Man praying with shadows of prison bars cast over him
Man praying with shadows of prison bars cast over him

Praying for our Persecutors

 "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them."
Romans 12:14 ESV

I once played in a full-body contact church hockey league, and when it came to dominance on the ice, there was no turning the other cheek. I still remember a game where I was blindsided by a body check that occurred well after the play. It was a dirty hit and, adding to my aggravation, the referee didn't see the infraction. As I picked myself off the ice, set on retaliation, a teammate grabbed me and said: "Be smart, don't get a retaliatory penalty; but it was No. 14 who hit you." From that moment on, every time No. 14 received the puck, I was there and would deliver a hard but clean hit. I didn't care if we won the game, as long as No. 14 spent most of it on his backside.

Outside of the game of hockey, I would dare say that many of the problems we see throughout history result from "taking the number" of one's enemies and seeking revenge. It's no wonder the Apostle Paul, reflecting on Deuteronomy 32:35, says, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'" (Romans 12:19).

Paul knew all too well the sinful reaction of avenging the wrong committed against the sufferer. He also understood that God expects His people to live differently, that they are to be His witnesses in an unbelieving world. Being an ambassador for Christ requires an attitude that refuses to play by the world's rules. Godliness calls for total dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit, who guides believers to paths of righteousness.

Close-up image of a portion of the Lord's Prayer - ''Forgive us... also forgive... sins against...''
Photo: Shutterstock / Anastazzo

Romans 12:17-18 reads: "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." To live this way is a tall order in a "dog-eat-dog" world filled with injustices and troubles, where dishonest, greedy and prideful living are the norm. However, by looking at the context of these instructions, we can glean understanding from Paul's challenging words.

He makes an astonishing statement in Romans 12:1-2: "I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

In the previous chapters of Romans, Paul expounded on the mercies of God, through which sinners can restore their fellowship with the Lord of heaven and earth. For His redeemed people, then, God does not expect disengagement from the world. Instead, He commands engagement with others within and outside the body of Christ. Unity and love are to be the hallmarks of relationships among those in the faith community. As living sacrifices, His people are equipped to minister to the broken and lost, who desperately need to experience the tender mercies of Christ in their own lives.

Rev. Richard Wurmbrand wrote in his original autobiography, Tortured for Christ:

"I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with 50 pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold – and praying with fervour for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts."

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), an evangelical Anglican bishop, wrote, "Prayer achieves things that would otherwise be completely impossible and out of reach." Such prayer requires a willingness to sacrifice all for the glory of God. It requires a life that seeks first His Kingdom and expends its energies on pointing others to the Lord of all mercies. Effective prayer also necessitates dependence on Christ to provide His power to our supplications. Bishop Ryle adds, "By themselves, our prayers are poor and weak. But in Jesus' hand, they are mighty and powerful."

When it comes to living a Godly life in Christ Jesus, there exists no place for vengeance. Our lives are not like a hockey game where we remember the number of another player in order to dish out payback. Instead, God calls us to a higher standard; that is, a life of sacrifice in which we demonstrate the love of Christ – the same love that saved us – to our persecutors. This love is best achieved through Spirit-led prayers. How can persecuted Christians find grace to pray for the good of their oppressors? Through prayer. How can hearts of stone and cruelty be changed to hearts that beat for the glory of their Creator? Through prayer.

May these good words from the Apostle Peter encourage you to join hands with your fellow Christian brothers and sisters in intercession for those who oppress God's church in the world today (1 Peter 3:8-17):

"Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or style reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For

'Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and His ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil."

May the mercies of our Lord inspire you to live for His glory.

Grace and peace,

Floyd (signature)
Floyd A. Brobbel
Chief Executive Officer
The Voice of the Martyrs Canada Inc.

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