It was February 2015, and our family was newly arrived in Cairo. We were green behind the gills, as it were, with only one month experience with the Live Dead team when a video of an unspeakable act was released—a group of twenty-one Christians beheaded on a beach in Libya. It was a gruesome, blatant attack against people because they followed Jesus.

This wasn’t a new thing—it’s been happening for centuries. And it was not a unique thing—it continues today. It did, however, do a wonderful job of laying before us a representation of our persecutors. True, these are not the only source of persecution, but in light of our work in the Arab world, these will be the representation of persecution as we look at how to pray for the persecutors.

Our Example
However we look at this idea of persecutors, there are those in our lives and in our world who we feel are against us and who are at the very brink of (though some might say well past the brink) what we would feel as unforgivable. But we hold this up in contrast with the reality of what Jesus explicitly commands us and clearly modeled for us in His life.

We know clearly what Jesus did in response to His persecutors and to His friends who betrayed Him. As He was attacked, insulted, beaten, and tortured to death, we see no account, biblically or historically, of Him responding with anything other than love. What extreme persecution, and yet He responded with love! We know the words all too clearly: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34 NKJV).

But admittedly, we are not Jesus, so I wonder how He would expect us to respond. Let’s get a clearer understanding of what He commanded us. There is no better place to start than with Jesus’ words.

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44)

Jesus continues, talking about how even sinners—evil, terrible people—love those who love them. But we are called by Jesus Himself to “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (v. 48). This is not a perfection that we can find in ourselves, but one that we ultimately can ONLY find as the work of the Holy Spirit manifests inside us. The grace of the Lord is our only opportunity to match this, but the mercy of the Lord is perfect. We know that from Micah 7:19: “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” If Jesus forgives us to that level, and in order to “be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:45) as Jesus said, it would appear that we must follow that example.

So, How Should We Pray?
First, we should pray expectantly.

It is appalling and pathetic to see love stripped of God. Even some Christians think you can love others without longing for and praying for and aiming at the exaltation of God in their hearts. What is so sad about this is that it not only betrays the diminished place of God in the hearts of Christians, but also implies that there can be real love where we don’t care if someone perishes eternally, as long as they have prospered here on earth.
John Piper, “Pray for Those Who Abuse You”

Let us not approach prayer with a “vengeance of the Lord” attitude towards those persecutors, but let us pray that God be glorified in and through their lives. Let’s not forget that our churches quote the words of a reformed terrorist on a weekly basis. A young man named Saul headed up the persecution and hunting of the Christian church in its first years. Essentially he was sent out with the blessing of his government to hunt, kill, and bring home to justice every Christian he could find.

This leads to our key point. We could talk about rote prayers that we can/should pray for the persecuted, but the true issue is the posture of our heart when we pray these prayers. My pastor once said after visiting the Arab world that something God had put deeply on his heart is that “we can never call people ‘enemy’ who God calls His ‘lost children.’” This love, compassion, and desire for the Lord to be glorified MUST be how we approach the Lord in prayer.

Some of you may remember what happened on Palm Sunday this year (2017) when bombers attacked two different churches in Egypt. After, very famous Muslim television host was interviewing the wife of one man who lost his life in the attacks. Her response was deeply moving—she uttered true forgiveness to the men who did this. But what was even more telling was the response of the TV host, a Muslim man in a Muslim majority country uttered these words:

“Egyptian Christians are made of steel…for hundreds of years bearing unspeakable atrocities…how great is this amount of forgiveness you have? If your enemy knew how much forgiveness you have for them, they would not believe it… If it was my father, I could never say this… These people have so much forgiveness… It is their faith… These people are made from a different substance!”

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34, 35)

If there is one practical thing I would share with you, it is this—we must have the faith and the belief for what we see as being impossible and the PERSISTENCE to ask for it repeatedly.

Elijah, prophet of God and the man who prayed for fire and immediately fire fell from heaven and CONSUMED the sacrifice and the altar itself, shows us that it isn’t always that way (1 Kings 18:42-44).

Here Elijah is praying for rain. The Bible tells us he knelt down to the ground and put his head between his knees and he prayed.

Then he sent his servant: “Go look.”

His servant returned and said: “There is nothing there.”
So Elijah prayed again and told his servant: “Check again.”

His servant returned and said: “There is nothing there.”
So Elijah prayed again and told his servant: “Check again.”

His servant returned and said: “There is nothing there.”
So Elijah prayed again and told his servant: “Check again.”

His servant returned and said: “There is nothing there.”
So Elijah prayed again and told his servant: “Check again.”

His servant returned and said: “There is nothing there.”
So Elijah prayed again and told his servant: “Check again.”

His servant returned and said: “There is nothing there.”
So Elijah prayed again and told his servant: “Check again.”

His servant returned and said: “There is nothing there.”
So Elijah prayed again and told his servant: “Check again.”

This time he said: “There is a cloud about the size of a man’s hand rising from the sea.”

And here is the response of a man filled with faith: “Hitch up your chariot and get riding before the rain stops you!”

With this persistence and this faith, let us pray for those who persecute us, that we may see those who so aggressively persecute Christians live their life to the GLORY of God for all eternity.

The Twenty-First One
Remember the story we started with—twenty-one men beheaded on a beach. The names of the twenty Egyptian Christians was released, but the twenty-first name was not because he was not from Egypt. He was one of the persecutors. He was from Chad, and when he saw the depth of their love and conviction, he turned his life to follow Jesus. So instead of standing there as these men’s heads were cut off, he knelt down beside them and died alongside.

As we look to the Arab world, let your hearts and prayers FILL with faith and say, “I see a cloud, rising on the horizon. Hitch up your chariots lest the flood of souls overtakes you and you can’t keep up!”

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