I get status updates on my phone from an Israeli newspaper for breaking news. Here’s just a sample of what I got today:
Rocket siren sounds in Tel Aviv area.
Iron Dome (Israel’s missile defense shield) intercepts rocket over central Israel.
Siren sounds in Tel Aviv for second time today.
Sirens sound in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Binyamina, Ra’anana and Rehovot
Israel strikes Gaza; 20 Palestinians killed in 24 hours.
All of this comes in the midst of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli Defense Force’s attempt to break Hamas’ influence and operational capacity in the region.
And this comes after riots in East Jersualem, Nazareth and the West Bank, where Palestinians voiced their rage over the brutal murder of one of their own young people at the hands of Jewish extremists. And that came in the wake of the discovery of the bodies of three kidnapped and murdered Jewish Israeli teenagers at the hands of Palestinian militants.
Sadly, the news tickers never runs out of nightmarish stories to report from Israel/Palestine. The simple response I’ve grown used to hearing is: “It’s always going to be like this. There’s nothing we can do.”
It’s easy to ignore a conflict that’s wreaking havoc in cities thousands of miles away, but as a Christ-follower, I don’t know that I get that option.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a U.S. State Department briefing for American faith leaders on the current conditions in Israel. After a sage-like cardinal opened the conversation in a brief prayer, one pastor asked a government official how churches like hers could best respond to the crisis there. Without hesitation, he quipped, “Pray harder,” before flashing a smile. I still don’t know if it was sincerity or sarcasm. It doesn’t diminish the veracity of his imperative.
I’ll be honest. I don’t want to pray for the Middle East. I have enough trouble rustling up the diligence to pray consistently for my own life, my family, and the church I serve. It’s not just spiritual laziness deterring me; it’s classic skepticism. I’m not always convinced it’s worth the time. After all, God’s track record for responding to the prayers others have prayed for a particularly broken corner of the world appears less than stellar. Or at least, that’s what the status updates on my phone keep telling me.
And in the spirit of complete self-disclosure: I’m afraid of playing the poser. I have a great friend in the (non-faith-based) human rights world. On more than one occasion, he’s expressed to me his (entirely legitimate) frustration with evangelical Christians who are dipping their toes in the peacemaking pool: “Everybody wants to pray about this. Nobody wants to do anything.”
He’s right, of course. The problem is many of us never even get to the praying part, and I’m the guiltiest offender. I don’t want to be the guy who got callouses on his knees over what’s happening in Israel. I want to be in the mix, in the fray, on the Hill, lobbying for intervention, crusading (I know that’s the wrong word here) for justice on the ground, tweeting challenges to nationalistic power brokers on every side of this issue, and releasing a jillion doves over a shared Jerusalem while Bob Marley’s “One Love” plays in the background. I want to be that guy.
But Jesus never asked me to be that guy. I’m pretty sure He doesn’t need you to be that individual either. He does, however, call us to capture God’s heart for a broken world, and we can’t do it without hearing what that is. Which brings me back to prayer.
Karl Barth is rumored to have encouraged Christians to live with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Unfortunately, I tend to keep dropping one or the other. Either I’m completely tuned into our 24-hour news cycle and failing to keep my finger on the sacred text, or, in fits of depression about the state of the world, I entirely unplug from the daily human tragedies and insulate myself with a totally self-serving version of scripture reading.
Jesus found the middle. He mastered the scriptures of his day, regularly engaged in meaningful rhythms of prayer, and never lost the pulse of suffering and struggle in his context.
My dad sent me an article today about the Palestinian and Israeli families who lost their sons in the recent violence sharing their grief together. At the end of the piece, this line grabbed me by the throat: “The Palestinian visitors also mentioned an initiative spearheaded by Jews and Muslims to transform July 15, the Jewish fast day known as 17 Tammuz, into a joint fast day for people of both religions who wish to express their desire to end violence in the region.” If it’s okay for Christians to participate, I’m signing up to fast on July 15, too, for the God of peace to intervene in ways no human can as things continue to unravel “over there.”
If you want to join me, follow me on Twitter and stay tuned for more information. And if, like me, you’re not sure what to pray for people trapped in the cycle of violence, join me in praying Psalm 10:14-18:
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked man; call the evildoer to account for his wickedness that would not otherwise be found out. The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.