The horrific persecution of Christians around the world is almost beyond imagination. The images we see and the stories we hear are worsening daily. On my way home from meetings in Florida, I saw the breaking news that one of the most infamous terrorists, “Jihadi John,” is neither a victim of poverty nor uneducated. He is a well-educated graduate of a British university with a degree in computer science who enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle near London.
When people do the kinds of horrific things we have witnessed and when they are so determined and certain in doing so that they are willing to blow themselves up in the process, we must begin to question whether education, jobs and improved living conditions, or sheer military force are adequate to deal with them.
Bishop John Guernsey of the Anglican Church in North America’s (ACNA) Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic has reminded us that we are not dealing with flesh and blood, but with principalities, and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12) that have terrorists and their recruits in a terrible, spiritual darkness. His Lenten challenge to all of us is as follows:
On an almost daily basis, we are seeing horrific images in the media from the Middle East. ISIS terrorists, in bondage to Satan, are committing unspeakable acts of evil. Christians are their particular target and faithful followers of Jesus are going to their deaths for their refusal to renounce the Savior and convert to Islam.
This Lenten season is a time of renewal of our spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading and studying Scripture, fasting, sacrificial giving of our money and our time for the sake of others.
Especially during this season, would you commit to making prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters a central part of your devotions? Would you pray more earnestly for their witness and for their deliverance? Would you pray for God to turn even these acts of evil for his Kingdom purposes?
And would you pray for the terrorists themselves to repent and turn to Christ? Did you know there’s even a website where you can find profiles of terrorists so you can adopt one and commit to pray for him to repent and come to Christ. It’s Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer.
The site offers insightful suggestions as to how to pray for a terrorist. I’m praying for Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, to repent and turn to Christ. So I’m using the Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer guide to intercede for him, praying…
- for irresistible pursuit by God’s Spirit: “Holy Spirit, relentlessly pursue Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi to the depths of his hideout, that he may not escape your grace.”
- for powerful demonstrations of God’s grace: “Lord, expose Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi to the precious testimony of Jesus’ followers.”
- for vulnerability: “Dear God, strip from Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi all his defenses that he may turn to Jesus
- for hope and salvation.”for conviction of sin and sense of shame: “Jesus, confront and overwhelm Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi with his shameful deeds and sinful nature till he becomes desperate for righteousness from you.”
- for God’s honor: “God, may the redemption of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi clearly display your character and glory.”
- against spiritual blindness and bondage: “Lord, release Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi from Satan’s grip and open him to sense and know your grace in Jesus.”
On the news this morning, I heard a counter-terrorism expert say that 2014 will go down as the worst year for terrorism the world has ever seen. Meanwhile, “Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer” has a compelling video that explains why this unprecedented evil has spiritual roots that can only be dealt with effectively by the spiritual weapon of prayer.
Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45) How difficult are these words from Jesus! Our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ are our neighbors, and need our prayers and support more than ever. But it is quite another dimension to suspend our feelings toward those who are perpetuating such evil upon fellow Christians, and to pray for them, the terrorists.
I preached on this very passage not too long ago at Holy Trinity Anglican in Raleigh NC. I find this challenge to adopt a terrorist for prayer in Lent—and beyond—brings me back to the conviction the LORD laid on my heart at the end of that sermon: “for Jesus and his followers, TRUE LOVE MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY ‘I GIVE UP.’”
May we find that true love as we live and love as Jesus would, through his example of forgiving from the Cross, through prayer—even and especially for terrorists– and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is CEO of the American Anglican Council.