Today, Christians in regions of the world such as the Middle East face some of the worst persecution in history. Yet somehow many of them manage to rejoice in the hope that they have in Christ. This year’s theme for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is:
Rejoicing in Hope based on Romans 5:1-5. Each year, Intercede International and four other Canadian Christian agencies—Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and International Christian Response—work together to create a collection of resources that help Canadian Christians and churches to remember their persecuted sisters and brothers around the world, and to pray for them. IDOP Canada recommends that churches mark this day on the second Sunday of November, but churches can mark this important date at any time. It is difficult for Canadians to imagine the day-to-day sufferings of those who live in countries in which religious freedom is ignored by their governments or neighbours. Imagine facing threats of false accusation and imprisonment, injury and harm to you or your family, attacks on businesses and homes, and even threats of death–all because of your faith in Christ. How do our brothers and sisters cope with such conditions? How can their faith remain strong when it costs them so much? God alone empowers them to do so. We are humbled and encouraged as we witness their courage and obedience. Often we ask, “What can we do to help them?” What does God call us to do? We can be the means He uses to encourage them through our prayers. Many are the testimonies from persecuted believers who say they find hope knowing that their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world raise a voice of prayer for them—praying that God will give them strength and protect them. They find hope knowing that we have not forgotten them. “…we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:2 RSV). For every Christian, regardless of our circumstances, hope is found in the promise that one day we shall see Christ face-to-face. Knowing that death will not be the final word gives us great hope. Ultimately, we shall see suffering replaced with rejoicing, and receive our greatest reward when Christ ushers us into eternal life with Him and says “Welcome home, my faithful servant.” For many of our persecuted brothers and sisters who are imprisoned or who constantly live under the threat of death this is their one focus—this is their hope. The world does not understand suffering the way a Christian believer does. “How can you rejoice?” they ask when faced with difficulty, hardship and persecution. We know that it is through our suffering that Christ promises to create in us his likeness—his traits of endurance, character and hope through the work of the Holy Spirit. Hearts honed and refined in the fire of suffering are deeply imprinted with his likeness. The persecuted often ask that we pray for one thing specifically: that their hearts be filled with love for their persecutors. Loving our enemy as Christ loved us leaves a lasting testimony with those who hate the Christ in us and seek to harm us. Many have come to Christ in the face of this kind of inexplicable, undeniable, selfless love. It is the stamp of the Holy Spirit on the heart of a believer, to love those who hate us, just as Christ loved us. This year, we remember and identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering because of their devotion to him. We ask God to protect them and give them courage and perseverance in the face of harm or attack. And we open our hearts and dedicate ourselves to follow their example—to “Rejoice in Hope” in the midst of suffering. We ask that God’s Holy Spirit will do his work in the hearts of his children, to make us more like Christ.
November 3, 2014