This week’s letter was a difficult one to write. For much of the week I was without a topic but I still had a couple of paragraphs I had jotted down here and there. Then when Friday came around the topic I felt burdened to write about was not one that warrants any kind of humor when broached. So this week’s letter will cover a couple of different topics with vastly different attitudes, I apologize in advance for so
I had a dear friend send out an email this week calling us to pray for the persecuted church in Iraq and Syria. As most of you are aware there are great atrocities being committed against Christians in those areas. Murder, beheadings, rape, and slavery just start to scratch the surface; all being committed against anyone who refuses to renounce their faith in Christ. To be fair, most of this is not new, these types of things have been going all across the world ever since the apostles first started sharing the Gospel message. What is new, or perhaps different would be a better word, what is different is the concentrated effort with which Christians are being killed and the worldwide media coverage that it is getting. This is not the first time a group or government has tried to eliminate Christianity within its borders nor will it be the last.
So why am I writing about this? My answer is twofold, the first should be obvious, these crimes deserve attention if for no other reason than to bring pressure on the leaders around the world to put a stop to them. The second reason in because of the difficulty I have had in reconciling my beliefs and actions concerning what is going on. You see, when I read my brother’s email exhorting me to pray I wanted to pray and I did… or at least I started to. The problem is that after I started I had no idea where to go. How should I pray for them? Everything I could think of just felt so shallow or superficial, I felt like if Christians in the Middle East were to hear my prayers it would be a slap in the face. How can I ask that God’s will would be done when fellow believers are watching their daughters being forcibly dragged away and sold into the sex trade?
I hurt for my brothers and sisters, yet there is no way I can even come close to empathizing with them. I live a comfy lifestyle in a country and a family where I cannot even begin to comprehend what it means to live in fear that someone my breakdown my door at any moment and accuse me of reading my Bible and to know that not denying it will lead to my torture and eventual death. I cannot even begin to imagine what it means to live in abject poverty never knowing where my next meal would come from and wondering if God would provide a roof over my head that night.
There is a theology that is prevalent in America, a theology that states that God desires (and will provide) only good (material) things for your life if you will simply pray; in essence you are praying these good things into existence and that if you don’t have these good things then you must not be praying hard enough. This theology states that when we do things for “God” we’re not really doing them for God, but rather for ourselves; it states that selfishness (not to be confused with self-interest) is acceptable. This doesn’t jive with what we are seeing take place all over the world, this message is a slap to the face of Christians in Iraq.
It was with a particular sensitivity to this theology, or perhaps I should say to its antithesis that I began my prayers. I have prayed that their basic needs would be met, that they would be provided with food and water as they flee; I asked that their spirits would be bolstered and that they would be able easily remember the hope they have in Christ. I asked that evil would be vanquished and that the countries of the world would unite to put down the threat ISIS poses.
Further, when I sought advice on how to better pray for my fellow believers, I was encouraged to pray that they would have courage and boldness, that they would speak to their captors without fear and to boldly proclaim the Gospel. Even more I was encouraged to give, to provide financial support to organizations that provide relief to these people.
I’ll be perfectly frank, praying for the persecuted church is not something I have done very often or with any kind of consistency, and to be honest, it is not something I have done in a number of years. It was something I was convicted of for not doing and when I started doing so I felt woefully inadequate. I know that the Spirit understands/translates the desires of my heart, but my human failings, my inability to put my thoughts into words was discouraging.
So what’s my point? My point is this, pray. Pray and give. Give to those who need it; give to those who are ministering to the church. But more importantly pray; pray for the persecuted church, pray for the believers in Iraq and Syria who have lost their homes, their families, and even their lives. But don’t stop there; there are believers all over the world that covet your prayers. Our prayers can provide comfort to those in chains; our prayers are heard by an all-powerful God who is capable of anything. That doesn’t necessarily mean that He will answer those prayers in the way we expect, but we can rest assured that He will answer them according to His will and always for the good of those that love Him. Those may seem like empty words in light of the events happening in the Middle East but they are not.
Father, forgive me for not remembering your church. Forgive me for forgetting my brothers and sisters who have and are serving you with their very lives. Teach me to pray for them, teach me to pray for their needs and hear my prayers. Grant them courage and boldness that they may preach the Word even in one of the darkest parts of the world. Give me a heart for my fellow believers that I might see them as you see them, that I might love them as you love them.
If you are interested in giving to the persecuted church check out the two links below. I do not recommend organizations lightly, I believe that we have a certain duty be diligent on where we spend our resources, this includes our charitable giving. Rarely do I give to an organization; rather I give to people or ministries with which I am intimately acquainted. That said, I have done my best to vet the following ministries, if you feel led, I would ask that you consider giving to one of the following groups.
Voice of the Martyrs – Approximately 75% of their annual revenues go to support ministry programs
The Persecution Project – Approximately 90% of their annual revenues go to support ministry programs