How to Read a Persecution News Story

Pray – if you can figure out how.

Jessica Boulos, killed in Cairo, Egypt on Aug. 6, 2013. (Morning Star News photo courtesy of Boulos family)

Jessica Boulos, killed in Cairo, Egypt on Aug. 6, 2013. (Morning Star News photo courtesy of Boulos family)

(Morning Star News) – Any of you who regularly follow persecution news may find that it gets hard to read after a while. In response to reader requests on how to deal with so much horrific news – one becomes either despondent or desensitized – I’ll share how I handle it.

The horror of some of the stories, along with the sense of helplessness they leave in their wake, can be wearying. I’ve heard many a reader sigh that they just don’t want to read it anymore; it’s too depressing. Imagine what it’s like, then, for a journalist to write about and edit it for 14 years.

The incessant flow of bad news has led me to the only thing that can parry the effect of the continual buffeting of the soul – giving it over to God. Sometimes when my 19-month-old daughter falls asleep in my arms, I pray for parents in Nigeria whose children have been slain in their beds by Muslim extremists. When my 4-year-old son cries after falling down, sometimes I’m reminded later to send up a prayer for children in Somalia who cry out for mothers and fathers lost to murderous Islamists.

A slight chill wind might lead me to pray for Christians in North Korean labor camps who suffer icy temperatures day and night without adequate food, clothing and medicines.

The annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) in November reminds us that persecution news is meant to elicit prayer. But how to pray?

Without a Kingdom perspective, it’s difficult to imagine how to pray for people who have suffered beyond imagination. Theology is not just for beard-scratchers; one cannot read about, write about or pray for persecuted Christians for long without having one’s theological ducks in a row.

Putting the Kingdom of God front and center is crucial. When Christians suffer for their faith, Paul notes in 2 Cor. 4:17, it prepares them for an eternal weight of glory; thus such suffering displays the faith that adds weight to the Kingdom of God, both now and later. Jesus told Peter that upon such faith He would build His church (Matt. 6:18) in this world. In the same breath he said that faithful acts today, among other things – what we “bind on earth” – will be bound in the next world (Matt. 6:20); one example being faith to the point of suffering on earth redounding in glory in the heavenly Kingdom.

Thus contrary to persecutors’ designs, persecution of the faithful expands and enhances the substance of the Kingdom. If Christ’s birth ushered in the Kingdom of God (an era, more than a place) and His cruel death followed by resurrection conquered sin and death, so likewise those who suffer for following Him ultimately add the brilliance of their faith, hope and love to the Kingdom.

This foundation may be merely cerebral, but where the Kingdom expands, the evil that leaves us despondent or desensitized is diminished. And upon this foundation we can place the biblical authors’ more soulful assertions that God is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3, for example); thus we can pray that the Lord console with His mere presence those who mourn. Paul also said in 2 Corinthians (4:14) that He who raised Jesus “will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” On the premise that survivors ultimately will be brought into the presence of the Lord alongside their loved ones who have died, we can pray that those who mourn will feel the certainty of being restored to those they have lost.

I pray God will draw close to those orphans in Somalia, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Kenya, India, Iraq, Colombia and other nations with the comfort of His presence, and I pray that those children will know the hope of embracing their parents anew on the other side. So also do I pray for the parents and other relatives who have suffered the brutal loss of their children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Lord, draw near to them in a tangible way, that Your presence would remove the sting of hopelessness from their grief, and that their hearts would be permeated with the faith that soon enough they will be reconciled to those for whom they now so ache.

To pray for the persecuted is to enter into their stories as Jesus entered into ours – incarnationally. So no need to shy away from praying with tears.

I’m not sure the heavenly rewards for martyrdom are much consolation to survivors left behind, but as described in the book of Revelation they do speak to the victory at the end of the Christian meta-narrative. That victory is part of the Kingdom. To each of the seven churches the Lord addresses in the first three chapters of Revelation, He includes rewards for those who “conquer” in faithful obedience, including steadfastness in persecution, and those rewards may give some indication of what God is preparing for brothers and sisters today who persevere in the face of temptation and persecution:

To the faithful in the church in Ephesus, “to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

To the faithful in the church in Smyrna, “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”

To the faithful in the church in Pergamum, “I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

To the faithful in the church in Thyatira, “authority over all the nations, and . . . I will give him the morning star.”

To the faithful in the church in Sardis, “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

To the faithful in the church in Philadelphia, “I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

To the faithful in the church in Laodicea, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Perhaps more striking than these rewards is the description of the One giving them, “one like a son of man” with eyes “like a flame of fire,” and his voice “like the roar of many waters (Rev. 1:14-15).”

It is for that “one like a son of man” that the young and the old in Christ are suffering today. If that figure were not also God who gave them the deposit of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, they would have little impetus to remain faithful. It is to that God that we endeavor to intercede, and were He not the one who also suffered cruelty for their sake and ours, some of us might have little impetus to pray to Him.

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  1. thank you for the above commentary. it is very insightful into the suffering of the persecuted.
    as i so often feel helpless and, frankly, anger on behalf of the persecuted, this article made me think that instead of anger and helplessness, i should be seeking for the mercies of God on behalf of the persecuted; praying with knowledge that nothing escapes the eyes of the Lord and He hears all the prayers of His people, although, too often to my human understanding, His purposes are beyond what i can see.

  2. Thank you for sharing this important analysis. As someone who shares your stories with Christians in Ireland, my initial response on reading a particularly distressing story (such as the recent murders of Shama Bibi and Shahzad Masih) is the impetus to share it so that others can pray but it’s also vital to remember to ground one’s activism in the solid ground of the revelation of God in the Bible.

  3. “no need to shy away from praying with tears.” Could not be better said.

  4. Carol Brooner says

    Thank you for this article. I so often get angry, at the atrocities in our faces. Thank you for pointing us to the LORD, to His powerful, and merciful word.
    He is Faithful and True. <3

  5. Paul Arrowsmith says

    I must add my thanks for this article. It highlights how much we need a Christ-centred perspective and a sound Biblical worldview. Our days and years are set not only in time but also in eternity. I remain convinced that eternity will yet reveal the overwhelming goodness of the living God – even in regard to these sufferings which otherwise seem so inexplicable. And in eternity we’ll surely discover the importance of truly faithful prayer lives. How vital then, that we who know Christ as Saviour are keen to be informed, organised and diligent in prayer while also making these prayer needs known to fellow believers. Especially concerning our persecuted Christian sisters and brothers. After all, isn’t it God himself Who calls and draws us into prayers which He purposes to answer in ways beyond our limited expectations?

  6. As I read everyone’s input, it just reminded me of God’s word, to pray for one another, because we are getting closer to Christ return. We don’t know when it will be us in that same situation facing persecution for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The bible is being fulfill, this is just the beginning.

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