I’ve noticed a widespread difficulty with Christians knowing how to pray for Israel, in the aftermath of being attacked by Hamas. Perhaps it’s because we are awash in propaganda, and we know it, and that causes reticence. After all, as the old phrase goes, the first casualty of war is the truth.
So how to pray, for Israel, and about a war and evils occurring halfway across the world? I would like to offer a few suggestions.
First, if you want to know how to pray, get to praying. Like most things in life, we learn to do it by doing it. We learn to pray by praying.
This reminds me of the story that Corey Tenboom told of when she and her sister were jammed into a room with 700 other concentration camp prisoners - a room designed for 200 people. Some of them fought with each other, and soon the room became jittered with nervous tension. Corey said that they needed to do something, and her sister said we must pray. And so she prayed, and she prayed, and she prayed, and she prayed, and then the room finally went silent and was at peace. How to pray? Sometimes we just need to get praying. It happens after prayer.
Pray with Dirt and Blood
Secondly, we must pray with dirt and blood. What I mean is that in times like this, and in all other times, we must pray in specifics. We must forsake all pie-in-the sky generalities, and instead get dirt and blood on our prayers. When you’re watching the news and you see some atrocity, remember that those are real people with real families. Get rid of all generalities and pray, pray, for the victims and their friends and families, and for those who did it, that God would stop them and bring justice.
Doing this may also have a practical benefit: it will slow down the velocity of your doom-scrolling. You won’t have the ability to move onto the next awful atrocity on your screen, because you’ll be too busy praying for real people.
Pray Like the Bible
Thirdly, we need to pray out of the Bible, because the Bible teaches us how to pray both for the specific case of Israel, and for the general problem of atrocity-level evil.
Let’s begin with evil. When atrocities happen, we learn how to pray by turning to the psalms, specifically, those that have come to be known as the imprecatory psalms. The word imprecatory has a lot of overlap with the word curse. That’s what it is: asking God to bring something bad on someone else who’s doing something bad.
We may, for instance, put the words of Psalm 140 into our own words, on behalf of the innocent in Israel:
Psalm 140:8–11 (ESV): Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;
do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted! Selah
9 As for the head of those who surround the nation of Israel,
let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
10 Let burning coals fall upon them!
Let them be cast into fire,
into miry pits, no more to rise!
11 Let not the slanderer be established in the land;
let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
Go ahead, pray this. Or, if you are so moved, pray along these lines:
Would you strike them on the cheek? Would you break their teeth? (Psalm 3:7)
Or, if you are so provoked, you may echo the words of Psalm 58:
Psalm 58:6–11 (ESV): O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
7 Let them vanish like water that runs away;
when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
8 Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
9 Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
10 The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
Note that the psalmists are not taking vengeance into their own hands. They are leaving vengeance with God, as we are commanded to do, and praying to Him is how they do it. Note also that these psalms are this bloody because some evils are this bloody. And lastly, note that the psalmist knows how God works. God is not the inventor of evil, but He sovereignly uses even evil itself to deal with other evils. If you see the atrocities and are so provoked in your soul, pray along with these psalms.
But then end your imprecation by echoing the words of your Lord: “Yet not my will, but yours be done, O my King and Lord.”
The Specific Case of Israel
Now, having prayed along with the imprecatory psalms, we must also allow the Bible to instruct us as to how we should pray for the unique case of Israel. The most relevant chapter of the Bible is Romans 11, especially beginning in verse 11 through to the end of the chapter. Paul describes the people of God as one olive tree, and only one. For the most part, the Jews are like branches that have been broken off of that tree, by their own unbelief. And the Gentile believing Christians are like apple or pear tree branches that have been unnaturally grafted into that tree. One day the Jews’ general state of unbelief will be reversed, and many will be saved. But not yet.
So then, by verse 28 Paul comes to a startling conclusion, and yet another example of how the Bible teaches us to think of two things at the same time. As regards to the gospel the Jews are enemies, for our sake - they were broken off from the olive tree so that we could be grafted in. But at the same time as regards election, as regards God sovereignly choosing them, they are beloved, for the sake of their forefathers.
Here is a metaphor that I hope helps you comprehend both feelings - considering them both enemies and beloved. Suppose you have a great grandfather, from whom your whole family has come, and he leaves your great grandmother and betrays her and wants nothing to do with the family. And every time a family member entreats him to be reconciled back to the family, he spits on them and rejects them. Then one day you find out that he has been mugged, beat up and sent to the emergency room. On the one hand, you would feel concerned for him, with a familial love. But how would you pray for him? You would pray that God would use this terrible circumstance to bring him to his senses and cause him to return and be reconciled with the family.
Or in Paul’s metaphor, to “be grafted back in.”
In my view, that is exactly how we should pray for the Jews today. That God would thwart every evil - that He would smash Hamas’ teeth - and at the same time that He would use every evil to cause the Jews to wake up and return. Pray that God would use this suffering to cause them to see that Jesus is their King, and become jealous of what we have in Him, and want it for themselves. For Paul says that though they have been broken off, they can be grafted back in again (23). Pray that God would be merciful to them, and that they would not waste His mercy, for it is meant to lead the Jews to repentance (Romans 2:4).
And then cast your eye across the rest of the world, to Christians suffering in other places, like Ukraine, or Nigeria, or China, or Gaza, and use the same categories that Paul just used. As regards to the gospel, they are brothers and sisters, not enemies. And as regards election, they were not chosen, yet God by grace grafted them in, just like you. Pray for their suffering, too - for they are your brothers and sisters, and you’ll spend eternity with them.
Don’t Let Them Tell You How to Think and Feel
Lastly, one bit of advice, that’s not about prayer directly, but can only be applied by prayer. Don’t let the propaganda or CNN (but I repeat myself) cause you to think or feel in a certain way. Let the vile acts drive you to your Bible, to prayer, to God. You often see this, again, in the Psalms. David cries out to God because of evildoers, and then He “remembers” Who he is talking to, and then you see his emotional temperature change, right there in the psalm. We are to walk in his steps. In the heat of great atrocities, we are to make psalms ourselves.
Not only does this change the world, it will also change us. God can walk and chew gum at the same time, and juggle, too. He can thwart evil, save the Jews, save Palestinian terrorists, and keep you from becoming derailed by unbridled emotion. Jesus is King, over Israel, over Hamas, and over America. May every tongue, tribe and nation come to bow in faith-filled fealty to Him.