The Forgotten Passage: Praying for Those in Prison—As If We Were There Too
For eight years, Asia Bibi has been imprisoned, sitting in Pakistan’s version of death row, awaiting word on her appeal. In 2009, Bibi had a conversation with Muslim women in her village who were pressuring her to convert from Christianity. She told them Christ was alive and the true Savior and that Muhammad was dead and a fake.
She was arrested within hours.
In Oct. 2016, Bibi’s appeal was postponed and since, she has sat in her prison, largely forgotten and alone. And the question is, what does this mean for Christians in America – her brothers and sisters abroad – when we hear her story? What can we do? What does the Bible say about this?
At the end of a long, convoluted treatise on the identity of the church in this world, the writer of Hebrews ends encouraging Christians to live out their mission in Christ with each other. He instructs them to work hard, love well, submit to each other, and then in Hebrews 13:3, he says this:
Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.
This isn’t a verse many are familiar with, at least compared to the one right before it about “entertaining angels.” The idea of helping a random stranger on the road who might be a heavenly being captures the imagination, but how can we understand what it means to remember Bibi “as if you were there” and to feel her pain “in your own bodies?” Obviously this isn’t suggesting some sort of self-flagellating extremism. It’s not saying “sit around feeling miserable all the time.” This verse must be more than an exercise in passive empathy. So what does it mean for us practically, today?
Part of the answer is found in understanding the context. The church reading this message not only knew people in prison for their faith, but was in regular contact with them. In Roman culture being accused of a crime often led to a lengthy process of trial and punishment. While waiting many prisoners were dependent on the kindness of others for sustenance. Paul discusses this in his letters, thanking those who have both provided friendship and resources while he was under house arrest.
So when the writer of Hebrews tells people to “remember” it’s the type of remembering that leads to action. It not only means “think about and then pray” but “allow your affections to be stirred to the point of action.”
It’s the same for us today. Our first step is to allow God to break our hearts as we pray for our persecuted family. One way to do this is to sign up for Open Door’s Prayer Alerts. Each week, you’ll receive an email giving you practical ways you can pray for the Christians in need around the world.
From there, we move to action. One way to do that is to write letters of encouragement to imprisoned Christians, letting them know you are praying for them. You can learn more about how Open Doors facilitates that here. Also, Open Doors has fieldworkers around the globe reaching out to local churches, understanding the culture and helping connect the persecuted church with the resources they need. You can donate to Open Doors today here.
We can also in prayer, over time, ask God to show us what role He would have us take in serving our persecuted family. As we allow God to break our hearts for what breaks his, He will bring Hebrews 13:3 to fulfillment in us. If we are willing to allow ourselves to tune in to the heart of our Father, He might call us to a bold step of action we never would have expected.
It’s hard to know how to feel Asia Bibi’s pain in our bodies. To live, remembering her suffering. But this is what God is doing at every moment. He sees, cares, feels the pain of each of His children. Hebrews 13:3 isn’t about manufacturing an emotional state, it’s about allowing our Father to make us more like Him.