Last night I was at a Bible study where we've been reading a bookabout prayer. In addition to a few of us trashing the book for itssimplistic views -- namely, the "Do these things to pray better" or"Six points for a more sucessful prayer life" approach that seems tobe so prevalent in Christian writing -- we set aside about 30 to 40minutes at the end of the meeting to pray for other people and groups.
Anyway, at one point I shared how it's bothered me that much of the church culture has been infused with nationalism, most visibly where the war in Iraq has been concerned. I knew one fellow back at the time of the invasion who was praying that God would destroy the Iraqi army utterly, and couldn't understand why other Christians felt squeamishor uneasy about such prayers.
So I suggested we pray for the Iraqi church. Under Saddam Hussein, they were allowed to worship freely, they could own businesses andthere was generally a spirit of some religious tolerance. With the nation now lurching toward an extreme version of Islamic fundamentalism, much of that tolerance is disappearing. Christian businesses have been targeted, Iraqi believers have been persecuted and in some cases martyred, and it'll just get worse if the new Iraqi government heads in the direction of adopting sharia as the basis orsource of its law. (And as I pointed out, it's quite likely that some of these Iraqi Christians were asking God very fervently to spare their country the turmoil that would result from an invasion. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were praying that God wouldsmash our armies, a couple years ago.)
We spent about 15 or 20 minutes praying for the Iraqi church, not for their safety, which is so often the cop-out that we Americans ask for, as if the illusory "safety" will last or give us what matters, but for the grace and courage they need to overcome their situations and draw their neighbors to Christ. We prayed for the martyrs' sacrifice to bring a revival to Iraq.
We also prayed for the terrorists, both the insurgents in Iraq and its neighboring countries, and for those who belong to groups like al Qaeda. We prayed not only that God would thwart their plans and throw them into confusion, but that he would bring them to repentance and forgiveness. Christ is a God who rejoices in setting people free, after all.
I wish I could attend prayer meetings like that more often.
Tangent: The more I think about this war in Iraq and the lines of thought it has begun in me, the more the whole notion of a "just war" seems odious. And yet, the thing that makes it more complicated is that God gives governments the authority of the sword, so that they are allowed to go to war withone another. I don't think it's ever a Good Thing -- I once read a paper that addressed the issue through graded absolutism; i.e., war ishateful to God, but some things are even more hateful -- but how can we, finite as we are, ever hope to see the grand scheme of things and whether a war is justifiable or not?
It reminds me on the one hand that this is undoubtedly a matter of personal conviction, but at the same time, it strikes me as a dichotomy between the actions of the kingdoms of this world, and the Kingdom of God. The war in Iraq is a conflict between the United States and Iraq (or the insurgents, whomever they represent). It's not, and never should be viewed as, a war between God's people and others who are not God's people. God has children in both countries, and plenty of other people who are calling themselves his children during the conflict but have nothing to do with him.
There's probably some pithy way to sum this up, but I can't think of one. It'll come to me in a few weeks.