Sunday was a day Christian churches set aside to pray for the persecuted church. It used to seem like persecution was what happened on the other side of the world. We are all aware of the killings of our Christian brothers and sisters in Asian and Muslim countries. We are aware of the dangers that missionaries face going into tribal areas and eastern bloc countries. Most of us know believers in our own country who were rejected by family members when they became Christians or who were punished or made fun of when they refused to take part in ungodly behaviors. As I was sitting in my 9:00 o'clock service in California, a small Baptist Church in Texas was under attack by an active shooter who killed 26 people and injured over twenty more. This was the third church shooting and to be honest, my heart just hurts. It hurts for the lives lost. It hurts for the families grieving the loss of loved ones so abruptly. It hurts for those who have been forever changed by the trauma they experienced in what should have been a sacred meeting. While we don't yet know the shooter's motives, we can view the hate speech posted beneath the posts of the news clips. Our country has definitely entered a new era and I believe every believer will experience persecution just like those in other countries.
How we respond to persecution is important. We would do well to remember Jesus’ words in John 18:15-20, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you; 'A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.'" We are often surprised when people express hatred toward us, especially when they can hide behind online posts. The question we must ask ourselves is how do we respond? There are several things we must consider.
First, we must remember that there is a very real enemy who is doing everything he can to destroy God's people because they have the potential to reflect Jesus to the world. The more believers become like Jesus the more he will attack them. Jesus warned us, and if we believe him we won't be surprised. We can be prepared and ready to stand firm in our faith in the face of persecution. We can also choose to make sure we respond the way Jesus would want us to and that is not with hatred.
Second, we want to remember some people get angry with us because of the moral values we have and the moral voice we have in this country. This is because the world doesn't want to call certain acts sin. When they are around us, and have conversations with us or discuss politics with us, they may have to face painful truths about decisions they have made and it sometimes is easier to be angry at moral truths and those holding to them than to face up to one's choices that took another's life as in abortion, or come to terms with how they have deeply wounded others through choices they have made through pornography, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual conquests, easy divorce, verbal abuse, etc. Their hatred and anger is often covering deep shame. We want to remember shame is a very painful emotion we all go to great lengths to avoid. That is the root of gossip, critical spirits, judgments, and even self-condemnation. Maybe the more transparently we share our stories and our own struggles with deep shame, and how choosing to deal honestly with it by bringing those shameful things to the Lord, His light sets us free from it. Our church has begun to tell stories and I believe through those honest and transparent stories, people are going to find that they, too, can face the shameful things of their pasts and find forgiveness and freedom from shame that for many drives their hatred of all that stands for God.
Third, we want to remember that some people are also angry at believers because they are deeply angry at God. Some of them experienced deep pain at the hands of people who claimed to be believers. Some of them were also deeply wounded when others in the church didn't protect or help them. Some were judged harshly by church members when they chose to remove themselves from violent marriages, marriages that were tainted by pornography, or to protect children from sexual predators. They not only feel deserted and misunderstood by the church, they feel abandoned by God. We want to build relationships that allow us to find out the backstory of those who don't trust God and His people and be the ones who will take a hit and hear an accusation in order to gain the opportunity to show them God as He really is.
Finally, we can pray for the persecuted church as we come to grips that that includes us. The following is my prayer:
Heavenly Father, I pray the Holy Spirit would strengthen ever believer who is being persecuted, whether it be with words, with rejection, with imprisonment, with physical violence, or with death. Lord, please let every believer facing persecution or the loss of loved ones due to persecution know how much you love them. Help them to be settled to the core that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate them from Your love. (Ro. 8-38-39) I pray that all believers, persecuted or not, would love fiercely and share fearlessly about Jesus.
Lord, I pray for those who are persecuting believers through their actions, words, and attitudes. I pray that they would be impacted by the love we have for one another. I pray that they would come to the place that they would become believers like Paul who had been responsible for ravaging the early church.
Please help every persecuted believer to be resilient and enduring, even if it is unto death. Please, fill the emotional needs of those being rejected and for those being harassed for their faith. Please provide for physical needs of those being fired, disowned, or displaced because of their faith. I pray that each one would glorify God through their witness. Lord, I pray that believers would have access to your Word and that they would find your words a comfort.
Lord, I pray for those being martyred because of their faith. I pray that you would fill each one of them with Your Spirit as you did your servant Stephen, that they, too, would gaze into heaven and see the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And each would say, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'"
Lord, we know you have already defeated the enemy at the cross. We know that the time of the Gentiles is going to come to an end. As persecution becomes more rampant, help us stand firm in the faith with our eyes forever fixed on Jesus. I believe even now You are in the process of setting the table for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and you are coming for your Bride, the church. May we live in hope and in victory, knowing that the Lion of Judah is on the move.