Blessing the Persecuted (11/4/2018)

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If you could be arrested and persecuted for being a Christian, would you still follow Jesus?

Jesus tells us persecution is something his disciples should expect. Matthew 5:1-12 says,  “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Let’s be honest and say we don’t really know what it’s like to be persecuted for following Jesus. Yes, some friends may abandon us and some family members might pull away from us as we grow in our devotion to Jesus, but we are free to worship him any way we want to do so.

This isn’t the case for many of our sisters and brothers around the world. According to the Open Door, an organization dedicated to helping persecuted Christians around the world, 215 million Christians experience high levels of persecution. This represents 1 in 12 Christians worldwide.

Every month:
-215 Christians are killed
-104 are abducted
-180 Christian women are raped, sexually assaulted or forced into marriage
-65 churches are attacked
-160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned

We know these numbers spike when groups like ISIS were attacking village after village on a daily basis.

Even though we’re safe in this country, God commands us to remember those who aren’t. Hebrews 13:3 says, “3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

How can we help? One way is to donate to organizations who help our persecuted sisters and brothers around the world, such as Open Door and Voice of the Martyrs. Another thing we can do is pray for them. Today, November 4, is International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Please take some time out of your busy schedule and pray for each of the following requests. Pray our persecuted brothers and sisters will:

1. Sense God’s presence (Heb. 13:5)
2. Know we are praying for them (2 Tim. 1:3)
3. Experience God’s comfort (2 Thess. 2:16–17)
4. See God open doors to evangelism (Col. 4:3)
5. Boldly share the gospel (Acts 4:29)
6. Mature in their faith (Col. 1:28–29)
7. Be granted wisdom in covert ministry work (Acts 9:23–25)
8. Remain joyful amid suffering (Acts 5:41)
9. Forgive and love their persecutors (Matt. 5:44)
10. Be rooted in God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16–17)

Even though many Christians face difficulties because of their faith, God is working in the suffering that his children experience. The following story comes from the Open Door website:

Mojtaba Hosseini is 30 years old. He used to be one of the leaders of a quickly growing house church movement in Iran. That was before his church was raided and he was arrested and imprisoned for three years in an Iranian prison (following a first arrest resulting in probation).

Mojtaba’s story is an important reminder that while God may (and often does) use the suffering of persecuted believers to bring others to Him, the depth of isolation and pain they experience is still very real. He also shows us the importance of praying with our brothers and sisters whom God is using in miraculous ways in the darkest of places.

Like all Iranian Christians, Mojtaba knew the high stakes. If he organized and led a secret house church—an illegal act in Muslim-majority Iran seen as a “threat against national security”—he, along with anyone participating in the church, could be arrested if they were discovered. And since he was a leader, his arrest would likely mean a conviction followed by a lengthy prison term. If he was arrested and somehow avoided prison, a second arrest would surely mean a long sentence behind bars.

Still, just as the disciples of 2,000 years ago and today’s persecuted church leaders risked their lives to build the Church around the world, Mojtaba persisted.

“Why didn’t I stop my work for the church after I was first arrested?” Mojtaba says, smiling. “I don’t really know. There was no logical explanation, but we felt that the Lord wanted us to continue. We knew this would mean we could get arrested at any moment.”

Mojtaba tells his story with an eye for detail and a passion for Christ. He takes time to think about his answers and often grasps his Bible to look for a verse.

“I Corinthians 1:29 says that ‘God did all this to keep anyone from bragging to Him,” he says. It is a central theme in his prison story: “It’s all about God, not about me.”

He knew God was with him when he was in prison, Mojtaba explains. But that knowledge didn’t make prison life comfortable—far from it.

For the majority of his sentence, he was in a ward with murderers, robbers and drug dealers. No one could be trusted. He also struggled to find hope—not knowing when, or if, he would actually be released.

“I felt a deep fear inside of me,” he explains. “And often, even though the Lord was close, I was sad about my situation. My hands were tied, my voice wouldn’t be heard by human beings.”

It was those uncertainties of not knowing if he’d be robbed, killed, or even if he’d be released that were the most challenging. In his darkest hours, desperate for help to go on, he turned to prayer.
“I prayed; that was all I could do,” he says. “At first, they were prayers of repentance. I thought God was punishing me for my mistakes by putting me in prison.” That was the moment, he says, he realized he was “nothing.”

“Then the Lord spoke to me. He said: ‘Stop being selfish Mojtaba, it’s not about you; it’s about Me. Look around you.’”

For the first time since being jailed, he began to truly look at people, attempting to see them as God does.
“I saw poor people, people who had committed the worst crimes. People that felt so alone.”

Mojtaba felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to share God’s Word with these people he saw every day: “God spoke again to me, saying, ‘It is time that you share Me with them. They need Me.’”

Mojtaba offers a hindsight observation: “It’s funny how God works sometimes. It would have been absolutely impossible for us to pass the big gates of prison to bring the gospel to those who needed him so badly inside. But God just placed me and other Christians inside the prison, among them to shine His light.”

The former church leader began sharing his testimony and the gospel with the other prisoners. Some came to faith; others were just very happy he wanted to pray with them in Jesus’ name. He began to long for and pray for a Bible, even repeatedly asking the guards for one.

“I didn’t get one,” he said. “None of the Christians did.” Then God intervened—through one of the most unlikely sources. The prison imam, who came every day to pray with the Muslim inmates, offered to help.
“He was impressed by our commitment to our God,” Mojtaba says. “I think it was God who filled his heart with kindness for us.”

Getting a real Bible into an Iranian prison was impossible, but the imam had an idea. He would bring in printouts of the Bible disguised as an English lesson. One of the friends Motjaba had made in the ward was good at English and translated the scriptures into Farsi. From there, Mojtaba copied the texts and gave them to the prisoners who had requested them—both those who were curious about his faith and those who had already given their heart to Jesus.

Soon it became known among all the prisoners that Bible verses were circulating. “We even got requests from other wards,” he remembers. “People were asking us for more. And the best thing was that prisoners were giving their lives to the Jesus of the Bible.”

Reflecting on his time behind bars, Mojtaba offers a revelation that we can all learn from. “I never prayed for God to release me from prison,” Mojtaba says. “I can serve God anywhere, inside or outside of prison. It doesn’t matter what situation I’m in. I can work in God’s Kingdom wherever He places me.

“And at that time God placed me among the prisoners.” He urges us to pray for his country and for those who are in prison for their faith. Currently, an estimated 21 Christians are imprisoned in Iran for their faith with an estimated 14 awaiting verdicts on their conviction appeals.

“My prayer for all Iranians is that they hear the good message of Christ,” he says. “And for the Christians who are under pressure, I hope and pray they can experience the big contrast I felt. They might not be in a good situation, but I pray they feel an inner peace and joy because they know Jesus.”

Please take a few minutes and pray for our persecuted sisters and brothers around the world.