16)
Isn’t it ironic that when the Lord delivered Peter out of prison that night that every door opened up before him – except the church door? This wonderful passage provides a kind of comic relief in the midst of Herod’s persecution: a prayer meeting interrupted by the very answer to those prayers. And if we are very honest with ourselves, these first-century Christians seem strangely familiar – like the 21st century variety. We pray, yes; but we usually keep our expectations low so that we won’t be disappointed with the results – and we rarely are.
What does this have to do with our response to the rise in Christian persecution in our day? It is interesting that one of the first recorded prayer meetings following Pentecost finds the church on their knees on behalf of a persecuted believer. Even though their faith was small, their God was not. Hebrews 13:3 commands us to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
When we pray for persecuted brothers, we don’t only seek their deliverance, though that’s legitimate. We pray for their boldness (Acts 4:29; Ephesians 6:19-20). We pray for the further glory of Christ, something accomplished both by life and by death, from the pulpit and from the prison cell (Philippians 1:12-21). God’s purposes are sometimes accomplished through suffering. A courageous Christian journalist in Turkey once told me that if human rights organizations had existed when Joseph was unjustly imprisoned in Egypt, they would have sought his immediate release. But God had a higher purpose than just delivering Joseph. God’s design was not only to deliver Joseph but also to deliver nations (Genesis 50:20).
Of course, we don’t know God’s plans, but still we are to pray for and encourage persecuted Christians. As the writer of Hebrews explains, they and we are “in the body.” The Gospel binds believers together worldwide. Those who are being persecuted at this very hour are our brothers and sisters through faith in Christ. They are part of His body. Just as the Lord identifies with His people in their suffering (Exodus 3:7; Acts 9:4-5), so we are to identify with them as well. If we embrace this truth, how can we remain indifferent to a family member’s pain?
Even though most of us are a comfortable distance from the frontlines, we can get into the fight by getting on our knees! Pray for grace for those in harm’s way. Pray for protection and peace. Pray for boldness in the Gospel so that Christ, who first suffered for us, would be magnified in and through the suffering of His people.
Let the Gospel knit your heart with the heart of your persecuted brothers and sisters.
For the complete “Gospel Meditations for Missions” devotional, please visit Church Works Media at: churchworksmedia.com