According to a report earlier this year from Britain’s Foreign Secretary, the persecution of Christians around the world is “at near genocide levels.” Sadly, relatively few people are aware of just how severe and widespread the opposition to Christianity is. But regardless of how the world does or doesn’t respond to such reports, we as Christians should be concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ who face persecution. The author of Hebrews reminds us,
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)
One important way we can “remember” those who are persecuted is by praying for them. We may not know most of their names or their stories, but we share a bond with them in Christ that is stronger and more profound than our closest relationships with unbelievers. With this in mind, here are seven ways, based on Scripture, that we can pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.
1. Pray that God would sustain the faith of persecuted believers so that they might faithfully endure trials and suffering for Christ’s sake.
Our primary concern for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ is their perseverance in the faith. We want them to endure trials faithfully rather than abandoning Christ when things get difficult or when their lives are in danger. Scripture reminds us of the importance of persevering in the faith:
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us. (2 Tim 2:12)
… the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22)
We should pray that persecuted Christians will continue to cling to Christ and to follow Him regardless of the cost. Gratefully, the perseverance of God’s people is not ultimately dependent on their power or their faithfulness. It is God’s power and faithfulness that keeps them secure (Phil 1:6; 1 Thess 5:24; 1 Pet 1:5; Jude 24–25). We want them to be confident that nothing can separate them from God’s love, not even death (Rom 8:31–39).
2. Pray for the spread of the gospel through persecuted believers, asking God to use their words and their faithfulness to bear witness to the gospel.
When God’s people maintain their hope under circumstances that seem hopeless (from the world’s perspective), it becomes evident that they are living for something other than this world. Here’s how the apostle Peter put it:
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:12)
When unbelievers become curious about how persecuted Christians can find peace and joy in the midst of trials, we should pray that these Christians would be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15).
It may be that the Lord will use the persecution of His people as the dark backdrop that makes the light of the gospel stand out all the more. What better way to put on display a Savior who suffered faithfully for the salvation of His people?
3. Pray that believers in persecuted areas might be able to experience the blessing of gathering with other believers for worship, as well as the regular fellowship and equipping of the church.
It’s easy to take for granted the blessing of gathering with your local church regularly for corporate worship and for mutual edification we receive from the “one anothers” in Scripture (ex: Rom 12:3–21). We share each other’s joys and help bear each other’s sorrows.
However, for many Christians around the world, this kind of fellowship is rare or virtually non-existent. Let’s pray, then, that healthy churches would be planted and that our persecuted brothers and sisters would be able to carry out the following exhortation from Hebrews 10:24–25:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24–25)
Believers need mutual encouragement, particularly when there is a high physical, social, and/or financial cost for following Christ. While God undoubtedly pours out special grace for those who are unable to gather together due to persecution, we were redeemed in order to be part of Christ’s church, which means no Christian was made to flourish in isolation.
4. Pray that God would give persecuted pastors courage, wisdom, and joy as they proclaim the gospel and exhort their people to hold fast to Christ.
Pastors have the privilege and responsibility of shepherding God’s people, which means that they are likely a prime target of persecution in many places. Satan would love to prevent pastors from proclaiming the gospel and exhorting God’s people to faithfulness. Pastors the kind of God-centered courage that Paul calls Timothy to:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim 4:1–2)
We should pray that God would strengthen the faith of pastors to proclaim the truths of God’s Word. We want them to see that, though the cost is high, the reward is worth it. Again, Paul’s words to Timothy can guide our prayers: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5). May our prayers help these men do just that.
5. Pray that God would put an end to violence, intimidation, and other forms of persecution aimed at silencing persecuted believers and stopping the spread of the gospel.
God sometimes uses the persecution of His people for the spread of the gospel (Acts 8:4), but that doesn’t mean we should seek persecution. After all, extreme persecution can, at times, temporarily wipe out the church in a particular region or among a particular people group. We ought to pray that God would thwart such satanic efforts.
Jesus invites us to continually come to God asking for justice (Lk 18:1–8). Surely we ought to pray this way for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, asking God to put a stop to the cruelty and injustice of their persecutors. Yes, God may permit persecution to continue for His own good and sovereign purposes, but we can rest assured that one day He will right all wrongs. We should pray that persecuted Christians will not “take matters into their own hands” but rather trust in the One who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay…” (Rom 12:19; Deut 32:35).
God’s people can love their enemies and seek to win them to Christ, even as they look forward to the day when God vindicates His people. This is, after all, part of what it means to pray “Your kingdom come” (Matt 6:10) and “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).
6. Pray for Bibles and resources to be made available to persecuted believers.
God saves, sustains, comforts, and teaches His people by His Word. However, it is often difficult or dangerous for persecuted believers to obtain a physical copy of God’s Word. While hearing and responding to the proclamation of the gospel sufficient for salvation, Bibles are important for long-term discipleship and healthy churches. The apostle Paul reminds us of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16–17)
We should ask God to make the scriptures and other gospel resources available to the persecuted church. Often these resources have to be shared in creative ways due to governmental restrictions and cultural pressures, but God is not incapable of overcoming these obstacles. We want our fellow believers to be able to say with the psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119:97).
7. Pray that God would provide for the physical needs of persecuted believers.
Although the requests listed above prioritize the spiritual needs of persecuted believers, we also want God to sustain these believers physically. John provides a good example of this kind of concern:
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. (3 Jn 2)
Whether it’s enduring physical torture or simply being able to provide enough food for their families, persecuted believers often face many hardships. We should pray for God to provide for these needs and to bring comfort to His people in the midst of physical suffering. Most of all, we should pray that God would help them look beyond their present trials and rejoice in their great reward:
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:15–17)