The media’s focus on Iran recently has helped make the world more aware of Youcef Nadarkhani, a man who has been sentenced to death there for apostasy. Like the case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan, Pastor Nadarkhani’s situation is a rare example the media shining light on the suffering that thousands of anonymous others face because of their faith. When Christians in more comfortable situations come across such news, our first impulse is to pray. But it’s worth stopping to ask how should we pray for people like Youcef?
Read this letter which was written in January 2011 by Nadarkhani a few months after he was condemned to die. Notice that it has the tone of a New Testament epistle. Notice also that Youcef doesn’t ask for us to pray that his life would be spared or that he would be freed. Instead, he speaks honestly about the suffering of the Christian life:
The Word of God tell[s] us to ‘expect to suffer hardship’ and dishonor for the sake of His Name. Our Christian confession is not acceptable if we ignore this statement, if we do not manifest the patience of the Lord in our sufferings. Anybody ignoring it will be ashamed in that day.
Perhaps our first prayer for Pastor Youcef should be that he would “manifest the patience of the Lord” in his suffering. If and when Nadarkhani is executed, he will join the “multitude which no one could count, from every nation, and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and [with] palm branches in their hands, crying out in loud voice and saying ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” This image from Revelation 7 is often used to speak of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Church. But a few verses later, the individuals in this multitude are identified as confessors and martyrs, “the ones who come out of the great tribulation” of persecution. Before the throne of God in heaven stand and will stand people from every tribe, language, and nation who have suffered for their allegiance to Christ.
Revelation was a book written to communities facing persecution, and the letters to the Churches in chapters 2 and 3 show us what Jesus desires for communities of His followers during persecution. For example, in the letter to the Church in Smyrna, Jesus says “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10). It’s understandable and good that we would pray for freedom, healing, and comfort for our persecuted brothers and sisters. But the book of Revelation and Pastor Nadarkhani’s letter suggest that we should first and foremost pray for their perseverance. As the letters to the Churches in Revelation 2 and 3 suggest, we should pray for fearlessness and faithfulness. As is true for all of us, their ultimate freedom, healing, and comfort will come on the day when “they will no longer hunger, nor thirst anymore, nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear form their eyes” (Rev. 7:16-17 NASB).
If that’s how we should pray, we also need to know who we should lift up in this way. The following websites and resources all provide relatively accurate and up-to-date information regarding specific instances of persecution. I’ve found creating a list on Twitter to follow the latest news on persecution from around the world to be a helpful reminder to pray. However we arrive at such news, having specific instances, people, or locations in mind is necessary to pray effectively for our suffering brothers and sisters in the faith.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide – An international organization based in the UK which raises awareness of persecution and advocates for religious freedom and human rights.
Compass Direct News – Breaking news on the persecuted Church around the world.
Open Doors USA – Provides Bibles and Christian literature for persecuted believers, provides leadership development and community development for persecuted believers, and raises awareness about presecution.
Operation World – Encyclopedic resource with detailed information about every country on earth and a guide to praying for the proclamation of the Gospel in each nation.
Voice of the Martyrs – News, resources, and other suggestions on how to pray and raise awareness about the persecuted Church.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians ends with the words, “Remember my chains” (4:18 NIV). The letter to the Philippians also references his chains, saying “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Phil. 1:12-14 NIV). Let us remember those who are in chains today, and pray that their chains would indeed advance the gospel with courage and fearlessness.