Pope Francis has asked the world to speak out against the persecution of Christians. His request came a day after three Christmas Day bombings targeting Christians in Iraq killed at least 37 and wounded others. According to the pope, more Christians are suffering from discrimination and violence today than in the early centuries of Christian history.
Estimates of Christian martyrs range from as many as 100,000 (including those who die in genocides) to as few as 7,300 (including only those who are killed because of their personal stand for Christ). The precise number is not my point today. This statement is: “Two thirds of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today live… in dangerous neighborhoods. They are often poor. They often belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities. And they are often at risk.”
How does God view those who die for him? If one of my sons or daughters-in-law had been murdered last year, that tragedy would dominate my every waking moment. The Lord of the universe is the Father of each martyr (Matthew 23:9), grieving his or her death as his child. Here’s how closely our Savior identifies with us: when Saul of Tarsus was hunting Christians, Jesus warned that the Pharisee was “persecuting me” (Acts 9:4).
If someone murdered my brother for his faith, I would grieve his death every day. Yet every Christian is my brother or sister (1 John 4:20). I should pray for those who are oppressed for their faith just as I would pray for my brother in such circumstances.
This issue became even more personal for me when I learned that some of you are facing oppression today. Readers of the Cultural Commentary include those living in 28 countries where Christians are persecuted. They range alphabetically from Afghanistan to Yemen and include Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia—places where believers are especially under fire for Christ.
Investigating this issue, I have concluded that I must begin praying passionately each day for persecuted Christians. Acts 1:8 states that we will be Jesus’ “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” “Witnesses” translates the Greek word martyres, from which we get “martyrs.” Our Lord literally told us that we would be martyrs for him all over the world.
In light of Acts 1:8, I have set an alarm on my phone for 1:08 PM. Each day it will call me to intercede for fellow believers who are being persecuted for following Jesus. I have found helpful biblical guidelines on Cru’s “How to Pray for the Persecuted Church” blog.
Will you join me in praying for your fellow Christians across this new year? Please share your thoughts in our comments section. And remember Jesus’ two promises to all believers. First, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Second: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). When you face the first, claim the second.