On Praying in 'Interesting Times'
One of the most repeated scenarios in cinema is one where the hero makes a daring but calculated jump from some high vantage point onto a speeding vehicle as it races past far below. It’s an image that comes to mind when, in the first week of 2019, I’m asked to write an article for the March-April edition of a magazine on ‘How we should pray after 29 March’. As an evangelist my calling is telling, not foretelling, and I’m very hesitant to make any sort of leap onto this particular vehicle, not least because, at the time of writing, it is one that is swerving wildly, threatening to skid off the road or even stop completely. ‘It is very difficult to make predictions,’ as the saying goes, ‘especially about the future.’
However ‘the Brexit issue’ is resolved, it offers both encouragements and challenges to we who pray. The fact is that it is not a unique event: it is a symptom of a world that appears to have gone off-script. Current concerns include America, China, France, Greece, Italy, Korea, the Middle East, Russia, the global economy, climatic change, computer viruses, new diseases . . . and I’m only stopping because of my word limit! The result is a world in which the real is frequently surreal; the new normality is abnormality; and where optimism could be declared an endangered species. So I’m not prepared to offer you specific counsel about the state of Britain or the world nearly three months hence. What I can say with confidence, though, is that one of the few certainties we have is that uncertainty is here to stay. We indeed ‘live in interesting times’.
So how then, as Christians, do we live? The first thing to say is that we ought to be encouraged. After all, for years prayer has been derided as being far less effective in making the world a better place than the ‘assured’ and ‘proven’ effects of politics. Surveying the chaotic world scene at the moment suggests that those proposing the supremacy of politics might wish to quietly reconsider their position.
The second thing to say is that such times come with particular challenges. Indeed the Bible tells us that the last days will be marked by the arrival of four horsemen (Revelation 6:1–8). Let me suggest that our current world sees three lesser horsemen loose and that their names are Instability, Insecurity and Insignificance.
Consider first Instability. We live at a time when many of the pillars of our world have either been destroyed or are shaking badly. Within a lifetime we in the West have gone from a culture founded on solid Judaeo-Christian values to one in which the only fundamental truth is that there is no truth. Our brave new world, apparently less concerned about what is good or right than creating gender-neutral bathrooms, ‘safe spaces’ and the avoidance of offensive ‘trigger words’, staggers on deprived of both sight and purpose. We live in a time where the fundamentals have not just been lost but quite frequently overturned: virtue has changed place with vice, right with wrong, knowledge with foolishness, and the profound with the trivial. It is a dysfunctional world we live in, yet prayer – and praising in particular – reminds us that however spectacular the damage to these pillars is, they do not in fact hold up the world. Although attention grabbing, the instability about us is superficial. Underneath and over this world is God and he remains immovable. In Psalm 11 we read the cry of the believer, ‘When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ and hear the divine response, ‘The lord is in his holy temple; the lord is on his heavenly throne’ (Psalm 11:3,4 niv). Nothing has changed. Prayer reminds us that where the world sees only instability, we can focus beyond to eternal stability.
The second horseman of ‘interesting times’ is Insecurity. It’s not hard to view the current world scene as threatening. Indeed we live in a time where fears and terrors seep through all our broken foundations. Here, too, prayer helps us face insecurity. Prayer – and thanksgiving in particular – reminds us that we serve a mighty God who cares for his people. He who has looked after us so far will care for us to the end and beyond. Prayer takes us beyond the visible insecurity of this world to the invisible security that God offers to those who have trusted him in Christ.
Insignificance is the third horseman of our ‘interesting times’ and his influence is subtle. He makes us feel that we simply do not count: that in our turbulent world we are little people of no value. At the end of the movie Casablanca Humphrey Bogart says, ‘I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.’ Little people have got littler since then: today’s global population is three times what it was when that film was made, and beans have been devalued. Yet, as the saying goes, ‘it’s not who you are, it’s who you know’ and although we may be little people, we are children of a big God. Prayer in general – and supplication in particular – should remind us that we are important. We are linked with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit, and as blood-bought sons and daughters of God we can talk freely and honestly to him. Prayer reminds us that our world lies: we who have trusted in Christ do not have insignificance but rather a glorious and infinite significance.
There is a saying: ‘It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.’It means that one should not presume to know the outcome of an event which is still in progress. I don’t know who this fat lady is, but it ain’t over. And we have read the last page of the Good Book and we know God has got it!
You and I may not know what the future holds but in prayer we talk to the One who holds the future in his hands. Let’s use the privilege!
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