CALL TO PRAYER: Cultivating a church's heart for the persecuted
EDITOR'S NOTE: Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, has issued a call to prayer for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world during 2013. Baptist Press will carry First-Person articles during the year encouraging Southern Baptists to pray in specific areas and for specific needs as we petition the Father for spiritual awakening.
WASHINGTON (BP) -- It doesn't take long when reading the Bible to see that God is impassioned for the plight of His people, such as this passage in Exodus:
"Then the Lord said, 'I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them....'" (Exodus 3:7-8).
In the face of an ever-increasing worldwide persecution of Christians, we would be wise to cultivate practices in our churches that might more readily reflect this notion of God's nature. I would like to note three ways you can implement this in the life of your church that will, eventually, lead to three rewards.
1. Apply biblical truth locally by using what is happening globally.
Every pastor labors to try and faithfully apply the truths of the Bible in a way that will assault his people and spur them on toward faithfulness. They do that by considering their own context and using aspects of it to illustrate or apply that particular truth.
However, considering a different context will help your congregation identify with the plight of God's people around the world. For example, when preaching or teaching through 1 Peter, don't limit the illustrations and applications of persecution only to homosexuality or other American problems. Take them to the checkpoint just outside of Mosul where they are walking with their family and will have to answer for their faith in Christ. Bring them into the homes of those who just received word of the mock crucifixions of converted Christians in Syria.
Occasionally sprinkling in ideas like these will serve to strengthen faithfulness in our more immediate contexts.
2. Pray frequently, specifically and experientially.
If we pray for the plight of God's people in our public services, it is often done in short order or in a sort of peripheral way that does not resonate with the actual circumstances of the world. Don't just pray for the persecuted church when it is on the calendar; pray for them often so as to engrain it into the minds and hearts of the people.
Praying continually will help your church understand that persecution is going on continually and will model the realities of our brothers and sisters in other countries. And when you do pray, pray for specific people in specific places. This will serve to put a face on otherwise formless peoples.
Also, genuinely pray in the mood of the situation. If I asked you to breathe life into the lungs of a victim the same way I asked you to pick up some milk at the store, we would rightly think something has gone awry in my soul. Likewise, consider the situation and pray in a manner that reflects it.
3. Be meaningfully involved in the nations.
Appropriating 10 percent of your monies toward international missions is a good thing but it is not sufficient to build a fervency among your congregation for the people of God around the world. As a church, we have adopted a couple of communities around the world, and we have people who travel and work in others.
By sending people and resources to Christians in various communities, we make the people at our church more familiar with situations that might have just been another story on the evening news.
As you apply these practices to the particular church you pastor, you'll probably begin to notice the culture of your congregation changing. Here's what I believe you'll joyfully reap.
1. Outsiders will be more warmed to your church.
You don't make an international church by simply putting "international" in your name. Making the nations a regular diet of your service will engender internationals to feel more at home. Also, the lost will see that you are not trying to hide yourself from the world and paint it with rose-colored glasses, but instead, you are broken by its brokenness. This will often pleasantly surprise the lost and possibly have them listen to your answers.
2. You will prepare your people for suffering.
Paul told Timothy that "all those who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3.12). We pampered American evangelicals have been living a dream for a while. But the normal experience of Christians in history is to suffer for what they believe. We are not entering into a strange time of history, but a more normal one (see 1 Peter 4.12).
Bringing the realities of the world to the fore of God's people will only serve to help believers in their own navigation of an increasingly hostile world.
3. Your church will grow into another facet of Christ-likeness.
Let's not forget that Christ understood Saul to be persecuting Himself when Saul was assaulting the church (Acts 9.4). The more we knead into the dough of church life -- the realities of God's people all over the world, both the good and the bad -- the more we will come to understand all that it is to be in Christ.
Cultivating Kingdom kinship is not something that happens overnight. It takes a great deal of time and tears. Slowly, though, the people you do life with in the church will come to see and identify with the plight of God's people around the world and have their affections in tune with those of Christ's.
Nathan Knight is pastor of Restoration Church in Washington, D.C. This column first appeared at the website of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, www.erlc.com.