By Pastor Brent McDougal
Augustine said, “Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on you.”
Augustine got the order right.
To pray is to seek the power of God in the workings of the world, and for someone who wants to see more peace, it’s the first order of business.
Praying acknowledges that everything truly depends on the unseen God. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus taught, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
What is God’s reward? God answers prayer, even in ways that we wish were different. But the reward is also the gift of God’s presence, which comes with peace.
How many times have I tried to create peace — in my personal relationships, in my congregation, in my community — only to fall short, and then realize that I had never prayed for peace?
When I look across the world this Christmas season, I see people struggling to have peace.
So here are three ways to pray for peace, all rooted in Jesus’ experience of being born into the world.
First, pray for those who are displaced. Pray for refugees from places of violence and tension. Pray for children displaced from their original homes in foster care due to circumstances beyond their control. Pray for those who find themselves far from what they would call home. Pray for people in your workplace and neighborhood who feel far from family.
Remember, Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem, a city not her own. Surely she would have preferred to stay home. But a king issued a decree to take a census, and so prophesy was fulfilled that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Remember that Jesus fled his homeland to the safety of Egypt because of Herod’s tyranny.
Second, pray for your neighbors. How often people of faith pray for their brothers and sisters in Christ, but fail to pray for their neighbors? Pray for peace to be given to your neighbors as they see the lights of Christmas, give gifts, and hear familiar carols.
Remember, Jesus was born in the flesh as a gift to the whole world (John 3:16). He came for every man and woman. The angels declared “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)
Third, pray for your enemies. Jesus grew up to teach, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
Remember, Jesus died forgiving his enemies. Surely you can forgive those who have wronged you in the face of such a sacrifice on your behalf.
And that brings me to the one way you can work for peace this Christmas.
Do something good for someone you don’t like, even someone you hate.
Think of someone who has wronged you in 2018 or in recent years, and do something to bless them. You could write a note to name something good you have seen in them, or to simply say that you want to be at peace with them and you wish them well. An act of kindness could break the chain of hate.
Such and act could be anonymous, but how much greater would it be for the person to know that some good thing has come from you.
If you struggle to love Muslims, give a sacrificial gift to a Muslim in need. If you hate someone from a different political party, do an act of service to bless them.
It may seem small, but I believe that these little acts of love in our little corners of the world make a difference. They ripple across families, communities, and our nation.
1 Peter 3:10-11 counsels, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.”
If you love life and want better days for us all, start with prayer: for the displaced, for your neighbors, and for your enemies. Seek their peace and then pursue it on their behalf, with a tangible act of love.
And in all things, pray as if everything depended on God. Work as if everything depends on you.