HELP! DO I HAVE TO PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING ON THE NEWS?
One of the outcomes of the information revolution has been an explosion of guilt and helplessness among Christians. They hear about suffering from every corner of the world within hours of it happening and – wanting to intercede because they care about other people – end up with a ‘to do’ list as long as the U.N. Secretary-General’s. This cannot be sustained and inevitable failure is followed by a guilty conscience.
I cannot believe this is what God intends.
As consumers of news we are in unconscious thrall to the priorities of TV news editors. We rarely assess the medium through which the message is passed and take its authority for granted. Only so much news can go into thirty minutes every evening and there is a tendency for the news rooms to move on to the next disaster before the implications of the last one are fully felt by the victims. This form of global attention deficit may have its own rationale to news channels, but the outcome is, as Michael Ignatieff has noted, that we experience pain for other people intensely, but transiently.
We cannot engage meaningfully either with disaster on an epic scale or even a sequence of personal tragedies created by knife crime and so attention conveniently flits to the next news bulletin. Yet at the back of the Christian’s mind is the nagging feeling that they have let the victims down. Two hundred years ago people did not find out about suffering in other parts of the country or world until months or years after the event – and sometimes not at all. This alone should make us think about what God is really calling us to pray about.
God calls us to love him with all our hearts and with all our minds and perhaps this gives us the clues we need.
When faced with news from outside our personal experience, one way in which we can love God with our heart is to immerse ourselves in prayer for the people for whom we feel especially deeply. Perhaps this is for the mother of a teenage knife victim because we are parents or grandparents of teenagers ourselves; perhaps it is because we once visited a country now in crisis or know people living there or originating from there. We each have our particular concerns in life and God has usually given us them for a reason.
At the same time he has called us to love him with our mind. Sometimes we need to think intelligently about what we should be praying about. This means taking a more analytical approach to news gathering and not just following where the TV cameras go. One example of this might be choosing to pray for Christians living in Muslim countries who routinely suffer violence and discrimination. We do not hear much about this on the news because journalists seem reluctant to highlight it but agencies like the Barnabas Fund have excellent resources to help us pray for persecuted Christians. Another example of the analytical approach can be found over Darfur. Crimes of genocide are perpetrated daily but we do not think much about them because we do not see much footage on TV (the risk and the geography working against journalists). ‘Out of sight, in my mind’ is a good slogan for such prayers.
We surely have to set some kind of informal cap on what we intercede for so that we can be fruitful in what we will. It is similar to the kind of response we make to charity. Week after week we receive invitations through the post to give to particular charities. If we gave to them all we would be spreading our commitments so thinly as to be meaningless. Choosing a limited number of charities we have a heart and a mind for is usually what we do – and the same principle might apply to intercession.
We must not feel guilty about not praying for everything. Our prayers will be most effective where our heart and mind lead us. God will prompt others to pray for the things we do not, just as he prompts us to pray for the things they do not. We cannot be messianic about prayer because only one man has that role: ‘it is Christ Jesus…who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us’ (Romans 8: 34).
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