When I woke up on Saturday to headlines and articles all blaring the news about Nepal, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Within hours, #nepal and #prayfornepal and the likes were trending, and filtered Instagram photos overlaid with the words, “Pray for Nepal” were all over Facebook, tagged with captions calling for people to think on and pray for the Nepalese people.
I both love and hate this. For I know two things can happen. In response to witnessing such tragedy, we can truly have Nepal at the forefront of our mind, have our hearts rend for the pain of the Nepalese people. We can truly on our knees pray.
Or we can not. For a moment, it hits us. We see clearly just for a second the humanity of those suffering. And in response, we pray for a moment, or two. Maybe even click “share” on the photo. But rarely do we dwell. Instead, we move on, allowing the pain and uncomfortableness of human suffering to be assuaged by the other things we have to do. We are not changed.
It is not that we do not have compassion or humanity. But the cost of coming alongside the suffering of others is inherently painful to bear, for we are then bearing their pain alongside them, if not in body, then at least in spirit. And in the face of such pain, it is often easier to put a pin in the sufferings of others. To save it for later, or confine it to a five minute window of checklisted petitions. And we move on, letting the busyness of the day keep our attention, not because we don’t have humanity, but because it is human to do so. It is only human to shy away from pain.
But justice begins in the mind, the condition of the heart. It begins with what we determine worthy of our time, attention and compassion. It begins with what we determine worthy of sacrifice, and dying to our Selves. And when we decide that our security and serenity of mind and heart is worth more than being made uncomfortable by consistently acknowledging and pressing into the humanity and suffering of others, it is human. But it is also the beginning of injustice. For desensitization breeds silence. And too often, silence is the greatest perpetrator of the wrongs of this world. Peace for a few bought at the cost of the peace of many is not peace at all.
So where does prayer come into this? Prayer may not mean much to those who do not believe. But to those who do believe upon an all powerful God, and understand truly the meaning of prayer, praying is the most powerful thing they can do in response to something like what happened in Nepal this weekend. For in prayer, we ask God Himself to intervene for the world, and within ourselves.
The Christian Church is often found guilty of being overly content to sit within stained glass window churches and pray pretty things, while the world outside is in desperate need for the Church to move in justice as their Savior did. So it is often said that we ought not just pray, but also act. And it is ever true. What good is it if we say words, but have it never translate into our lives? Faith is indeed dead without works.
At some point, though, all of us—believers or not—come to the end of ourselves and our abilities to bandage the world’s wounds. In our humanness, we each reach the end of our capacity to bear the pain of humanity. And when we find ourselves unable to do anything else, we must decide. We get to decide whether we will turn our gaze and hearts toward things that are easier. Or we can get on our knees and say, “Oh Lord, do what only You can do.”
You see, prayer in its fullness is not just asking God to do something about the external things that we do not know how to address. It also asks Him to do what only He can do in us.
This is how Christians have been instructed to pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:9-10)
In praying, we ask Him to help us lay our Selves down, so that the things on His heart might be done. That justice might be done, that this earth we live in might be more like heaven. In the face of suffering, we ask Him to give us to strength to press on, instead of turning away. For we know in our humanness alone, the latter is what we will too often choose. So we ask the omnipotent God we believe in to not allow us to be satisfied with desensitization. We ask Him to continue to not only give us His heart for those suffering around us, but the desire, as well as the ability to bear their pain with them.
Prayer is remembering who God is—one who is the definition of love, compassionate and zealous for justice. And prayer is asking to become more like Him. To become like God who set down His crown, left heaven, and came to earth. To become like Christ who bore for the world all their pain and all their sins, and ended it at the cross, for He counted many souls worth more than His own comfort.
“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied [for He shall] make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.“ (Isaiah 53:4-11)
When we, like Him, begin to count others worth more than our own comfort, that there is where injustice ends. For when we see others rightly—when we see them justly—it inherently translates to our actions. We begin to love others because He first loved us. And that is where justice begins.
So to my fellow Christians, let us not speak a few words to ease our discomfort. But let us press into bearing the pain of others, whether in prayer or other actions that we can act upon. Let us truly pray. Let us become more like the Jesus we say we love. And for everyone else, I challenge you too to not look away. Let injustice not find its home in us and our silence and inaction.
And whether or not we pray, would justice be found in all that we do.
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity