“What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29)
It’s been estimated that since Christ’s time on earth, 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith. Recent statistics reveal that over 100,000 Christians are killed each year. Their crime: faith in Jesus Christ. Some reports say that annual number is closer to 160,000 deaths per year! As for general Christian persecution not necessarily leading to death, it is estimated that currently over 200 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide. That’s 200 million Christians who are routinely subjected to oppression, humiliation, jail, beatings and/or torture.
Again, that’s 200 million!
How should we respond?
I don’t know about you, but I very often feel helpless. My attention has been drawn to the reports of American Christians, arrested in foreign lands. Names like Saeed Abedini, Kenneth Bae, Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh have made our recent headlines, thanks primarily to a select few media sources, such as Fox News.
Why would God allow this to continue?
The answer to that question has too many facets for us to count. In a sad way (and in one small aspect), I see these arrests and the media attention they are receiving, as a good thing, in that the eye’s of American Christians are being opened to the horror. Is this a tiny portion of God’s plan? It very well could be, although I would not be dogmatic about it. The reality is that many of us have heard the outrageous statistics, but at the end of the day they are just numbers on a piece of paper and we do nothing. So in a sense, Saeed Abedini and Kenneth Bae have become the face for Christian persecution – essentially they are the poster boys for the 200 million tyrannized Christ-followers, worldwide.
Now that you know, what will you do?
I submit to you that God has a purpose for each of us in this, and that the directive behind the purpose is unveiled, at least in part, in these two Bible passages:
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
“We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Pray and Obey
As a first response to any situation, prayer is our course of action. Frankly, it is the best thing we can do. God, through prayer, does many incredible things, but the fact that God changes us when we pray could perhaps be the most significant factor. Don’t believe God changes us? Then try praying sincerely for your enemies or for the needy or praying thanksgiving over the blessings you already have, and watch how God changes you. The truth of the matter is that in our earnest prayers, God reveals the next step we are to take. It might be a baby step or it might be a grand leap, but whatever it is, He shares the maneuver with us. In contrast, if we do not pray, we probably will not hear.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
We need to know that our prayer, at least as it pertains to how God wants to change us, is often rendered powerless, unless it is our intention to obey whatever we learn from God in those prayers. In actuality, we might want to include that talking-point in our prayer, for as we know it is not an uncommon thing for our Spirit to be willing, but our flesh to be weak. It has been my experience that if the Lord detects any insincerity in this regard, He likely guides us to address our submission issues, while putting the other items we presented on hold. Not always, but remember, our Father is a God of order, not chaos.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
What God says to you may not be the same thing He says to me. It could be, but I believe the Father takes our individual needs into account, in order that the changes He makes in us are most appropriate for us. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Let us also keep in mind that these changes in us are for His glory, not ours.
For example, when I began to pray for the persecuted church, God’s initial response to me was that these prayers needed to be an everyday, consistent practice of mine. The Lord then moved me to share the dire situation with others so they would pray. I’ve got to be honest with you — I was waiting for God to say to join some cause, or financially support some persecution ministry, such as Voice of the Martyrs. He still might! I am willing, but that’s not the direction God is nudging me, today.
One substantial thing He has led me to do is to exercise my liberty as a US citizen – to share the Gospel more boldly and passionately. It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that God would not have reached me with this change He desired to make, unless I had been praying for the persecuted church and the likes of Pastor Saeed Abedini and Kenneth Bae. All that is to say, God is faithful.
I don’t know firsthand what the Lord is doing on behalf of Saeed and Kenneth, and the millions of nameless Christians whose plight we bring before the throne each day, but I know God’s way is the best way and that He will get His glory in each situation. My prayer is that you will be encouraged to pray for the persecuted church and all things, with an attitude of submission to God’s will.
Expect to hear from the Lord and be prepared to obey.
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