Last night the world watched in horror as the terrorist attacks unfolded in Paris. As the hostage situation developed, as news slowly emerged from the crowds, all of us good Christians in America started the hashtag trend #prayforParis. But did you stop and pray for Paris? Did you stop to pray for our enemies who promised to taste American blood soon? Did you stop and pray for those people who are suffering, who have lost loved ones, or who are still processing what happened? Or did you simply watch the news unfold and share the meme on your facebook?
Jesus promised us that in the end, things would get worse and not better.
“For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
– Matt 24.5-14
As we draw near to the end, we must understand and cling to the teachings and prophecies of Scripture. The world will continue to decline in war and turmoil, and there will even be an increase of natural disasters. Christians will be hated, persecuted and killed. And the greatest tragedy and threat of that time is that some Christians will fall away – they will prove themselves to not be true believers by abandoning the faith in the midst of suffering. They will follow after false prophets and false teachings, they will turn on each other and betray one another. But in the midst of all of this turmoil, the Gospel will continue to go forth into every nation, and only after there are believers in every people group around the world will the end come.
Understanding this reality, how then should we respond?
Firstly, we must pray. We have outwardly responded with a call to prayer for Paris. But we must not only change our facebook status to demarcate our support, but we must actually stop what we are doing, get on our faces before God and pray. But for what should we be praying? Should we be praying for peace? For the end of terrorism? Yes! We should absolutely let God know the cry of our hearts (Phil 4.6). We desire to see peace and for people to stop murdering one another. But we must also understand that God has told us that things will get worse and wars, tribulation and suffering will increase and not decrease. Therefore, we must also pray for the faith of the persecuted and that those who are doing the persecuting would come to faith in Jesus.
We must pray for our enemies. Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, and to give more to those who would demand of us and take from us (Matt 5.44, Rom 12.14, Matt 5.39). We pray for them primarily for their salvation. They need Jesus, they need salvation, and everything else is secondary.
We must pray for the persecuted. Jesus said that those who persevere until the end are those who will be saved. Therefore, we should pray for our own faith and for the faith of those who are actively being persecuted. The temptation will be to throw it all away, to lash out in response, to turn on one another in order to save our own skin. Thus we should pray for our faith and the faith of those around us, that we would persevere and stand firm.
Secondly, we must love. When we pray for our enemies and for those who are persecuting us, it becomes easier to have a heart of compassion for them. Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world and He perfectly loved those who murdered Him until the very last moment. In the same way, He commanded us to love our enemies. This is not an easy task. We should be intentionally seeking out their best, and their best is first and foremost their Spiritual welfare.
I am not advocating that we be passive and allow ourselves to be ruthlessly attacked and murdered. Much good and peace has come from the resolution of WWII and the defeat of Nazi Germany. And we can learn much from the experience of WWII. Most Germans were not radical, murderous Nazis. But the governing party was. The minority few were, and they successfully murdered approximately eleven million people. Much of the world united in order to overthrow such a force and stop their murderous acts. They sought justice and called the radicals to account.
In much the same way, most Muslims are not radical, fundamental extremists who are plotting our demise. But the predominant face presenting itself against the West and Christian world is. We should not seek to establish a war against Islam, therefore, but against the regime that is actively murdering people shamelessly. We can seek justice and order through love. We can offer compassion to those who are receiving a bad reputation because of the minority. We can offer refuge to those who are fleeing for their own lives, while the war escalates and hopefully brings and end to the terrorism.
But most of us are not in positions of authority to make those wartime, big-picture decisions. Most of us are average-joe Christians who watch what unfolds in the news. Some of us are in the military and will be sent overseas to help respond. But all of us, in whatever role we have, can establish in our hearts a mindset of love, prayer and focus on eternity.
Are there Syrian refugees in your community or city? Most of them have fled their home and country because it is no longer safe for them. Most of them have lost friends and family members to the conflict. All of them have left behind the world that they knew in search for safety, now living amongst a foreign culture which speaks a language they do not know. They are afraid, they are lonely, and they are hurting. We should love them, welcome them, help take care of them as they are suffering more than we could ever imagine. Is it possible that terrorists have snuck in alongside them? Yes. It is not only possible, but it is likely as ISIS has declared this one of their methods. But we will probably not be able to tell who is who. If we love them all, however, we might dissuade some temptation to do us harm. We might, in fact, reveal to them the love of Christ and they could come to salvation. If we hate them all, however, we will alienate those who need us and we will encourage ill will that was preconceived before they arrived.
Are you in the armed forces and being sent over to respond? Certainly go in with a purpose and under your leadership, but also maintain a heart of compassion and love. Remember that not everyone is seeking our demise, and those who are are a product of their culture and many have been taught to hate since they were small. Their actions are evil, but unfortunately it is all they know. Jesus can change them.
The issue is a complicated one, and the future of the world will undoubtedly be marked by more terrorist attacks, will involve governments, treaties and even partnerships with Muslim governments. We can only control ourselves and how we respond personally. We must love, we must pray, and we must seek the Spiritual well being of our neighbors. This means that we should not be afraid of the Muslims in our community, but we should engage them, pray for them, and help those who have turned to us for help.
So let’s not just put up a hashtag on our facebook pages. Let us examine our hearts. Let us pray. Let us love our enemies and let us love those who might look like our enemies, even if they are not. Let us remember that the world most assuredly will spin into destruction as the end nears, and let us remember that the only thing that ultimately matters is the perseverance of our faith. Pray for the persecuted to stand strong. Pray for the persecutor to come to faith. Pray that you will have the faith to suffer well. And pray for Jesus to come quickly.