what’s the point in praying for Iraq?

11 08 2014

What’s the point in praying for Iraq? This is part 1 of a question I was asked the other day. It is a very good one. It is not a new one, but it is a very pertinent one. Part 2 of the question was even tougher. Referring to the horrific story told by Canon Andrew White (‘Vicar of Baghdad’) of a Christian child (he had baptised) being cut in half, my friend asked, surely the child’s parents had prayed. That didn’t work. What difference will our prayers make? Ouch. Fair point. 

My first response is to do with my bowels. And Jesus’ bowels too actually. Bear with me. When I hear these terrible stories I am moved with compassion – far deeper than that actually, a pain inside – which is described in the New Testament, when Jesus felt compassion, with the word splagchnizomai. It literally means ‘to be moved in one’s bowels’. The bowels were the seat of feeling. It’s that depth of pain in your gut. That, addressed to God, is prayer. 

#wearen

Does that achieve anything, though? Or does it just salve our consciences, feeling a bit more active than clicktivism of changing our Facebook photo or signing a petition? Well, to feel is to live, so to feel deep compassion – literally meaning ‘with suffering’ – is to know you’re alive. So yes, it matters; and yes, getting together to lament and pray matters. But that’s still about us.

Here’s two thoughts about the difference prayer makes. First, the practical; second, the spiritual.  The practical is like this: if my neighbours house is burning down and they are stuck inside, and I realise I cannot help, what do I do? Go and make a cup of tea, draw the curtains and watch TV? No. I do what I can. I call the Fire Brigade. Fetch blankets. Make tea for others. I might buy my neighbours smoke alarms.  But if I never looked out my window, I would never know there was a fire. Imagine how my neighbours would feel then. Prayer is looking out the window and feeling. 

The spiritual (this is a false dichotomy, by the way) is this: there is a spiritual war for people’s hearts. I know that sounds a bit hard-core weird. No, I don’t know how it works. But there is such a thing as evil, it does take hold of people. It has in the militia of the IS. Prayer is our weapon against that. Again, I don’t know how. 

BBC News

So prayer is about actively standing in solidarity with those who suffer; it is about actively shaking ourselves out of a comfortable malaise, seeing where the world is burning and how we can help; and it is us actively taking our part in the spiritual battle of good vs evil. All of which can actually change the world as it changes us, as the more we pray, the more the Holy Spirit can work in us. But we don’t do it for that. We do it for those we pray for.

So, does prayer ‘achieve’ anything? Is there a point? It is not a slot machine, a magic formula, or a psychic communication;  but neither is it a waste of time or should ever be dull. And it may just be more significant than we realise.

If you are able to give financially, Andrew White’s Foundation for Reconciliation and Relief in the Middle East are one of few organisations still active in Iraq. For more about religious persecution see my post The Awkward Silence About Religious Persecution and this article in the Independent.       

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5 responses

11 08 2014
Jess

And pray as hard for those who maybe the enemy. Pray without ceasing. Pray when the black dark falls and the night is never ending. Believe that the dawn will come and the Son is shining. Pray that God might forgive us for our part in these wars across the Middle East. Pray with every ounce of being, because this too shall pass.

11 08 2014
edgsoni

Amen.

12 08 2014
limeyrathgam

This comment is not fully thought out as I am mulling things over but I think that the problem is that while I accept that the topic of prayer is huge, is a mystery, is unfathomable, is undefinable… my current thoughts revolve around the fact that in a situation such as this the need for prayer seems strange. In a personal sense “prayer is not a vending machine” makes some sense. If prayer is about “aligning ourselves with God” then it makes sense. But in a global sense the problem is that God is all knowing, is compassionate, is powerful – God sees all this pain and so I suppose my question would be why would prayer a) make a difference or b) more pertinently, be necessary?
The issue with the analogy of “neighbours in a fire” that I have is that if the fire brigade was compassionate, and all knowing, and knew where the fires in the neighbourhood were but did nothing unless a neighbour called it in – then that would seem quite arbitrary and in fact not that compassionate.If I never looked out the window then my neighbours might be angry/upset with me and I might be not that nice. But, if the fire brigade who knew about the fire didn’t do anything until the neighbour called it in, then the neighbour might be… more angry/upset… confused?

I realise this post wasn’t an attempt to answer the mysteries of prayer but i thought I would raise them anyhow. Sometimes prayer works and we don’t know why seems like an acceptable answer, sometimes it doesn’t.

13 08 2014
Kevin

I’m with you on that one Limey. Sometimes I am happy with it being a mystery, and sometimes I want it explained. Sometimes it seems like a cop-out to say we don’t know, and other times it seems like faith. That, I think, is the choice we make with faith. The alternative is shutting our eyes and going to sleep. Which is tempting.

13 08 2016
Kieron Middleton

I like your reflection on this limeyrathgam, and I also thought the same thing. Let’s assume that the fire brigade are going to turn up anyway, someone, somewhere has called them in. How better would the neighbour feel if they were given that cup of tea by you or looked after in a compassionate way? Let’s assume that God will put the fire out, but the more neighbours that are aware of the fire will help to heal the pain of the aftermath. In prayer we need to think of others through Gods eyes. If we are all aligned to this view then we can further help and support each other in prayer. I pray for you, you pray for me. Selflessness in Grace. I think you nailed it when you mentioned aligning ourselves with God. We need to try and see the world through His eyes. He’s already seen it through ours.

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