I sense the arrogance of this title, “Praying for the world.” Who am I to think I can make any difference at all? Yesterday morning I woke up to the sound of a Tsunami warning, and while nothing came of a possible big surge on the Oregon coast, the news of what Japan is facing continues to weigh. Add to that the news that Gaddafi is pushing back the opposition in Libya, and my prayers seem small indeed.
Yet I’ve known for years that God is calling me to do two things: write and pray. No matter what else I’m doing, or not doing, I hope I can write and pray my way forward for the rest of my life. Ironically, these “activities” have more to do with who I am than with what I do.
Part of my calling to prayer has to do with intercessory prayer, and a part of this is praying for the world. I’ve been learning how to go about it for some time, yet I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.
Right now, for example. How do we pray for Japan and Libya in a way that will make a difference?
I sometimes begin by affirming the sovereignty of God over the nations and over creation. (This does not mean that I believe that because God is sovereign, everything that happens is God’s will. I reject naming natural disasters as “acts of God.” Our theology needs to take into account God’s decision to make us free agents, which leads to an open universe and the possibility of evil. I do believe that the conclusion of “all things” will be the victory of the kingdom of God, but what happens in the meantime (sometimes very “mean”) is not so certain. God asks us to co-labor with him in this mean-time towards bringing about his kingdom purposes, and one of those ways of co-laboring (collaboration) is prayer. This is mystery to me—that God works through our prayers, that they can make a difference.)
After affirming God’s sovereignty, power and mercy, I ask, “Help me to pray for Japsn (or Libya, or….).” Then I hold this concern in the light (a good Quaker phrase), waiting in silence until I’m ready to respond with words and petitions. And periods of listening silence intersect the words. Even in my way of praying, I am attempting to cooperate with God, to let God set the prayer agenda.
This morning Hal and I prayed together for the cooling of the nuclear reactors, help in rescuing people still trapped under buildings, comfort in grief, a rallying of the international community to help in practical ways in the months ahead, and that the mercy and love of God through Jesus would be manifest in many ways. I asked God to make me faithful to continue holding Japan up in prayer.
Sometimes, in spite of my affirmation that our prayers matter, I wish I had some proof, a sign that my efforts helped prevent meltdown in reactor #6, for example. But this line of work offers little feedback. And so I stumble forward, more faithful on some days than on others. I join the disciples as I continually ask, “Lord, teach me to pray.”