During Sundays this month, many churches around the world are highlighting “International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians. According to Open Doors USA, some 250 million Christians suffered persecution for their faith in 2017 — far more than any other religious group in existence. The bulk of this persecution occurs in Muslim-majority countries. Of the “top ten” worst nations for such persecution, nine are self-identified Muslim states. The other (which by the way has occupied the number one slot for the last sixteen years) is North Korea. Even worse, thirty-seven of the top fifty nations are Muslim-majority.
What can be done to turn the tide? I’m convinced that the only surefire way to stop Muslim oppression of Christians is not political treaties or military power but the transformative power of the Holy Spirit causing enemies of the Cross to become children of God, former oppressors who now see themselves as brothers and sisters to the ones they once tyrannized.
This supernatural power is something the world knows nothing of, but the Scriptures and Christian history testify ubiquitously to its reality. God has linked the outpouring of His Spirit to the prayers of His people, yet in Western churches, prayer remains a largely neglected tool in the struggle to change the world.
The most powerful means at our disposal to help our persecuted brothers and sisters is intercession: that God would keep them strong and faithful in their testimony to Jesus, and would transform the hearts of the enemies of the gospel, making them newfound believers in Jesus Christ.
What applies to persecutors also applies to terrorists. If you want to see the world liberated from the threat of Islamic terrorists, the best thing you as an individual believer can do is pray that the Spirit of God will reach and convict and transform the hearts of jihadis, bringing them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. Converted terrorists are no further threat to kill or torture others. You don’t believe this is possible? It’s happening more often than you think. God is able to make Himself known even to the least likely converts — just remember Saul of Tarsus who became Paul the apostle.
Here’s another contemporary example, highlighting how God has recently acted in response to the prayers of one congregation for a couple far out of reach of the gospel by conventional means:
Two weeks ago, a group I was with heard this story personally from an Egyptian missionary who has been discipling a middle-aged Saudi couple who live not far from Mecca. The woman, Yasmine [name changed for protection], who was not particularly religious, began having unusual dreams where a man in white visited her and revealed himself as Jesus. She was filled with questions and doubts about what Christians believed about him and over the course of several nights, Jesus answered them for her. Increasingly drawn to this Jesus of her dreams, she finally shared her experiences hesitatingly with her husband, who was a doctor, rather analytical and not at all religious. He listened to her list of answers from Jesus, and said, “Let me investigate these things on the internet.” Over the next few weeks, the couple became convinced that this Jesus was the Jesus of the New Testament, of the Christians, and knew they had to become his followers. Yasmine said, “We need to get baptized.” But where to do this? It couldn’t happen in the precincts of Mecca. “We need someplace safe and anonymous. I know – let’s go to America,” she said. So they made plans, arriving soon on the Eastern seaboard.
Now, they have three adult children, all in college or grad school in one nearby city to where they landed. The parents thought, “We need to tell our kids we’re here, but they’re all Muslim so we can’t share the real reason we’ve come. But, if we don’t they will worry that we have come for treatment for some serious illness, or some other scary reason.”
So, Yasmine told her husband, “Let me talk to our oldest son and feel out whether I can share our news quietly with him.” So she did. Her son listened with increasing agitation until she finished, and finally broke out with the words, “Alleluia, alleluia!”, words she didn’t understand (they are not in the Muslim Arabic vocabulary). So his story quickly tumbled out. Each of the kids in the course of their studies had met and become friends with Christians, who loved and shared the gospel with them. All three had become believers, and now attended the same church, where about a year ago they had all been baptized. Their main heartache was for their parents back in Saudi, and so they asked the congregation to pray that somehow God would bring them to Himself. For the last year, that request was a central part of the life of that fellowship. Now, standing before him was the fruit of all those prayers! The next Sunday, the children introduced the congregation to their parents and told the story, and Yasmine and her husband were baptized! They have since returned to Arabia, knowing that difficulties and possible affliction await them, but dedicated to living for Christ among the citizens they love.
Beloved, take heart! God is on the move in extraordinary ways throughout the Islamic world, bringing Muslims by the thousands to faith in Christ! This is an epic time in the work of worldwide missions to the Muslim world. The faithful prayers of millions of Christians are a contributing factor to why God has supernaturally broken through the hardened walls of Islamic unbelief and is reaping a great and growing harvest of Muslim converts.
Your intercessory prayers will be an indisputable part of the advance of God’s Kingdom as He brings the light of Christ to shine in the hearts of those who up to now have walked in darkness.
Won’t you join the effort?