When Egypt gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January, 2011, I prayed that there would be real change in that country. I prayed that Egyptians would be freed from their bondage beneath the thumb of dictatorship, poverty and social injustice.
When uprisings began in Yemen and Libya, I prayed that the reformers would win. When bombs went off and barricades rose and protestors marched, I prayed that the underdogs would win out against their overlords. When the weak stood up to the strong, I prayed.
But those were simple prayers. One side against another. Freedom versus tyranny. Right versus wrong.
Now things are different — they probably always were. The eruptions continue, but I no longer know who or what to pray for.
There is civil war in Syria. Something like it in Afghanistan and South Sudan. Christians kill Muslims in CAR. Egyptians still flood the streets and squares. Upheaval is not finished in Libya either. And the volcanic climate of unrest — of public cries for everything from education to freedom of religion — is bursting from the cultural plates of old, isolated worlds, calling for a new, free Pangea.
Revolution in Ukraine. Revolution in Venezuela.
Unrest in Thailand. Unrest in Israel and Palestine.
Protests in Turkey. Protests in Russia.
But none of it is ever quite black and white. Because these are not just “sides” — these are people.
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So how do we pray for these situations? Who is right? Does it matter?
It would be easy to know if only Jesus marched in the ranks of one phalanx of demonstrators or the other. It would be easier if Jesus held up a sign with a freedom-fighter slogan. It would be easier if Jesus did graffiti, spray-painting anti-government propaganda or POLICIA messages on the walls of parliaments and media buildings.
But he doesn’t do that.
Jesus was a different kind of revolutionary. His most radical form of protest involved no gas masks or barricades. Jesus never threw a Molotov cocktail. Jesus owned no riot gear.
But neither did he hide away.
To the contrary, Jesus anchored the front line. Jesus was the Front Line. He had strong words for both the disciples and the Pharisees. He cared for the souls of both the untouchables and centurions, weak and strong, Jew and Gentile.
And so should we.
But… But… I don’t want my prayers to be neutral. I want them to be emphatic! I don’t want them to be directionless. I want them to be bold! I don’t want them to be empty. I want them to be strong!
So how might we pray? What do we say to God when all around is chaos?
My prayer for the revolutions, when I don’t know which rebels to pray for — for we are all, both sides, rebels — is like this:
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God, you are the great defender. We pray that your hand of protection would be over this country and these people.
Grant comfort, that compassion and mercy would overcome any peril.
Grant peace, that wherever there is danger or fear it would subside.
Grant repentance, that any hatred or ill will would be cut out.
Be with the observers, the children and those who think they must fight. Be with the protestors, the government and the army. Be with the field doctors, the nurses, the sheikhs, the priests and the journalists who will put themselves in harm’s way. Be with all those who grieve. Be with the wounded, the prisoners and the dying. Be with the newly widowed and orphaned.
Grant strength and restore peace.
Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. May that be the way here, now, even if it is the hard way.
Forgive all the factions in the conflict. Have pity and do not count their sins against them. Heal the suffering and show yourself to be the ultimate victory.
Be with your Church in this charred land. Meet their daily needs and show them where they are needed. Let your light shine in the darkness through your presence in your people. Let them remember that you said blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers.
Save the people of this conflict from these troubled days. For the good refuge, and the good peace and the good way are only found in you.