By J. with thanks to Graham Lee
I have been greatly encouraged by those in our parish who have a passionate dedication to praying for the persecuted church. This week I asked Graham, “Why should Christians pray for the persecuted church?” and I hope these insights will motivate and encourage you.
20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.
In a country like Australia where Christianity once enjoyed respect and influenced the culture, we can easily wonder whether we are doing something wrong when people are hostile to our faith. Jesus makes it clear that persecution is to be expected by Christians, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20) Have you noticed that people can have a particular hatred for Christians and Christian teaching? Jesus explains it this way: the Gospel is necessarily offensive to those who want to deny the reality of the guilt they face before God (John 15:22). But remember, when we are hated and rejected, it is actually Christ and therefore God who is being rejected (John 15:21).
If we cling to comfort and acceptance, we may very well become a sort of Christian who will walk away from the faith when persecution starts. In the parable of the soils the seed which falls on the rock represents those who, “when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while and in time of testing fall away.” (Luke 8:13) Instead, if we make a regular habit of praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters, we will remember the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged until Christ comes again, and will not be surprised by persecution. If we read about the difficulties faced by our persecuted brothers and sisters we will learn to count the cost of following Christ and examine our hearts as to whether we really are willing to give up everything to be His disciple. Just consider Luke 14:25-33 where Jesus says, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” As we hear the testimonies of those who have faced persecution and who still rejoice in the name of Christ, we will grow in the conviction that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Will you pray with me this week that God will grow your love and compassion for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ? Will you pray with me that as you pray for the persecuted church, God will use your prayers not only to strengthen their faith, but also to grow your own faith?
A great place to start praying for the persecuted church is to read about the High Cost of Discipleship in Iran from Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin by Elizabeth Kendal. Also keep your eye out for next week’s follow-up article with practical suggestions for how we can pray for the persecuted church when we feel so far removed from their situation.