FORT ERIE, Ont. (INS)—What does persecution have to do with beauty? Read on! Beauty For Ashes is the theme of this year’s International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) in Canada, which will take place on Sunday, November 4th.
This year’s theme is based on Isaiah 61:1-3,
“To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Burned out churches, bombs exploding targeting places of worship, arrests, beatings, bloody attacks... these are not the scenes that we associate with the word beauty. For many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, they live a life of ongoing intimidation and persecution such as we in the West have never experienced. Yet in the midst of the most gruesome and ugly examples of human behaviour rises something so unexpected, it is utterly beautiful. It is the genuine faith of one put to the ultimate test, standing as a testament to the love of their God and Saviour, and as a witness to the Gospel of Christ. Indescribably beautiful.
And joy instead of mourning? How do we dare suggest this to those who have suffered so much? The loss and devastation of these, our ‘spiritual siblings’, for us is unimaginable. But we see in their faces this strange joy, a joy not of this world.
This strange joy is found by the widow in India whose husband was beaten to death by a mob because of his conversion to Christianity and is now left without the means to make a living and without the gentle hand of her lifelong friend—but she reads through the Psalms every day and finds Hope.
This strange joy is known in the heart of a 10-year-old boy in Nigeria who witnessed the brutal slaughter of his family and is now left to fend for himself, but bravely declares "Christ is my Saviour, I will follow him!"
This strange joy is understood by the pastor in Pakistan who lost his wife in a recent attack on their church and struggles to explain to his children why his faith is so important to him, and with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face says "we will be with her again one day."
We often see the pictures of the persecuted, hear the stories of devastation, and read of their loss of freedom and feel more than a world away from them in experience. Isn't what makes us one with them found in the simple truth of being forgiven and free? Believers have all known the torture and devastation of sin, and know what it is to have been set free to a new hope and a new future. Like persecuted Christians we know we are not of this world. Joy is found in mourning when we know we will one day be free of this world and its ugliness. Beauty is found in the ashes when all that is left after a trial by fire is the truth of the Gospel refined in our hearts.
This year, as we remember our brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith in Jesus, let us pray earnestly for their safety and for their freedom. Let’s pray especially for increased freedom to express their faith without persecution. And as we do so, may we also allow ourselves to be inspired and changed by their examples of faith and courage.
What difference do our prayers make? Persecuted Christians, when asked what believers in the West can do for them, answer “pray.” They aren’t seeking to be rescued or removed from their situations. They seek the support of fellow Christians through prayer. Our prayers give spiritual and emotional support to suffering believers. Our prayers influence God and change circumstances. Intercession through prayer helps the persecuted and those around them hold onto the peace and victory of Jesus. Their lives of dedication for God’s glory challenge and remind us that we are called to live lives for His glory—in times of peace or in times of persecution, in seasons of plenty or famine, in freedom or in chains. Our prayers are the whisper of hope in a dark place and the assurance that they are not alone in their stand for Christ. Our prayers could be the peace and encouragement they need to see another day.
Today around the world more than 200 million are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ. Each year, Christians in more than 130 countries stand in prayer with our persecuted sisters and brothers through IDOP. Join with us as Christians across Canada unite in prayer for our brothers and sisters who suffer because they declare their faith in Christ. Their daily reality includes discrimination, intimidation, attacks, fines, imprisonment, unimaginable torture, and even death for their faith. While we here in the West may not identify with their hardships, we identify with their calling—and are called to pray on their behalf.
IDOP 2012 will take place on Sunday, November 4th. This year we celebrate IDOP Sunday on the first Sunday of the month, out of respect for Remembrance Day, which will be the second Sunday of the month. If you are unable to participate in IDOP Sunday on this date, you are encouraged to set aside time on another day to remember our persecuted brothers and sisters. The important thing is to PRAY. The IDOP Canada partners have put together a free downloadable resource kit and DVD film to assist congregations, groups and friends to pray effectively for persecutors and the persecuted church. You can access it at: www.idop.ca .
The IDOP resource kit could help to organize an entire meeting, lead a small group, or highlight the needs of the persecuted church during a regular church service. Join with believers around the world on November 4th and pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Thank you for joining with us in prayer for the persecuted church!
(INS- Intercede International, Fort Erie, ON)