SESSION 2 | RECOGNIZE
PART 1: WATCH THE VIDEO
In our last session, we took a look at the big picture of persecution by pulling back the curtain to gain a clearer view of what God is doing in and through His worldwide Church. In this session, we’ll look at what God’s Word has to say about persecution and the cost of following Christ.
Before you start the discussion guide, watch the Session 2 video with Pastor J.D. Greear (above).
PART 2: AT A GLANCE
It’s time for another pulse check. Take a moment and have each member of your group share their answers to these questions:
- How do you think God feels about persecution?
- Can you think of any scriptures about persecution that might shed light on this?
PART 3: GOING DEEPER
Haile Naizghi awoke with a start. Someone was banging on the door of his home. He opened it to find the Eritrean authorities ready to arrest him.
They knew he was the leader of Eritrea’s Full Gospel Church and accused him of breaking the law that stated no one could worship outside of Islam and the Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches.
Authorities dragged Pastor Naizghi to Police Station #1 in the capital city of Asmara, then later moved him to Wongel Mermera—a dungeon-like prison in Asmara.
Naizghi’s wife and children have waited for his release and recently fled from Eritrea when the government threatened to arrest them, too. She continues to pray daily for her husband and for the country that has torn her family apart.
Personal stories like Haile Naizghi’s can help drive the reality of persecution home, but if we’re honest, there’s still a bit of a disconnect for many of us. We think, “He’s in prison halfway around the world—what could I possibly do to help?” Or, perhaps if we’re a little more honest, “Why should I care?”
The Bible makes it clear that God sees believers as one Body—one Church. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free” (1 Corinthians 12:12–13a).
WHEN ONE MEMBER SUFFERS
In our minds, it’s altogether too easy to divide the Church into those who are suffering for their faith and those who are able to worship freely. But there is only one Church—just one Body of believers.
God designed the Church to work together in unique and powerful ways. Those who are persecuted need the free Church to stand with them—to pray for and support them. The free Church desperately needs the persecuted Church as well. We need to see and learn from those who have stood strong in the midst of suffering, who have counted the cost and deemed Jesus more than worth whatever they might lose.
Paul takes it a step further. In 1 Corinthians 12:26, he writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together.” Let that sink in for a moment. If one member suffers, all the members suffer. Have you ever thought about Christian persecution that way? When your fellow believers are suffering, you—as a member of the same Body—suffer with them. You share their grief, mourning the loss of their freedom, their family, their job—whatever the situation might be. You grieve, and you pray.
BREAKING IT DOWN
We see the call in Scripture to suffer with our fellow believers, but it might still feel like a foreign concept. After all, they are people we have never met, and likely never will. Let’s revisit Pastor Naizghi’s story you read at the start of this section. What if that was your brother sitting in that jail cell? Or your sister? What if it was one of your family members? How much more might you pray on their behalf? Wouldn’t you be sharing their story with everyone you know, asking them to join you in prayer?
When we pause and reflect, we realize persecuted believers are members of our spiritual family. And some of them are sitting in jail cells in need of our support.
PERSECUTION AND SCRIPTURE
Now that we know why we should care about persecuted Christians, let’s unpack more of what the Bible has to say about persecution itself. God calls us to be a voice for the voiceless in Psalm 82:3: “Stand up for those who are weak and for those whose fathers have died. See to it that those who are poor and those who are beaten down are treated fairly.”
The words of Hebrews 13:3 echo Paul’s appeal to suffer with other members of the Body of Christ: “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.”
And in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turned the idea of persecution on its head, saying, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12).
GOD USES PERSECUTION
We see from the scriptures we’ve just read that God is not surprised by persecution. He knows it will happen. But what Satan intends for harm, God intends for good—using persecution to draw people to Himself and to bring glory to His name.
BUILDING A CELL
A Chinese church leader who spent 23 years in prison once said this to Christians who did not face persecution, “I was pushed into a cell, but you have to push yourself into one. You have no time to know God. You need to build yourself a cell, so you can do for yourself what persecution did for me—simplify your life and know God.”
Amazing, right? This church leader understood the effect persecution had on him—it forced him to choose his priorities. It stripped away everything else but left him with the only thing worth having: Jesus.
WEAKNESS LEADS TO STRENGTH
God uses the suffering that comes with persecution in profound ways. Anyone who has walked through intense suffering can tell you that there is something about the hardship that allows us to know God more fully. An Egyptian Christian reflected on the impact persecution had on him: “In great suffering, you discover a different Jesus than you do in normal life. Pain and suffering bring to the surface all the weak points of your personality. In my weakest state, I had an incredible realization that Jesus loved me even right then.”
2 Corinthians 12:9–10 highlights this seemingly contradictory idea of weakness leading to strength: “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ …for the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
A RIPPLE EFFECT
Watching people lose everything for the sake of Christ, or suffer intensely and still find joy in the Lord, creates a ripple effect. Those who hear their stories can’t help but wonder, Who is this Jesus they follow? And why is He worth all of this? Time and again, persecution has opened the door for the spread of the gospel. We see this throughout history. A leader or nation tries to suppress Christianity, only to realize it has grown tremendously in the face of adversity.
This very phenomenon is happening in Iran today. The pressure for Christians there is severe, but the Church there is thriving. In fact, the secret Church in Iran is estimated to be several million believers strong—and growing. God is using persecution to bring more people to a saving faith in Him.
There is something incredible about looking at the lives of those who are suffering for the cause of Christ. They have peace—they know God is in control. We can see God’s grace poured out over these individuals as He gives them courage and even joy as they stand strong through the storm.
PART 4: TIME TO REFLECT
Once again, we’ve covered a lot in this section. Now it’s time to slow down and reflect on what you’ve learned. Let’s allow what God says about persecution to sink in.
- Think back to how you answered that first question at the start of this section. Has your understanding of how God sees persecution changed at all in light of what you’ve read? If so, how is it different?
- We talked about the disconnect that so many of us struggle with as we think of Christians half a world away. Did thinking of Pastor Naizghi as your family member change the way you respond to his story? How can you use this approach as you learn more about fellow believers who are suffering for their faith around the world?
- The Chinese church leader who spent 23 years in prison talked about building yourself a cell—about simplifying your life so you can know God. Did that idea resonate with you? Can you identify areas of your life you might need to simplify to allow you to grow closer to God?
- Throughout history, we’ve seen how contagious the faith of Christians can be to those around them. It creates a ripple effect, drawing others to God as they want to know the reason for such devotion. Have you seen examples of this ripple effect in your own life or in the lives of others around you? How would thinking of your relationship with Christ as a way to make the gospel attractive to others change the way you live each day?
- Persecuted Christians often feel isolated and alone—especially since they aren’t able to fellowship with other believers. But they understand the power of prayer and are asking fellow believers to remember them as we talk to the Lord. They gain so much joy when they know their brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for them because—to them—prayer is the ultimate form of fellowship. What can you do to remind yourself to pray for Christians who are facing persecution?
FAITH IN ACTION
Take some time to host a prayer vigil for hurting brothers and sisters around the world. In solidarity with persecuted Christians, act as though the vigil is a secret meeting. Dim the lights. Use low voices as you sing and pray. Let it remind you of the restrictions your persecuted family faces on a daily basis. Let it change the way you see the Body of Christ.
PART 5: PRAY
Lord, I’m overwhelmed as I think of the millions of Christians around the world who are suffering for their faith. I confess that, at times, my heart has been calloused to their pain. Would You help me to see through Your eyes?
Help me to love them as You do. Place in me a burden for my brothers and sisters who are hurting. I ask even now that You would watch over them— sustain and encourage them. Give them what they need to withstand these storms. Thank You for the way You use persecution for good—for the way You draw people to Yourself and allow them to know You more fully. Use my life to create a ripple effect for those around me, that they may come to a saving faith in You.
In the next session, we’ll look at what persecution has to do with you!