The Persecuted Church

The following statistics and information were taken from the websites: Open Doors, Eternity News by Bible Society Australia, Christian Today International plus other websites I may have taken notes from.

Introduction

Sometimes it is good to come to terms with the agony of faith as believers around the world carry the cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. When Jesus was predicting his death to the disciples, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “never Lord”, Jesus turned and responded:

Mat 16:23 ……….. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Today there is 245 million Christians living in places where they experienced high levels of persecution. It has been estimated that over the past 15 years 1.6 million Christians have been murdered for their faith in Christ. That means every 5 minutes a believer is put to death when they take up their cross and follow Jesus

If you woke up at 7am this morning 36+ believers have been killed to this moment.

For those not murdered Christian torture remains an issue for believers throughout the world including imprisonment, loss of home and assets, physical torture, beheadings and rape. Of the 245 million Christians attacked for their faith last year, many are women and girls who are specifically and most frequently targeted through forced marriage, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.

In 2019, 1 in 9 Christians are persecuted for their faith

North Korea has been ranked as the hardest country to live as a Christian since 2002. Christians face extreme levels of pressure and violence in all areas of life, even just owning a Bible is illegal. If Christians are discovered, they are sent to labour camps, tortured or killed on the spot. Their families, considered guilty by association, share the same fate.

Pastors Request

An Egyptian Pastor was asked how Western Christians could pray for our brothers and sisters in Egypt. [Egypt is rated the 16th most dangerous country for Christians on the World Watch List]

The pastor responded by saying: “Please don’t pray for us. Please pray with us.”

A little confused by his answer, an Open Doors worker asked him what he meant by this. He continued, “If you pray for us, you will pray for the wrong things. You will pray that the church will be safe. You will pray for persecution to cease. We are not praying for these things. We ask God for the salvation of Egypt. We ask that he draw millions of Muslims to Christ. We ask that we will be bold and clear in sharing our faith with Muslims. And we pray that when the inevitable persecution comes… that we will not run away, that we will be faithful in that persecution even if it costs us our lives.”

This is the heart of the persecuted church – that by the gospel the Kingdom of God will advance. We pray with them, knowing that this desire matches the heart of God.

The Book of Acts

The commission to go to the ends of the world in Acts 1:8 came to a screaming halt in Jerusalem. The Apostles and 1000’s of new believers [5000 by Acts 4:4] have stayed put. No Judea Samaria and no ends of the world is on the radar until Acts 8. What happens? The Church is persecuted and scatters.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 8: And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Praying for the Persecuted Church

We can “remember” those who are persecuted by praying for them. We don’t know their names or their stories, but we share a bond with them in Christ that is stronger and more profound than we may realise. With this thought in mind I will share seven ways based on Scripture that we can pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. As we consider each prayer point Revelation 12:11 a scripture we can memorise and hold at the for thought of our thinking as we pray.

‘They triumphed over him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.’

  1. We pray that God would sustain the faith of persecuted believers so that they might faithfully endure trials and suffering for Christ’s sake.  

Our primary concern for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ is their perseverance in the faith. We want them to endure trials faithfully rather than abandoning Christ when things get difficult or when their lives are in danger.

  • Scripture reminds us of the importance of persevering in the faith: if we endure, we will also reign with him if we deny him, he also will deny us. (2 Tim 2:12)
  • … the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22) 
  • We will pray that persecuted Christians will continue to cling to Christ and to follow Him regardless of the cost.
  • Gratefully, the perseverance of God’s people is not ultimately dependent on their power or their faithfulness. It is God’s power and faithfulness that keeps them secure (Phil 1:6; 1 Thes 5:24; 1 Pet 1:5; Jude 24–25).
  • We want them to be confident that nothing can separate them from God’s love, not even death (Rom 8:31–39).  
  1. We pray for the spread of the gospel through persecuted believers, asking God to use their words and their faithfulness to bear witness to the gospel. 

When God’s people maintain their hope under circumstances that seem hopeless (from the world’s perspective), it becomes evident that they are living for something other than this world. Here’s how the apostle Peter put it: 

  • Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:12) 
  • When unbelievers become curious about how persecuted Christians can find peace and joy in the midst of trials, we should pray that these Christians would be “prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15). 
  • It may be that the Lord will use the persecution of His people as the dark backdrop that makes the light of the gospel stand out. Like Jesus who suffered faithfully for the salvation of His people? 
  1. We pray that believers in persecuted areas might be able to experience the blessing of gathering with other believers for worship, as well as the regular fellowship and equipping of the church. 

It’s easy to take for granted the blessing of gathering with your local church regularly for corporate worship and for mutual edification we receive from the “one another” (Rom 12:3–21). We share each other’s joys and help bear each other’s sorrows.  

  • However, for many Christians around the world, this kind of fellowship is rare or virtually non-existent. Let’s pray, then, that healthy churches would be planted and that our persecuted brothers and sisters would be able to carry out the following exhortation from Hebrews 10:24–25:
  • And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24–25)
  • Believers need mutual encouragement, particularly when there is a high physical, social, and/or financial cost for following Christ.
  1. We pray that God would give persecuted pastors courage, wisdom, and joy as they proclaim the gospel and exhort their people to hold fast to Christ. 

Pastors have the privilege and responsibility of shepherding God’s people, which means that they are likely a prime target of persecution in many places. Satan would love to prevent pastors from proclaiming the gospel and shepherding God’s people to faithfulness. Paul calls

Timothy to such leadership:

  • I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim 4:1–2)  
  • We will pray that God would strengthen the faith of pastors to proclaim the truths of God’s Word.
  • Paul’s words to Timothy can guide our prayers: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5).
  • May our prayers help these women and men around the world do just that.
  1. We pray that God would put an end to violence, intimidation, and other forms of persecution aimed at silencing persecuted believers and stopping the spread of the gospel. 

God allows, permits, uses the persecution of His people for the spread of the gospel (Acts 8), but I don’t think that means we should seek persecution.

  • We pray against satanic efforts. In the presence of our enemy we will shout a halalujah.
  • Jesus invites us to continually come to God asking for justice (Lk 18:1–8).
  • We will pray this way for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, asking God to put a stop to the cruelty and injustice of their persecutors.
  • Praying God’s people can love their enemies. So hard. Can you imagine Mat 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
  1. We pray for bibles and resources to be made available to persecuted believers.

God saves, sustains, comforts, and teaches His people by His Word. It is often difficult or dangerous for persecuted believers to obtain a physical copy of God’s Word. The Bible is important for being strengthened in faith and growing in numbers Acts 16:5. Paul says it is useful 2 Tim 3:16.

  • All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16–17)  
  • We will ask God to make the scriptures and other gospel resources available to the persecuted church.
  • We want our fellow believers to be able to say with the psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119:97). 
  1. We pray that God would provide for the physical needs of persecuted believers.

Although the requests listed above prioritize the spiritual needs of persecuted believers, we also want God to sustain these believers physically. John provides a good example of this kind of concern:

  • Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. (3 Jn 2)  
  • Whether it’s enduring physical torture or simply being able to provide enough food for their families, persecuted believers often face many hardships.
  • We will pray for God to provide for these needs and to bring comfort to His people in the midst of physical suffering, mental suffering and emotional suffering.

Conclusion

In our human nature we can sense a powerlessness to make a difference in the brutality and violence the persecuted church faces. In faith however we do not walk in hopelessness but believe that God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit can do more than we can imagine possible as we join with believers across the globe praying for the favour and will of God to intervene in the lives of fellow believers.

As shared at the beginning of this paper we don’t know their names or their stories, but we share a bond with them in Christ that is stronger and more profound than we may realise.

Rev 12:11 They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death