Faith Works 8-16-14
Pain, multiplied beyond imagining
There are columnists and journalists whose greatest danger in their labors would be carpal tunnel syndrome.
We muse and type and hit send, feeling strong emotions from the comfort of our living rooms or offices.
Reporters who are on the front lines, experiencing the cold and thirst and windburn alongside the struggling victims whose stories they want to tell, deserve the respect of all of us. To be in northern Iraq, or even the northern suburbs of St. Louis, is to feel a calling, a vocation, to serve and accept the burdens of service as a necessary part of living out your passion.
Back here in the living rooms and offices of America, or even in the worship centers of US churches, we catch a glimpse of what not long ago was a line of print in a bulletin, a few words from the parson before these issues and concerns were wrapped up in petitions to the Almighty.
Our dilemma, as praying pastors, as Christians and other praying folk at home or on the road during the week, is that our prayers can't be an affiliate network to the news media. We can pray over what we learn from the evening news, out of the magazines and newsletters coming in our mailboxes or online, and cable TV news always has an assortment of fears and anxieties to grab at us. But that's not the whole story.
Many of us are members of denominational bodies which send out mail and now e-mail alerts about mission stations under fire, critical needs overseas, names of servant leaders who need our prayers. It's not hard to get your name on mailing lists for parachurch organizations which now do the same, telling us about how much our prayers are needed in areas of disease outbreak, flood zones, urban slums filled with hungry children.
Which do we pray for? How often? Do we put a list of nations and cities in the bulletin each Sunday, or add a block to the newsletter to remind the members about missionaries we support or programs that we can ask blessings for?
As a serving pastor, I'm mindful every week of how much we don't pray for. There are folks who have had surgery that we lift up by first name a week, or two, and then we stop being specific…but I know the road to recovery is still hard for them.
International issues are tricky because we know the most about the situations which get the most coverage. We should all probably have been praying more, more often, more passionately, about the Second Congo War and its aftermath. To which you may say "um, was that after the First Congo War?" Yes, exactly. Maybe you watched "Kony 2012" on your computer, maybe you lifted up a prayer for peace and blessings into that tragedy, maybe you sent in a contribution. How's Joseph Kiny doing these days, anyhow? We have no video footage of him, so we don't know.
Back in the spring, your church may well have offered up prayers for the 200 girls kidnapped in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram. Have you…. No, don't feel guilty. I know, you haven't thought about them, let alone prayed for them, for weeks. (Months.) Have they been rescued? Even found?
There's no video feed, not even a Skype link, to that neck of the woods. So the story, and the prayers, fade away.
I believe God is at work in some way in that situation, but our prayers are not much in the mix. Should they be? Shouldn't they?
We tend to let the media drive our prayer life. That's not entirely bad, as global awareness makes us more sensitive to people and places we would never have thought of before. But if our prayers, our hearts, our spiritual disciplines get whipsawed around by the latest trend on Twitter, there's some reason for concern.
How do we discipline our prayer lives, so that we can include new areas of attention and intention, but also maintain some enduring areas of intercession that are in line with our own personal vocation? That may be one of the great challenges of spirituality in this media-rich and prayer-poor age.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he appreciates many of the prayer requests and reminders he gets through firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him @Knapsack on Twitter.