Travis Weber is Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared in RoanokeTimes on December 26, 2016.
What a gift it would be this Christmas in the United States if we simply came together to remember and pray for the Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.
Last week, we were reminded again of the ongoing death and destruction they face when an explosion erupted at a Coptic Christian church in Egypt, killing at least 25 people. ISIS has claimed responsibility, as mourners are still grieving and the matter is still being sorted out.
What can we say? “You number my wanderings; put my tears into your bottle; are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8) Our immediate reaction is to just sit and mourn. There is such sadness, such heartbreak.
Life is incredibly difficult for many Christians around the world. Indeed, people of a number of different faiths are still persecuted because of their religion in different areas of the globe. As many have done for years past, we must continue to fight for the human right of religious freedom to be respected and upheld around the world. This will ensure the people of all faiths have the freedom to choose their faith and live it out freely wherever they are.
In a moment of brightness just several days ago, Congress passed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. In a number of specific and helpful ways, this bill prioritizes religious freedom as an issue for the United States to address around the world. Much action has been taken (of which this milestone is the latest), yet much more needs to be done.
One way we can act, yet often neglect, is through prayer. It is our way of directly interacting with and seeking God. Prayer is one of the few things that is in our control, when so much (like when a religious freedom bill will be reported out of a congressional committee) is not in our control. “Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation.” (Psalm 62:1) What a Christmas gift it would be if we intentionally took time to pray on these matters on which it is often so much easier to speak or act in other ways.
Indeed, our ultimate salvation has already come in the form of Christ, whose birth we celebrate this time of the year: “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder.” (Isaiah 9:6) The Coptic Christians whose sons and daughters were slaughtered may ask Christ if the government really is on his shoulder. How did the ISIS bomber find his way into the church? It is a real, and painful, question. One day, even that bomber will bow the knee to the government of Christ.
Until then, we can only wait, and pray. Of course we will continue to work toward peace and religious freedom, but we must not forget to rest on God. Waiting silently for God is not marked by sitting and wasting away, but actively trusting in God, and what he promises to us. What better time than now to seek Him, and get to know Him, than this time of the year when we celebrate God’s good news for us — that his son entered into human existence to die on a cross as a sacrifice for our sins?
We all have concerns and cares that plague us day to day. We also have our own religious liberty concerns here at home; we shouldn’t dismiss those. But this Christmas, let us step back and remember those who are suffering worldwide. Let us pray for them and remember the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
These words are directed to all who would seek the Lord for salvation and deliverance, to us and to them.
We truly hope for peace on Earth and goodwill toward all, this would be a great Christmas gift this year. While we are compelled to continue working for this peace, and will continue to work toward religious freedom for all around the world, we must await the one who is the only true peacemaker — Jesus Christ himself.