The recent bloodshed and chaos of the Middle East is so indescribably disturbing! So much hatred, anger and misunderstanding thrive in the Middle East in our time. Consider especially:
- Hamas persecuting Christians in Gaza for the seven years since it came to power —murdering pastors, burning homes and church buildings, and abusing and torturing many Christian brothers and sisters, long before Hamas' recent all-out attacks on Israel. (Perhaps most of us American Christians forgot to pray or protest. )
- Hamas in Gaza shooting missiles at Israeli civilians every day now for seven years.
- Muslims driving out all the 1.5 million Christians from Mosul, Iraq – one million over the last ten years, and 500,000 just a couple weeks ago. Under the threat of mass beheadings, a half a million Christians were driven from their homes, and then robbed of all their money, jewelry and any other valuables as they left Mosul with barely the clothes on their backs.
- Muslims terrorizing other Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.
- More violent Muslim persecution against Christians in several countries in the Middle East than has been seen in centuries – or perhaps ever before.
What a time for prayer! The issues are so huge, we must pray. Let us joint with the wonderful leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) in their call for pray for peace in every country, especially in the Middle East. Let us pray particularly for the many brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in the Middle East – men, women, and children – who are being persecuted especially brutally at this time.
We live in a time of great persecution against followers of our Lord Jesus in very many places in the world. More people are paying a great price for their commitment to Christ now than any other time in the life of his Church. We must act, starting with effectual, fervent prayer. We must talk openly both with the Lord and with each other about this dreadful present persecution reality.
While in atheist-communist lands harsh persecution remains – especially in North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and China – the sharpest increases in present persecution against Christians are in Muslim dominated areas, especially in Gaza, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and parts of Nigeria. The continued murder, mayhem, and recent mass kidnappings of 100s of young Christian women for compulsory conversion, genital mutilation, rape, and forced Muslim marriage in Nigeria by Boko Haram – literally "books are harmful" – has at least caught some media concern.
Years ago I twice ministered behind the "iron-curtain" as an under-ground missionary, spending time in both East Germany and Rumania. First hand I saw how our brothers and sisters in Christ coped with daily abuses, harsh punishments, and persistent threats of death from atheist tyranny. Systematically, I clandestinely taught especially many young Christian men and women – mostly in their 20s and 30s – some empowering tools in Biblical study and in grace-filled Christian living, loving, and thinking. Moreover, from these persecuted young adults I learned a deeper comprehension of their profound "Divine joys" of costly commitment and creative coping. That "graceful joy" of the Lord is the profound source of our strength for faithfulness to Jesus both under our "velvet persecution" from some secular American institutions – and also from the intensely harsh persecution primarily in both Islamic and Communist nations.
In terms of that "Divine joy" in the midst of horrific suffering, one of the most profound statements ever written was inscribed by the author of Hebrews 12:2: Pay attention to Jesus who for the sake of joy endured the cross... There is a deep link between grace and joy, and the paradigm connection is through significant suffering, starting with the Lord Jesus. Also, the original Greek New Testament word for "grace" (,charis) is linguistically derived from the Greek word for "joy" (chara). In reality, that eternal linkage is established by the priceless, grace-filled blood of Jesus, which he very painfully shed for us "for joy." He gave sacrificially we might then receive both his amazing abounding grace and his divine joy, in all circumstances. God gives his miraculous grace freely, with his eternal joy, but it is never ever cheap.
Now, how should we deal with present persecution? How can we be wiser and stronger in our own walks with Jesus – learning the best timing and methods to be devoted witnesses for Christ? How can we be faithful sources of encouragement and protection for those facing the harshest persecutions in Islamic and Communist lands? Here are three precious steps I recommend:
1. Take time frequently to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus for us, and give special attention to the power of his resurrection. Read one of the Gospel narratives of Jesus' passion, seeking to visualize and feel every detail. Ask the Lord Jesus to help you to grasp intensely the sacrificial cost of the wonderful grace he has freely given to you.
2. Read and watch the news and follow informative links concerning the growing harsh persecution of our dear brothers and sisters — in Muslim or Communist lands and other places. Informative websites include https://www.opendoorsusa.org/ and http://erlc.com/issues/quick-facts/persecution/, and the www.ChristianPost.com itself.
3. Pray earnestly for our brothers and sisters who are subjected to anti-Jesus and anti-Christian hostilities from their governments, from terrorists, from family, or from extreme social pressure. And pray earnestly also for all of us — for our own strength and wisdom to cope with the pressures against our own living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All of us Christians need both (1) the strength not to compromise our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and also (2) the wisdom to discern the right timing and words in risky situations.
Persecution can involve death, credible threats to life, harsh imprisonment, brutal losses of opportunities for education or jobs, verbal and physical abuse, and severe restrictions on meeting with other believers for prayer, divine worship, communion or Bible-study. As we identify with those who suffer greatly, let us also continually pray earnestly for the strength and wisdom to be witnesses for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ effectually now where we are. After all, the role of being witness (literally "martyr" in Acts 1:8) for Jesus became so costly that it soon took on the meaning of paying the price of death to be witnesses (martyrs) for his amazing grace.
And let us all join with the WEA and others earnestly and fervently to pray for strength for those persecuted, and for peace for all. Moreover, let us also eagerly "put feet on our prayers," devotedly and skillfully working for stronger protections for religious liberty for all — in America and in other places.