We all know the church has been persecuted in this world, from the ancient prophets of Israel to the early churches after the death of Jesus Christ. To this very moment, churches have been opposed, and many followers of Christ live their lives in constant danger because of their faith. And at this moment, persecution has become more apparent as we continually hear about the stories in Afghanistan- where Christians are hunted and killed because of their faith, Illyria where pastors are thrown into prison, and many other countries that we don’t even know about.
As Christians, we must have them in our daily prayers and pray for them without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Pray for their safety and family; pray that they can provide for their family as many are treated differently because of their faith. Importantly, pray for their hearts that they won’t become bitter and harbour hate towards their persecutors. You might ask how can they not hate their persecutors? Their lives have been in turmoil because of them! And I agree, it is an unimaginably complex thing to do. But may we be reminded of the lesson in Jonah about who our God is.
God cares for all
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before me. But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish”Jonah 1:1-3
Jonah’s story is well known in children’s stories; the man who ran away from God and got swallowed by a fish. He was commanded to go to Nineveh and preach against it, yet he refused, then headed the opposite way from Nineveh. Why? What was his motivation to defy God? Well, it is shown in the later chapter, where he peached, and the people repented.
Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. ….. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
But to Jonah, this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”Jonah 3:4-6,10 & Jonah 4:1-2
Jonah initially refused to preach to the Ninevites because he hated them; they indulged in all kinds of wicked things, but that wasn’t the only reason. He refused to preach to them because God is gracious and compassionate, and will forgive them if they repented. Jonah couldn’t bear to see them forgiven and became angry when they were spared from God’s wrath. As Christians, we are tempted to behave like Jonah as well. We pray for our loved ones but never pray for our enemies or even consider sharing the Gospel with them. And as persecuted Christians, how much more are they tempted to behave like Jonah to their persecutors, wishing for their demise and destruction. But that’s not the will of the Lord as he told Jonah:
“… And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?”Jonah 4:11
God told Jonah that He is the Creator and Tenderer of every one of the people in Nineveh and rightfully cares for them and loves them. And as forgiven sinners, shall we not seek for the salvation of our enemies and rejoice when they are saved?
Pray for persecutors and the persecuted
In Afghanistan and many other countries, churches are being persecuted; mistreated, abused, and killed. How tempting it is to pray for the destruction of the persecutors; for God’s righteous judgment to shower on them. They are undeserving of salvation, yet we need to remind ourselves: we are undeserving of salvation too. It is only through grace and grace alone that any of us are forgiven in the sight of God. The persecutors too are in need of that saving grace. What a sight it would be to the world and to believers: to see the persecutors turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. What depths it would speak about the love of our Lord and what hope and peace it would bring to a war-torn world.
Let us strive in prayer for the persecuted Church that they may look forward to a hope set before them by Christ, to a city a dwelling place not made by human hands promised to them by God. We must pray for their hearts to be able to utter prayers for their persecutor. And for to love our enemies and pray like our Lord Jesus Christ: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)