Facebook is full of it. Youtube has changed for it. Everywhere and everyone is standing for Paris. In the wake of the enormous tragedy in Paris and also the less publicised Beirut, people are showing their support by praying for Paris. In the face of our mortality and the depth of human sinfulness, it is our human reaction to #PrayforParis- but to whom exactly are people praying? My agnostic friends are praying for Paris. My New Age friends are praying for Paris. And Martin Luther King Jnr’s wise comments about the world needing love is causing people to ‘pray with love’ and extend their hand of love to people across the globe who are suffering in the wake of this tragedy.
Now, I don’t want in anyway to lessen the grief people are currently feeling- it is raw, it is real. And the support that the world is offering- it is the height of humanity. Support and love at any time are great things in my book and one offered the world over when people are in pain is wonderful. But my concern comes, when people on mass start Praying for Paris to their version of ‘god’ without recognising their real need for the One, True God. This God, the God of the Bible is the one who offered love in sending His only Son to die the most extricating death; only to have people laugh at Him, spit on Him and ultimately say to Him- thanks but no thanks.
We Must Proclaim God as a God of Love According to His Definition
If as Christians, we only proclaim God as a God of love, without defining love the same way God does, we are misleading those around us. The Bible paints God as a God of such love, that He deals with our sin. To deal with sin, God is a God of loving wrath. Matt Chandler (2012), points out that 85% of the Old Testament is God telling His people, “if you don’t stop sinning, I am going to destroy you.” God is holy and with His holiness comes consequences for the sinful, unholy people we have become. God wants us to fall on our knees before Him and cry out in repentance, not simply to only seek Him to feel better in the midst of our pain.
God is holy. So often we offer things to God- money, time, works- without recognising who God really is. The Bible tells us all the best things we do, in comparison with God’s goodness, His holiness and His loving perfection is literally like bloody menstrual rags before Him (Isaiah 64:6). We can’t earn our way to salvation, God freely, in love gives it through Jesus. God, in the perfect gift of love defined, sent Jesus to walk, suffer, die and rise. It was gruesome, it was bloody, it was painful. It is confronting. It calls for one thing- repentance. As Matt Chandler says:
Jesus lays his body across the path; there is no ignoring him. If it’s headlong into hell we want to go, we have to step over Jesus to get there.
- (The Explicit Gospel, 2012, p.64)
We must proclaim this gospel in its entirety and take every opportunity we are given. God does offer comfort (and the Holy Spirit is even known as the Comforter in John 14:26), but He is more concerned about our spiritual condition than our circumstances. In James 1:6-7, we read “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” Woe to the anyone who has not inclined his heart to the Lord and yet in arrogance, commands that the God of Heaven and Earth do his bidding.
But Doesn’t God Answer All Prayers?
Prayer is a privilege and the fact that God listens to us is His merciful love in action. We can only approach the throne of God in prayer through Jesus and because of Him. The Bible repeatedly tells us that God can choose to turn His ear away from mankind and not listen.
God can choose to reject the prayers:
- Of a person with sinful and selfish motives- “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3)
- Of those with immoral behaviour- “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18)
- Of those who mistreat God’s people- “You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
- Of the violent- “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15)
- Of the unsaved sinner- “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” (John 9:31)
- Of the one who forsakes God-“Thus says the Lord concerning this people: “They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.”
The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” (Jeremiah 14:10-12).
How Then, Are We To Pray and Respond?
Our first response is to be thankful for God’s mercy and grace in Jesus, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). As we ponder the reality of God not being a Santa Clause who simply checks off our requests and gives us what we want, we can realise afresh how we can marvel in wonder at His definition of love and at His listening and answering us at all.
He promises to hear, respond and deliver those who turn to Him. Psalm 34:17 says, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” God also delivers us from our fears (Psalm 34:4), He draws near to us when we pray (Deuteronomy 4:7) and He saves us (Psalm 145:19).
In the wake of events like these, we need to ensure we are proclaiming the correct definition of Love- God’s definition. For “in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10). God is a God of immense love- higher and wider and longer and deeper than we can comprehend and we can pray that this will be the strength of our faith (Ephesians 3:14-21).
Finally, we are to pray for the People of Paris, the People of Beirut and the People of the World for the one thing they truly need- salvation. The Jesus of the whole Bible, including Revelation, is a reality: one day, God will end the suffering and pain of this world and judge all peoples and nations. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, where He will dwell forever with His people. Our prayers need to be that events like that of the Paris and Beirut tragedies will cause people to bend their knees and pray the prayer that the True God will always answer- that of repentance in salvation (John 6:37).