It seems these days like not much time passes between devastating major world events. France, sadly, seems to have suffered with way more than its fair share in the last few years. This article was written shortly after the devastating attack on a large group of people in the city of Nice on 14th July 2016, Bastille Day, France’s national day of celebration. More than 80 people are known to have died. It is yet another heart-breaking tragedy for both France and the world as a whole to acknowledge and mourn.
Because of the way modern media gives us instant information, both through traditional journalistic methods such as TV news, plus more modern social media outlets where we can see countless people giving their take on events, we can often be overwhelmed by how much attention certain news items get, whereas others get very little.
Something which seems to be expected of politicians and prominent people when these sorts of events happen is for them to make a comment. They all offer their thoughts and sympathies for those affected. Many extend that to offer prayers also. Very often in the high-paced world of Twitter, hashtags quickly appear with things such as #JeSuisCharlie, #PrayForParis and most recently #PrayForNice. These quickly enter the top 10 of current trending search phrases – in a very real way it appears that praying for somewhere or someone brings people from all around the world together. I wonder though what using a #PrayFor____ hashtag means in real practical terms for those using them.
What does #PrayFor____ mean?
Is it an outward show of an inward but heartfelt prayer to God? Does it motivate someone to pray in a perhaps more outgoing way, eg. Lighting a candle in a church? Does it encourage donations of money to victims in need? Does it motivate some to want to give more practical help? Or is it just saying what one is perhaps expected to say with no actual end result at all? We’ll probably never know, but for anyone making reference to a #PrayFor____ hashtag who perhaps doesn’t pray very often or struggles to know how to pray, what advice can be offered?
How does Jesus pray?
Well it’s important first of all to acknowledge that God is in control. The Lord’s prayer (in Matthew 5) is an example of how to pray, given by Jesus for the benefit of his disciples. The purpose of this article isn’t to examine that prayer in detail, but it’s important to note that he starts off by acknowledging that God is in heaven and that his will is done both in heaven and on earth. It’s only after that starting point that Jesus asks God for things, and it’s simple – enough food for the day followed by a request for forgiveness, acknowledging that we wish to be forgiven in the same way that we should forgive those who wrong us.
This is very humbling – clearly we don’t get to call all the shots if our primary desire is for God’s will to be done above our own, and if God has some sort of control over things going on in the world then we are surely either asking for something which he already plans to do, or we are asking him to change his mind about his plans. Does that then mean we can’t ask for his help? Well I don’t think so, because there are verses in the Bible which give us examples of just that.
When should we pray?
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:13-16
James here tells us that when someone is suffering then they should pray, but also that if we pray for them in faith that this can bring about healing. Coupled with that is again the idea of forgiveness, and I think this is hugely important as we can only be classed as righteous if we have been forgiven by God.
Praying is hard!
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling. 1 Timothy 2:1-2,8
In this passage Paul mentions intercessions, the idea of praying for someone else, and then goes on to talk about praying without wrath and without doubt. Praying without doubt is hard because ultimately God won’t be able to intervene and do everything we ask of him without in some way removing the element of freewill from mankind which causes us to be human (with a choice of whether to be good or bad). Ultimately, however God answers our prayers, all we can know for sure is that his will is being done. What we can do though is to remove the element of wrath from how we speak to God, and consequently how we deal with others also.
Love, Forgiveness and Peace
…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. Luke 6:27-28
This should be our aim. If everyone in the world aimed to love their enemies and forgive all sins then everyone would get on much better and bad news stories would happen much less. That may seem like an utterly futile exercise, but we can all make a little difference and set an example in the same way that Jesus did. He loved his enemies, even those who put him to death on the cross.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
We need to pray not only for the well-publicised tragedies but for everything, and not only for the bad things. Paul tells us make our whole life a prayer to God, to include God in everything we think and do. Prayer shouldn’t be the only thing we do, it should be just the start of a journey of being good news to the whole world by the way we live.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18
Finally, let’s think about peace, the absence of war. Violence dominates, it is all over the world, it is even in the city on which God focuses so much attention, both as a literal city, the capital of a future world Kingdom, but also as a spiritual dwelling place that we can live in right now.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you! Psalm 122:6