First, there’s the whole “Blimey, there’s so much going wrong in the world where do I start?” question. And then there’s the less enormous but more personally challenging, “But what exactly am I praying will happen, here?” Then there’s the, “Who am I actually praying for?” question.
Question 1 is dealt with pretty easily: we’ll never cover absolutely everything – even the news doesn’t do that – and in the end we simply have to trust God that the whole world really is in his hands.
Question 2 is really hard. For some news stories we may well have in mind what we believe is the right outcome. In these, our prayers have to leave God space to reach a different conclusion. For some news stories we may have simply no idea how it should end; war, in particular, seems more complex all the time, and there are no straightforward answers about what should happen. In these news stories, perhaps all we can do is hand the whole lot over to God and ask him to pour the oil of his love on the complicated, troubled waters of human behaviour and sin.
Question 3 is harder still. Sometimes a news story has what appear to be clear goodies and clear baddies. But more often than not, it’s more grey than black and white. And even when it seems obvious who is the victim and who is the sinner, do not both need our prayers? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus said. How hard it is to pray for that politician making a speech that you find morally repugnant, or for that former financier being charged with fraud! Yet both are human beings, with hopes and dreams and fears, with families and friends, and struggles that we may know nothing about, and motivations that we are not privvy to, and regrets that we may never have to face. Both are in need of prayer, just as anyone else.
Prayer costs us no money, and only a small amount of time, but sometimes it can cost us a great deal emotionally and spiritually. This Lent, may God give us hearts generous enough to pray not only the easy prayers, but the difficult ones too.