Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. (Hebrews13:3, NLT)
And Presents…we can’t forget the presents!
That’s what we think of this time of year.
For many, we also think of IDOP – The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church in November.
And many churches spend the month of December praying for and supporting international missions and learning about the work being done around the world to carry the Gospel to unreached people.
We spend a lot of time praying and giving during these two months and learning what God is doing worldwide.
I love that we set aside time for these pursuits. I try to keep up with what’s going on in other countries throughout the year, and my best friend serves in a place that does not have freedom of religion, speech, or gathering in groups. But setting aside time to really focus on these and to lift them up purposefully helps us as well as it does them.
We grow as we pray for others.
We grow as we evaluate out own commitment to Christ—what would we do if we lost everything for the cause of the Gospel? And we have the opportunity to help our children and others we disciple to learn about family—these are our brothers and sisters who are risking everything for the Gospel.
We have a responsibility as believers to intercede for others:
for our family around the world,
for the leaders making the decisions that lead to persecution,
and for those who have yet to hear the Gospel.
We have a responsibility to be ready to give an answer for our faith and to stand in the face of persecution.
We have a responsibility to teach and prepare our children and others we disciple to count the cost of following Christ. If we don’t prepare believers for these things, our discipleship is lacking and possibly shallow. It’s a very serious thing.
It is hard to know how to prepare our children for such things when we’ve grown up in freedom and safety in our faith. In other countries, it is a normal part of life to teach children that daddy may be arrested at any time, and if both mom and dad are arrested, we have a plan. In some house churches, the pastor will be arrested. Then, the wife will take over as pastor. When she is arrested, the next person in line takes the role of pastor until they are arrested, and so it goes, down the line. In at least one country I know of, they refer to prison as their seminary. A person isn’t considered truly a pastor until they’ve been arrested for the Gospel.
So, during this season of peace and joy, we hold on to that peace and ask God for peace in troubled places and in these troubled times. We pray for peace to reign in our hearts and relationships. We hold on to joy and ask God to strengthen us through it. And we ask for joy to sustain those who suffer, and that joy would overshadow their fear and sorrow. We pray for wisdom so we can teach our children and those we disciple.
I think it is natural to wrestle with our feelings when we discuss these things. We need to, and they need to. I remember wrestling with it when I was in middle school. That’s when I first realized there might be a heavy cost for following Christ. It wasn’t easy to think about. It wasn’t easy to accept. But it was an important part in my growth as a Christian.
Peace is often felt the most during unrest. Joy is strongest during sorrow.
I’m reminded of Mary pondering everything in her heart. Even in the joy of bearing the Savior of the world, and holding her precious newborn baby in her arms, she must have felt the sorrow of the future sacrifice He would make. Simeon prophesied and spoke to Mary, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. (Matthew 5:9-12, NLT)