In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes to Timothy with a promise that most Christians don’t want. It’s a promise that you’ll never hear a prosperity preacher name-and-claim. It’s a promise that isn’t posted on Instagram often with happy emoticons praising God. But it’s a promise that is for each one of us:
“All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
With recent events of twenty-one Coptic Christians being beheaded for their faith in Egypt, persecution is on the mind of many more Christians–and for good reason.
Secularism and Islam are both on the rise in the United States, and whatever Christian heritage our nation once enjoyed seems to be on its way out (if it’s not already gone). The past few years have shown one of the quickest moral shifts in world history regarding sexuality, and several Christians and Christian organizations have been caught in its wake.
Are you ready to be persecuted?
If you don’t know how to answer that question, you may realize the answer when it’s too late. That’s why I’m writing this to help you prayerfully prepare yourself to be persecuted for Christ’s sake, whether you are put down at the water cooler or wind up giving your life.
Yes, persecution is a weighty topic. But if Christians aren’t preparing their heads and hearts for persecution, when the powerful waves of culture and secularism hit, they may find the houses of their lives and faith crashing down. A biblical perspective on persecution and suffering will allow Christians not only to survive hard times, but thrive because they have tasted God’s special grace for the suffering and persecuted.
Make the following list your prayer as you consider your short life here on earth, and commit yourself to follow Christ no matter where he takes you.
1. Pray to stand firm in your faith
Troubling times can shake our faith. Pray that during such times you will lean into the grace of God and look at your situation from God’s perspective. You may feel like arrows are flying at you from all directions. Take up the shield of faith to protect yourself from believing lies and doubting the goodness of God and glory of the gospel. Firmness of faith is what fuels these other attitudes.
2. Pray for joy amid persecution
Jesus described the persecuted with the word “blessed” and commanded the persecuted to “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11-12). You can’t take joy in persecution or suffering when your true love and focus is on worldly comforts and safety. Joy comes with loving God and treasuring the gospel above everything else. In Christ, we can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10) because of what He has done.
3. Pray to trust in the sovereignty of God
God works all things for the good of those who love Him–even persecution (Romans 8:28). When facing opposition from the chief priests and elders in Acts 4, John, Peter, and their friends started their prayer with “Sovereign Lord”, and continued, “do whatever your hand and your plan have predestined to take place” (Acts 4:24, 28). They put their lives and wellbeing in the powerful hands of a Sovereign God–and we can do so as well.
4. Pray for boldness in witness
After acknowledging God’s sovereignty, the disciples’ requested something surprising. They didn’t plead to end the persecution–they prayed to “continue to speak your word with all boldness” (4:29). Their deepest desire was on the spread of the gospel for the saving of souls. May we not sulk or pity ourselves, but rather proclaim Christ in Word and deed so the world will know Jesus lives and reigns.
5. Pray for a love for your persecutors
Christ commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). This models the mercy of Christ. John Stott writes,
“Jesus seems to have prayed for his tormentors actually while the iron spikes were being driven through his hands and feet; … ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord’s prayer for his enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice, or sloth could justify the silencing of ours?”1
6. Pray for the conversion of those who persecute you
Truly loving your enemies means you care about their eternity. Pray that the Lord would use your witness to shame your persecutors (1 Peter 3:16) and cause them to question their own beliefs and come to faith in Christ. Pray that other believers would exclaim what the Judean church exclaimed about the apostle Paul, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23).
7. Pray that you can strengthen the faith of weak brothers and sisters
Your suffering can build others up. Some who claim to be in the faith fade away when times of trial and persecution come (Mark 4:17). Pray that when persecution comes, you will proclaim to them the joy you have in Christ amidst rough times and loss.
8. Pray for help relying on the strength and sufficiency of God
How did the Apostle Paul endure being tormented by a messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12)? He believed Christ’s promise that His grace was sufficient for his situation. Paul’s joyful boast about his weakness and God’s strength show his reliance on the grace and sufficiency of God. May we do likewise.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
9. Pray for sweet communion with Christ
Nothing can compare with the riches of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. Paul believed this so much that he even wanted to suffer so that he could have richer fellowship with Christ (Philippians 3:10). Pray that you would experience deeper intimacy and satisfaction in Christ when you face opposition.
10. Pray for a thankful heart that nothing (not even persecution) can separate you from the love of God
Paul was persecuted horribly, but still knew the blessed hope in Christ:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 38-39
I pray that when persecution comes, your experience of Christ would be sweeter, your fear of man would be smaller, and that in God’s strength you would dig in your heels to suffer well for the Kingdom of God.
1 John Stott in Message of the Sermon on the Mount page 119. As quoted in D.A. Carson’s Matthew Commentary in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary series.