A few days ago, as I drove down the highway that I have dubbed “holy” because the lack of traffic helps me to pray, I noted it was the season for dead owls. Every year around the same time, I see an increased number of dead owls on the side of the road, with their wings outstretched, upside down and dead. I assume they collide with vehicles as they swoop down to catch their prey, whether moth or mouse, and die upon impact.
These dead owls are large, and it pains me to see such magnificent creatures destroyed.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside of your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~Matthew 10:29-31
I care about large birds such as owls, but God watches even the sparrows. These verses were written to encourage the apostles to not be ashamed to testify about Jesus. Jesus knew that they would face persecution, suffering, and death for testifying about him, so he encouraged them by teaching that God is intimately concerned with their lives. They will not die outside of God’s will.
As we know all too well, death and suffering for faith in Christ occurs around the world, even today. As far as I know, Christians and other minorities are still in danger from ISIS in northern Iraq. Back in August, the Huffington Post cited almost two thousand people had died in Iraq during the month of June. North Korea is another hot spot of hostility toward Christians. On The Voice of the Martyrs, I just read about persecution in northeastern Nigeria, too. They featured a story about a man who had his hands and feet chopped off from militants trying to force him to convert to another religion. He was one of many who have suffered violence. The Voice of the Martyrs reports that more than three thousand people in that region of Nigeria have died this year from their attacks. For perspective, our nation mourns today the attacks of 9/11 when, yes, almost three thousand people died.
If I am sad about some owls or 9/11, then I should cry about the death and suffering of my brothers and sisters around the world. I might not see their pain as I drive down my deserted highway to work, but in this age of information, I can and should know what is happening to them. My tendency is to ignore the world and focus on my own problems, but I know I should care about others.
Jesus did not shy away from the issue. His response was to comfort the apostles with the love and care of God. He also encouraged them to be brave and unashamed. Death is not the end.
Death is a question I cannot answer today. I suspect it might be related to God granting free will among humanity and angels. But what is clear today, is that God cares for each one of us. He is compassionate. He grants us an allotted number of days. He knows us so intimately that he knows the number of hairs on our head. He knows when we rise and when we fall. Despite our wayward ways, his desire is to eradicate suffering and death for us.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, ” I am making everything new!” ~Revelation 21:3-5
God cares about owls and sparrows. And God cares about you and me, in our career trials, political upheavals, and persecution. Suffering will come because God’s kingdom of love is not yet fully arrived, but let us pray that his kingdom will come. Let us pray that the suffering will be short-lived. Let us pray for the salvation of those who inflict injury and death. Let us pray for strength and comfort for those who face that suffering. I hope that the reality of heaven may be a comfort to me in the face of death and a comfort to each one of us.
Jesus knew what would happen to the apostles, and together with the Father, it was their will to allow the apostles to die as witnesses to the truth. But the Holy Spirit also inspired Paul to write that the church should pray against persecution.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and please God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. ~1 Timothy 2:1-4
1) Pray for peace for Christians around the world.
2) Pray for the people with the power to persecute, whether kings, presidents, or terrorists, that they may know the truth and salvation.
3) A spirit of forgiveness is needed to pray for those who persecute. It is difficult to pray for their salvation without true forgiveness.
4) Pray generically, “for those persecuted,” and pray specifically. Look up websites like The Voice of the Martyrs or even your favorite news station, and pray for specific persons and groups.
5) Pray for blessing and comfort for those who have lost loved ones through 9/11 or other times and places of oppression, violence, and persecution.
6) Pray for courage and strength for those facing persecution.
7) Pray for a heart to care about more than ourselves.