Devotion for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church 2014, www.idop.org
“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” (Hebrews 10:32-35)
The author of the Letter to the Hebrew seeks to embolden his readers in times of suffering so that they are reminded of how God helped them in earlier times of suffering (verse 32).
What is truly interesting in this text, however, is that the Letter to the Hebrews designates all readers as such, as those who have “endured in the great contest in the face of suffering”, independent of whether this occurred through suffering or through vicarious association with suffering! The author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts the sufferers (A) and those demonstrating compassion (B) on the same footing. In verses 33-34, the following is said about the cross: ABBA.
In verse 33, the readers are first of all addressed as those who in part have ‘themselves’ endured much suffering (A), but “at other times” also suffered because they in some cases “stood side by side with those who suffered” (B). There are, then, direct sufferers (A) and sufferers who are in that position because they suffer alongside others (B)!
In verse 34 the situation is reversed: To start with, it is mentioned that the readers have suffered with those in prison (B). Then it is mentioned that they themselves lost possessions (A).
That is precisely the objective of IDOP. Christians who suffer and Christians who stand side by side with those suffer seek to build a ‘community’ of suffering. Prayer occurs simultaneously in countries where there is Christian persecution and where there is no persecution of Christians. If we do this, then we “do not throw away our confidence,” and this confidence “will be richly rewarded” (verse 35).
A Christian never lives without Christian persecution! Either he is persecuted or he suffers with the fate of those who are persecuted. And whoever suffers, suffers at the same time with others who perhaps suffer even more!
The possibility that someone simply ignores the suffering of another individual or church and then enjoys the fact that things are going well for him, without this turning into thankful involvement for the sake of others, is something which does not even come to mind to the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews! For Christians to suffer and for other Christians to not suffer side by side? Unthinkable! Christians who look away while others suffer? Inconceivable! And yet this is precisely what applies to the large majority of Christians!
The International Day of Pray (IDOP) is a good opportunity to end this situation here and now, to inform yourself about the global situation of the body of Christ, and at least through prayer to have ‘fellowship’ with those who suffer.
Thomas Schirrmacher is the director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom, Chair of the Theological Commission of World Evangelical Alliance, and President of the International Council of the International Society of Human Rights