Thursday, October 3, 2013

Follow up and Follow through from Last Sunday

Sadly, it's already closer to next Sunday than last Sunday, but I have a moment to add a few follow ups to the message on Smyrna and the realities of persecution for the church.

In what was already a long message, I failed in first service to explain the significance of the reference "ten days" of persecution that the church was about to face and see some of their number imprisoned.  While some have tried to choose ten emperors who would persecute the church and make this a reference to ages, most see it as either a literal (but unknown specifically to us) ten days during which the wrath of their enemies would lead to arrests and imprisonments for trial, or that the "ten days" is a figure of speech using a number that is a number of completion (ten) and speaks of a specific time that is both short and has an end in view, and also long enough to be intense.  Sorry for that miss.

Second, some have asked about ways to respond more proactively.  I'll mention this again during the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, but one quick help is to get updates from one of these sites:  Voice of the Martyrs, or Open Doors, which are the two leading ministries tracking persecution around the world.  And consider using the international news as a trigger.  When you hear about Syria, for example, pray for the Christians there who are suffering in the middle of civil war.

Finally, I've been asked about the prayer at the end of the service.  I spent time putting it together (partly based on material from Open Doors) because I wanted us to be specifically responding to God based on the message.  I will reprint it below, for your own use and adaptation if that would be helpful.

Father, we know You hear the cries of Your people. Hear, then, our prayers on behalf of those who are suffering in Pakistan and Kenya, in Egypt and Iran, in Syria and Nigeria, and in all other places where our brothers and sisters suffer, as Smyrna did, simply because they belong to you. Today, we pray for the friends and families of loved ones who were so brutally murdered. Father, comfort them with the knowledge and promise of eternal life for those who believed in Your Son. As the conflict swirls around brothers and sisters in these places, let them feel Your guiding presence and Your peace during their time of sorrow. 
Father, fill each member of Your flock with grace and forgiveness, so that those who do not know You will be drawn to You through them. Help them to be faithful to your Son, even unto death, as they remember the crown of life that awaits them and us.  And as they continue in the midst of their own suffering to reach out to their neighbors, both Christian and Muslim, refresh them with courage and strength and wisdom. May the saving grace of Your gospel go out in power that Your name might be lifted high. 
And for us, Father, who have largely escaped such trials personally, may our faith not fail through lack of testing.  May we recognize that some things we have considered suffering for Your sake have been real, even if they are small in comparison to others.  May we also remember that situations can turn quickly, and let us learn to prepare for those trials that will come by walking that much more closely with Your Son. 
Finally, Father, if our lack of testing is not a sign of your favor but rather of your awareness that we are not yet ready or worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name, would you strengthen our weak faith, or feeble prayers, and our shaky wills.  There was a day when the Church in our land was mighty for the pulling down of strongholds and the advance of the Gospel.  In your mercy, would you work in us to allow us one more season of the outpouring of your strength into our surrendered weakness. 
In the name of Jesus who sustains us in the midst of trials, we ask these things. 
And now, may the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us, after we have suffered a little while.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.