“…as followers of Christ, we must take a bold step: we must shed the ‘enemy image’ we have of those who persecute us. Because the moment we have an enemy image of anyone, God's love can no longer work through us to reach them! We must pray for and even love those who hate us.”
Each year, millions of Christians around the world participate in an International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. For those of you who take part, I want to thank you on behalf of all those millions of beleaguered Christians living in areas where faith costs the most.
We have to speak for the 200 million Christians worldwide who live under persecution (examples). We have to speak against those oppressive regimes where atrocities still happen, because we do not speak up enough as the church in the free world. We do not speak enough to God through prayer about the issue, and we do not speak enough to and through our governments.
Around the world the situation is the same: the suffering cannot cope without our help. But what is the solution? The Bible clearly teaches us it is forgiveness and reconciliation, bathed in prayer.
[Note: A Biblical study on how to pray for the persecuted church is presented below.]
I was in a Christian town totally destroyed in one night by a wild Muslim mob, leaving 10,000-20,000 Christians homeless, seeing all their possessions destroyed. We had a big gathering of Christians and Muslims right afterward, and we spoke about forgiveness and reconciliation.
Why? Because life goes on even during and after persecution! We have to look for those opportunities, not just the needs, not just the crises, but the opportunities and the solutions that God gives to those who are dedicated to him.
On that very same day, I received a telephone call from the main Imam [Muslim leader] of that country. He said, “Brother Andrew, can you please come and pray with me? I am very sick!”
So I decided to take a local pastor with me who had just been released from prison; a man who had suffered because of the Muslims. Together, along with other members of our Open Doors team, we went to see him. There I explained exactly who Jesus was. I gave a testimony of my personal faith in Christ. Then I began to pray, and I laid my hands on this Imam, and as I was praying I felt a hand on top of my hand. It was the pastor who had just come from prison. What a perfect illustration of the teaching of Jesus: pray for those who persecute you.
Christians have an answer in those situations that the world does not know anything about. But as followers of Christ, we must take a bold step: we must shed the “enemy image” we have of those who persecute us. Because the moment we have an enemy image of anyone, God's love can no longer work through us to reach them! We must pray for and even love those who hate us.
So in reality, the way Christians live out their lives before others is the most powerful message we can share. It far transcends the words or methods we may try to employ to impact a needy world in the face of the challenging question, “Who is God?”. Christians must be able to point to our hearts and say, “Here is God! He lives in me. And I'm willing to die for Him, and I'm also willing to die for you because that's what He did for us on the cross at Calvary!” Nothing else will work in this age of confrontation unless and until every Christian is not only willing to give their lives, but one day actually does it.
I challenge the Christians of the world to pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters, to act on their behalf and to live out the life of Jesus in this needy world around us. Only then we will see a radical change take place in the lives of people. Only then we will see the love of Christ replace the hatred of this world.
God predicted persecution: Acts 20:23-24 “the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course”
And the suffering came: Acts 21:30-31 “And all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together; and taking hold of Paul, they dragged him out of the temple; and… were seeking to kill him.”
That God would give them the right words and that they would fearlessly make Christ known
Here Paul tells how to pray for him when he was suffering for Christ in jail—notice his prayer was not for release.
Ephesians 6:19-20 “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
Colossians 4:2-4 “Devote yourselves to prayer… praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.”
That they would love Christ's appearing all the more
2 Timothy 4:5-8 “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Hebrews 11:35 “…others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection”.
That they will rejoice in sharing the sufferings of Jesus so that they will rejoice even more when Christ is revealed
Hebrews 10:34 “…accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.”
That they will choose ill-treatment and the reproach of Christ, not pleasures of sin
Hebrews 11:24-26“Moses… (chose) rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.”
That they will arm themselves with this purpose: to suffer so as to eradicate sin
1 Peter 4:1 “arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in flesh has ceased from sin.”
Hebrews 5:8 “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”
That they will love Christ far more than life itself
Revelation 12:10-11 “they overcame (Satan) because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.”
Philippians 1:29 “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
That they will live the joy of the Lord before their persecutors
Acts 16:25 “But about midnight Paul and Silas (in jail) were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Philippians 1:28 “…in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.”
That they will remember their unbelievable future glory
Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
That they would learn to more completely trust in God
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead”
That they would rejoice that they bear in their bodies the “brand marks of Christ”
Galations 6:17 “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.”
That they would rejoice in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's sufferings
Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions.”
Note: Our sufferings do not add to the atoning worth of Jesus' sufferings. Rather, His sufferings are not known to the world, and so we suffer to bring that news to those His sufferings were meant to save.
Author: This Biblical study on how to pray for the persecuted church was submitted by a friend of Films for Christ, a pastor who prefers to remain anonymous.
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Brother Andrew, a Dutchman whose real name is Anne van der Bijl, has always been a trailblazer. He made history during the early days of the Cold War when in 1955 he began “smuggling” Bibles into Communist Eastern Europe. On the last day of his first trip, as he sat reading his Bible, he says that the Lord spoke to him through Revelation 3:2 to “strengthen what remains and is on the point of death.” His delivery of one suitcase of Christian literature to the suffering church in Poland was the humble beginning of Open Doors with Brother Andrew, now an international ministry that brings literature and much-needed assistance to Christians living in difficult circumstances in 58 countries around the world.
Authors: First portion provided by Brother Andrew, founder of Open Doors, via Assist Communications, PO Box 2126, Garden Grove, CA 92842-2126, USA. Second portion provided by a friend of Films for Christ, a pastor who wishes to remain anonymous.