Those who find themselves in the persecuted church (usually Christians living in the countries highlighted on the World Watch List) have a secret. Although suffering can often come in the form of torture and sorrow, those facing persecution all share the same thread of hope. As a result, you may be surprised to learn what the No. 1 prayer request is among persecuted believers.
Looking in from the outside, we often want to pray for the trials of the persecuted church to cease. We hear about the decisions parents are forced to make to protect their children, or the prison sentences so many serve because of their beliefs. It’s only normal and seemingly right that we would want to pray for the persecution to end.
Yet the reality is that believers in the persecuted church around the world often don’t wish or pray for their trials to end.
The No. 1 request Open Doors receives from persecuted believers is prayer, but they don’t ask us to pray they will be removed from persecution. Time and again, persecuted believers tell us that persecution builds the church and their witness.
In the midst of persecution, they still live out their calling to glorify God.
What Scripture Tells Us About Praying for Persecution’s End
Instead, persecuted believers ask us to pray with them that they will stand strong and witness with faithfulness. This “ask” is straight from Scripture.
Throughout the Bible, we see God’s people and His Church persecuted, but Scripture never tells us to pray for persecution to stop or end. We’re even told that persecution will often accompany us on our journey as believers, with John 16:33 assuring us that “in this world, we will have trouble.”
While Scripture tells us that God lavishly blesses and provides for His people, our idea of blessing differs from God’s perspective (the perspective of the first-century persecuted church leaders). Rather, in His Word God shows us that being blessed and having joy come not through our Western mindset of wealth, success, fame or even leisure–but rather through His presence and eternal salvation.
In Scripture, we see how persecution is transformative:
- We are called to find joy in our trials, knowing what God is able to bring about through it: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
- Knowing that whatever we face for God and His glory on this earth doesn’t compare to the eternal joy He has in store for us, which helps us persevere: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
- As we are called to become more and more like Christ, facing trials for His Name helps to sanctify us: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
Faithfully Living Within the Tension
After ISIS attacks this summer in Egypt, a field leader shared, “It has never been so clear and so open for the church to share the gospel. God is revealing His love to the people of Egypt. Pain and agony are like seeds—growing up through the soil of our country to produce the fruit of the gospel. God is using this persecution—that Satan meant for destruction—as the greatest gospel platform in Egypt’s history.”
While we pray against violent attacks like the ones ISIS waged against Christians and other religious minorities, we know our God is mighty and big and can use the plots of evil men for His glory and our good. A few real-life examples:
- In Tanzania, Eva’s Muslim parents rejected her when she converted to Christianity at the age of 14. At age 18, she was sentenced to two years in prison for her faith. “If we acknowledge Him,” she shares, “He too will acknowledge us before our Father in Heaven. Do not be afraid to testify before people, even if they are hostile. God fights for His own.”
- In China, Gulnur is a part of the Uyghur ethnic group in Western China, which reportedly experiences the worst persecution in the country. She is a Muslim-background believer, and her husband, Alimijan was imprisoned for his faith in 2009. Gulnur now raises their two boys alone. She shares how she gets through these hard days: “We have joy, real joy, in this difficult situation. It must be joy from the Lord! Otherwise, how could we endure the hardship?”
Praying for Continued Hope
Around the globe, our brothers and sisters are praying to stay strong. And they ask you to join them. Pray that believers, who are living out and dying for their faith, will stand firm in light of their salvation.
At Open Doors, we take seriously the call to pray. We talk to more than 60 field representatives and partner organizations around the world to give you insight and wisdom to go to the Father and intercede for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Each week, we offer an e-newsletter that brings you specific stories and information to help you pray for, support and engage the persecuted church.