Six Things to Pray for the Persecuted Church

The plight of the persecuted church should move us to prayer. The writer of Hebrews said, "Remember those who are in prison." I need that reminder over and over again. Some recent reminders: 

  • To the alarm of human rights advocates, a 15-year prison sentence was recently given to a woman and her seven children by an Egyptian court. The reason for the harsh sentence? Conversion to Christianity. 
  • As I wrote this post, Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen born in Iran, was facing trial in Tehran - arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard - for his previous Christian work in Iran. 
  • Earlier that month, Christian pastor Yousef Naderkhani was released (again) after being re-arrested on Christmas Day ... to complete a prison sentence commuted earlier in 2012. His attorney still remains in Iran's brutal Evin Prison.

There are hot spots of persecution all around the world. These days, we tend to focus on persecution by Muslims.

Raymond Ibrahim, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, noted in an article for the Gatestone Institute last October, "...such persecution is not 'random,' but systematic and interrelated." It is rooted, he said, "in a worldview inspired by Sharia."

Persecution of Christian believers "typically fits under a specific theme," Ibrahim said, "including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; apostasy and blasphemy laws that criminalize and punish with death those who 'offend' Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like dhimmis, or second-class, 'tolerated' citizens; and simple violence and murder."

The article included an update on jihad killings, Christian displacement, church attacks, accusations of "apostasy, blasphemy, proselytism," and dhimmitude - including general abuse, debasement and suppression. In that report, persecution, imprisonment and murders spanned the Middle East and Africa as well as Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

My purpose here is not to post a tirade against Islam.... or even the Islamists - terrorists who have hijacked their religion. There are Christians incarcerated in atheist Chinese prisons and North Korean prison camps as well. International Christian Concern offers a map that reflects the 30 most recent persecution reports from around the world. Voice of the Martyrs (VOTM) created this picture (right) - a powerful reminder to remember to pray.

My burden today is this: Christians, we must remember our brothers and sisters around the world who are standing for their faith against the enemy's attacks. And by enemy, I mean Satan. He is the instigator behind every attack, every attempt to smash the work and testimony of God's children. Satan is the one who has threatened God's called out ones since the book of Genesis, into the days of the early church and still today.

As a college student, years ago, the perceived enemy was godless Russia and the Soviet machine. I remember praying for brothers and sisters in Siberia, persecuted and dying for their faith. The story of Haralan Popov's torture and starvation in a Bulgarian Communist prison, recounted in Tortured for His Faith, broke broke my heart and inspired my love and prayers for the persecuted church. A college friend named Kathy sent Bibles to Russia, and I wept as I read her newsletters about the desperate conditions of these dear believers.

Today, I am still moved by Christians in many lands who suffer at the hands of cruel oppressors. And once again the Lord spoke to my heart: "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body" (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).

How do we "remember"? 

We stay informed ... we empathize ... we pray ... and perhaps we give from our resources. It's so easy to relax in "cushy" America with all our possessions and amusements, so easy to forget about believers who dread waking up for fear of torture, or wait in prisons for their appointment with death.

I don't think God means for us to sit around in depression. He expects us to serve with joyful obedience. But we can't forget the persecuted saints ... we can't wait until each year's "International Day of the Persecuted Church" (IDOP) to pray.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to wake up in an Iranian prison ... or to be abused physically ... or to watch your church burn ... or to see your family killed. This is what Hebrews 13:3 is saying. We who are in the Body of Christ must be in the moment with the body - especially those who suffer for the name of Christ. We must  remind each other to care. 

We must do whatever it takes to remember. One family tied pieces of rope around their wrists to remind them to pray for the Persecuted Church (photo above).

What can you pray? Start with these six things:
  1. Pray for endurance - the prisoners' faith, faithfulness and courage.
  2. Pray for their health
  3. Pray for the families of those in prison - they suffer in their loved one's absence.
  4. Pray for justice.
  5. Pray for protection for churches in countries hostile to the Christian message.
  6. Pray for power - for the Word of God to prevail in spite of persecution.
Don't assume they are simply longing for rescue. Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista noted that Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development for VOTM, wrote her, saying:  "Our persecuted family is not asking us to pray that the persecution will stop. They're asking us to pray they will remain faithful in spite of the persecution and pressure they face."

Did you get those first words? "Our persecuted family ...." We are all family in Christ. And they're asking us to pray they will be faithful. (Oh, that we were faithful to pray.)

Believe me, I am not saying these things without a huge measure of personal shame. I get busy, distracted, indifferent. My mind fiddles with lesser things. I forget. And I grieve when I forget.

Let's do better. The persecuted church is real, friends, and our intercession must match their desperate need.