He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
—from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)
“LORD, we pray not for tranquility, nor that our tribulations may cease. We pray for thy Spirit and thy love that thou grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Amen.” –Girolamo Savanarola, 15th century Italian cleric.
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4, NLT)
PRAYER FOCUS: Praying for Christians in Iraq
“How Long, O Lord?”
These words have hung over the question of suffering and evil since the dawn of time. They challenge the very bedrock of our faith. For some the mere existence of suffering and evil raises the question of God’s existence.
Among Christian believers, we often fail to give much thought to the twin problems of suffering and evil until we ourselves are confronted by it. By then it is usually too late. If our thoughts are not well formed, if our ingrained beliefs are not consistent with the truth God has revealed in the Bible, when the “dark night of the soul” hits us it can shake the foundations of our faith.
And yet it is in the midst of suffering and evil that God’s grace and glory is magnified. With this in mind, we turn to modern-day Iraq. [TMP Note: We acknowledge that the church is also persecuted in places like China, Iran, Syria, Nigeria, and Egypt. We point to Iraq because we have deeper contacts there at this time.]
Saint George’s Church in Baghdad is one of the few Christian outposts remaining in a country that as recently as 2003 was home to more than 1.5 million Christians. St. George’s is headed by our dear personal friend, the Rev. Dr. Canon Andrew White, called “The Vicar of Baghdad.”
St. George’s has a congregation of over 6,000, disproportionately women and children, due to the deaths of so many men in the ongoing violence. Canon Andrew is deeply involved in peacemaking. He sits on the Iraqi High Council of Religious Leaders, an interfaith group of key influential leaders committed to peace and reconciliation.
Canon Andrew White has gained a wide following on Facebook where he updates his friends and followers with what’s going on in Baghdad. Here are some posts from the past ten days.
• October 17th: OVER 200 KILLED TONIGHT WHILST PRAYING. Tonight’s massacres have been quite unbelievable with over 200 killed including 80 Shabach (a minority living near Mosul) and the bombs are still going off. Lord have mercy upon us.
• October 20th: Over 60 killed in a terrible suicide bombing at a Baghdad café. Lord have Mercy.
• October 27th: Hordes killed in Nineveh and Baghdad. After a few [relatively quiet] days the violence returned with horrendous force. Scores have been massacred in Nineveh and Baghdad. The violence is just so terrible nobody knows what will happen. We just cry out Lord have Mercy.
Whether due to biased journalism, or because the deteriorating situation runs counter to someone’s preferred political narrative, most of the carnage in Iraq has gone unreported in the Western News Media. The BBC, perhaps a lone standout, reported this morning:
Several car bombs have exploded around the Iraqi capital Baghdad, killing at least 39 people, officials say. Separately, a bomber blew himself up in the northern city of Mosul near troops queuing at a bank, killing 14 people. As well as those killed, at least 100 people were injured in the attacks. More than 30 people were hurt in the Mosul blast, which was the single most deadly attack of the day.
Countrywide violence… fueled by sectarian divisions, has reached its highest level since 2008. Almost 1,000 people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded in September alone, according to the UN. Hundreds more have been killed in October.
In a rare moment of journalistic candor, the BBC lamented that “compassion fatigue” has resulted in decreased demand for news from Iraq.
Canon Andrew’s reply to the BBC was:
We are still here, [we are] not fatigued and [we are] not leaving. Pray for us and all the saints who are left in Iraq.
We at St. George’s live surrounded by fear. Believers in the Almighty are not exempt. We [struggle] with personal fear, relationships, health, finances and even salvation. We do not live in fear for one reason only: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
Although most of the Iraqi violence is sectarian between Sunni and Shia Muslims, St. George’s is never untouched. Whenever a bomb goes off a wife wonders if her husband was nearby and prays for his safety. A father prays that his wife has safely made it home from the market. Children stop and pray for their parents. Christians pray for their Muslim neighbors. These prayers are lifted up many times a day.
In the midst of punctuations by bombings and assassinations, the work and the mission of St George’s goes on. The church is the distribution point for food and medicine to thousands in the congregation and to thousands more in their local community in Baghdad.
In this God is glorified.
God’s grace is magnified because Christians who live under the dark shadow of suffering and evil daily overcome their fears and do the Lord’s work in a dangerous place. They love each other and they love their neighbors more than they love themselves. Their love is casting out fear. Despite having little, they share everything. They praise God for each new day. When they pray “give us this day our daily bread” they mean today’s bread. When they ask God to “deliver us from evil” they know what that looks like.
How Long, O Lord?
It’s a fair question. One that a member of St. George’s Church in Baghdad might ask.
It’s Monday Morning. This week, pray for strength and grace to overcome adversity wherever Christians are confronted by suffering and evil–like Iraq–and where you live. Ask God to bless the peacemakers.
[Header Photo courtesy of St. George’s Church in Baghdad. Canon Andrew White teaching the children how to sing “God Gave Me Happiness That Does Not Exist in the Whole World”]