Kodak Prays for the Persecuted

Kodak_review_05162016Betsey Kodat. 2015. Arise, LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Herndon, Virginia: CreateSpace.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The annual number of Christian martyrs in 2015 has been estimated to have been 90,000 people. This estimate is a decline from 377,000 in 1970s in the heyday of world communism,[1] but it is still about three times the number (34,400) in 1900 (IBMR 2015, 29) and has probably increased since that estimate was made because of genocide reported in the ISIS conflict in the Middle East. Those directly affected by genocide and martyrdom thankfully remain a small portion of the Christians worldwide suffering persecution.

Betsey Kodat In her book, Arise LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church, takes her title from Psalm 3—

O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! (Ps 3:1-8 ESV)[2]

—and focuses on intervening for those affected in prayer (3). Prayer is, of course, hard enough because in order to pray for the persecuted, one needs to admit to yourself that persecution exists and believe in your heart that God both truly exists and cares enough to intervene. Intervening in prayer also requires admitting our own impotence to stop persecution, often a hard step for gung-ho Americans, so by inviting us to pray for the persecuted God is also inviting us to set aside our pride and approach Him in humility. This need of humility is aptly captured in the cover graphic displaying the disciples in the storm on the Galilee (Matt 8:23-27) which symbolized persecution and early church fathers referred to as “the ship of Peter” (7).

In approaching prayer for the persecuted, Kodat recommends a 4-part movement in prayer:

  1. Opening Prayer,
  2. Strategic Prayer,
  3. Specific Prayer, and
  4. Closing Prayer (7).

The basic prayer in 4-movements structures the core chapters in her book and the group prayer template, which functions as the book’s concluding chapter (166-168). Kodak expands these 4-movements into 6 steps in application, allowing for preliminary research and a period of spontaneous prayer just before the closing (15).   Let me turn briefly to each of these 6 steps.

Step 1: Preliminary Research. Kodat admonishes us to: “Research target needs before you pray, using reputable resources, then select prayers that meet these needs” (16) She then offers a list of websites that can be used to undertake this research. Research for prayer might seem like overkill, but in prayer we are asking God to channel His power to specific ends. By engaging both our hearts and our minds, taking time to be specific demonstrates to us and to God that we are serious about prayer.

Step 2: Opening Prayer. Kodat recommends that we open prayer employing 6 specific topics: placing ourselves in God’s hands, praising God, binding Satan, confession, thanking God, and song (17). These instructions remind me of the “harp and bowl” prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8) where music and petitions are mixed together in continuous prayer.[3]

Step 3: Scripture-based Strategic Prayer. Kodat offers a list of 7 topics for strategic prayer to select among for particular occasions. This list includes—general needs, strength, leaders, supporting churches, nations, national leaders, and persecutors[4]—and it targets topics that may prevent or correct the problem of persecution (18).

Step 4: Scripture-based Specific Prayer. Kodat offers a fairly short list of 4 specific prayers (19)—for crises, recovery from crises, ongoing oppression, and a 4-page list of specific items mentioned throughout the book (170-173). Being specific in prayer has commonly been promoted as a way to channel God’s power, but channeling is unnecessary for an all-powerful God; a better explanation for channeling is so that God’s concern for us would be more obvious (John 9:3).

Step 5: Spontaneous Prayer. Kodat advises us to “pray with Holy Spirit insight as your heart leads.” (20) This advice might seem out of place because for most people this is the only way that they normally pray, but something more interesting is at work. If we become too formal in our prayers and neglect to engage our hearts, then we pray for reasons other than love—remember the Apostle Paul’s admonition:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)

Nothing is gained by praying without love, in part, because our love marks us as disciples of Christ worthy of God’s attention to our prayer (1 John 4:21).

Step 6: Closing Prayer. Kodat’s guidance on closing prayer is brief:

“Choose a blessing, and pray it in unison along with ‘leaving our concerns with God’ and the Lord’s Prayer” (20).

In particular, Kodat advises us to pray corporately to intensify the power of prayer (21).

Betsey Kodat’s Arise, LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church is a readable and thoughtful devotional focused on interceding for the persecuted church. Each devotional includes an introduction to the topic, suggested resources, a list of suggested prayers, and scriptural resources. In addition to being a prayer warrior, Kodak writes, teaches, and is a dedicated mom,[5] but I know her best for her tireless work for the Capital Christian Writers’ club[6].

[1] Communism is an atheist philosophy and remains widely influential in secular circles even today. Over time, communist nations have been fairly open in their persecution of Christians who are often accused of representing a foreign influence. This idea of foreign influence is also an excuse used in the case of Middle Eastern persecution of Christian minorities (Iwanicki and Bailey 2012).

[2]A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son…” (Ps 3:1).

[3] International House of Prayer (http://www.ihopkc.org).

[4] This rather-unusual idea of praying for the persecutors comes directly from Christ—“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:43-45)—who essentially advised us to persecution as a ministry opportunity.

[5] http://www.BetseyKodat.com.

[6] www.CapitalChristianWriters.org.

REFERENCES

 International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR). 2015. Christianity 2015: Religious Diversity and Personal Contact. Cited: 28 December 2015. Online: (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/research/documents/1IBMR2015.pdf).

Iwanicki, Hugh and Dave Bailey. 2012. Shock and Alarm: What It Was Really Like at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. North Charleston: CreateSpace. (Review: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1pl).

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Christian Paradox

Life_in_Tension_web“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live
to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we think of sin, we normally think of sin against our neighbor rather than against God. In fact, the story of the tensions of faith over the past century have mostly focused on reconciliation with our neighbor, not God. The tensions over racial and ethnic equality, classism, and women’s rights, for example, are struggles over the sin of discrimination against our neighbor—a form of pride displayed at the expense of that neighbor. The Apostle Paul said it best over two thousand years ago:

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [racial and ethnic equality], there is neither slave nor free [classism], there is no male and female [women’s rights], for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28 ESV)

If our sin is against our neighbor, then what does that have to do with the atonement of Christ? Why would pursuing this righteousness lead to persecution?

In a strictly political sense, equality leads to instability. Why? Because no one is in charge. Everything is negotiated. Chaos is the natural outcome because personal and class interests are naturally in conflict and no one has the authority required to set rules and enforce law. Economists sometimes talk about competition as a transition to monopoly. Most people prefer security to equality—even if they think of themselves as democrats (small d). The more equality experienced, the greater the need for God!

In an unstable world, the swabbling would never stop. Revenge and counter-revenge have no natural end-point except death.

Jesus proposes specific alternatives:

  • “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39 ESV)
  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44 ESV).
  • “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt. 5:41 ESV)
  • “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt 7:1 ESV)
  • “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21 ESV)

Refuse to defend your honor, even if you suffer shame. In other words, in all things be humble [1]. Instead of defending your honor, practice humility and pursue righteousness even at the expense of persecution and death. Evil is defeated on the cross because God himself has paid the penalty of our sin (1 Peter 2:24; 1 Cor 15:3). The resurrection vindicated the claim that Jesus is the Son of God [2].

In a context of humility, violence is avoided by refusing to pursue one’s rights and preferring to set a good example by being proactively righteous. This is not a strategy to dominant another person or for one group to dominant another, in part, because the other party (or parties) gets to choose whether or not to reciprocate. Quite the contrary, the other party (or parties) can simply chose to persecute or dominate. However, the possibility that an enemy will chose to become a friend is only logically possible if this strategy of humility is sincerely chosen.

Although Stephen was the first Christian martyr, many more followed. The only apostle that was not martyred was the Apostle John (Foxe 2001, 10). Outside of martyrdom, other Christians have given testimony through service at the risk of their own lives. For example, during a plague in Alexandria in the third century Christians refused to abandon the city preferring to remain and care for the sick. Have we followed their example?  (Kinnamen and Lyons 2007, 110).

Divine intervention is required to abandon one’s rights and live in service to others. While Christ’s resurrection points to his divinity, his life and his sacrifice point to God’s alternative. Dare we follow?

 

[1] Neyrey (1998) devotes his entire book to this subject.

[2] Jesus preferred to refer to himself as the Son of Man. Out of 189 verses in the Bible that use this term, 89 are found in Ezekiel which refer to the prophet himself. The term in Hebrew literally means “son of Adam” ( בֶּן־אָדָם (Ezek. 2:1 WTT)). In the more famous passage in Daniel 7:13, the Hebrew expression is the more familiar “son of man” (כְּבַ֥ר אֱנָ֖שׁ).

REFERENCES

Foxe, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Kinnaman, David with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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