The Oxford English Dictionary says that persecution is: “Hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; oppression.” We know all too well that this can go so much further, resulting in violence and even death…
Many of us may be concerned, thinking about the recent terror attacks happening in churches in France and wondering what it means or what to think. The Bible is clear that Christians will likely face persecution during their earthly walk with God. For some, it might mean being made fun of at school or college. It could be receiving a disciplinary at work for standing up for beliefs or having to move house or job because of hostility. Thankfully in the UK, we have freedom to practise our Christian faith openly without being arrested. In many nations across the world, Christian’s face crushing oppression. Canon Andrew White the Vicar of Baghdad, filmed a documentary with us about the terrible effects this kind of persecution is having on our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and around the world. You can watch the programme here.
In Acts chapter 7:54-60 we read about the first follower of Jesus Christ who was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel:
The Stoning of Stephen
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Despite destruction, pain and suffering, God cares deeply for His children and can move powerfully in these situations and cause the Gospel to be spread further through testimony just like Stephen’s in the book of Acts. While we can support charities such as Christian Concern and Open Doors that help fight the cause of oppressed Christians locally and globally, we can also pray. Prayer for governments is key, we can also pray for God’s justice, pray for healing for our Christian brothers and sisters who have experienced persecution. Most importantly, we can pray for the Word of God to spread like a wildfire in the land.
Compassionate, loving, heavenly Father, we thank You that we can be set free by Your son, Jesus Christ. We think now of Christians living under restrictions preventing them from sharing their faith openly. May You give them boldness and fill them with the Holy Spirit, like Stephen was in the Bible. For Christians who have fled their homes or suffered loss because of believing in You Lord, comfort them and heal their wounds. We pray for more awareness and justice for those that suffer persecution. Touch the hearts of those in Government and terror organisations with Your love. For those oppressed, losing their jobs and facing poverty, Lord provide their daily needs. Be with those who fear the threat of terrorism and grant us a hedge of protection against those who wish us harm. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash