Commentary by Walter Albritton


October 30, 2005


Persecuted Christians Everywhere Need Our Prayers


Acts 12:1-17


Key Verse: Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. – Acts 12:7


Today is a good time to ponder the question: Do we take our religious freedom for granted? The answer is obvious – most of us do. Surely we should be more thankful for God’s great blessing of America – the freedom to worship as we please, and to share our faith without fear.

There are nations where it is against the law to invite other people to become Christians. When my wife and I were in Nepal, our guide warned us that we could be jailed for any effort to evangelize the people. In China many Christians are forced to worship and study the Bible in secret so they meet in small groups in homes.

Some of us may not be aware of the severe persecution Christians face in many other nations. Phil Bence’s words are sobering and we should let them soak in:

“Christians martyred for their faith during the twentieth century number nearly one hundred million. More Christians died for their faith during the last century than the previous nineteen centuries combined. In fact, more Christians died for their faith than soldiers for their countries.” (Underline added)

As I reflect on this staggering reality, I realize that repeatedly I have been influenced greatly by the stories of Christians who were persecuted or killed for their faith. I was barely out of college when I read the news that five American missionaries had been martyred by savage Indians in Ecuador. The inspiring book, Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot, had a profound impact upon my life, and for that I am eternally grateful. Her husband Jim Elliot was one of the five missionaries.

I never dreamed that one day I would actually meet one of the men who killed those missionaries. I was given that privilege by Sandy Toomer, a missionary pilot serving in Shell, Ecuador, with Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Sandy flew me, my sister Margie, and a good friend over the beach where the five missionaries were killed by the Indians. We landed nearby on a grass runway just outside the Rain Forest. If I live to be one hundred, I will never forget this incredible experience or my friend Sandy.

Dozens of Indians rushed out to meet their friend. They were familiar with the plane and with Sandy. He had flown more than one of them for medical treatment of snakebite or injury. They loved this pilot for to them Sandy was God’s man.

Sandy introduced me to Dewey, the “killer” who had become a Christian and was now pastor of a village church nestled there in the Rain Forest of Ecuador. The only word I spoke that he understood was the name of our Lord. When I said “Jesus,” the old man pointed to the sky, smiled, and embraced me. It was his way of saying, “We are brothers.”

This murderer of missionaries became a believer because the wives of the martyred missionaries refused to give up the mission of their husbands. They relentlessly continued to reach the Auca Indians with the gospel until their love, and their Savior, were accepted. Fifty years later some of those former savages are college graduates and Christians as well.

Such stories of persecution and perseverance God used mightily to strengthen my own faith. I was inspired to be a better pastor by the courage and sacrifice of other Christians. In much the same way, the early Christians must have been inspired by the beheading of James. His faith in Jesus cost James his life. Observing this, other believers must have found courage to stand firm in the faith. When Peter was imprisoned shortly after James’ death, their faith motivated them to turn to God and pray earnestly for his release.

This raises the question: Will God help persecuted Christians because we pray for them? This may be the wrong question to ask. After all, prayer is not an option for people who love God. God has instructed believers to pray. He expects us to pray. A better question might be: Should we not be ashamed if we fail to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters who suffer for their faith?

It is our business to pray. It is God’s business to answer our prayers. We are accountable to God; He is not accountable to us. As far as God’s willingness to help those for whom we pray, have we not all been aware of times when God has answered prayer in miraculous ways? Repeatedly that has been true for me and my family.

One night our son Mark was not expected to live until morning. The doctor said, “We have done all we can do and he is a very sick little boy. That night, we learned later, “the church” (our friends in three separate churches) gathered to pray for Mark. It was a Wednesday night. During the hour when dozens of people were praying, Mark’s condition suddenly changed. One minute he was dying; the next his fever broke and he was vibrantly alive. The wise doctor refused to take credit for Mark’s recovery. Instead he gave the glory to God. Fervent prayers were answered by the God who cares and who loves to help his hurting children.

There is a powerful lesson in the scene Luke describes of the church praying while Peter is knocking at the door. God had already answered their prayers and they did not know it. Even more, they seemed surprised that God had answered their prayers by releasing Peter from prison. The lesson is not only that God answers prayer but that he does not always inform us of his actions. Our role is to pray. God’s role is to act, and act he does. He is always at work for as the Psalmist said, he neither slumbers nor sleeps!

In recent years pastors have been urged to invite their people to join millions of others in observing “The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.” This is a cause so worthy that none of us should fail to participate.

One day in heaven I expect to meet some of the Chinese pastors who this very day are being tortured and imprisoned for their faith in Jesus. When I do I want to be able to say, “Even though I did not know you personally, I prayed for you because I cared about your suffering.”

The persecuted Christians are our brothers and sisters. In Christ we are one in the family of God. The early believers made a difference by praying fervently for Peter. We can make a difference today. Such praying will please God and remind us not to take our freedom for granted.

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