How should we pray for Christians who suffer or face pressure from society, family or governments for their faith?
Often we pray for the pressure to end, for release from prison or that Christians in other places may enjoy the same freedom to worship that we do.
These are not wrong things to pray. But God may have more to teach us about how we can pray for our brothers and sisters. Here are three things to consider about the way Paul writes to the Christians in Thessaloniki about their suffering.
1. Suffering for the gospel is to be expected.
When Christians in the West have enjoyed so much freedom for so long, it can be easy to forget what Paul writes to the Thessalonians in his first letter. He explains that Timothy was sent to them ‘ to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.’ (1 Thes 3:2, NIV).
Trials are to be expected. but we can pray that in them our brothers and sisters would be strengthened in the faith and not be ‘unsettled’ by the trials they face. Paul goes on: ‘May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Fatherwhen our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.’ (3:13)
2. The Lord has his purposes in suffering for the gospel.
With their suffering in mind, Paul writes in his second letter: ‘we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)
Paul prays that God’s purposes to glorify himself in the Thessalonians lives would be carried out even through suffering. We can pray the same. Of his own suffering, Paul writes to the Corinthians that it ”happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead’ (2 Cor 1:9). Pray that as our brothers and sisters increasingly rely on God, he would be glorified.
3. Relief will come.
It is true that Paul himself asks that the Thessalonians that he may be kept safe from those who want to harm him (2 Thessalonians 3). But Paul also sees, writing to the Corinthians, that his suffering, ‘the final relief from suffering for the gospel as coming when Jesus returns. (2 Thessalonians 1:7)
And we can all pray for that.
In the meantime:
In the meantime, we can pray for those who suffer now for
a. God to strengthen their hearts and faith so they can endure it.
b. God to be glorified in their lives as they continue to live for him.
c. God to sustain them as they wait with eager expectation for the true relief that will come when Jesus returns.
You may like to listen to and reflect on the song ‘Sovereign Over Us’ by Aaron Keyes. Perhaps you could pray that Christians around the world suffering for their faith would increasingly know the truths the song expresses.