The Dilemmas of Prayer

It is the kind of news that makes us praise God: a British Catholic newspaper reports from Algeria that Muslims in their thousands are seeking Bibles and turning up in church, wishing to learn about Christianity.

This results from disillusionment with the so-called Arab Spring, as well as a reaction against the rise of violent Islamism.

So praise God for what He is doing in the hearts of these people. It certainly cannot be easy to seek Jesus in a Muslim country where churches face heavy restrictions, where Christian evangelism is banned and where a foreign priest who hands out Bibles can be imprisoned for five years.

But wait! Was not Algeria – home of Saint Augustine – once a Christian country? Yes, like much of Mediterranean North Africa, Algeria in the early days of the church was Christian. But subsequent Muslim invasions wiped out all but a remnant.

So Algerian Muslims in their thousands, in a Muslim nation of 39 million people that was once Christian, are now seeking Jesus. Good news? Of course, but…

I receive monthly newsletters from a missionary in one of the Gulf states. He and his wife both speak Arabic, and for months on end we might be asked to pray for a particular Muslim friend or neighbor who has, however vaguely, expressed some kind of interest in the gospel.

We seldom hear of positive results from these encounters, but still we are asked to pray.

I sometimes want to cry out in despair to this missionary. While we are praying fervently for “Sally” or “John” – his contacts are always given Western names for anonymity – the wholesale rape, imprisonment and slaughter of Christians is occurring on the other side of the desert. Would not his efforts and our prayers be better directed there? Yet I know without doubt that he feels a strong calling for his work.

A church friend says that increasingly when he prays he simply feels like saying, “Dear God. Whatever.” For just as Christianity is being eradicated in the land of its birth, millions and millions have been coming to the Lord in places like South Korea and China.

Knowing how to pray can sometimes be confusing.


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