32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:32-39, English Standard Version)
Today was Day 25 of praying for the persecuted church in particularly dangerous areas of the world. It is something that I encouraged as I preached on this over the course of two weeks earlier this month, and I am including this guide in the hopes that you will not grow weary in praying for our brothers and sisters suffering for the sake of Jesus.
By way of encouragement, Tish Harrison Warren recently wrote on cultivating a life of prayer:
Even my small donation to an organization will only aid victims. I cannot stop evil men from hurting strangers I love on the other side of an ocean. My ordinary day feels ridiculous and futile.
In this world where news of torture and death runs like a ticker through my day, I’m realizing in a new way that I must learn to pray. I must learn to sit in silence with a God who is all-powerful and all-loving in the mystery of horrendous suffering. I must learn to lift up my sisters and brothers without ceasing. I must learn to pray ordinary prayers for them in my small way and believe that God makes those prayers matter. I have to stretch toward the belief that prayer is more powerful than death, that God can change evil men or stop them more certainly than violence can, that there is a Rescuer for those who suffer.
When I was just out of college and working among the poor, a friend, an older and wiser chain-smoking Franciscan friar, commented on the intensity of my life and work at that time and said, “You don’t have the kind of prayer life and rhythms of contemplation to sustain the work you are doing.” He warned that I was going to burn out. I was surrounded by too much suffering to be able to subsist without more rest, more prayer, more quiet days, more solitude, more silence, more listening. He was right. Within a few years, I was spent.
It’s getting to the point that I can’t even read the news or go on Facebook without needing a sustaining life of prayer, the kind of robust contemplative life that allows me to remain vulnerable and hopeful in a world of suffering.
Prayer is not merely a pious consolation prize, something we do when we don’t know what else to do. It is not the property of hermetic saints and propriety. It is earthy and gritty and groaning and vulnerable and fierce. And it is sustenance. I want to learn to cultivate a life of prayer in the midst of a suffering world.
I may never get to tell an Iraqi mother that I am so sorry for her loss, I may not be able to hold her hand or pray with her, I may not be able to stop this kind of evil. But in my daily life, I need to learn to cling to prayer and lean into silence even as I read news.
Brothers and sisters, let us pray.