Previously published 10/10/2011:
Tonight, the life of Yousef Naderkhani of Iran is in jeopardy. In a natural sense, the decision lies in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the country. But God is the one who puts leaders in power and all authority comes from Him, so we know that ultimately, Yousef's life is in the hands of no man, but God alone.
Yousef's crime? He has refused to renounce faith in Jesus Christ. Initially imprisoned for advocating the right of Christians to educate their children from a Christian perspective, he was soon charged with apostasy and given three chances to recant, which he refused to do. (A summary of the case can be found here.) Further charges were added after the death sentence was granted - false accusations. No surprise, since Jesus told us this would happen and advised us to rejoice when it occurred.
We need to pray for him. Pastor Yousef is a face of the persecuted church. International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is Nov. 13, but Scripture admonishes us that when one part of the body hurts we all hurt - so we need to pray for Pastor Yousef now. But how?
So often we approach the topic of persecution with either fear or awe, either holding the persecuted church at arm's length or glorifying the role persecution plays in a church. Once we address some of the myths surrounding persecution, we begin to see more clearly how the body of Christ should work together at a global level. We begin to understand the importance of prayer for those undergoing persecution. Even when we become convinced that we are supposed to pray for persecuted believers, we are often at a loss to know HOW to pray. Making matters worse in western culture is that for the most part, we have never been persecuted in any serious manner. We often struggle to relate.
We also live in a culture that increasingly glorifies death. Song lyrics glamorize death and even suicide; euthanasia is called "mercy killing," and it's not unheard of to hear the words "abortion" and "compassionate" used in the same sentence. We forget that Biblically, death is an enemy - a foe conquered by Christ to be sure, but an enemy nonetheless, one that won't be fully destroyed until the resurrection of our bodies. For Christians death is nothing to fear, but it does result in the end of a life poured out for the glory of God among the presence of God's people in what the Psalmist calls "the land of the living". Death ushers us into the presence of God, but except for those few whose works live on in various forms of media, it ends our opportunity to worship with and minister to other believers on this earth and to reach those who haven't heard the Gospel with the message of the cross.
As I've prayed for Pastor Yousef, God has put several Scriptures on my heart with a consistent theme: The continuation of ministry - specifically, praising God in the presence of God's people. I've listed those Scripture-based prayers below, and trust that God will guide you in adding some of them to the ways you are praying for Pastor Yousef. (If you have time, watch the music video as well - such an encouraging song about worship and persecution!)
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones" is Biblical, of course, but it doesn't mean God cherishes our deaths. It means that death is precious in God's eyes in the same way that rare and beautiful stones are precious. He allows death for His Godly ones only when our purpose on this earth is completely finished - when our praise on earth has been fully poured out He ushers us into His presence to worship Him forever. I encourage you to read Psalm 116 below and see the full context of this beautiful verse - deliverance from death. And then pray this, and the passages below, for Pastor Yousef. Let's agree in prayer for death to remain far from him until every good work God has planned for him has been fulfilled.
Pray for Pastor Yousef:
- That God will take what is meant for evil and turn it to good, and that many would be saved. (Genesis 50:20)
- That God will send angels to minister to him. (1 Kings 19:3-9).
- That God will open his eyes to see the spiritual forces at work, and the power God has unleashed on his behalf. (2 Kings 6:15-17)That God will deliver him to show His supremacy. (2 Kings 19:1-19)
- That God would defend the cause of truth and rescue His oppressed. (Psalm 74:21-23)
- That he will proclaim God's power to his children, the next generation. (Psalm 71:18)
- That he will praise God in the presence of the saints once again (Psalm 116, below).
- That He will have a strong sense of God's presence (Isaiah 43).
- That God will enable him to rejoice in the face of false accusations and persecution, and to focus on his heavenly reward. (Matthew 5:10-12)
- That God will calm any doubts and fears, and show him the evidence that Jesus is who He says He is. (Luke 7:18-23)
- That he will be aware just how strongly Jesus identifies with persecuted believers (Acts 9:1-4).
- That the church will be strong in prayer,united, bold, and that nominal believers would be "all in" and false members revealed; for a strengthening, purifying, unifying time for the church so that he won't have to worry about them if he is to be killed. (Acts 12:1-5)
- That he will be delivered for continued fruitful labor with his congregation (Philippians 1:19-26)
- That he will be delivered from these evil men and that God's word will speed ahead and be honored in his future ministry (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).