God Answers the Prayers of the Persecuted

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pan...
Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9


Christ’s call to each of us to deny self and take up our own cross and follow him clearly teaches us that the ability to follow him does not come from personal will. If I deny self, then I can’t get my power to go forward from self; it must come from somewhere else. After I deny self, I am called to follow Christ, and that is where I get the ability to pick up my cross and go forward. If that were not enough to teach me that faithfulness in the Christian life is not about me, then Paul’s experience makes that teaching very clear.

Paul had a problem, and he asked Jesus to solve it. He prayed and prayed and prayed. But Jesus didn’t solve it, and Jesus didn’t tell Paul how to solve it. What Jesus did was to tell Paul he would be with him and enable him to endure it. He even said that Paul’s inability to solve his own problem was a blessed means for Christ’s power to work in Paul as Paul endured and thrived despite his persistent problem.

I have a problem like that. I have prayed and prayed about my problem. I have asked God to take it away. I have asked God to intervene and fix what is broken. I have asked God to act in human lives to transform them. But God’s answer is, “My grace is sufficient for you.” By God’s grace, I am able to recognize that Jesus keeps his ascension promise and goes with me through everything. It reminds me where my own power comes from. I have learned that face to face with challenges to my faith, I have very little power. It is good for me to know that my weakness becomes a vessel for the power of God to work through me.

We like to believe that when we pray in faith, God will give us exactly what we want. In fact, we read the words, “Ask, and you will receive,” and we think that is how it works. We want those words to stand all by themselves on top of a great mountain of personal gratification. We want what we want, and we want to claim that these words promise us what we want. The Bible, however, is a complete revelation, and we cannot build a life or a theology on a single word or phrase. The words all form a whole that we dissect to our great harm. These words, “Ask, and you will receive,” must be recalled and claimed in close connection with the words, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Our “power” to ask God for what we need grows out of our weakness and inability to do it all for ourselves, and his answer may not be like a Christmas present off the top of our letter to Santa. God is not Santa Claus. The answer we “receive” when we “ask” may be the grace to live through something we would rather escape.

Christians in countries like Ethiopia and China pray faithfully to God every day. For them, the simple act of going to church for worship on Sunday may be viewed as a criminal act by their governments. It is likely that these Christians pray that their governments will relent and stop arresting, imprisoning and even torturing Christians. Yet so far, God has not granted them their wish the way a genie out of a bottle does. Instead God has answered their prayers with grace – the grace to live a faithful testimony to Christ. They feel weak and battered, but God’s power gives them the strength to testify with their very lives to the Christ who is more precious to them than life itself.

Here in the USA we complain that some people don’t respect Christians. We get angry when a school forbids the valedictorian to thank God publicly for the ability to learn and excel. We take offense when an employer refuses to allow office parties in December to be called “Christmas” parties. We are right to note that our culture is offended by Christianity, but as we take note of that fact, we must remember that Jesus said it would be this way. He warned us from the very beginning that the world would hate us, because it already hated him. We must respond to these reminders of Jesus’ teaching the way he taught us to respond – with love. Just like Christians in Ethiopia and China, we must pray for those who reject and insult us. We must learn, as the early disciples learned, to thank God for the opportunity to suffer for the name of Christ. Our testimony of love in the face of insult will be evidence of the working of God’s grace through our weakness. His grace is sufficient for us and for Christians around the world who are imprisoned and abused in the name of Christ. We must learn to be grateful for the opportunity to make that testimony.