When I was part of a prayer ministry in Bristol in the 1960s and 70s I first experienced those ‘groanings too deep for words’ when ‘the Spirit himself intercedes for us’ because ‘we do not know what to pray for as we ought’ (Romans 8:26).
In the spring of 1972, day after day the Spirit of God groaned in me for the national Christians in Afghanistan – a land I knew nothing about, except that Afghan believers were unable to meet together, and could be persecuted within that nation which was virtually one hundred percent Muslim.
I once found myself, with a breaking heart, asking the Lord to keep his martyrs faithful even unto death for, as Augustine of Hippo remarked: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’
Months later I quite unexpectedly stayed in Kabul for ten days. Although I was now able to pray more knowledgeably, that unique travailing no longer accompanied my intercessions.
But those groaning that I (and many others, then and since) had invested in heaven’s bank was ‘earning interest’. Forty years later, friends of ours who were conducting seminars in Kabul, emailed urging us to pray for all those Afghan converts who were known to have been arrested and imprisoned. Some, sadly, had renounced Christ to get release from prison. Quoting Hebrews 13:13, they asked us to remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.’
Details from letters smuggled from the jail by relatives told of two of those in custody awaiting trial who had remained faithful to Jesus as Lord. One, A S, had maintained a quiet determination, but S M had begun to falter, showing acute anxiety in solitary confinement. Then one night in a dream he was visited by a man in dazzling white. He fell to his knees confessing, ‘I am a sinner’, to which the radiant man replied, ‘I know, and have forgiven you.’
From the next morning S M showed resolute loyalty to Christ. He said he wanted to go to court to witness for Jesus. So the prison authorities declared him mad and sent in a psychiatrist. S M protested that he was mentally stable, refused any treatment and was prepared to die for his faith. The authorities’ next ploy was to put a mad Talib prisoner alongside him – who became suicidal when S M witnessed to him, calling him ‘a kafir’ (a foreigner). The next morning the Talib awoke and said that the man in dazzling white visited him in a dream and said that he was Jesus Christ. ‘I want to follow this man too.’ S M had all the time he needed to train him as a disciple of Christ, even although he’d been threatened to recant within a week or he’d be hanged.
[Recently I rediscovered these first hand details from four years earlier in my 2010 journals that I had discontinued writing soon afterwards.]