I never believed God cared about the Syrian Civil War.
I didn’t consciously think he was ambivalent, but my attitude about the issue revealed my underlying belief. Looking at the tragedies of the situation, I doubted God’s hand in such a difficult area of the world. If God cared, the war would be over. I felt I shouldn’t waste time with my prayers.
But, if there is one attribute about God that we know from Scripture, it’s that he is caring. And in a moment of worry during the April chemical attacks, the Spirit reminded me that he does care and that, while God has not sent me to Syria, my labor for the area revolves around praying for its people.
Together, the church can pray for Syria like David lamented his afflictions in Psalm 102, like Moses praised the Lord on behalf of his people in Exodus 15, or like Peter and John’s friends raised their voices for persecuted Christians in Acts 4. God, in his sovereignty, listens to the prayers of his people.
Here are five groups of people impacted by the Syrian Civil War that we can pray for today.
1. Pray for the Leaders
Most of us can admit that praying for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad or his allies is not on the top of our to-do list. But, as Christ reminded us, we must love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Upon hearing of his persecutor’s death, David and his followers mourned Saul, Saul’s son, and fellow soldiers (2 Sam. 1:12). When Stephen was being stoned for his faith, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60 NIV). And, as Jesus hung on the cross, he pleaded, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV).
The Bible paints a clear picture of how to love those who hurt us. When praying for leaders, we cannot leave out those who inflict pain or terror. It may seem like those leaders are the only ones who are in control. But we can remember that we have a sovereign God eternally mightier than any ruler (Deut. 3:24; 10:17).
2. Pray for Those Involved Who Don’t Have a Say
It’s easy to think about and pray for leaders involved in Syria because we see them on the news. However, we need to remember there are citizens and soldiers we will never see who are directly affected by those leaders’ actions. About eighteen million people live in Syria, and even more people are involved as other countries send soldiers to fight.
Many of these men and women fighting in Syria are only following the orders of the people above them. They may not even believe in what they’re doing given the number of soldiers who have defected. So let’s pray for them and the comfort of their families and friends who will be affected by their involvement in the Syrian combat.
3. Pray for Refugees
Discussions around Syrian refugees have plenty of political connotations, but prayer is not a partisan issue, especially when Jesus told us to help those in need of a home as we would help Jesus himself (Matt. 25:31–46). Pray for refugees while they wait in camps, travel to unknown places, and hope to return to their homes one day.
“Prayer is not a partisan issue, especially when Jesus told us to help those in need of a home as we would help Jesus himself.”
Until that day, pray that countries continue to open doors for Syrians. God tells us in words eerily familiar to the current realities, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy”(Ezek. 16:49 NIV).
4. Pray for the Christians in Syria
Up to 10 percent of Syrians self-identify as Christians, meaning it’s possible that nearly two million of our brothers and sisters live in Syria today, according to the CIA World Factbook. The news has, every now and then, discussed intense Christian persecution in the country. Whether a group is beheading Christians, seizing churches, abducting new believers, or forcing people to practice Islam, following Christ in Syria is not easy.
Along with local believers, there are also foreign Christians in Syria who have chosen to place themselves knowingly under that same persecution. They give aid, encourage followers of Christ, and work to provide community to isolated Christians.
In a time where most first-world Christians do not face such persecution, it can be difficult to empathize with fellow followers of Christ fighting this battle. Help them stay strong in the faith by praying for them as Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus to be strengthened by God’s Spirit (Eph. 3:14–19).
5. Pray for Us
Monotonous and seemingly never-ending headlines can often create complacency or apathy in our hearts. However, the Bible warns us of complacency (Heb. 10:24–25), and God also promised to punish this attitude (Zeph. 1:12). So we must pray for strength to continue to care for and serve the Syrian people.
We should also pray for unity (John 17:23) in US churches because of the Syrian conflict’s divisive nature. To serve and love the millions of refugees as we should, churches need to work together, even when we don’t agree, and pray for solutions.
While it can be easy to have an attitude like I had or feel unable to help, we can remember God hears our prayers, and because of them, he moves throughout the world, even in Syria. Let us be encouraged by this and begin to serve through prayer today. We cannot watch without caring.
Oliver Dye is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee where he studied journalism and political science.