As the grim reality of what happened on Friday 13th in the streets and gathering places of Paris unfolded, social media began to fill up with information, bewilderment and sorrow and the #prayforparis hashtag.
As I write church leaders across the city will be reflecting on how they must respond tomorrow as their congregations gather. It will be a time for lament but also a time for wisdom to be imparted and the character of God demonstrated.
Paris and London are the two cities with the highest church attendances in Europe. Gatherings tomorrow will be crucial to the healing that this much loved French city, now in mourning, will need in the coming days.
How can we #prayforparis? Let me suggest five ways.
1. Pray for those who mourn
With the death toll likely to rise there will be hundreds of families devastated by the unthinkable thing that has happened to them. Their sorrow may not be soothed by our well meaning words but they will often be comforted by the practical support of friends, church and community. Pray that there will be comforters for all who mourn.
2. Pray for those who bring comfort
Because one of the attacks was at the Stade de France during the France v Germany football match literally 100,000 people will have been directly impacted there and elsewhere. Theirs will in most cases, not be the sorrow of death seen at first hand. But the emotional impact of death stepping close to them will reverberate in their hearts and minds for weeks, months and years. Pray that God will bring them people full of wisdom, truth and comfort who will help them process the tide of emotions they may feel now and in the future.
3.Pray for those who restrain evil and bring rescue
Police and security staff, doctors, nurses and the fireman who provide the ambulance service have and will be working to restrain evil and rescue the injured. They know what they must do in these circumstances but it will be very hard for them to forget what they saw, particularly at the concert venue. Ask God to send them hope for the future even as they have witnessed man’s inhumanity to man and might be tempted to despair.
4.Pray for those who must bring wisdom
The Protestant church in France is at it’s strongest numerically in Paris. The Catholic church in Paris are significant users of the Alpha course. There are literally hundreds of churches across the city of every shape and size. The highest concentration of evangelical churches is in the area around the Stade de France. As they meet tomorrow this will not be a tragic event in another city, it will be something that happened on their streets and impacted their neighbours.
Events like these trigger fear, but there will also sometimes be voices of prejudice or apocalyptic speculation as well as understandable questions about God and suffering. Those who lead the Paris churches and indeed churches across France will need to be full of wisdom tomorrow. Should they set aside their plans and simply pray? What biblical wisdom can they share that will help their normal congregations and those who might attend seeking comfort and insight about what has happened.
Wisdom is a gift of the Spirit and the fruit of minds renewed in the patterns of God’s thinking. Pray for an outpouring of it on those gifted to lead in the churches of Paris at this time.
5. Pray for those already vulnerable
Many Muslim background people are in France because they sought to escape oppression or poverty in their nation. Life is by no means easy for them at the best of times. Just as we would shy away from being linked to murderous Protestant paramilitaries during the Northern Ireland troubles they would would not want to be spoken of in the same breath as those who murdered indiscriminately yesterday in the streets of Paris.
They will feel especially vulnerable at the moment. Pray that many in the Christian community will ‘love their neighbours’ at this time. Pray that intentional love will disarm prejudice, protect communities from conflict, defuse confrontation and much else.
Dave Roberts is a former Premier Christianity magazine editor, and current teaching pastor at The Bridge International church in Paris,which attracts people from over 30 nationalities every week.