The day started out like any other, but it ended as a nightmare. Esther (not her real name) and several hundred women were kidnapped from their boarding school by a religious militant group. A month later all were released—except for Esther who refused to deny Christ. As my friend and I read about her and others who are being persecuted for their faith, our hearts were moved. We wanted to do something. But what?
When writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul shared about the trouble he experienced in the province of Asia. The persecution was so severe that he and his companions “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, Paul was helped by the prayers of believers (v. 11). Though the Corinthian church was many miles away from Paul, their prayers mattered and God heard them. Herein lies an amazing mystery: the sovereign God has chosen to use our prayers to accomplish His purpose. What a privilege!
Today we can continue to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith. There is something we can do. We can pray for those who are marginalized, oppressed, beaten, tortured, and sometimes even killed for their faith in Christ? Let’s pray for them to experience God’s comfort and encouragement and to be strengthened with hope as they stand firmly with Jesus.
Hae Woo (not her real name) was imprisoned in a North Korean labor camp for crossing the border into China. The days and nights were torture, she said, with brutal guards, backbreaking work, and little sleep on an ice-cold floor with rats and lice. But God helped her daily, including showing her which prisoners to befriend and share her faith with.
After she was released from the camp and living in South Korea, Woo reflected on her time of imprisonment, saying that Psalm 23 summed up her experience. Although she had been trapped in a dark valley, Jesus was her shepherd who gave her peace: “Even though it felt as if I was literally in a valley full of the shadow of death, I wasn’t afraid of anything. God comforted me every day.” She experienced God’s goodness and love as He reassured her that she was His beloved daughter. “I was in a terrible place, but I knew . . . I would experience God’s goodness and love.” And she knew she’d stay in the Lord’s presence forever.
We can find encouragement in Woo’s story. Despite her dire circumstances, she felt God’s love and leading; and He sustained her and took away her fear. If we follow Jesus, He will lead us gently through our times of trouble. We need not fear, for “[we] will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (23:6).
One news report called it “the single deadliest day for Christians in decades.” The pair of attacks on Sunday worshipers in April 2017 defies our understanding. We simply don’t have a category to describe bloodshed in a house of worship. But we can find some help from others who know this kind of pain well.
Most of the people of Jerusalem were in exile or had been slain when Asaph wrote Psalm 74. Pouring out his heart’s anguish, he described the destruction of the temple at the hands of ruthless invaders. “Your foes roared in the place where you met with us,” Asaph said (v. 4). “They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name” (v. 7).
Yet the psalmist found a place to stand despite the awful reality—encouragement that we can do so too. “But God is my King from long ago,” Asaph resolved. “He brings salvation on the earth” (v. 12). This truth enabled Asaph to praise God’s mighty power even though His salvation seemed absent in the moment. “Have regard for your covenant,” Asaph prayed. “Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name” (vv. 20–21).
When justice and mercy seem absent, God’s love and power are in no way diminished. With Asaph, we can confidently say, “But God is my King.”
Two men convicted of drug trafficking had been on death row for a decade. While in prison, they learned of God’s love for them in Jesus, and their lives were transformed. When it came time for them to face the firing squad, they faced their executioners reciting the Lord’s Prayer and singing “Amazing Grace.” Because of their faith in God, through the power of the Spirit they were able to face death with incredible courage.
They followed the example of faith set by their Savior, Jesus. When Jesus knew that His death was imminent, He spent part of the evening singing with friends. It’s remarkable that He could sing under such circumstances, but what’s even more remarkable is what He sang. On that night, Jesus and his friends had a Passover meal, which always ends with a series of Psalms known as the Hallel, Psalms 113–118. Facing death, that night Jesus sang about the “cords of death” entangling Him (Psalm 116:3). Yet He praised God’s faithful love (117:2) and thanked Him for salvation (118:14). Surely these Psalms comforted Jesus on the night before His crucifixion.
Jesus’s trust in God was so great that even as He approached His own death—a death He had done nothing to deserve!—He chose to sing of God’s love. Because of Jesus, we too can have confidence that whatever we face, God is with us.
Sometimes life deals us a tremendous blow. Other times the miraculous happens.
Three young men, captives in Babylon, stood in front of the fearsome king of that land and boldly proclaimed that under no circumstances would they worship the giant image of gold towering above them. Together they declared: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know . . . we will not . . . worship the image” (Daniel 3:16–18).
These three men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were hurled into the fiery furnace; and God miraculously delivered them so that not a hair of their head was singed and their clothing was smoke-free (vv. 19–27). They had been prepared to die but their trust in God was unwavering—“even if” He had not saved them.
God desires that we cling to Him—even if our loved one isn’t healed, even if we lose our job, even if we are persecuted. Sometimes God rescues us from danger in this life, and sometimes He doesn’t. But the truth we can hold firmly is this: “The God we serve is able,” loves us, and is with us in every fiery trial, every even if.
When eighteen-year-old Musah received Jesus as Savior, his family rejected him because their tradition was of a different faith. But the Christian community welcomed him, offering encouragement and financial resources for his education. Later, whebn his testimony was published in a magazine, his persecution intensified.
But Musah did not stop visiting his family. He visited whenever he could and talked with his father, even though His siblings cruelly prevented him from participating in family affairs. When his father fell ill, Musah overlooked his family’s slighting and attended to him, praying his father would get well. When God healed him, the family began to warm up toward Musah. Over time, his loving witness softened their attitude toward him—and some of his family members became willing to hear about Jesus.
Our decision to follow Christ may cause us difficulties. Peter wrote, “It is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God” (1 Peter 2:19). When we undergo discomfort or suffering because of our faith, we do so because “Christ suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example that [we] should follow in his steps” (v. 21).
Even when others hurled insults at Jesus, “he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (v. 23). Jesus is our example in suffering. We can turn to Him for strength to continue.
Fear is Hadassah’s constant companion. Hadassah, a young Jewish girl living in the first-century, is a fictional character in Francine Rivers’ book A Voice in the Wind. After Hadassah becomes a slave in a Roman household, she fears persecution for her faith in Christ. She knows that Christians are despised, and many are sent to their execution or thrown to the lions in the arena. Will she have the courage to stand for the truth when she is tested?
When her worst fear becomes reality, her mistress and other Roman officials who hate Christianity confront her. She has two choices: recant her faith in Christ or be taken to the arena. Then, as she proclaims Jesus as the Christ, her fear falls away and she becomes bold even in the face of death.
The Bible reminds us that sometimes we will suffer for doing what is right—whether for sharing the gospel or for living godly lives that are against today’s values. We are told not to be frightened (1 Peter 3:14), but to “revere Christ as Lord” in our hearts (v. 15). Hadassah’s main battle took place in her heart. When she finally made up her mind to choose Jesus, she found the courage to be faithful.
When we make the decision to honor Christ, He will help us to be bold and to overcome our fears in the midst of opposition.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in the garden of our home, which is near the church where my husband is the minister. I hear wafts of praise and worship music floating through the air in the Farsi language. Our church in London hosts a vibrant Iranian congregation, and we feel humbled by their passion for Christ as they share some of their stories of persecution and tell of those, such as the senior pastor’s brother, who have been martyred for their faith. These faithful believers are following in the footsteps of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.
Stephen, one of the first appointed leaders in the early church, garnered attention in Jerusalem when he performed “great wonders and signs” (v. 8) and was brought before the Jewish authorities to defend his actions. He gave an impassioned defense of the faith before describing the hard-heartedness of his accusers. But instead of repenting, they were “furious and gnashed their teeth at him” (v. 54). They dragged him from the city and stoned him to death—even as he prayed for their forgiveness.
The stories of Stephen and modern martyrs remind us that the message of Christ can be met with brutality. If we have never faced persecution for our faith, let’s pray for the persecuted church around the world. And may we, if and when tested, find grace to be found faithful to the One who suffered so much more for us.
When I served as an intern for a Christian magazine, I wrote a story about a person who had become a Christian. In a dramatic change, he said goodbye to his former life and embraced his new Master: Jesus. A few days after the magazine hit the street, an anonymous caller threatened, "Be careful, Darmani. We are watching you! Your life is in danger in this country if you write such stories."
That was not the only time I have been threatened for pointing people to Christ. On one occasion a man told me to vanish with the tract I was giving him or else! In both cases, I cowered. But these were only verbal threats. Many Christians have had threats carried out against them. In some cases simply living a godly lifestyle attracts mistreatment from people.
The Lord told Jeremiah, "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you" (Jer. 1:7), and Jesus told His disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves" (Matt. 10:16). Yes, we may encounter threats, hardships, and even pain. But God assures us of His presence. "I am with you," He told Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8), and Jesus assured His followers, "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20).
Whatever struggles we face in our attempt to live for the Lord, we can trust in the Lord's presence.