By Lois Kanalos
The Bible does not advise Christians to pray for persecution, but it definitely tells Christians to expect it.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:12-16).
And, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-20)
The topic of persecution can be overwhelming, disheartening and at times very depressing for many to hear or even consider. The Bible says we are one in the Body and special care should be given to every part. It also says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; and if one rejoices, all rejoice with it.”
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)
“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”(verses 18-20)
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (verses 21:26)
We are expected to care about each other, to encourage one another for strength and building up in faith and love. Sometimes, it is hard for many of us to know exactly how to pray for those being persecuted. Let’s take a look in the Bible for an example of an early Christian suffering persecution for his Christ-centered faith and his reaction to it.
In prison, the Apostle Paul’s dire situation and his hopeful outlook is shown in one of his four prison epistles. It was a message of joy. The word joy is repeated 16 times in the letter. Having spiritual joy and rejoicing in Christ is the main message.
Paul wrote to concerned believers “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:18) while under house arrest in Rome. He also tells them, “for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”(verse 19). Paul was confident in the outcome of his situation. No matter how hopeless it seemed, no matter what or how dark, God’s will shall be done.
He also had faith that the power of the Holy Spirit would see him through his predicament. Through Christ, he could face the worst and come out on top. What may happen to him in the future was not a concern for him.
Paul’s being in prison was not easy. However, that was not the issue for Paul. He learned to be content in all occasions, good and bad. He encouraged others, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”(Philippians 4:12)
Paul was uncertain of the trials before him. He then encourages the church to have hope, joy and peace. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”(Philippians 4:4-5) In essence, commanding the members to feel victorious. Suffering in prison, he tells them: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (verses 6-7).
In another letter, to the Ephesians and with little to look forward to, Paul again is in chains. But he is passionately thankful for God’s spiritual gifts. It is these gifts of joy, peace, faith, hope that got Paul through his trials. Paul tells us the source of these blessings. Gifts we need to sustain us in life. “Praise be to God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3) If Christ lives in us, these gifts have been given to us. They are indestructible because they have their source in Christ, who is always with us and our spiritual blessings are secure.
I have heard some say, including Christians that there are those who long to become martyrs. For most of us, our human nature does not welcome pain, abuse and suffering. If we are willing to receive the pain that comes from persecution, it is not for the purpose of achieving a special status. It is because we are grateful for the gift of being called into the Body of Christ!
When praying for those being persecuted, pray specifically for the strengthening of these God given gifts and pray often. “Continue 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)
We too can find strength to endure all trials if we remember God is with us and the incredible gifts He has given us. The sufferings in life including persecution, can not be compared with God’s purpose for each of us. The good news is that we can have the spiritual strength to endure all the hard times that come into our lives. We are told that we do not face life’s problems alone, but do so with the Holy Spirit through Christ in us. We can overcome!
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