A question I’ve been asking myself is, “How can I pray for and support the persecuted church?”
Recently, I got a glimpse of the answer from today’s devotional verse:
And Saul approved of his execution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Acts 8:1 ESV
Just a couple days ago, I was on a plane en route to Chicago.
I was reading Acts 8 and jotting down some notes in the margins of my Bible, when a man tapped me on the shoulder.
He said, “That’s a good book.”
I replied, “It sure is. And powerful, too.”
We struck up a conversation, and it happened that he was a church planter in the Bangalore, India area. His name is Tim, and over the past 12 years, his church has helped plant 50 churches in area towns and villages.
Ready to hear the most incredible part of the story, though?
First, let’s catch up on today’s verse—then I’ll finish the story.
Stephen had just been murdered. He was stoned on false charges of blasphemy (Acts 6:11). And Saul, who would later be radically transformed into the Apostle Paul, watched with approval.
We mourn when our brothers and sisters are persecuted. And so does God: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
However… Jesus turned Stephen's tragedy into a triumph. Click To Tweet
Remember Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8?
He said: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Where was Stephen stoned?
What was he doing there?
He was “full of grace and power” and was “doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).
We read in today’s verse that the persecution intensified in Jerusalem, and scattered the church.
But in that scattering, Acts 1:8 is fulfilled, because the gospel advanced into Judea and Samaria. In Acts 8:4 we read: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
Now, back to my story on the airplane…
I was reading this very passage when Tim tapped me on the shoulder. I had just written this in my Bible: “Persecution advances the gospel. It’s not easy—but the Holy Spirit uses it like crazy.”
This is incredible, because as Tim and I spoke, he told me he’d just been released from 19 days in prison. His family and their church is experiencing constant persecution, and being unjustly jailed is a part of that.
After hearing this, I showed Tim the note I’d just written in my Bible. It was a powerful moment, because it was so obvious the Holy Spirit prompted me to write that note to both encourage Tim and to teach me a deeply important lesson.
Persecution propels the spreading of the gospel. After all, Jesus said his disciples who are persecuted on his account are “blessed” (Matthew 5:11).
Now, we should pray for the persecuted church. In fact, you can join me in praying for Tim, his family, and his church family!
However, we should not be defeated by persecution. Instead, we should understand that we serve a God who expects persecution, but uses it to storm the gates of Hell itself.
Pray for those who are being persecuted—especially so that the gospel is advanced.