This morning I happened upon the old Hymn “Teach me to Pray”. Prayer is an interesting spiritual discipline. At times it is something that comes more natural to us than anything else. At other times we struggle to even put two words together. Often times when our prayer requests are close to our heart, we have plenty of words to say but when we pray for those far away we struggle. The terrible things going on in Iraq and Syria to our brothers and sisters there should send us to our knees, but what do we pray for when we get there? How can we even truly know and understand what they are going through? What should we ask God to do for them? These are the questions that can fill our minds and can even cause us to neglect to pray at all. Here are a few things that we as believers can (and should) pray for our brothers and sisters facing persecution…
· Pray for Needs
There are a million different needs that the believers running from genocide have. They have had to leave all they own and suffer from the lack of things as simple as clean drinking water. These needs should be in our prayers as we think of the struggles which they could be having simply caring for their basic physical needs as refugees. We are called to pray for these needs to be met, but we are also called to an active faith. We must give what we are able to help those who have lost everything. Though these needs are certainly great, the greatest need that those have in the midst of persecution and death is the need for the presence and hope of God. In Psalm 23 we are told that God is there to provide and comfort even in the midst of death. This can be easy to forget in the midst of traumatic times. We must pray that believers needs are met and that they feel the presence of the Lord with them as they pass through the fire.
· Pray for Purpose
It may seem difficult in the midst of the suffering to remember that all things that happen are allowed to happen by the sovereign will of God. This does not make them good, it does not make them easy, and it does not make them painless. It does mean that even the worst of circumstances are redeemed by God in that they are used by Him to bring hope to the lost. The early church father Tertullian was famously quoted in his Apologeticus as saying “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. This is because in trials, people see the gospel for the strength truth and mercy that it truly is. As we think of believers we must pray that God would give them a sense of purpose in their suffering, and boldness of faith. For us as believers, when we find no comfort in the world, we rest in the comfort of our heavenly father’s plan, and in the assured end of His Glory. Pray that in the midst of reckless and evil hatred, the gospel would not be silenced in the lives of our brothers and sisters, and that God would redeem even these darkest days for the glory of the cross.
· Pray for Strength
The need for strength might be the most apparent need we can think of. Especially in thinking of the tremendous trials that our brothers and sisters are enduring, and the loss they have already suffered. In Ephesians 3:14-21 Paul prays for strength that the believers in Ephesus would be strengthened not in themselves, but that they would be strengthened by the Spirit and be established in Christ. In the hour of trouble when people have lost everything, and are faced with the last loss man, their very life, there is nothing left to draw strength from except from Christ. The famous last words of Saint Polycarp are telling in this manner. When commanded by the magistrate of Smyrna to recant or be burned at the stake, he said… “I have served Him for eighty-six years and He has never done me any wrong. Why then should I blaspheme against my King and my Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.” The believer draws strength not from the circumstances of comfort, but in the character of God which is true despite circumstance. All believers are to be expected to be hated by the world, but we are not alone in this hatred. In John 15:18 the Holy Christ tells us that we are hated with the same hatred that He Himself endured. Suffering believers have experienced nothing more than what Christ has already shared with them. In sharing with His death, they will then share in His glory. Pray for believers that their strength would be founded on, and that they would draw strength from who Christ is.
· Pray for Justice
This is a tricky one. In prayers for justice believers can at times be caught between two fires of passion. In one sense, to pray for justice and vengeance to come upon those murdering believers means swift and righteous wrath on the persecutors. Some believers have a difficulty praying this, because we are called as believers to pray for the salvation of the lost. Others have difficulty in praying for justice, because we pray from our own passion for justice and revenge. We pray for the kind of justice we would give if we were in a position to kill or destroy those who are murdering the innocent. We may be tempted to pray the same wickedness will befall those who rape, murder, and pillage. In this passion we might feed hatred in our souls and forget to pray at all, or be tempted to sin in our thoughts and bitterness. We are called to be a people who does not curse those who persecute us as the rest of the world does (Rom 12:14). So how must we seek justice? In Revelations 6:9-11 we are told of the prayer of the martyrs for justice. This prayer rested again on the righteousness of God. Their appeal is (or will be) an appeal for God to issue justice based on his character which is “righteous and true”. This is an appeal which will always be appropriate. We cannot be trusted with vengeance, with justice, or with exercising impunity or judgment in perfect righteousness. As believers, we know the character of God, and in knowing the character of God we can plead with Him to bring justice in the perfect way we do not know. This will keep us from consigning all men to hell, and will keep us from growing bitter in the injustice of the present world of evil. Ultimate justice is assured in God’s plan for the world. The evil being perpetrated against the innocent in the Middle East is assuredly the work of the devil carried out by the darkened hearts of men, but neither of these things will ultimately prevail against the people of God. Pray that God would bring justice to those who have been persecuted and killed for their witness as only He can.
· Pray Specifically
I would encourage all of us to be involved in praying specifically by name for those who are in the midst of persecution. This can be made possible through organizations such as Voice of the Martyrs, who connect to believers in persecuted regions of the world, making it possible to pray for their struggles and the struggles of their families, and even to send letters of support to them in the midst of their persecution. This is important in several ways. First, it is easier for us to pray, and to commit to pray for specific people rather than in general for many we do not know. It is also important in understanding the things that they are suffering, so that we can “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). Believers are called to live in solidarity with the suffering of others, particularly those of the family of faith. We should have soft hearts, and be willing to shed tears for those brother and sisters which we are losing to death at the hands of evil.
In the Service of the Savior,
The Psalm of the Persecuted (Psalm 46)
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though hits waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
the burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.