November 20, 2015

Prayer, Prophecy, and Paris

Editor’s note: News commentaries are intended to express the richness and variety of informed and responsible Adventist opinion on current issues. They do not necessarily convey the viewpoint of the Adventist Review editorial team or the General Conference.

, communication director, North American Division

Pray for Paris. Pray for Beirut. Pray for Kenya. Pray for Iraq. Understand the world.

Recent social media postings have focused on the growing violence in our world and its relationship to religion.

After the brazen wave of attacks in Paris, one atheist called for a stop to online requests for prayer. “Religion is the cause of this pain,” he said.

As Christians, our first response may be to balk at this request. But we should take the time to understand this statement before responding. We should try to understand where this atheist is coming from and what drives his unbelief.

Is religion really the cause of all the pain and suffering in the world?

As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we tend to look at the world with a different set of eyes. Our understanding of end-time events provides us with a sense of hope as we see the world unraveling around us. We know the “end of the story” as if we had skipped to the last page of the “book” that is being written about the history of this planet. The challenge for us is to take this hope and share it with others.

As a denomination, we tend to focus on the prophecy part of this story. But to people who are scared and in pain, the last thing they want to hear is that the end of the world is near. How should we respond in these situations so we can be relevant in sharing our message of hope?

Romans 12:12 gives us hope by saying, “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing steadfastly in prayer” (KJV).

But that may not help someone who doesn’t believe in prayer. We need to find a way to connect with those who despise or even hate what we stand for.

We can find the answer in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

It’s that simple. The path to hope is through charity.

A common definition of the word “charity” is “the voluntary giving of help.” We are familiar with this usage of the word because it is associated with the work of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency and Adventist Community Services. Both organizations help to alleviate the suffering of millions of people around the world each year as they serve as the hands and feet of Jesus.

But let’s look at charity following another definition. My dictionary also defines charity as “kindness and tolerance in judging others.”

In applying that to Adventists, consider 1 Corinthians 8:13, which says, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” Imagine if we focused our efforts not on what is important to us but what is most meaningful to those in need. Imagine the possibilities of meeting people where they are, either physically or spiritually. By putting the needs of others ahead of our usual goal of educating people of an impending end-time conflict, we can build relationships that can be developed productively when opportunities to share the gospel finally are unveiled.

We need to take the time to listen to the needs of others instead of focusing on what we perceive their needs to be. God calls us to reach all people, in all countries, representing all languages and tongues. But we cannot speak to people without first listening to them. To reach atheists, we need to learn how they speak and think. To connect with Muslims, we must understand what connects them to their families and communities. Reaching Buddhists requires an appreciation for the values that they admire and aspire to.

Before we can empathize, we must understand. Before we pray, we must listen. Before sharing, we must connect. Before teaching, we must know what needs to be taught and the best language in which to communicate. Listen, learn, reach, know — and then pray.