The Christian theologian, pastor and eventually martyr Dietrich
Bonhoeffer spent the Christmas of 1943 in the military section of
Tegel Prison in Berlin as a prisoner of the Nazis. On 22 December
he wrote that fear could only be overcome, and pain and suffering
could only be borne, through faith. 'I must be able to know for
certain that I am in the hands of God, and not in men's.' That
Christmas morning Bonhoeffer, aware that Christmas could heighten
prisoners' feelings of loneliness and despair, wrote a series of
'prayers for fellow prisoners' (prayers for prisoners to pray).
They are prayers purposefully designed to help the fearful, lonely
and despairing find faith, comfort and peace in the midst of
terrible uncertainty and suffering. What a wonderful Christmas
'O God, early in the morning do I cry unto thee. Help me to pray,
and to think only of thee. I cannot pray alone. In me there is
darkness, but with thee there is light. I am lonely, but thou
leavest me not. I am feeble in heart, but thou leavest me not. I am
restless, but with thee there is peace. In me there is bitterness,
but with thee there is patience; thy ways are past understanding,
but thou knowest the way for me.' (From 'Letters and Papers from
It is significant that Bonheoffer did this at Christmas because the
faith, comfort and peace that flow through this short prayer have
their source in Jesus, God's gift to us. He is the one who said
'Let there be light' and there was light and he is light (John 1:1-
5). His atoning work on the cross made it possible for his Holy
Spirit to indwell us as our eternal, ever-present comforter (2
Corinthians 1:3-5), counsellor (John 14:15-18), fortifier and
enabler (Philippians 4:13) and sanctifier (Ephesians 1:11,12;
Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 10:14). The sustaining faith, comfort and
peace Bonheoffer wanted his fellow prisoners to experience are only
possible through Jesus.
There are many believers suffering immensely and in need of this
peace this Christmas. Men like convert Bahaa el-Din Ahmed Hussein
el-Akkad (57) imprisoned for Christ in Egypt; and Gao Zhisheng
imprisoned as a justice-seeking disciple of Christ in China. Women
like teacher Sister Francina beaten for Christ in Karnataka, India,
and Neelam Paswan a pastor's wife who was raped on account of
Christ in Bihar, India. Others - like Sister Leonella Sgorbati (70)
shot in the back on account of Christ in Somalia; convert Bashir
Ahmed Tantray (50) murdered on account of Christ in Kashmir;
believers Immanuel Andegergesh (23) and Kibrom Firemichel (30)
tortured to death for worshipping Christ in Eritrea - are now all
with the Lord and have become part of that 'great cloud of
witnesses' (Hebrews 12:1) that surround and inspire us.
May all persecuted Christians experience his peace this Christmas.
And may Christians everywhere have a sense of that 'great cloud of
witnesses' that surrounds us - that amazing body of faith of which
we are a part.
THIS CHRISTMAS, PLEASE PRAY THAT GOD:
* will comfort, strengthen, sustain and sanctify all those who are
suffering on account of Christ this Christmas; may they know his
presence and despite their trials be enabled to fix their eyes
upon him, the author and perfecter of their faith (Hebrews
* who loved the world so much that he 'did not spare his own Son,
but gave him up for us all. . .' (Romans 8:32) to 'send out
workers into his harvest field' (Matthew 9:38) so that men and
women and children may know Jesus and the salvation, faith,
comfort and peace he brings, even in the midst of suffering.
* will protect and bless the ministry of the WEA Religious Liberty
Commission and all those who partner with us through prayer,
advocacy and leadership in local churches around the world; may
God be pleased to use us all as his instruments as he advances
his kingdom and fulfils his promise that the whole earth will be
filled with the glory of the LORD (Habakkuk 2:14).
SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
CHRISTMAS 2006: PEACE AND UNITY THROUGH JESUS CHRIST
Suffering, persecuted, grieving and imprisoned Christians can have
peace through Jesus. God gave us Jesus on that first Christmas so
his atoning work on the cross would redeem us and reconcile us to
him forever. Because of Jesus the Holy Spirit has come to us to
indwell us and be our comforter, counsellor, fortifier and
sanctifier, no matter what our circumstances in this life. When we
honour Jesus this Christmas we do not stand alone. We are
surrounded by a 'great cloud of witnesses' (Hebrews 12:1), men and
women and children of faith from all ages and many nations,
multitudes of whom have suffered for him, even unto death. This
Christmas, may Christians who are suffering on account of Jesus
experience his peace. And may Christians everywhere have a sense of
that 'great cloud of witnesses' that surrounds us - that amazing
body of faith of which we are a part.
RLP 410 will appear in the first week of January 2007.
May God's mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.
Previous RLPs may be viewed at http://www.ea.org.au/rlc/
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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.
RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.