Saturday, April 07, 2012

How Should We Pray For the Persecuted Church?

It is not in dispute that the church in much of the world is persecuted in ways unimaginable to our comfortable Western culture. Just a brief look at Voice of the Martyrs or other webpages will give you a flavor of the sort of persecution that is commonplace around the world.

So we ought to pray fervently for our brothers and sisters in the hard places of the world where they are beset at all times by the Enemy. The question is, how should we pray? I think our natural impulse is to pray that persecution would end, that the suffering would cease but is that the right way to pray? Jesus taught that persecution is a sign of blessing:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12)
So praying for the persecution to end is like praying for the blessing to end. While I think many of us unconsciously or consciously pray for the persecuted church around the world to enjoy the "freedom" we have in America, I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I read with interest this morning a post on this topic, Secret Church – Why do we pray for the persecuted? and it made a lot of sense. Persecution is normal, it is one of the ways we know the Gospel is being preached and it is the natural result of that preaching. Preaching the Gospel to the lost is not going to inevitably lead to the formation of democratic capitalist republics with guarantees of religious freedom. Preaching the Gospel is going to lead to homes being burned down, believers being imprisoned and beaten and often murdered. That was true in the early centuries of the church pre-Constantine. It was true when the Anabaptists rejected the state churches of Protestant and Catholic alike to preach the simple Gospel of Jesus and it is true today in many places of the world.

So we should pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters, not for the persecution to end but for their strength and humility and the witness of their suffering to others. Pray for them to show the same faithfulness of the martyrs before them, men like Stephen who interceded on behalf of persecutors as he was being stoned and the Anabaptist martyrs who went to their deaths preaching Christ. Pray also for the church in the West, pray that we may be shaken from our comfortable apathy and start to be a witness to the lost that is worthy of being persecuted.
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:41)

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