Violence against Christians has grown increasingly fierce in Syria as reports about priests and pastors being kidnapped or killed by extremists and stories of churches, monasteries, and health clinics being ransacked or bombed abound. Some instances of considerable note include the kidnap (and presumed murder) of two archbishops, the recent murder of a Franciscan friar, and the detonation of a bomb outside of a Greek Orthodox cathedral. Reports of violence against Christians continue to pour in on a daily basis.
In view of this, I implore you to join me for the next three days (7/01/13-7/3/13) in a time of prayer and fasting. We shall be praying for the following things:
For the protection and safety of Christian leaders and their families (who have been especially targeted by the attackers) and lay people who continue to live and work in Syria.
For an end to all violence in the region and for justice and peace to prevail.
For the Lord to turn the hearts of the jihadists away from violence and to have mercy upon them.
I’d like to draw special attention on the third item of prayer. Many people will think I’ve lost my mind for adding this. Why on earth should we pray for the evil men perpetrating these heinous crimes against humanity? Shouldn’t we hope for their destruction? Why would we care what happens to them? . . . Because they are made in the image of God and it is God’s desire for them to repent from their evil deeds and to embrace the Way of peace and love. Only the power of the gospel – the message of God’s love and sacrifice on behalf of His creation – can conquer the darkness which is sweeping over Syria. Peace and life will be restored when the jihadists are transformed from messengers of hate and death into emissaries of God’s peace and love. It’s only through our love as Christians, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that the light of Christ will outshine the blackness of mans hatred.
Our Lord set the perfect example for us – both in His teaching and in one of His last recorded acts on the cross. In His famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught the unthinkable, He taught us to love even those who hate us:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.‘ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:43-45).
He exemplified this teaching as he hung, suffering an excruciating death on the cross, praying for the very people who were murdering Him: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23: 34).
May we long for peace and justice but let our hearts not become hardened and filled with the same hate fueling the jihadists. Let us join hands with the martyrs who have sacrificed their lives out of love and pray for salvation and life to flow into Syria. Let the prophecy of Isaiah be fulfilled once again, as it was when Jesus first came, through the blood of the martyrs and the prayers of the saints:
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and the shadow of death light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).