We enjoy huge freedom in this country, where others suffer terrible persecution and I think we often take our freedom for granted. Freedom even to come to church openly and freely, without fear. A friend recently told me about a church of over 1000 people overseas that was told to close immediately by their government! I wonder how many of us thank God for the freedoms we enjoy and use our freedom to speak out, to help and to pray for others who are persecuted?
There are many countries in which Christians face extreme persecution. Christians around the world are being forced to leave their home countries (est. 500,000 from Syria alone), kidnapped for ransom and yes, killed because of their faith by the likes of Isis and in some cases their own Governments.
Over 3000 Christians were reportedly killed for their faith last year alone. That’s double the number in the previous year. Many millions are looked upon as second-class citizens because of their beliefs.
Jesus gave a stark warning that the world will hate his disciples. You can read about this here
in his close friend John’s account of Jesus’s life.
Notice that before talking about the fact that they would be hated by the world, Jesus urged his disciples to love one another. In fact he stressed that this was his command!
It seems to me he was imploring them to love one another because the world hated him and therefore it would hate them too. Not because the world knew Jesus was wrong but because they knew he was right. They knew it but lived in denial of it! They saw the miracles, the feedings, healings and the rest. They saw the light and snuck back into the dark where they liked it. Creatures of the darkness don’t like the light. People who dwell in spiritual darkness don’t like people of the light – that’s why they reject and persecute Christians. The world wants us to conform to the “me first” ways of the world and their pursuit of false gods like these -
Money. Power. Celebrity. Status symbols.
What happened to the innocent children they once were? How did they come to live in the darkness and live there - in total, angry denial that they are? Out of which dark place comes the lashing out, the persecution of at the children of the light.
So before talking about how the world would hate them, Jesus commanded his followers to love each other. Immediately after the warning about hatred, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit – the Advocate – would be with them. An advocate is one who speaks for another. Also a comforter, an encourager, a strengthener. The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus and with His help so can we!
When you find people resistant to your faith are you timid or embarrassed about speaking up? Pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen you and give you the right words to say. Do you pray for persecuted Christians? If not, will you?
We can be used by God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be advocates for other Christians – we can bring comfort and encouragement to them and speak up for them. We can pray for them. As a church we already support the organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) financially but we can do more. Prayer is one way in which we can put our faith and love into action but there are some other actions we might consider too.
Here are some ways in which we can act in support of our partners at CSW and others -
1. Personal prayers:
• Pray for our CSW contacts Steven and Dave and the people they are working with and for. Pray for God’s favour on CSW as they engage in areas of persecution around the world.
• Pray for unity of the church around the world – Steven has asked that we pray for unity of the church in India in particular.
• Pray not only for the persecuted, but the persecutors. The arch persecutor of the early church was a guy named Saul. He became Paul, the greatest apostle of them all. We should pray that today’s persecutors have a radical encounter with Jesus, just as Saul did. Saul cared a great deal about persecution – and persecuting Christians! He went on to die for his faith in Jesus. In between, we saw faith, love and action – as a result of an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Lets’ pray for such encounters!
2. “Connect & Encourage”. Write to people who suffer for their beliefs. Do this using the CSW website guidance: https://www.csw.org.uk/home.htm
We can stay connected with Dave and the work their teams are doing – we can encourage and support them in the projects like “Faith and a Future” and they have agreed to keep in touch with us on this.
3. Give. We at EBC give to CSW via our Other Causes fund, but you can give directly too. Sign up and give directly via the CSW website.
4. Empathise. Pray and get before God about our involvement at EBC and your part in it. Despite our many freedoms, there is a great danger Christians face in this country. The danger is our own apathy. We should feel empathy for persecuted Christians. Empathy derives from Greek words meaning in suffering or in passion. But the enemy of empathy is apathy – no suffering, no passion.
The church is the body of Christ and if one part is suffering, the whole body is affected.
Imagine Jesus himself in suffering. If he was in front of you now, bleeding from the wounds in his hands, feet and side… In light of what he did and does for us, wouldn’t we run to staunch his wounds and comfort him in his distress? Wouldn’t we be in tears as we tried to help him? The church is the body of Christ! It’s suffering. He’s suffering. And the enemy of empathy is apathy.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. If you are not already praying for the persecuted church, when will you start and when will you set time aside to pray?
2. If you are not already giving, or haven’t recently reviewed your giving, could you do so?
3. How is your relationship with fellow Christians characterised, really? Which word fits best – love or hate?
4. When it comes to persecuted Christians around the world, which word fits best with your attitude, honestly – empathy or apathy? If empathy, how is that manifested in your actions?
5. Could you make a note of the CSW website as one to visit regularly?