Yesterday the city of Paris was the victim of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks. Suicide bombers in various areas of the city opened fire into crowds before detonating their vests, killing more than one hundred people and wounding many more. By all accounts so far, the perpetrators are Islamic terrorists. Sadly, these attacks are merely the latest instance of militant Islam’s program for the world. They are certainly not the last.
To this tragedy the world has responded in grief. Immediately there have been calls to “Pray for Paris.” Screenshots, comments, and commentary have bubbled up from the painful wound. Facebook profile pictures are sporting a filter of the French flag. Now as a rule, I trenchantly (and I think wisely) question the effectiveness of all such campaigns and am suspicious of all immediate commentary which purports to explain these difficult situations. However, as a member of the clergy I am compelled to consider the call to pray. But what do I pray for?
I suspect many of you might feel the same way. “Pray for Paris”—it’s a great idea! But what about? Do I wish it well? Do I think fond thoughts of its sights and sounds? Do I watch a film which takes places in Paris and pray for the visuals as they crawl across my screen? How on earth am I supposed to pray for Paris? Assuming that I am asking the God of the universe to do something for Paris, what is it that I am supposed to ask Him to do? So last night, as I sat with a friend who asked some of these questions out loud, I thought of four ways that we can pray for Paris as Christians.
#1) Pray for Justice.
To pray for justice is probably the most important thing we can do in solidarity with those who suffer. Justice is the great cry of the human heart when we experience tragedy, and especially violent tragedies such as this one. And justice, let it be clearly said, is something close to the heart of God. God Himself is a God of justice, who loves the right, and Whose heart is grieved by these events and all others of their kind. When we pray for justice we identify with the longing of those who suffer, and with the longing of God’s own heart for the world, and with the longings of all those on earth who also cry out for justice. To ask for anything less than justice is quite simply unchristian.
If you want to get creative in your prayer for justice you can take a clue from one of the Psalms. Say, for example, Psalm 58, which has the following prayer in verses 6-7, “O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth; Break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord. Let them flow away like water that runs off; When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.” What I would like you to see is that the prayer for justice in Psalm 58 is a prayer to thwart the power of the wicked. With shattered teeth they cannot chew the righteous, without a pot their water pours away, without arrowheads their shafts are harmless. Similarly, we can pray for God to thwart the power of the wicked today—to make it so the cars of terrorists don’t start, so that their bombs will not work, so that their guns jam, and so that they miss their trains, boats, and appointments. “Break their teeth, O God”—make them toothless for the fight.
#2) Pray for Revival.
As Christians, we believe that the only balm which can heal wounds of this kind—both nationally and personally—is the balm of God’s Spirit. He is the great healer, and nothing but His presence and power can set hearts aright and bring new life. So pray for revival. France today is one of the least Christian nations in the world. It is also, to my knowledge, one of the most difficult mission fields in the world because of the people’s resistance to the gospel. So ask for God to pour out His spirit on the city of Paris—and through Paris to all of France—to bring a revival of the knowledge of the Lord and a great return to Him in response to this tragedy.
#3) Pray for People to Recognize the Failure of Secularism.
This may seem an odd request, but you must remember that France is one of the most secular societies in the Western world. I might propose that if America is the apex of the Christian west, then France is the apex of the secular west. But it is becoming clearer and clearer that the policies of secularism are inadequate to face the tragedies of this kind or to effectively handle political crises like the one emerging from the clash of the Western world and radical Islam. This is a religious conflict, and the appeal to democracy and secularization has a thin and torpid sound to ears saturated by religious ideology. If the world is going to fight effectively the kind of radical ideology which creates terrorism, it is going to require a foundation other than the secular one to which it is currently trusting. So pray for the establishment of that new foundation—pray, perhaps, for the Kingdom of God.
#4) Pray for the Conversion of the Islamic World.
Up to this point I have been careful not to lump radical Islam together with the bulk of Muslims in the world—I think it is important to make that critical distinction between an innocent Muslim and the radicalized Muslim. I am still careful to make that distinction, but when it comes to praying for the salvation of the lost it is inadequate to pray only for the salvation of the radicalized. Since our radicalized enemies are most visible at this time—presently, actively, and visibly plotting the means of killing innocents—we ought to begin by praying for them. But we ought to use that prayer to tether our concern to the remaining Islamic world, especially because, unavoidably, the worship of Allah is at the heart of both groups. So we can pray, for instance, against radicalization, and we can pray for the wisdom to know the difference between the radicalized and the everyday. Above all, we can pray for eyes everywhere to open to the truth about Jesus.
Lastly, I want to urge my fellow Christians to remember as we pray that our Kingdom is still not of this world, that no earthly government is adequate to do the work which Christ’s Kingdom alone can perform. We must remember that while we wait for the return of our Lord and King, we are his emissaries, after his type—called to offer our lives after his pattern and in his image. We must remember that in the eyes of God we are not better than these terrorists, but that Christ’s life is given as much for them as for us. And through this all, let us remember that we Christians, also, are called to spend our lives for a cause. May we pray, then, for Paris with faithfulness, and humility, and in the Spirit of the Risen Christ.