Our nation is now at war. After a massive military buildup, many long months of international negotiations, and a clear ultimatum that Saddam Hussein either leave power or face the consequences, the world’s most powerful army has been unleashed with deadly force. Tonight coalition forces are drawing ever closer to Baghdad, and after a day of military setbacks, we are reminded that this is war. By the middle of this week we will discover just how hard or easy it will be to liberate Iraq by removing its dictator.
The war with Iraq is different from any war that has ever been fought. It is the first war in which free nations have attempted to preempt the power of global terrorism. It is the first war to use so many satellite-guided missiles with such accuracy, even in heavily populated urban areas. And it is the first war the United States has fought with so little support from our traditional allies.
Like all wars, this one brings danger. Lives have already been lost on both sides, and unless Iraq surrenders, many more will be lost in coming weeks. This particular war also comes with the significant risk of unintended consequences. What will happen when our soldiers reach Baghdad? What if we don’t find any weapons of mass destruction? How will the war affect relations between Islamic nations and the West? What will be the long-term results for international terrorism? These and many other questions are making people anxious, not only in the United States, but around the world.
It is typical for people to worry during wartime, even if the fighting is on the other side of the world. War makes us think about things in a different way. But C. S. Lewis, for one, doubted whether this ought to be the case. In a famous address called “Learning in War-Time,” Lewis argued that
War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself… . We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal life.’ Life has never been normal [C. S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” The Weight of Glory (1939), 21-22].
Like the rest of the really difficult things in life, there is nothing we can really do about the war, except to pray. So how should we pray? The first and most obvious thing to pray for is peace. We know that the world will not be at peace until Jesus comes again. But we still pray for peace, and especially that peace would come to Iraq through the establishment of a just government. Peace is the true objective of any just war, such as the one we are trying to wage. And the quicker the war ends, the sooner peace will come to the people of Iraq, who have already suffered so much.
The second thing to pray for is our nation’s armed forces, as well as soldiers from other nations. Should we pray for victory? Yes, if victory will bring peace. But we should also pray for the soldiers themselves, and for what they will experience in wartime. Recently I spoke with a veteran of the Korean War who often visits with a friend from his outfit. “Do you ever talk about the war?” I asked. My friend said no, some things are better left unsaid. Tonight many soldiers are going through the same kinds of experiences, some of them horrific, and we should pray for them.
This week a friend who served in Desert Storm shared his prayer list for all men and women in uniform:
- Pray for physical safety. There is the risk of death or maiming due to enemy fire, landmines, friendly fire, accidents, and disease. In this war there is the added risk of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons being deployed. But God is the great protector.
- Pray for psychological strength. Combat subjects the participants to confusion, grotesque death, and destruction and horrors beyond comprehension for those sitting in the relative comfort of the United States. But God is the great strength of our existence.
- Pray for emotional comfort. There is separation from loved ones. They may feel isolated and alone and frightened. But God is the great comforter.
Pray for spiritual healing. Many soldiers do not know God. They have not experienced the freedom in acknowledging Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. But God is the great redeemer.
There is so much to pray for. We should pray for the world leaders whose decisions affect the course of nations. We should pray for the restoration of an international community that will pursue justice. And we should pray for the people of Iraq, many of whom are in great physical danger, and almost none of whom know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
The most important question about the war is this: How will God use it to advance his gospel? In recent weeks many American soldiers and their wives have made decisions for Christ. Only this week the Philadelphia Inquirer reported from Kuwait that dozens of soldiers were being baptized in the name of Christ. On military bases here in the U.S., many military wives are attending Bible studies and spending time in prayer. Pray that their openness to spiritual things will bear lasting fruit.
Pray also for the progress of the gospel in the Middle East, where people are thinking about their own mortality, especially in Iraq. Perhaps the war will bring new opportunities for Muslims to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. This week an organization called Advancing Native Missions requested prayer for 600 Iraqis living in Jordanian refugee camps who are waiting to go back into Iraq with the gospel.
Whatever happens, we should pray for God to use it for his glory. God has not promised that America will win the war. But he has promised us this: “All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:4b).
[Special thanks to Brian Esterly, whose prayer list and other suggestions helped to shape this Window on the World].
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