Written in May 2000
Praying for Sri Lanka:
“We do not know how to pray”
In a war situation we will often find that different Christians are on different sides praying earnestly for totally opposite solutions. I found this to be the case when I visited South Africa and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in the late seventies and mid-eighties. I met wonderful black and white brothers—all of them genuine Christians who were earnestly praying for a solution to the conflict in their lands. But they were praying for different solutions, and some of them were totally opposite solutions. I believe that the way things worked out showed that God had answered the prayers of both sides wonderfully. Now in Zimbabwe, of course, there is great need for more prayer.
This will probably happen in a few weeks time on a much lighter and less serious scale. Sri Lanka is going to play South Africa at cricket. I cannot help asking God to help us win! I have YFC colleagues in South Africa who may be praying for the totally opposite solution. And I know I am going to be going back and forth with them on e-mail about this!
I think the same thing is happening with the prayers of Christians in Sri Lanka. War brings a very complex series of situations. Certainly in Sri Lanka, both the Sinhala and Tamil people have a lot of things to be angry about. If we go deep into what is in our hearts we may be thinking totally different things. As Christians we need to sympathetically talk about these things, so that we hear the other side and always take the side of justice. But how reluctant we are to talk. That is wrong! It can make us into racists.
Yet the issues are so complex that sincere Christians are going to have differing views on a given matter even after talking to each other. This is a situation we will have to accept. I think there are some things that we can all accept. For example, Christians will have to agree that both the Tamils and the Sinhalese need to have their rights safeguarded. And both races have things to be genuinely afraid of. The Sinhalese are a small, insecure race with nowhere to go and no assurance that they are significant enough for the powerful international forces to take the risk of protecting if they are endangered (remember Cyprus?). The Tamils are a minority whose cries for rights have been ignored by successive governments since independence. Politicians have used this problem for personal gain. Can they trust the Sinhalese any more? Sinhalese and Tamil Christians must be speaking up for the rights of each race. Ideally Sinhala Christians should be speaking up for the Tamils and Tamil Christians should be speaking up for the Sinhalese.
Yet there will be disagreements about solutions and there will be contradictory prayers. Should we then pray at all? Romans 8:26-27 has some important things to tell us here. Paul accepts that there are times when we do not know what to pray about: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for.” How does the Spirit help us? Paul says, “…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” As he becomes one with us and intercedes on our behalf, our groans become his groans. What a comfort this is! And how many people are groaning in Sri Lanka right now! Earlier Paul had said that, because we live in a fallen world, frustration is a part of life. Therefore even Christians will groan as they await their final redemption (Rom. 8:20-23). Now he seems to be saying that the Holy Spirit becomes so identified with us that our groanings become his own groanings.
All around us people are dying. But we simply cannot to hate those on the other side. But our minds are in turmoil, as we see hundreds (thousands?) of people of our own race dying or being treated badly. Some fear bad treatment every time we leave their homes. Even in their homes they are not certain that the forces will not come on a routine check and arrest one of theirs. But we cannot hate. Christians are people who do not hate. But we can groan. And wonder of wonders! The Spirit groans with us!
In our groaning we pray to God, and we ask him for some things. And when the prayers of different Sri Lankans go up, sometimes the prayers are for totally opposite things. Will they cancel off? If so, it would not have been necessary to pray at all? What Paul says next answers that question: “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” God knows the mind of the Spirit, but the Spirit prays in accordance with God’s will. He takes our feeble prayers and acts as a divine editor. He brings the prayers to accord with God’s will. So our feeble, incorrect prayers reach the throne as prayers which are in accord with God’s will. God does not punish us because we are weak. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and compensates for our lack of wisdom. And our combined prayers—contradictory though they may be—will go to heaven as united prayers that are in accord with the will of God. They will combine to mediate God’s blessings on our land. He will hear and answer.
Give up praying? Not on your life! Let us redouble our prayers at this time of crisis. God is the God of history. He is the best one to pray to. PRAY!
(Written after a conversation with a bewildered young YFC staff worker).