Today is International Religious Freedom Day. It celebrates the 18th anniversary of the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. IRD was blessed to have played a role in this groundbreaking legislation!
And Sunday, November 5, is the 22nd annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. In honor of this world changing event, of which the Institute on Religion and Democracy was also blessed to have played a role in creating, I will be reposting a number of articles about IDOP that look back at how it all started, leading up to this year’s commemoration. But first, a look at good reasons to pray for persecuted Christians.
I’ve been attempting (without much success) to clean up my paper files for the 24 years that I have been at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. They are such a treasure trove of information and memories — some which have almost been forgotten. That’s why I keep them. Amongst those file/memories are folders devoted to IDOP and the rather audacious goal of having the Christians around the entire world pray for Christians around the entire world! Do you know what the biggest obstacle was?
The most resistance to the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church came from western Christians that were uncomfortable with a day (one day out of 365) that was devoted to praying only for persecuted Christians! No matter that Christians were (and are) globally the most persecuted religious believers. No matter that they could pray for people of any and no faith all year round if they so desired. This resistance has lessened over the years, especially as beautiful and powerful stories of oppressed and persecuted Chinese Christians praying for brothers and sisters in Nigeria, under siege by Boko Haram, and beleaguered Christians in Sudan praying for their fellow believers in Pakistan began to surface. Suddenly the moral scrupulosity of the critics appeared to be mere pettiness.
BUT! In case you, your pastor, or your fellow church members need to offer justification for a 15 minute session during one Sunday out of 52 to pray exclusively for suffering brothers and sisters in Christ, here, without further ado:
The Top Ten Reasons to Pray for Persecuted Christians
#10. Because they are being persecuted. Hence, the name, “Persecuted” Christians. We don’t use it lightly. We are not speaking of inconveniences, perceived offenses, hurt feelings (such as the type that have caused the United Nations to attempt to control the whole world on certain issues of blasphemy and incitement), or even issues that are preceded by trigger warnings on American college campuses. We are talking about arrest and imprisonment, physical torture, deprivation, starvation, beatings, enslavement, gang rape, disemboweling, dismemberment, and death.
#9. Because while it is true that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, it is also true that unabated persecution can actually eradicate Christian communities. The most glaring example of this is emptying of the Middle East of Christians, particularly in Iraq and Syria. But it is also happening in places like the northern and central belt states of Nigeria, where both Boko Haram and Fulani jihadists are attempting to wipe out the Christian population.
#8. Because believers under persecution frequently do not have access to Bibles, or have the chance to grow and be disciple. Therefore, they can be led into heretical doctrines and cults. So it is not enough to pray for our fellow Christians to be delivered from or within their suffering. We should pray for their spiritual growth, as well.
#7. Because they are our family — our brothers and sisters in Christ. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12: 12); If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together. (12: 26); Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6: 10); and so on.
#6. Because they ask us to pray for them. You’ve probably heard it before. The first, and sometimes only, thing that persecuted believers ask for when they have the opportunity is please pray for us. And it’s not like pray that God will save us from this persecution! (although I still do pray for that!). It’s pray that we will be faithful and bring glory to God as we are being persecuted. The second thing they ask for? Bibles. It is nice, when you are going through the fires of persecution, to know that your fellow believers have not forgotten you, and that they care.
#5. Because it enriches our own spiritual life when we pray for persecuted Christians, are inspired by their courageous witness, and see God answer our prayers for them. *DANGER* There is the possibility that this can lead to introspection and navel gazing. Remember: this is not about YOU. Ask not what the persecuted church can do for you. Ask what you can do for the persecuted church. This is why it is so important to proceed to
#4. Because God changes our hearts by prayer and motivates us to ACTION! Remember that prayer is meant to change us. I always wanted to argue with the refrigerator magnet that says “Prayer changes things.” Actually, God changes things. Prayer changes us.
#3. Because it is right to stand against injustice and evil, and persecution for one’s faith is an injustice, and it is demonic. We are called to wage spiritual warfare against such powers and principalities. Hey Social Justice Warriors! Christian persecution is a justice issue!
#2. Because prayer works! God answers prayer! Nothing is more exciting and faith-building than to see the answer to your prayer standing before you in flesh and blood. For me, the first time that happened in connection with praying for persecuted Christians was in the bad old days of the Soviet Union. After years of praying and writing letters to the Soviet government and prison officials, I had the joy of meeting the subject of my prayers, Alexander Ogorodnikov, after he was released from prison. The most recent time was 3 days ago when I met Czech aid worker Petr Jasek, Nuba Pastor Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor, and Darfuri believer Abdulmonem Abdumawla at the Voice of the Martyrs’ 50th anniversary banquet. The three courageous Christians had spent over 400 days in Khartoum’s prisons, threatened with death sentences, and sentenced to life (Petr) and 12 years (Hassan and Abdulmonem) before being “pardoned” because of pressure from the global community. And because God answers prayer.
And now, the #1. reason to pray for persecuted Christians:
BECAUSE GOD SAYS TO. Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13: 3) Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12: 12) Pray without ceasing. (1 Thess. 5: 17).
Get busy praying now. You don’t have to wait for IDOP! Explore the resources available at the IDOP and other websites promoting IDOP, such as Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, and many others. And share with your friends, the top ten reasons to pray for persecuted Christians.