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The Editorial

How to pray for the war

Balance is crucial. It is especially crucial when it is easy to swing to extremes.

Following the Commons’ decision on 2 December for RAF airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria after the terrorist atrocity in Paris, there is a new recognition that the UK is at war. Our security forces are thwarting many planned attacks, but there may be reprisals meted out on us. The question is: how can Christians be praying in a biblically sensible way?

John Benton, Editor

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Facing extremism

Of course we need to be balanced towards Islam. Many Muslims are civilised people of peace and we need to honour them. But with Hilary Benn’s speech to Parliament the penny seems to have dropped that those supporting Islamic state are as much fascists, seeing themselves as superior beings willing to liquidate all ‘inferiors’, as the Nazis. The West is now engaged in a Third World War. So, how should we pray?

Facing extremism is nothing new for God's people. For example, Nahum’s prophecy is addressed to wicked Nineveh, capital of Assyria, infamous for cruelty. You can still see stone reliefs in the British Museum of the Assyrian army impaling victims on poles and suchlike after the battle of Lachish. Nahum pronounces God’s vengeance (Nahum 1.2) on these extremists, which came to pass as Babylon and the Medes formed a coalition against them.

Nahum suggests three lines of prayer at the present time which will keep us balanced.

Avenues of prayer

First, we can pray for God's judgment on this extremist organisation; including for the success of the West’s mission. In Scripture we are shown that God often uses one nation to judge another. God cares for ordinary people and is jealous for his own glory, which includes the prevailing of right over wrong. Therefore to pray imprecatory prayers at such a time as this is to be in tune with God’s own heart (1.2, 8,14).

But secondly, we should pray prayers of repentance. God used Babylon to judge Assyria, but less than a century later Babylon faced his wrath for their own sins. The West may not behead and crucify, but it has its own horrific sins. Western liberals often respond to Islamist violence with hand-wringing accusation saying: ‘We must have done something to provoke this.’ It is now clear that Islamic State needs no provocation. They will destroy us simply for being who we are – not Muslims. But though such self-accusation is inappropriate, it is right for us to ask ‘What have we done before God?’ and to return to him in repentance. We need to repent not just for our society, but as the church. Christians too are far from all we should be with our many careless attitudes. And Nahum assures us: ‘The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him’ (1.7).

Thirdly, we can pray with confidence. The sovereignty of God is written in large letters by Nahum. God used Assyria to chastise his people Israel, yet the Assyrians are nothing but the rod in God’s hand (1.12). The Lord is in control. ‘I will prepare your grave’, God says to his enemies, ‘for you are vile’ (1.14). And in answer to prayer, the sovereign Lord may even bring some of those same enemies to repentance and faith. We need not fear. At the right time the good news of peace will ring out loud and clear (1.15).

Keep all three lines together as you pray.