260 Million Christians persecuted

Christians, from the beginning, have been persecuted. Jesus did not promise a persecution-free life either for all of his would-be followers. Rather, he let everyone know what they are getting into: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) If that isn’t enough, Jesus goes further in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:44, he teaches us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

According to the Open Doors organisation, who monitor the persecution of Christians and compile a world wide list every year of those nations that persecute Christians; in 2019 there were about 260 million Christians highly or severely persecuted, up from 245 million the previous year. Jihadism spreading in African nations; a movement towards Hindu theocracy in India; and a growing lack of religious tolerance towards Christians in China are all contributing factors in the increase of persecuted Christians last year.

Truth to tell, most Christians likely do not want to be persecuted; nor do they find it easy to love enemies and pray for persecutors. However, that is our calling, and only by the grace of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to follow our calling in this regard.

Perhaps one’s most important prayer would be for enemies and persecutors to have the same destiny as the apostle Paul—who by an encounter with Jesus on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus was given a new calling and orientation in life to become a follower of Jesus; a zealous missionary to the Gentile world; and one of the most accomplished theologians of all time.

For more details on the 260 million persecuted Christians, read the following article in Christianity Today here.

Stephen Deacon and Martyr

Image credit: bibleencyclopedia.com

Centuries before Boxing Day ever existed, and the shop-til-you-drop, three-ring-circus, mass hysteria consumerism dominated humankind; Christians remembered—and some still remember—Stephen on December 26.

You can read about him and his martyrdom in The Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7:60. Long story short, he was stoned to death based on false charges of blasphemy. His final words were similar to those of Jesus on the cross; words of forgiveness and love for his executioners spoken as a prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)

Today as I remember Stephen and his martyrdom, I’m also mindful of my sisters and brothers in Christ particularly in Muslim-majority and communist nations. They are far too often persecuted and falsely charged of blasphemy and imprisoned or worse, wrongfully executed for their faith.

So, in solidarity with these persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, I invite you to pray with me today the following prayers in remembrance of Stephen and those imprisoned or on death-row solely because they are faithful Christians.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of Stephen the first martyr, who looked to heaven and prayed for his persecutors. Grant that we also may pray for our enemies and seek forgiveness for those who hurt us, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 54)

Lord Jesus, you experienced in person torture and death as a prisoner of conscience. You were beaten and flogged and sentenced to an agonizing death though you had done no wrong. Be now with prisoners of conscience throughout the world. Be with them in their fear and loneliness, in the agony of physical and mental torture, and in the face of execution and death. Stretch out your hands in power to break their chains. Be merciful to the oppressor and the torturer, and place a new heart within them. Forgive all injustice in our lives, and transform us to be instruments of your peace, for by your wounds we are healed. Amen.

(Amnesty International, Prayer for Prisoners, Prayers for Peace)