Bread and cheese for breakfast. Rice and soy sauce for dinner. Everyday. Not much sustenance but it’s something. Those aren’t meals I would choose and they aren’t meals Saeed Abedini would prefer, I’m sure. But it’s what is being offered to him in prison as he serves a sentence imposed by the Iranian government. And today, May 7, on his birthday, he won’t get the added bonus of a buttercream cake or a chocolate cupcake. This day is just like all the others that he’s spent behind bars. Except this year, the National Day of Prayer falls on his birthday and on mine. Pastor Saeed is 35 today and I’m 36. A few days ago I mentioned to my daughter that I was getting old because 36 just sounds old…or at least older. I don’t exactly feel 36 but then again I’m not sure what 36 should feel like. Yet, I have the chance today on my birthday to celebrate with my family, to enjoy meals with them, to go to the bookstore, to drink vanilla chai tea. All of the daily pleasures that Pastor Saeed hasn’t enjoyed for the past three years and that he won’t enjoy on his birthday. Can you imagine a birthday behind bars? You can read more about his days in prison here.
So, thankfully, Saeed has been able to write letters from prison and wrote a powerful message for this National Day of Prayer encouraging Christians to remember his chains and to cry out to God for revival in this country. My prayer today, as it has been daily, is for his release and for the release of other believers behind bars, that God would return Saeed to his family when his work in that dark prison is done. My prayer is also for the release from bondage for those who are in a different type of prison cell. The binding chains of sin that can be undone by belief in Jesus alone; the bondage of addiction to substances or performance or relationships; the poison of unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Not to fulfill our own desires (which I’m often guilty of doing) but the freedom to live for Him first and for others second. And that’s the one thing that Pastor Saeed has that no Iranian official or prison guard can take from him – his freedom in Christ. He has the freedom to not fear, the freedom to not worry, the freedom to not get even or seek revenge. He has the freedom to be joyful in the midst of pain, the freedom to be loving in the midst of evil and the freedom to be bold in the midst of trouble. He has this freedom because he knows Jesus Christ. Just like the Lord God was with Joseph when he was put in prison, the Lord God is now with Pastor Saeed in his prison cell. And He cannot be taken from Saeed.
For the past few years on my birthday, I’ve chosen to start reading, meditating upon and sometimes memorizing the psalm that matches my age. So, this year, it’s Psalm 36 and it’s ideal for me as I’ve been focusing on the character of God. David wrote the psalm beginning with the wickedness of the ungodly, how he doesn’t fear God and has ceased to do good. In contract, the Lord is righteous and faithful and loving. The Lord is a refuge to His children and the giver of all good gifts. If Saeed were to do the same and pick a psalm based on his age, his would be Psalm 35 (mine last year) and it’s titled, “Prayer for Rescue from Enemies.” Some of it is below…
Lord, how long will You look on?
Rescue my soul from their ravages,
My only life from the lions.
I will give You thanks in the great congregation;
I will praise You among a mighty throng.
Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me;
Nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously.
For they do not speak peace,
But they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.
They opened their mouth wide against me;
They said, “Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!”
You have seen it, O Lord, do not keep silent;
O Lord, do not be far from me.
Stir up Yourself, and awake to my right
And to my cause, my God and my Lord.
Judge me, O Lord my God, according to Your righteousness,
And do not let them rejoice over me.
Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Pastor Saeed is greatly blessed!