Nukes and sanctions are just the tip of the iceberg in Iran. E3 Partners Middle East expert Tom Doyle says a spiritual war is underway in the Shiite Muslim-led nation.
"There's the external: They want to go after Israel. There's the internal: They want to wipe out the church. And I just think Satan is behind this because it's a massive spiritual war," Doyle explains.
"He is going after Israel, the chosen people, and Jesus' beloved bride, the church—all through one nation."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed last week to a six-month restriction on his country's nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions totaling approximately $7 billion. Touted a historical victory by Iranian and U.S. leaders, the deal was deemed a "historic mistake" by U.S. ally Israel.
"Iran, we believe, with this new peace pact, will probably be accelerated in their march to getting nuclear weapons that they've promised to use against Israel," notes Doyle.
Iran has long stood in vehement opposition of Israel, culminated in a 2005 speech by then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) captured Ahmadinejad's comments to thousands of Iranian students in an online news article.
"As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," Ahmadinejad stated, supposedly referencing Iran's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini.
Key to the suppression of Iran's nuclear development and activity, U.S. and U.N. restrictions have been in place for more than a decade. Measures enacted in 2010 and 2012 heavily limit the country's access to oil profits.
The crippling effect of these restrictions on Iran's economy and Rouhani's appointment to national leadership both contributed to the country's current willingness to "strike a deal" with the West.
Obama and fellow U.S. leaders also received criticism for refusing to make the release of pastor Saeed Abedini a prerequisite in last week's nuclear discussions.
"President Obama and Secretary of State [John] Kerry turned their backs on a U.S. citizen by refusing to secure his freedom before reaching an agreement with Iran," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), in a release.
"It is outrageous and a betrayal of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has spent more than a year in an Iranian prison simply because of his Christian faith."
Sanctions and Silence Release Pressure
Doyle says Obama's silence regarding Abedini's release could speak volumes to Iran's leadership. In recent years, Iran has been responding to international pressure.
"When there's no international pressure," Doyle notes, "then they just have a free pass to do what they want."
Abedini's wife, Nagmeh, recently shared a prayer for her husband on the 8thirty8 Facebook page. Doyle says she is highly concerned for Saeed's well-being.
"Saeed has been transferred to another facility that has even more hardened criminals there, [and where there] appears to be less supervision; there's more of a chance for him to be hurt there," Doyle explains.
According to Nagmeh, Saeed is enduring "extreme persecution" and needs your prayers.
"It's so difficult, but he's standing firm; he has a great love for Jesus," Doyle says. "We are so thankful for this brother. He is in the midst of that, sharing his faith in this prison."
Leaders like Abedini—and the Iranian church in general—personify a paradox faced by persecuted Christians worldwide.
"Where the church is being persecuted is where it's effective," Doyle says. "Where it's being left alone, like in Europe and largely in America, we're very much marginalized and often not taken seriously."
Efforts to combat or block the gospel are backfiring, Doyle adds, especially in Iran.
"Anything the government gives their endorsement to—'This is bad'—the people of Iran want to check out. That's one of the reasons the gospel has been making such an impact on Iran," he explains.
"In the places where the church is under fire—North Korea, Egypt, Iran—that's where God is moving powerfully. We want the persecution to pull back, but we want the church to keep accelerating," he adds.
How can you help?
The first and most important step is prayer.
"We must pray," Doyle says. "We're praying that there's no nuclear conflict, but we're also praying for God to intervene for the church, because these are dark and difficult days for them."
Secondly, you can set your clock for 8:38 p.m. The 8thirty8 initiative is a reminder to pray for believers around the world who are either in prison, persecution or danger.
It's based on Romans 8:38-39, which reads, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (NIV).
Doyle expounds: "We want our brothers and sisters in Christ in North Korea, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria to know that the body of Christ stands with them, and they're fervent for their deliverance and for their safety."
Finally, click here for specific ways you can get involved in Middle East ministry through e3 Partners.
"God's moving in the midst of persecution; only He could do this," Doyle says.
"Most people would want to give up and say, 'Forget it,' but the church is triumphant and actually moves forward in a more powerful way in the midst of persecution."
This article originally appeared on mnnonline.org.