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Today Valley View joins 500,000 churches in over 100 countries in the largest one-day prayer event of its kind. Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. And just like we’ve been involved in Operation Christmas Child for years, so we’ve been involved in praying for the persecuted church for years.
We pray because God asks us to pray in passages like Hebrews 13:3 which says, Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Jesus was no stranger to persecution. We just remembered his unjust death on the cross in the bread and the cup. He suffered and died for us and never wants us to forget that either.
So we’re going to pray together for the persecuted church, but before we do let’s take a look at this short Religious Freedom video (2:55).
“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. International covenants, declarations, and modern constitutions guarantees people this right. In spite of this, religious freedom is fast declining around the world. In some countries the state takes the lead in suppressing the faithful.
They pose bans on particular faiths, prohibit conversion, and restrict religious practice. In other countries, the people make their societies unfriendly to minority beliefs. Harassment, intimidation, violence, and even murder are used to silence them.
According to research 80% of all religious persecution is against Christians. This makes Christians the most persecuted religious group in the world. Godfrey Yogarajah, the Executive Director of the World Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) states that, ‘More than 100 million Christians face persecution daily for their faith in Jesus Christ.’
In countries like Eritrea, Iran, and Sudan, countless Christians languish in prison for their faith. In Pakistan, India, and Nepal Christians face discrimination and marginalization because of their faith. In Sri Lanka, pastors are beaten and harassed for their faith. In places like Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria, Christian families live in constant fear of violence and death.
As fellow Christians, we cannot keep silent. We cannot forget their plight. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:3 to remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Today, Christians around the world are busy helping the needy, serving the poor, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and aiding the sick. This is wonderful, but can we today take a moment and think of those who face persecution because of their faith. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This November you have an opportunity to stand with them, to be one with them, and to pray for them.” (IDOP Slide)
So we want to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering. And because much of the New Testament was written to persecuted believers it’s filled with ways to pray. So I’m going to mention a number of requests and give you a moment to pray for each one silently. All of them come right out of the New Testament as well as current requests from persecuted Christians. Let’s pray together.
Pray that God would give comfort, strength, and hope to the persecuted church.
Pray that they would remember how much God loves them in spite of their suffering.
Pray that God would give them the supernatural ability to love their enemies to faith in Christ.
Pray that God would provide Bibles to our brothers and sisters living in oppressive countries.
Pray that many of their oppressors would repent, come to faith in Christ, and the church would grow in persecuted countries.
We’re in the middle of a series on prayer called Teach Us to Pray. And today I want to talk about intercessory prayer. That’s what we just did together. We prayed on behalf of others. That’s what it means to intercede. Then I want us to close this morning by praying again, this time interceding for our country as we stand on the brink of the national election on Tuesday.
The Latin word intercede literally means to “go between,” “to speak to someone on behalf of another.” Much of my prayer life and I’m sure yours as well is spent praying for other people, our kids, our family, our friends, the church community.
And that’s a good thing. The Bible encourages us to pray for one another. In fact, the very first mention of the word “pray” in the Scriptures is an intercessory prayer. It’s found in Genesis 20:7 where God says to a man named Abimelek, Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.
The man’s wife in this passage is Sarah, the wife of Abraham. And she’s been taken from Abraham by a king named Abimelek. And because of that God has inflicted Abimelek with a serious disease. But God says if he returns Sarah, Abraham will pray for him, intercede for him, so that he will be healed.
And so we read in Genesis 20:17, Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again.
That’s the first mention of answered prayer in the Scriptures. It’s an intercessory prayer for healing and God answers it. The next mention of answered prayer is for a wife in Genesis 24. And God answers that. And then for children in Genesis 25. And God answers that. Healing. Spouses. Kids. These are all still things we pray for today. (Title Slide)
Every week our staff intercedes for the needs of Valley View, the requests you’ve given us. We pray for our ministries. We pray for our finances. We pray for those who are sick among us. We pray for those getting married and those going through divorce. We pray for those out of work and those who’ve lost loved ones. We pray for those preparing to have babies. We pray for our country and for needs in the world. And then we send the list out to the Prayer Team so they can pray too.
Does God know all these needs before we voice them? Absolutely. He doesn’t need us to tell him what’s going on, but he loves to hear our voice. He loves to give us peace when we bring him all the chaos in our lives and in our world.
Intercessory prayer brings peace into our lives. Don’t we all want peace? Sure we do. Please don’t miss God’s peace that comes when we cast all our cares on him.
One of my favorite passages on prayer is Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
God wants us to turn our cares in to prayers. I know it sounds trite. The kind of thing you’d read on a plaque in a gift shop. But it’s true. Turn your cares into prayers. Remember, “If it’s big enough to worry about, it’s big enough to pray about.” Prayer, intercessory prayer, brings peace into our lives. I can’t explain how, but it does. It transcends understanding.
The longest recorded prayer Jesus ever prayed is an intercessory prayer. Jesus prays for his disciples and then for us. Here are some excerpts of Jesus’ prayer found in John 17.
I pray for them ... my prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one ... sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world ...
Protect them. Sanctify them. Send them out. That’s what Jesus prayed for his disciples. Then he turns his attention to us.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you ... I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one ... Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory ... in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
Oneness. Unity. To be with Jesus. To see his glory. To feel his love. That’s what Jesus prayed for us in John 17. And that’s what Jesus is still praying for us.
There’s a passage in Hebrews 7:24-25 that says, Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Jesus lives to pray for us! Remember what we said at the beginning of this series. We said that we’ll never have a robust prayer life unless we believe that God knows us, God loves us, and is actively involved in our lives. And let me add that Jesus is praying for us too. He’s interceding for you and for me.
And not only Jesus, but the Holy Spirit is praying for us as well. Romans 8:26-27 says, In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans ... in accordance with the will of God.
God knows us. God loves us. God is actively involved in our lives. Jesus is praying for us. The Holy Spirit is praying for us. They have our back. They’re on our team. They intercede for us and want us to intercede for one another.
And so on this International Day of Prayer and on this eve of our national election, we want to pray not only for the persecuted church, but also for our nation.
That’s the focus of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
There’s a lot of angst about this election. And we want to exchange that angst for the peace that only God can gave. Remember intercessory prayer brings peace into our lives. And God wants us to live peaceful, quiet lives.
Someone from Valley View sent me an article on the election written by Max Lucado who is a pastor and a best-selling author. And in the article Lucado writes this, “We are really ready for this presidential election to be over. We’re ready for an end to the rancor and tackiness. Voters on both sides feel frustrated, even embarrassed by it all. There is a visceral fear, an angst about the result. What if so and so wins? When we wake up to November 9, post-election, when the confetti is swept away and the election is finally over, what will we see?
I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has his providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. So circle Wednesday, November 9, on your calendar and write the words. Our good God rules the world.”
So with that in mind I’d like us to pray and intercede for our nation. I want us to be at peace about this election. I’ll prompt you with a few requests to pray for silently and then we’ll dismiss our gathering with prayer from the front.
Thank God for the freedom he’s given us in this country to gather in the name of Jesus without fear of persecution, to
elect the leaders of our government, both locally and nationally, and for those in our military who put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect our freedoms.
Confess to God our sin as a nation. We’ve pushed God to the margins, broken his commandments, been judgmental of others, and spiritually apathetic.
Ask God to give us boldness and courage to follow Jesus in a culture that increasingly views us as irrelevant, extreme, and even dangerous. Help us to stand up against evil and injustice.
Ask God to give us leaders on the local and national stage who will humble themselves, and pray, and lead this nation in a way that honors God.
Ask God to give us peace no matter what the outcome on Tuesday and to always remember that ultimately he is in control. In God We Trust.