Is God too pure to listen when his children suffer violence?
By Wayne Schock
As Christians, we are often aware that polite conversation excludes certain words and even whole topics, especially when young people or children are present. But how serious can I be about talking with God, when there are topics that I choose to skip over because the violent and evil details make me or those around me uncomfortable? I find praying for the persecuted church compelling; these are my brothers and sisters. As I get older, I even find myself moved to tears by headlines about young girls from Christian families who are kidnapped, raped and forced to convert away from their family’s faith and marry their rapist (do you remember Leah Sharibu? https://www.uscirf.gov/religious-prisoners-conscience/current-rpocs/leah-sharibu; https://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/latest-news/leah-sharibu-update/. She is only one example, millions of Christians face extreme violence for their faith).
Here are a few thoughts about praying for the persecuted church:
- There is only one church; we are family. Remember the old Gaither song, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God…”? Paul talks about the church as being members of one body (1 Cor. 12:12-26). “And if one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if a part is honored, all the parts rejoice with it.” (v, 26). I pray for my kids and grandkids daily. I usually pray for my siblings and their families as well. I often pray for my church family also. So why do we so seldom pray for those in our family who are facing persecution because they follow Jesus? Often, we fail to take seriously the needs of our persecuted family members because they live far away and we don’t care enough to educate ourselves about who they are, where they live, and what they face. Jesus calls all his followers to take up our cross and follow him. Our fellow believers are giving their lives to follow Jesus. If you were Leah’s parents (see links above) how much would you appreciate other members of the body praying for your daughter? I am afraid that our western culture’s high value of “rugged individualism” and the “I did it my way” attitude has impacted our ability to empathize with other members of the family of God. Lord, grant that we may get out of our comfort zone and join them in their suffering through prayer, financially if we can, and maybe even visiting in person if our Father opens the door.
- God tells me to pray for my enemies (Matthew 5, in several places through this chapter and in other passages in the Bible). As we think of the individual humans that perpetrate violence, hate and suffering on our family members, it is easy to find ourselves trapped in anger and distrust. God calls us to pray for them, to believe that His grace and desire for salvation extends even to them. Is it possible for us to believe that Hibatullah Akhundzada – leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan – could be granted the gift of repentance, and find forgiveness and grace in Jesus? Or what about the father of Leah’s children in Nigeria; can an all-powerful God enable a child rape victim who was forced to marry her rapist and bear his children be used by God to capture her captor for Jesus? If God could clobber the persecutor Saul/Paul over the head on the road to Damascus and then enable a fearful Ananias to proclaim the gospel to him (Acts 9; Philippians 3:6), can God do it again today? Can I pray for perpetrators of violence and rape against young girls to find mercy and forgiveness in Jesus? (I call that an R-rated prayer.) And if God is merciful and grants them repentance and grace, am I willing to let them share heaven with me? Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies, for those who perpetrate violence against us and our family. For some of us who may have suffered traumatic violence and abuse, this will be harder than for others who do not have that experience. But perhaps in identifying with and praying for others who have suffered, our gracious Father can bring healing to all of us. I think he expects that this should be part of our prayer life. Lord, we ask that your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, that you would provide for the daily needs of your children everywhere, and forgive each of us as we forgive others (and for those who are not yet your children, we pray that they join the family and know your forgiveness also).
- The enemy is not who we often think he is. We have a real enemy; his goal is to steal, kill and destroy; Jesus comes to give abundant life (John 10:10). Paul tells us that we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). As I educate myself on the lives of my persecuted brothers and sisters, I come to realize how blessed I am. But can the blessings and comfort that I enjoy become another tactic used by the enemy to lull me into complacency? As I learn about the things that believers around the world face (360 million Christians live in nations with high levels of persecution or discrimination; 1 in 7 worldwide*) it makes me more aware of my blessings, more grateful for what I have, and more compassionate towards and able to empathize with others who lack many physical necessities for life and are suffering for their faith in Jesus. Standing with persecuted believers offers two benefits: it supports them in their struggle against the enemy of our souls; it grows gratitude in me and strengthens me in my struggle to overcome the lethargy that Satan uses to keep me from all that God desires for me. In praying for the persecuted church, I am joining Jesus in overcoming the work of the enemy and bringing abundant life to others and myself. Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. All kingdom, power and glory are unto you, Lord God.
BEFORE YOU GO
Paul tells us, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) This, of course, compels us to ask ourselves, “How godly a life do I desire to live?” Will you get uncomfortable and join me in identifying with, weeping with and praying for our brothers and sisters who suffer for their faith? Maybe even giving your finances to help support ministries serving persecuted believers, or joining with local ministries helping to resettle refugees and asylum seekers here in our own communities. Perhaps you can seek out a congregation of believers made up of refugees and listen to their stories and spend time in prayer with them. It could be like a prequel to heaven.
Some resources to help us educate ourselves about the persecuted church (there are many others also):
8Thirty8 – https://www.facebook.com/8thirty8/
Open Doors – https://www.opendoorsusa.org/prayerapp/
Voiced of the Martyrs – https://www.persecution.com/praytoday/
Prayer Cast – https://www.prayercast.com/
Refugee Care Collective – https://refugeecarecollective.org/
Refugee Hiway Partnership – https://www.rhpna.com/
World Watch List – https://www.opendoorsusa.org/2022-world-watch-list-report/?initcid=2201SRP2&initpkg=2201SRP2-SP2F&cid=7015a000001cwdCAAQ&pkg=a155a000005nQT1AAM&stat=Responded&utm_source=semp&utm_medium=paidsearch&gclid=CjwKCAiA6Y2QBhAtEiwAGHybPeZDtwzvtf_u1AXKqyaeEAr4uga2qS0XXHN90MizGjOhwUdZ49ma1xoCAUoQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
Wayne Schock is retired missionary from China. He and his wife Sherry attend our Oregon City Evangelical Church. He is the Conference Director of Cross-Cultural Outreach.