Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). It’s an opportunity for us as believers to remember the millions of Christians around the world who are persecuted for Christ.
This January, Jeremy Weber of Christianity Today wrote, “For the third year in a row, the modern persecution of Christians worldwide has hit another record high.” Based on what God’s Word says regarding the times leading up to Christ’s return, we know persecution will only increase.
When we hear stories of those who are persecuted, we can think, “It’s so far away.” But today there are many of our brothers and sisters who were already beaten, who have been deprived of food to the point of starvation, and for them, it’s very real. Instead of thinking, “It’s so far away,” we can try to consider ourselves now chained with those who are suffering and pray for them, as it says in Hebrews 13:3.
The persecution faced by our brothers and sisters in Christ takes many forms. Some are turned out of their homes by their parents, some are not allowed to return to school—all because they have claimed the name of Jesus.
In this generation where information is so accessible to us worldwide, we can feel bombarded with all the heart-breaking news we hear, whether about persecution or natural disasters or terrorism. Even this week, there was that terrible incident in Manhattan where eight people were killed by a truck. We find ourselves constantly overwhelmed, and we don’t really want to feel the pain any more.
We have learned to put up boundaries to protect our hearts and our emotions because we can’t handle so much. But with these boundaries, a little here and a little there, our hearts begin to feel a little less soft. Before we know it, our hearts begin to harden. Instead, the Lord tells us: “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36) and “As the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies . . .” (Colossians 3:12).
Whenever close family members of mine travel to places that could be potentially unsafe, I think about them and pray for their safety with much compassion and deep concern. I am involved in their trip with my whole heart—my thoughts, emotions and imagination. And I am ready to help in any way I can.
Generally, we are prepared to show this type of compassion to our immediate family and close friends when they are sick, hurting or in danger. We take the interruption into our personal life in stride during their time of need.
But what about those outside our small circle? What about those missionaries who suffer persecution for the name of Christ. . . the Syrian and Iraqi believers who have had to leave their homes and run for their lives. . . the families of Coptic Christians who were beheaded . . . the Bible school student who was tortured by his relatives and barely escaped with his life . . . the teenage girl who received Christ and whose parents beat her daily, made her sleep outside the house and told her that she was no longer their daughter? Should we feel compassion toward these as well, even if we have never met them personally? Is it not enough if we stick with our efforts toward our own families?
Speaking of family, Jesus, our brother and Lord, clearly defined for us who our family members are: “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).
This means that those fleeing believers are my brothers and sisters; the Bible school student who barely escaped with his life is my son; and the teenage girl living on the street—rejected and forsaken by all—is my daughter.
The Lord wants us to expand our borders. He wants to weep, touch, feel, pray, fast and show compassion through us to more than just our close circle of friends and family. Instead of being totally available to Him, we can often find ourselves self-centered, calloused and disconnected toward the crises we hear about. How do we transition to the place at which the Lord’s heart of compassion flows through us freely?
There was a time in my life when my heart had become cold, and I found I was more concerned about the small things in my life than I was about the suffering and needy in the world. That’s when I desperately prayed: “God, You have to change me; I cannot change on my own.” And by His grace, He began to break my heart and make it tender and compassionate toward others.
If you hunger to have the Lord’s compassion flow through your life, I encourage you to ask God to do for you just what He did for me. I am confident He will.
However, I want you to know that He will bring you to a place at which you must die to your own self, your freedom and your attitude of self-preservation. One book that greatly helped me along this line and taught me to understand how to love others is The Calvary Road by Roy Hession.
We must continually let His heart flow through us, expanding our capacity of love and compassion for others; otherwise, we will not be able to embrace even one additional person. For this reason, we must constantly yield our hearts to Him so that He can continue to break them and fill them with genuine compassion toward others. Let God be the one to put the compassion in our hearts.
In my own life journey, one of the things I pray on a regular basis is, “Lord, always keep my heart soft.” There is a Scripture in Job 23:16 that says, “For God maketh my heart soft” (kjv). The Lord is more than willing to accomplish this in each one of us.
On this special day of prayer for the persecuted church, let us join Christians around the world in praying and fasting with tears for those who are suffering for their faith. Take the time to look at a world map, thinking about the believers in these nations as the Lord puts them on your heart.
The Bible tells us that the prayers of the righteous affect change. We must not let our persecuted brothers and sisters stand alone while we cling to our own comfort and privacy. Let us all open our hearts and pray for those who are facing great danger for boldly believing and sharing the love of Jesus.
God, break our hearts with the things that break Your heart. And may today be only a beginning.
Click here, to read more articles on Patheos by Dr. KP Yohannan Metropolitan.