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Prayers God Loves to Answer: Praying for the Church (pt. 2)

A civil worker in Kentucky loses her job for refusal to issue a license for a gay marriage due to her religious convictions.  A baker on Colorado is sued for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, again due to religious convictions.  Celebrities who are believers get criticized for positions taken by their pastors on controversial topics.  Long-standing mottos like "In God We Trust" get challenged.

 

All around us, the church is challenged and squeezed by a culture that practices the very intolerance it claims to stand against.  She responds in various ways - sometimes bowing to the culture and becoming nearly indistinguishable; other times lamenting the direction of society, other times militantly (and sometimes abrasively) speaking out against that direction.  And, while the church in America has not experienced the level of persecution experienced by believers in many other countries around the world, we see it coming and we can be tempted to fear.

 

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. -- Rev. 2:10

 

The church around the world has much to teach us in terms of enduring persecution with faith rather than fear.  They have seen Jesus' faithfulness to the words spoken to the church in Smyrna; they have experienced his presence in the midst of persecution, his provision, peace, and mercy.  And, sometimes, they have experienced death at the hands of their persecutors.  But they have faced that death with courage, faith, and hope.

 

As the church adjusts from becoming a majority culture in America to being a minority sub-culture, how do we pray in light of the increasing pressure we're seeing in this country?

 

Pray for courage.  Jesus' words to the church in Smyrna are his words to us today: "Do not be afraid".  Our prayers should be based on faith, not fear.  This particular moment in history looks increasingly difficult for the church - but this should not surprise us.  Jesus himself told us, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  As we pray, then, we need not fear.  Jesus has overcome the world, even when it looks like the world is winning.  And he is with us when we suffer for his name. 

 

Pray with hope.  While this moment in history is a difficult one, this moment is not all of history.  More moments are yet to come, and we know the end of the story.  There will come a time when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)  We need to pray with hope, not despair.  Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church - it's not just that the church will endure; she will actually win the battle.

 

Pray for God's intervention.  While there are times when God calls us to speak with a prophetic voice against the evil of our culture and times when he calls us to take specific action, real change - lasting, widespread, transformative change - will come about only as a result of his actions.  We might lobby against laws, demonstrate in front of clinics, and sue for protection of our rights - and there are times when these are all actions we must take.  But none of these will change the hearts of men and women.  Only God can do that.  Only God can change the church's greatest persecutor into her greatest missionary.  Only God can save jailers and their entire households. 

 

Commit ourselves into God's hands.  Scripture tells us that Jesus, rather than retaliating or lecturing when people insulted him, entrusted himself into God's hands (1 Peter 2:23).  We can do no better than to follow our Master!  In fact, as he was dying on the cross, with his very last breath he entrusted his spirit to God.  As we pray, then, we can certainly pray for protection from harm and for our freedom.  But above all, we must entrust ourselves into God's hands, counting on him to bring the results that will ultimately bring honor to Himself.

 

Forgive our enemies.  It's hard, when we see injustice in the form of persecution, to pray for the persecutors.  We naturally want revenge (which we call "justice" to make it sound better). And indeed, sometimes God's judgment and justice can lead people to repentance.  Our prayers for justice, then, should be prayers not of vengeance or punishment, but rather a justice that leads to repentance.  This is a hard one for us, because we often see persecutors of the church in the same way as Jonah saw the Ninevites.  But God also sees them in the same way He saw the Ninevites and says to us, "Should I not be concerned?" 

 

Perhaps this last one is the one that most distinguishes the Christian in the midst of persecution from people of other faiths.  We don't respond in anger and we don't fatalistically accept our "fate".  Instead, we actively pray for those who persecute us, as Jesus taught (Matthew 5:43-48).  Jesus pointed out that anyone can love those who love them.  But it takes a believer relying on the grace of God to love someone trying to hurt them.  Just as Paul prayed for the salvation of King Agrippa even as he was on trial for his faith (Acts 26:29), so we are called to pray for those who persecute us - whatever form that persecution may take.

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