I keep avoiding writing this. It’s been sitting on my computer screen for days, fittingly unwelcome but reminding me of its unpleasant existence.
I have to pray for Boko Haram.
I do not like them. The radical Islamist terrorist group has been causing increasing violence and heartache in Nigeria for years as part of their campaign to eradicate Western education and establish an Islamist government over all of Nigeria.
Most recently, they have been getting a lot of attention for abducting over 230 girls from a school in the northeast. Kids who were getting ready to take their exams because they hoped for a better life had gathered at a location believed to be safer. Instead, they were kidnapped, taken to remote areas, and sold into “marriages” with their abductors. I can’t abide that euphemism, so forgive me for being blunt: they’re now slaves being raped repeatedly. Even if the girls are rescued, their physical and mental injuries will haunt them for years to come.
It’s hard not to pray or wish that each of these men would meet painful deaths immediately. As a father, as a husband, and as a “basically decent person,” I want to pray that their attacks will be stopped, that they’ll face justice, and that their evil will die with them.
As a Christian, though, I also have an obligation to pray for Boko Haram and for other groups and individuals like them. If I’m really going to follow and represent Christ, then I have to pay attention to what He said about how to treat our enemies. Even when I don’t like it.
Jesus said with inconvenient consistency that we should love our enemies, treat them well, and pray for them.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:27-28
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:46-47
I’m not trying to sound pious here. I’m not trying to look good by bragging about my prayers. I’m trying to become more Christ-like, to do what He calls us to do, even when it goes against every instinct and inclination I have. I’m trying to act out of the faith that He said could move mountains and that He demonstrated could change hearts.
I’m trying to trust Him that prayer works and that it’s supposed to be not a Christmas list of blessings for ourselves and our friends but our participation in His redemption and betterment of the world. If I don’t do that, then I’m committing the same sin that Jonah did when he got mad at God for wanting to save the Ninevites. That would be claiming to have a better understanding of justice than God does.
Obviously, I’ve been praying for these girls and their families. Since I went to Nigeria, I’ve been praying for peace and healing for their land. I’ve been following the news about their country much more since my return and praying daily for them. Those prayers are important, but in a way, those prayers are easy. It’s harder to pray for their oppressors, but sincerely following Christ is not about doing what’s easy. When we pray for evildoers to stop their violence and change their hearts, we’re trusting God to make things new. We’re actively trusting God that every person has value and worth in His eyes.
As I pray for my enemies, I find that their hearts aren’t the only ones changing. I find that I remember their sins a little less and mine a little more, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I find myself thinking about the hurts I cause and about ways I could make things better. I find myself realizing that I need to pray for myself, too.
God is smarter, gentler, and more loving than I often manage to remember.