Recent events in Iraq have affected me very, very deeply.
The brutality being unleashed by the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) in northern Iraq is unlike anything I have ever heard of or comprehended. Children decapitated and cut in half. Women raped and sold into slavery. Entire families being buried alive in mass graves. Christians crucified. Property seized. Churches burned. Hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing into the deserts and hills to escape, many dying of thirst and exposure before ever finding safety.
It is sheer evil.
There is no other way to describe it.
Admittedly, not all who are suffering are Christians, as it seems that anyone who doesn’t hold to the same twisted ideology as IS is likely to be annihilated by the merciless Jihadists. However, many hundreds of thousands are Christians. They may look different, dress different, speak in a language I can’t understand and observe customs and traditions that are foreign to me, but they worship the same Jesus – and that makes them family.
Furthermore, the Bible tells us that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer, compelling us to remember those who are suffering for the sake of Christ.
I have to confess that I have been struggling over recent days to know how to ‘remember’ them. I have had no problem remembering their suffering as it’s pretty much all that I can think about. The problem that I have is knowing how to remember them in prayer! Sometimes I am stunned into silence. Other times tears are all that I can muster! However, when I can bring myself to pray, here are some of the things I have found helpful to focus on:
1. Remember who God is
A phrase that I live by and that I have used to encourage others over many years is this: “God is good and He is in control.” I have to confess that when I look at Iraq right now I find it harder to believe those truths. But they are nonetheless true! God is good. And He is sovereign. The Bible proclaims these truths over and over again. The horrors of Iraq tell us more about the depravity of the human heart and the inability of mankind to make sense of, let alone a difference to, the chaos of this fractured world, than they do about the nature and character of God. So as you pray, do so secure in the knowledge that God is forever love and that He still sits on the throne. Nothing that is happening today is happening outside of His control or outside of His care. Remember also that we pray to the Father through Jesus – a Great High Priest who understands suffering, sorrow and slaughter from first-hand experience:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
(Hebrews 4 v 15-16)
2. Pray for our brothers and sisters:
The saints of Iraq need our prayers. Here are some important things that we should be praying for our brothers and sisters:
- Pray that they would receive the protection and provision that they so desperately need.* (Psalm 18 v 1-6)
- Pray that they would know the comforting presence of the Prince of Peace. (2 Corinthians 1 v 3-7)
- Pray that they would be filled with inexpressible joy in the midst of unimaginable pain. (James 1 v 2-3)
- Pray that God would fill them with supernatural love for their enemies. (Matthew 5 v 43-48)
3. Pray for the terrorists
The story of the Apostle Paul reminds us that God CAN transform the heart of a terrorist:
“I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15 v 9-10)
However, the Psalms also give us words to pray for God to deliver swift and decisive justice to perpetrators of evil:
“O God, break the teeth [of the wicked] in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!”
(Psalm 58 v 6)
Therefore our prayer should be “Lord, Save them or stop them. Redeem them or remove them!”
4. Pray for the gospel to advance
We are currently studying the book of Acts in church and it is striking how the Lord so often used times of extreme persecution to spread the gospel further afield:
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria…Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8 v 1 + 4)
As we hear about thousands upon thousands of Christians being displaced by persecution, let’s be praying that the legacy would be the gospel preached more widely and more churches planted across the region.
5. Pray for global leaders
We really need to be praying for global leaders right now. Politicians both in Iraq, in surrounding nations and the western nations that are also involved in this mess. Pray that God would grant them both wisdom and courage:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1Timothy 2 v 2)
Pray also for the pastors and other Christian leaders on the ground in Iraq. Pray that they would shepherd God’s people well, that they would know epic grace as they seek to lead their small, suffering flocks through turbulent times, and that they would model King Jesus with their words and actions.
6. Pray with eternal perspective
This is so vital! We forget in the comfortable west that persecution and death aren’t the worst thing that can happen to Christians. While we should certainly not be happy to see our brothers and sisters suffering as they are, and should be crying out to God for mercy on their behalf, we need to remember that they are blessed.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5 v 10)
Those who are paying for their faith with their lives are being sent home to Jesus. As we pray, let’s remember that heaven is the blissful reality that awaits all true followers of Christ. In heaven there is no more sorrow, pain, death, tears or terrorism. That’s why Paul could write:
“to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1 v 21)
7. Pray without ceasing
Finally, let’s not stop praying about this. Prayer is hard and unglamorous. But let’s not jack it in. Rather, let’s take a leaf out of a persistent widow’s book and keep asking, seeking and knocking until our God responds:
“And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
(Luke 18 v 1-8)
OK, that’s enough from me.
* If you want to become an answer to your own prayers and contribute financially to the persecuted saints in Iraq you can do so through Open Doors here. Alternatively you can sponsor me as I raise funds for Open Doors this coming weekend here.