Praying for Ukraine, for Iraq, for Syria, and for Russia and for ISIS

praying together 2Anger.

Anger and fierce frustration.

Anger, fierce frustration, and such a feeling of helplessness.

I hate watching the news lately and yet I also feel obliged to at least tune into it from time to time. I don’t like checking my news apps on my phone, yet I still get push notifications on what is happening in the world.

I want to hide. I want to put my fingers in my ears and pretend its not happening.

And I’m not the only one.

There are many that look into our own nation with a call for justice, a call to rally and fight against oppression, a call to stand up for what they say is right. And on the small scale in which we live, that sounds like it is valiant and courageous. And then I look at what is happening on the larger global stage of life and see just how myopic it truly is.

The very articulate (and all around nice guy) James Schaap, a former English prof from Dordt College, recently penned a blog post speaking of the anger of what is happening in the world around us. 21 Christians from Egypt beheaded by a religious militant group in the Middle East. 21. Their only crime–being non-Muslim. Schaap does a wonderful job enhancing the emotions felt at the end of Psalm 137, allowing the words to echo into our world today in the face of shear terror and brutality

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” Psalm 137:9 (yes, that is in the Bible)

The Psalm itself starts off with the simple line

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” Psalm 137:1

The Jewish people had been brutalized, their homeland leveled and destroyed, their holy city in ruins, their temple desecrated with all the holy things taken away and probably melted down to make idols of the gods of Babylon. And they sat and wept. They were hurt. They were stripped of their humanity. They were terrorized and brutally assaulted. No wonder the Psalm ends with such words. Words that scream a desire for a nation, a people, a bloodlust to never raise its ugly head again.

And yet, it has.

In the Middle East, people are being killed for their faith. In the Middle East, militants of extreme Islam are instituting Sharia Law. In the Middle East, people are being driven out of their homes, burned alive, killed for the simple fact that they are not the militants nor will side with them.

My heart hurts.

But it isn’t just there. In Ukraine, a country with a rich history, a strong and beautiful people, is being terrorized and bullied by Russia who has been playing a mean vicious war game version of Apples to Apples, showing actions with words that have no clear connection yet bombing and killing and taking over sovereign territory in the name of protecting people who are not their citizens. People are driven from their homes, a country is falling apart economically and in need of dire help.

My heart hurts.

And so we do the only thing we can so far away form it all. We pray. We pray hard. We pray fast. We pray “Come, Lord Jesus, come, heal this dry and weary land.”

praying 1And I wonder, in our anger, in our outrage of the brutality and barbarity of ISIS and the lies and sneakiness of Putin, do we pray for them as well? Do we pray for our enemies?

This is a hard one. This is a tough one. I in no way condone their actions. In fact I’m one of the first ones to scream we need boots on the ground yesterday. But not because I’m bloodthirsty out for revenge. No. But because I believe it is the job of the government, the power given to them by God, to wield the sword (as it were, using Paul’s term) to protect the weak, the powerless, the hurting, the oppressed and to fight against injustice. Something I don’t think is happening (but I am so not going into this right now because this isn’t a political blog but one on spirituality).

As a follower of Jesus, it is my job to wield the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and to pray. To pray hard.

Proverbs says something interesting that for the longest time I misunderstood:

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head and the Lord will reward you.” Proverbs 25:21-22

For years I saw this as permission to kill someone with kindness. But that’s not it at all. To heap burning coals on someone’s head was to take care of them, give them hospitality, to keep them warm. It was a good thing.

Jesus says

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell yo, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-45, 48

This is why grace is so scandalous. This is why the message of Jesus is so hard to handle even for His followers.

CrossHow can you pray for evil men who behead aide workers and journalists? How can you pray for evil men who burn a man alive in a cage? How can you pray for evil men who behead 21 people just for being Christians, fellow believers in the faith, our brothers in Jesus Christ.

How?

HOW?!?!?!?!

I don’t know.

You just do.

It’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s a hard thing to do. It goes against every fiber of my being in every way. Yet it is what we are to do as followers of Jesus.

Now this isn’t saying that we are to sit idly by and allow this evil to triumph. At the same time we shouldn’t gear up and start singing “Onward Christian Soliders” or “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Not in the least.

Our greatest weapon as believers in Jesus is prayer. By the power of the blood of Jesus shed for us we are able, through the moving of the Holy Spirit, to come before the God of the universe and call to Him. Prayer does amazing things. But it starts with prayer.

As the news filters in, I will continue to pray. And I will pray for Syria, for Iraq, for Ukraine, but also for Russia and ISIS that they too might find the love and comfort and peace found in Jesus. That they too might come to know the grace that I have known.

It is a hard prayer to pray, but we are to pray for them none the less.

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