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Earlier I wrote about "taking the offensive" in praying for the Persecuted Church. This idea has been on my mind more and more as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church approaches. Lately, God seems to be bringing scriptures to me to teach me a broader perspective.

Consider the story of Esther. It's a really familiar story about how God raised up Queen Esther to save His people from destruction during the time of King Xerxes in the Medo-Persian empire. I re-read Esther today, and once again noted the familiar prominent place given to prayer and fasting in the success of Queen Esther's request (Esther 4:16). Again I saw Mordecai's loyalty and integrity and Esther's courage. Again I replayed the popular verse, "Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14), which has so often been used to challenge Christians to action.

But this time through the book I was ambushed by a sentence tucked away at the end of Chapter 8, almost as an afterthought: "Many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them" (Esther 8:17). It seems that God had more in mind in the unfolding of this story than just Esther's and Mordecai's rise to power, more than just retribution against the enemies of Israel (such as Haman), more even than the salvation of His own people in the midst of their persecution. God also had in mind the spread of His word and the salvation of people from other nations.

Going back to the fasting and prayer in 4:16, I'm trying to picture how the Jews in the city of Susa would have prayed. I can picture them pleading with God for mercy, asking to be rescued from their enemies, perhaps even confessing sins. I can see them asking God to reverse the king's order and possibly even to bring on their enemies the destruction planned for them. I realize this is somewhat speculative, but I don't picture them praying for the salvation of foreigners. Such a focus never appeared in Mordecai's or Esther's words. The emphasis was on their immediate need and calling on God to rescue them in their time of trouble.

It seems that God is always up to more than we understand. He is, as Paul says, "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20). Over and over in Scripture we see God responding to issues like persecution in ways that go way beyond the immediate people involved. So, as IDOP approaches, I'm trying to stretch again in my prayers and ask God for more than just protection of His people and more even than the conversion of the persecutors. I'm starting to become aware that the story is wider than I had imagined, and I'm beginning to try to pray for God's wider work in the world even as I pray regarding specific instances of persecution. Something tells me that this learning journey isn't over yet.

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