Jesus said that His disciples would have to take up their crosses and follow Him. Beginning with John the Baptizer, Stephen, James and many other unnamed Christians in the Book of Acts, Christians did just that.
Persecution against the Christian faith was intermittant throughout the Roman Empire for the first two hundred and fifty years. The worst persecution, often called the Great Persecution, began in A.D. 303 led by Emperor Diocletian. As many as 20,000 Christians lost their lives. That horrible persecution came to an end when Constantine became emperor. Today the church remembers his life and his contributions to the church.
Christian persecution has continued, however, and is actually increasing around the world. The kidnapping of the Christian school girls of Nigeria is just another sad episode. Today mothers, fathers, siblings, friends and relatives are praying for their release. How sad it must be for them, and how we should pray fervently to God for them.
Paul and Barnabus healed a crippled man in the city of Lystra. The people became excited and thought that they were Greek Gods. Paul subdued their furvor and directed them to the true God and Creator of the world. But shortly after this, Jewish men who were opposed to Paul came and persuaded the people to stone him to death. Supposing him to be dead, they dragged him out of the city. But Paul wasn’t dead, and he went on preaching the Gospel and also saying, “We must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Acts 14.22)
It is a temptation for us, when we hear of terrible persecutions, to think, “this shouldn’t be happening.” We may even harbor a few hateful thoughts against the persecutors and against, in this case – their Islamic religion. But this is not the reaction that God wants us to have. Instead, as Paul says and as our Lord said, we should expect these things.
When it comes to persecution there are really two important things that we should do. First, we should pray for those who are being persecuted that their faith may remain strong and that they might escape torture and death if it be the will of God. Second, we should also pray for ourselves and ask that God would strengthen us and prepare us for the possibility of persecution.
Prayers for the Persecuted and the Persecutors
O Lord, in times past you gave Your people faith that endured persecution. You urge us in Your word, “Be faithful unto death.” As you command so also may you provide the faith that cannot be undone by threats, torture or murder.
O Lord, we pray for the Christian school girls in Nigeria who have been kidnapped. Be their Deliverer and Savior. Rescue them, if it be your will, from the hands of their captors. Above all preserve their faith and give them a steadfast witness to Jesus.
O Lord, we pray for men who are so swayed by evil that they would do the bidding of their master Satan, who Jesus called a murderer from the beginning. Either bring them to conversion or curb their wickedness or crush them in Your judgment to do no more harm to Your people.
O Lord, prepare us for the possibility of persecution so that it would not catch us by surprise. Help us in our times of peace to grow in grace that we might be able to stand firm in times of persecution. Amen.