Present Day Persecution
I saw it the other day for the first time. I didn’t go looking for it. I don’t revel in bloody gore. A notification babinked on my screen and I clicked. It was a message from a friend who labors every day in the field of souls. He preaches the light of Christ in a nation darkened by the deep shadow of Islam. His life is lived in the context of tilling largely unworked and considerably rocky soil. He has few to help him, and makes slow progress in building the Church, but he stays, and works, and prays, for the harvest. The message he forwarded was a video. It played automatically, just twenty-two seconds. I didn’t avert my eyes, though I knew immediately what was coming.
A circle of men and boys were in view, Arab dress, military weapons, ground already stained red. A lone man, hands bound, shirtless, blindfolded, was pressed to his knees. Twenty-two seconds. That was all it took for a head to roll. That was what it took to press me to my knees.
Horror & Helplessness
I know nothing about the man who lost his head, his life poured out on the street. I don’t know if he was my Christian brother, or if he had crossed ISIS in some other way. His body was dragged from the circle and added to an accumulating pile of similar victims on what had obviously been a bloody day. A very bloody day.
Distance makes me lazy. Carnage, when far away and happening to people I don’t know is surreal and out of place when viewed from within the relative sterility of my life. Any urgency I may feel to stand in the gap for those who are persecuted evaporates as I coast from my morning coffee to my evening cabernet. There are things to do: meetings, appointments, projects, and don’t forget to pick up some milk on the way home. Babink. Suddenly trouble draws close. A sword is raised on a street in Iraq and the spatter is felt in Virginia. Stomach-churning horror. How can this be happening, and what can we do about it? Otherworldly vignettes are streamed into our consciousness via hand-held technology. This reality feels so unreal. It isn’t where we live. So how can the space between us be spanned?
In the midst of our feelings of utter helplessness we forget that the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16). This is a truth we need not doubt. For us there is a certain amount of mystery in prayer since we have a very limited view of our circumstances and the world in general. Our imaginations try to restrict God’s abilities to the things we think are possible, and our prayers reflect our limited view.
The great reality is that we pray to the all-knowing God whose presence covers the whole earth, and He has invited us to come boldly into His presence (Hebrews 4:16). We were once far off, but He has drawn us near through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). Distance no longer separates us from the open ears of the all-powerful God. The spatter from the cross spanned the gap and opened the way.
Pray for the “Impossible”
This God who works out “impossibilities” tells us to pray, and so we should. We should pray for our Christian brethren, and for our enemies, and for Christ’s kingdom to come, and for His will to be done. This starts to sound impossibly bold which is exactly how it should be. Jesus, who sweat blood on His knees in Gethsemane, and offered Himself on the cross to cover the bloody mess we’ve made of the world, made it possible for us to pray with boldness and courage. Pray that the kingdom of Christ would overcome the Islamic State, that those who lift their swords over your Christian brothers would be brought to their knees before the Almighty God.
We do not know in what way the Lord will answer our prayers, or how soon the answers will come, but we know He has told us to pray. The thing about obedience is that it has a way of carrying blessing in its trail. Jesus, after all, said He came to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). What might He do if we took Him at His word, and prayed that He make it so, on earth as it is in heaven.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.