If you’re like me, it’s easy to pray for those who are persecuted for their resolve and commitment to living out and sharing the gospel. We want to bring the needs and hurts of those who are enduring adversity. But recently, I’ve been convicted to pray for the perpetrators—the ones who are causing the violence, the displacement, and the bloodshed.
Admittedly, it’s hard. I want to pray for the persecuted and against the ones doing the persecuting. However, when I hear how a Chechen widow prays for those who hurl threats and insults at her, I realize just how limited my view really is. Here’s what Allina, a former Muslim, told our field rep, Jan Vermeer, in a secret meeting:
“I pray, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ The more they insulted and threatened me, the more I loved them. I even said, ‘I love you. In your hearts, you are very kind.”
Seems Allina understands the unconditional love of Jesus better than most of us do. Taking a cue from her playbook, I searched the scriptures and the insights of prayer warriors to discover specific ways we can pray for our enemies:
1. Pray and ask God to radically show up in the lives and hearts of persecutors.
Remember that Paul was once the greatest persecutor of Christians. He was on his way to bring violence against believers when Jesus showed up on the Damascus Road. God used this man known for his hate of Christians in mighty ways to spread His gospel and plant His church.
2. Pray against the evil but for our enemies.
In his seminal work, The Cost of Discipleship, martyred evangelist Dietrich Bonhoeffer contends that we should “bless” our persecutors. Let his words sink in (italics mine): “Bless them that persecute you. If our enemy cannot put up with us any longer and takes to cursing us, our immediate reaction must be to lift up our hands and bless him. Our enemies are the blessed of the Lord. Their curse can do us no harm. May their poverty be enriched with all the riches of God, with the blessing of Him whom they seek to oppose in vain. We are ready to endure their curses so long as they redound to their blessing.”
3. Pray that God would forgive them.
Both Jesus and Stephen prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60). As we grow as disciples and become more like Jesus, part of that maturation process involves praying like Christ prayed, especially for our persecutors. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus gives His disciples best practices for a new way of living and even tells them why they must love their enemies (italics mine): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.”
4. Make it a point to pray for Muslims that they would learn to see Jesus as their atonement.
Brother Andrew, founder of Open Doors, has said that he sees Muslims as “God-seekers.” He explains: “They are waiting for the God of Abraham to provide a sacrifice that they can believe in. No one’s told them that Jesus is the sacrifice, so they think they have to be the sacrifice.”
5. Pray as if God loves the persecutor as much as He loves you because … He does.
Scripture is clear. God is the creator and Savior of everyone. He knows the number of hairs on the head of the persecutor who kills and rapes just like he knows the follicle count for you and me. Jesus hung on a cross for all humanity, not just a select few who follow Him. It’s almost unfathomable to wrap our minds around that kind of unbiased, unconditional love. But when we begin to grasp that huge truth, we begin to pray differently.
Sunday, November 5, is International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. As you pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are living and dying for their faith, remember that Jesus has also commanded us to pray for their enemies.