This week two horrific attacks occurred targeted Christians and non-Muslims. In Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed over 80 people and injured hundreds attending a church service. In Kenya, Islamic terrorists tortured and killed 75 people and injured dozens more in a shopping area. The attacks targeted all ages of people—men, women and children.
On Tuesday morning following the attacks, I led a time of reflection and prayer in response to these events at our Men’s Prayer Group. Here is the Bible study and some reflections on how to respond at a distance to such events.
1. Unity of the Body of Christ:
We must learn to see ourselves in union with our brother and sister Christians who suffer persecutions throughout the world. We are one body, one family, one communion of believers worldwide. It is time that we act like it. Paul writes,
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
These folks who were killed and injured along with those who grieve and suffer are members of our household of faith. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John reveals his partnership with those who suffer. He calls himself “your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.” (Rev 1.9) We, who can worship and pray in freedom and peace, must become partners and brothers or sisters with those in severe tribulation around the world. This must occur first in earnest prayer for their faithful endurance, patience, wisdom, protection, healing, freedom and strengthening.
Those who have suffered persecution have great burdens of loss, grief, anger, hatred, fear, anxiety, etc. We are called to help carry those burdens, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
2. Prayers for Freedom and Peace
Christians must also pray for freedom and peace in all of the areas where Christians are persecuted and oppressed. Paul writes to Timothy,
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.1 Timothy 2:1-7
We are urged to pray for those people in authority and positions of influence that they would facilitate civil peace and order, so that Christians can worship in peace and live godly lives. The intention of the prayer is also so that the gospel might be preached freely without hindrance, because God wants all people to be saved through Jesus Christ. Paul was appointed to preach the gospel, and in order to fulfill his ministry he required peace, freedom and open doors for effective ministry. Christians who enjoy these blessings need to be praying for those areas where Christians are oppressed and persecuted. This is a gospel imperative.
3. Prayers for Enemies of the Church
It is unfathomable that anyone would have to endure the mass murder of innocent lives. The human being was not created to respond to children being tortured and blown apart, to body parts being scattered in a churchyard and shopping center. There is no proper response, no script to follow, no part of our being that offers a guide to deal with such horror. Emotions are overwhelmed, thoughts are haywire, the will has no where to turn and no relief comes.
We tend to look for revenge and vengeance on our enemies the perpetrators. That becomes the logical response. Who are they? How can we destroy them?
How do Christians respond to this? What does Scripture say? What does wisdom say?
The Bible tells followers of Christ that persecution will happen. It happened to Jesus who suffered an unimaginably tortuous death. It happened to the nascent church when Stephen was stoned by religious leaders. Tradition tells us that eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred.
Jesus gives us the following commands (“commands” not “suggestions”)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles…”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:38-41, 43-45
In the nadir of agony and persecution, Jesus prayed from the cross for his “enemies,” “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Christians around the world must unite in prayer for the salvation of those who persecute Christians. We must pray that their hearts would be softened, that they would seek peace in humility and gentleness, that their eyes would be opened to truth and justice and their terror organizations would dissipate and dissolve.
I believe it is also good and right to pray for God to move against acts of terror through any means. We can pray for God to disrupt terror attacks, to send his angels to protect Christians, help armies and security forces seeking peace.
God desires for peace and salvation for people everywhere. He is able to save through dreams and visions, through any way he sees fit. Nothing is too hard for him. He can teach sinners the fear of the Lord. He can humiliate the prideful and arrogant. He can lead the brainwashed and deceived into truth. And one of his angels can destroy a nation. He is able to answer our prayers.
4. Cries of the Martyrs
In the book of Revelation, we see a vision of those saints in heaven who have been martyred. They cry to the Lord and ask “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The Lord gives them white robes and tells them to rest a bit longer, because there are more who will be killed for their faith in Jesus. These martyrs rest assured that justice and vengeance will come from God against those who do not repent of their wicked deeds. However, in the meantime, God is patient not wanting anyone to perish but wanting everyone to repent and to come to salvation through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3.9) In the same meantime, this is our role also…to pray for everyone to reach repentance and call upon the name of Jesus for salvation.
Many of us come to prayer in moments like these, and we want to ask God to destroy the wicked enemies of his church immediately. We want to say, “God kill them now!” We can even find precedence for this in the Psalms where the psalmist cries out for vengeance against his enemies. We see in the Old Testament that there are many times when God distills harsh vengeance against his enemies. That is his prerogative—not ours. Now is the day of salvation, and we are laborers in that harvest.
I think it is an absolute must for national security forces to go to great lengths to dismantle terrorist groups and protect innocent people and to punish those responsible for terror. I think our country, the United States, should have firm guidelines that we protect peaceful people and deal severely with terrorists who threaten innocent lives. National leaders must speak truth about perpetrators of terror. Such terrorist organizations must collapse and be rendered impotent one way or another. Our prayers should also fuel and guide our leaders and security forces in justice and effectiveness.
The church must do its part thoroughly and diligently. We must pray more for all of the above areas, and then pray some more. We cannot depend on diplomacy or the good will of people or nations. We cannot presume on divine intervention to stop persecution. We must not be complacent in our comfort while brothers and sisters in Christ suffer tribulation around the world. We must not sit idly waiting for some fantasized rapture of escape from this world where so many suffer and where other Christians are martyred TODAY! We must be “partners” in their tribulation and patient endurance on our knees individually, as families and as congregations.
The early church Father Origen wrote the following in the third century, “And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war…we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them.”
We must be soldiers in prayer fighting against the demons of war, terror and persecution wherever they may be inspiring their foot soldiers.