‘Father, Forgive Them’: 3 Powerful Easter Reflections to Help You Pray for the Persecutors
Kate Yates, Open Doors director of social influencers, shares Easter reflections that we can use year round as we come closer to God’s heart and ask God to help us pray and break our heart for what/who breaks His.
Last month, we shared on our website and Facebook page this video of Hindu extremists burning Bibles on the side of the road in South India.
As I clicked to watch the video for the first time, I fully expected to respond in anger at the sight of these men set fire to an entire case of Bibles and then spew hatred on the missionaries who had brought them to deliver to villagers.
As I watched, my heart hurt. But surprisingly, I didn’t feel any anger. Instead, I found myself quoting Jesus’ words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
How Can Prayer Teach Us to Forgive?
As difficult or as counterintuitive as it may seem, Jesus’ example on the cross calls us to pray differently. Because His Spirit lives in us (1 Cor. 3:16), we can forgive these men and their horrendous act. Because when our hearts are in tune with His, we see others the way He sees them—lost and hurting. Jesus prayed for the very people who placed Him on the cross. He prayed that they would one day sense and trust in the grace He freely gives to all who hear and respond to His work on the cross.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned since working at Open Doors is the fact that the only difference between myself and religious extremists—whether Hindu, Islamic or other—is God’s grace. That’s it—nothing else. Often, we forget that the only good in us is Christ. So when we see those who have not received His grace act in such evil ways, we tend to believe we’re better than them.
Admittedly, God’s grace is a gift I often take for granted without even realizing it.
But when we remember why Christ came and died—so that all of creation may have everlasting life—the thought of men and women who have never had the opportunity to receive this unconditional grace should break our hearts.
If your heart doesn’t break for people like the men in this video—if you find yourself despising or hating them—ask the Lord to break your heart for what/who breaks His.
A Chinese Pastor’s Prayerful Revelation
An entry in Open Doors’ daily online devotional, Standing Strong Through the Storm, tells the story of a Chinese house pastor who had been arrested, interrogated and beaten for his faith. The pastor shared his own revelation of praying for his “enemy” while living through the torture:
I kept seeing my interrogator as a man gone wrong. I felt sorry for his mother, who would be so ashamed of him. I wondered what kind of father he must have had, to turn him into such a monster. I felt sad to be in the presence of one of God’s creatures that could treat another human so badly with so little concern.
Then I would get amazed at myself. Through the pain I would think, “I should be angry, but I’m not, all I want is for this man to be saved.” I had three ribs and a wrist broken, two teeth knocked out, my kidneys were malfunctioning, and yet all I could wish for was for the man beating me to find Christ and forgiveness.
This pastor’s example reminds us that while we may want to see the demise of these men who brutally beat him or the men who burned Bibles or persecutors who attack rape, steal, destroy and murder Christians for their beliefs, we forget that ultimately, they are rejecting God and His invitation to abundant life (John 10:10). God calls us to love and forgive others unconditionally.
In his seminal work, The Cost of Discipleship, martyred evangelist Dietrich Bonhoeffer contends that we should even “bless” our persecutors in our prayers. 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 Reflections for Deepening Your Prayer Life
Have you ever really thought about the fact that before his Damascus Road experience, the Apostle Paul was a feared terrorist among those who followed Christ–much like the terrorists who persecute Christians today? Saul was the leading adversary to believers in the early church, persecuting and terrorizing them. Acts 8:1 tells us that Paul was present at Stephen’s stoning and even “approved” his murder. Scripture is very clear who Paul was before Jesus got hold of him.
Paul was so notorious that the believers in Jerusalem were not convinced of Saul’s conversion and feared him (Acts 9:26). It took Barnabus speaking out on the future apostle’s behalf to change their mind. Imagine if the Church had refused to listen to Barnabus and forgive Paul? For one thing, the New Testament may have been short by 13 books!
I’m convinced that we have modern-day Sauls among us who are currently terrorizing the church–Sauls that God wants to use for His glory. Like Saul, they need our prayers to bring them to their own Damascus Road conversion.
As you pray with and for the persecuted church, think about these practices you can start to adopt in your prayer life to help you respond to Jesus’ work on the cross:
- Begin asking the Lord to break your heart for what breaks His. With this heart change comes a change in perspective.
- When hearing or reading reports on extremists terrorizing believers, commit to praying for their Damascus Road conversions, that God would use them in world-changing “Paul-like” ways for His glory.
- This Easter, as you reflect on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, spend some time reflecting on Jesus’ prayer on the cross. Ask the Lord to help you and our persecuted brothers and sisters pray for and love those who persecute.
As we 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 as His sons and daughters (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.”
Will you join me in praying, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing?”
Kate Yates serves as Director, Key Influencers for Open Doors USA and is passionate about prayer–both in her own life and in her work with the persecuted Church. She has served with the ministry of Open Doors for 15 years and spends her time informing, empowering and encouraging those she meets to join in praying, advocating and supporting persecuted Christians. Kate currently lives in Alabama, where she is an active member with her local church.