I must admit that I struggle with setting aside 1 day of prayer for the church and believers in persecution. I’m well aware that many people pray for the persecuted church regularly; many daily. There remains a concern that setting aside A DAY to pray for believers in hard places might lend itself to a lessened focus the rest of the year? I wonder if my concern is that we often pray for our brothers and sisters and persecution rather than praying with our brothers and sisters in persecution?
My insightful wife often says, “There’s no such thing as a free church and a persecuted church. There is just the church; always persecuted and always free. If we are one body then, when one part of the body suffers, the entire body feels the pain. Hundreds of times we’ve sat with believers in persecution. Many of these “interviews” would last 4 to 6 hours. Some interviews were so significant that they lasted multiple days. Such was the time spent with a believing brother in Eastern Europe. In addition to knowing persecution in the context of his country, he was well-versed concerning persecution in the context of all of communism. Though locked behind the Iron Curtain, he understood faith and communism within global realities. I learned more from him in just a few days than from most seminary classes. At the end of our days together he surprised me when he said. “ I took great joy that I was being persecuted in my country so that you would be more free to share Jesus in Kentucky.”
I laid down my pen, turned off my recorder, closed my notebook, and said to him. “No! You cannot lay that on me. That’s a debt I can never repay.” He said, looking at me sadly, “Nik, that’s the debt of the cross. Don’t you steal my joy! I took great joy that I was holding Satan hostage in his own backyard so that you would be more free to share Christ in your country. Never have we really felt so free as when our faith was costing us something.”
My relationship with believers and persecution changed in an instant. Possibly, most of us understand the connection we have with believers in persecution as we lift them up to the Father through prayer. One believer in Eastern Europe reminded me, “the debt that we can never repay the Church in the West is the debt of prayer offered up for us during those 70 years of Communism.” Oh the wonderful truth of being able to carry someone when they can no longer carry themselves!
A debt of prayer. I love the sound of that.
Yet, ultimately, is focused prayer how we identify with them?
They are persecuted for two reasons. One, they have given their lives to Jesus, modeled on Revelation 2:10, being “…faithful unto death.” Secondly, they refused to keep Jesus to themselves. With boldness and sensitivity, they share Christ’s love with family members, friends, colleagues at work, at school, and in the marketplace of life. Therefore, the way that we most identify with our brothers and sisters in chains on this day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is when we give our lives to Christ. We too refuse to keep Jesus to ourselves. With boldness and sensitivity, we share Christ’s love with family members, friends, colleagues at work, at school, and in the marketplace of life. Thus it is that we identify with our brothers and sisters in chains.
Yet a hard truth remains. If I give my life to Christ but keep His love to myself; ignoring witness in the marketplace, among family members, and from friends – this leads to the harshest of truths.
Not only do I fail to identify with my brothers and sisters in persecution, I identify with the ones who chained them – the persecutors. For there is no greater persecution on earth than to deny another access to eternal life through the love of Jesus Christ.
On this day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church let’s be sure to write ourselves into the right side of the equation. Prayer is not something that allows one to stand at a distance. Prayer joins hearts and actions together. Today I get to decide. I get to decide whether I identify with my brothers and sisters in persecution or to identify with their persecutors.
I pray I make the right choice.