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Blog / Miscellaneous

A Three-Year-Old’s Theology on Tragedy

October 3, 2017

First responders in Las Vegas

NASHVILLE—As her vocabulary has grown over the last few months, my three-year-old granddaughter, Josephine, has said some very funny things (as most three-year-olds do). And she has also said some very profound things with great theological significance.

A few weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey made its way from Texas and up through Tennessee, causing widespread flooding. The day after, Josephine and her dad (my oldest son) took a walk in her favorite park. Since it’s right next to a river, the park had flooded badly. Trees and fences had been knocked over by the force of the water. And the entire playground surface had been washed away by the flood, leaving exposed concrete, metal, and debris from the river.

As Josephine surveyed the devastation to her favorite playground, a scene which many three year olds from Texas to Tennessee would have seen in the days following the flood, she said to her dad:

“God is going to be so sad when He sees this.”

Though Josephine’s three-year-old mind is not yet capable of understanding the fact that God already knew about the flood (In fact, He foreknew this catastrophic event), her comments reveal a deep understanding about the heart of God in the midst of tragedy.

When God looks down on Josephine’s favorite playground and sees the devastation caused by the flood, He, like Josephine, is sad.

When God looks down on Houston, which was hit the hardest by Harvey, He, like millions in that city, is sad.

When God looks down on Mexico City, still recovering from a massive earthquake that killed hundreds, God is sad.

When God looks down on Puerto Rico and the many islands of the Caribbean that have been hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and He sees the devastation and the suffering, He is sad.

When God looks down on the city of Marseille, as it reels in fear from yet another terrorist attack, God is sad.

And when God looks down on the city of Las Vegas today as it mourns the deaths of fifty-nine people from a mass shooting last night, He, like that entire city, is sad.

How can we be sure that God mourns when we mourn? How do we know that our tragedies, big and small, matter to God? How do we know how God feels about tragedies in our cities and country?

Notice how Luke recorded the last time Jesus would enter Jerusalem in Luke 19. In his omniscience, Jesus knew that it wouldn’t be long before His beloved city would be violently attacked and devastated. Let’s look at how He felt: “When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). In the words of my granddaughter, “He was sad.”

Not only that, but we follow a savior who not only wept over the city of Jerusalem, but also wept at a small funeral in the village of Bethany for a man named Lazarus (John 11).

It might be helpful to know that in both of these accounts of Jesus weeping, the original word translated “wept” does not mean a single tear slowly coursing down a cheek as lips silently quiver. Rather, it means a loud wailing that anyone within hearing distance would certainly notice.

Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would die. Even though Jesus knew that he would be raised from the dead. Even though Jesus knew that He had power over death and the grave. He still was sad when He saw the tomb of His friend and saw his sisters, Mary and Martha, grieving.

Because we follow a savior who is both fully God and fully human, we can know with certainty the two things that we all need to hear in moments of suffering grief: God is sovereign in our tragedy and God is sad with us.

I recently completed a video series on my latest book, The Multiplication Challenge. Watch below for the latest video.

 

Blog / Leadership / Videos

Leading Without a Title

September 20, 2017

 Leadership Lanes

NASHVILLE—I get to work with promising young leaders all over the world. Here are some of their most common leadership questions:

  • How do I lead without a title (or perhaps with a lesser title)?
  • How do I lead when I have some leadership responsibilities, but I am not fully in charge?
  • How do I respond when I feel like the senior leader is struggling to lead effectively?
  • How do I balance the tension between presumption and passivity?

My summary of all these questions: How do I lead from the middle? 

Leading from the middle means we are simultaneously leading people and following a leader. Most leaders lead from the middle. Some do it well; Others, not so much.

The presumptuous emerging leader takes responsibility for things that he or she shouldn’t, and he or she makes decisions or judgment calls that are not theirs to make. Depending on the context (and the temperament of the senior leader), this can cause some serious problems for the team.

On the other hand, the passive emerging leader only takes responsibility for the things that he or she has explicitly been given charge of—never responding to leadership needs in the moment and never instinctively taking responsibility in the absence of the senior leader. I have had both kinds of emerging leaders work for and with me. In many ways, we all gravitate towards one or the other ditch. Some of us underestimate our capacity (and responsibility), and others overestimate it.

Wise senior leaders know how to recognize these tendencies in their young leaders and provide helpful counter pressure to their natural tendencies. This means that for some emerging leaders, I constantly encourage them to take charge, even if it’s not exactly in their job description. Why? Because I want them to feel empowered. I want them to start thinking and acting like a leader before they ever get the big title.

With other leaders, I constantly encourage them to slow down and stay in their lane. I encourage them to listen to the entire room before they spout off their expert opinion from their many months of experience or from a recent podcast they consumed. I encourage them to be patient and humble.

It all depends on the leader.

But what do you do if you serve under a leader who is not very empowering, or at least not very organized? How do you know when to step up and take responsibility even when it’s not necessarily in your job description? Or how do you know when to fight your instincts to lead and allow the senior leader (and perhaps the entire team) to struggle or even fail?

As with most things in life, it all depends on the situation. There is no magic bullet. But here’s my advice: when in doubt, it’s always better to be active than to be passive.

Like I said, if you’re the over-zealous, over-confident type, a wise leader will let you know. Hopefully, the feedback will be constructive and gracious, but sometimes it won’t be. How we respond to moment like these will shape us as leaders.

If you want to hear more about “How to Act Like a Leader,” check out this new video from our Multiplication Challenge video series.

Blog / Leadership

New Video Series: The Multiplication Challenge

September 6, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 5.18.47 PM

Recently, I had the privilege of discussing my latest book, The Multiplication Challenge, with my son and coauthor William Murrell and young leaders in various positions across Every Nation. It was a great opportunity to hear from them and discuss some of the challenges of developing leaders.

This video is the first in a series of six videos that follows our discussion of the first few chapters of The Multiplication Challenge.

Whether you’re a church planter, pastor, campus missionary, or administrative professional, I pray and hope these videos inspire you to develop as a leader, multiply leaders, and solve your leadership shortage.

I would love to hear your leadership questions, so please share them with me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

Blog / Missions

How We Should Respond to Natural Disasters

August 31, 2017
Flooding in Houston, Texas.

Flooding in Houston, Texas.

HONOLULU—This past weekend, tropical storm Harvey hit the Gulf Coast of the United States, dumping record levels of rain on Louisiana and Texas, including the city of Houston. As a result of the widespread flooding, at least thirty people have died and tens of thousands of people have had to flee their homes.

On the other side of the world, summer monsoon rains have caused devastating floods in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India, killing more than 1,200 people and displacing millions from their homes. At the same moment Houston is under water, so is Mumbai.

Flooding in Mumbai, India.

Flooding in Mumbai, India.

Whenever I hear about natural disasters around the world and see photos of the devastation, I am often at a loss. What can I do from Nashville or Manila (or in this case Honolulu) where I am safe from the storms that are tearing apart cities, homes, and families?

At Every Nation, we often encourage people to pray, give, and go.

If you live in or near one of these cities, in the coming weeks and months, I would recommend volunteering with a Christian relief organization. My sons and I volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse when they helped rebuild homes that had been destroyed during the Nashville flood in 2010. Sometimes, Every Nation churches mobilize our own efforts, as when Typhoon Haiyan struck Tacloban, Philippines in 2013, and other times, we partner with organizations like Samaritan’s Purse.

If you can’t go, I would also encourage you to give, as most people do not have funds or insurance to rebuild their homes and are often reliant on relief organizations or the government to rebuild their homes and livelihoods after the water recedes.

But in this blog, I want to focus on prayer.

How should we pray in situations like these? What should we pray?

Here are three ways we should pray:
1) Pray with sorrow. The loss of life and the devastation to cities and homes is tragic, and it should move us to mourning. Even if we don’t have intimate links with the cities and peoples affected, we should be moved with sorrow because God is moved with sorrow. While it might be easier to move on with our very busy lives without skipping a beat, it is healthy for our souls to pause, think about what has happened, and mourn. Paul calls us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). This is where our prayers should start.

2) Pray with specificity. What should we pray for when there are literally thousands, even millions, of needs and urgent requests? How can we avoid vague prayers that are so general they cover everything—yet ask God for nothing? I tend to focus my prayers on the people or at least churches I know in the region. For example, in Houston, I am praying for Chris Pate and City Life Church; and in South Asia, I am praying for Kevin Menezes and Every Nation Mumbai, as well as our missionaries (who cannot be named) in Bangladesh. I am praying that God would protect their families and homes, as well as give them wisdom as they minister to people who have lost everything and mobilize their churches to serve their communities in the days and months.

3) Pray with hope. When I look at the Bible, I am reminded that God always has redemptive purposes, even after a flood. The devastation grieves Him even more than it grieves us, but He is in the business of bringing new life in the wake of death and hope in the midst of hopelessness. There are many scriptures that remind us of this, but my favorite is Psalm 126,

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy…

So let’s pray.

Pray with sorrow. Pray with specificity. And pray with hope. May your prayers also lead you to give and perhaps go.

Blog / Church / Leadership

How To Talk About Charlottesville

August 14, 2017

 

White nationalists holding a rally on the campus of UVA.

White nationalists holding a rally on the campus of UVA.

WILMORE, KENTUCKY—I have mostly been unplugged from the news and social media for over a week now during my summer residency at Asbury Theological Seminary. However, I thought that this weekend’s events needed comment.

Because of the global nature of my job and the fact that I don’t pastor a local church in North America, I typically avoid commenting on American cultural and political issues. It is important—in fact, vital—for American pastors to engage these topics with wisdom, but this blog is written for pastors and leaders from every nation. I only engage American issues when they have global implications or unique global parallels.

There is much that could be said about the tragic events in Charlottesville this past weekend. We could talk about racism in America (and in the American church); we could talk about the need for multiethnic churches; or we could talk about the centrality of the gospel in racial reconciliation. Back in May, I wrote a series of blogs that addressed these very issues, which are linked in the previous sentence.

So instead of covering that ground again, I want to focus on communication: How we as church leaders should talk, preach, and even tweet about ethnic tension and racial reconciliation in our local contexts—whether we are addressing white nationalism in America, racial tension in southern Africa, or anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.

I am deeply troubled by both the events in Charlottesville and the ugly public discourse surrounding these events. I don’t expect CNN, NPR, or non-Christian bloggers and Instagrammers to get this right, but I do expect more from church leaders.

If we want to honor God, build up the church, and work for the common good, here’s how I think we should communicate (and encourage our emerging leaders to communicate):

1. Be clear about the issue. Now is not the time to be vague. Now is not the time to negotiate your parishioners’ political inclinations. We do not represent a news organization. We do not represent a political party that needs to worry about reelection. So please do not make a vacuous condemnation of “all hate, violence, and bigotry.” Be clear about what is really at stake. Paul was clear in his very public rebuke of Peter that his actions toward the Gentile believers were “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). We should make it abundantly clear that all race-based nationalism, in this case white nationalism, is not only culturally problematic, but antithetical to the gospel.

2. Be clear about the audience. Audience matters. How we address these issues from the pulpit should be different than how we address these issues on social media. Different audiences call for different strategies. Before we say or post anything, we should think about how different groups of people might receive the words we are trying to communicate. While this point is certainly in tension with the point above (about clarity), these ideals are not mutually exclusive. As leaders who are called to speak the truth in love, we should know that there will always be people in our audience who will find the truth offensive. But if we are thoughtful about audience, we will lower the risk of unnecessary friendly fire and potential miscommunication.

3. Be clear about the real enemy. Though it is easy to imagine those five hundred torch-toting white supremacists as the enemy, they aren’t the real enemy. Neither is David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan, Donald Trump, or the alt-right. If we ourselves are not clear on the real enemy, we will inevitably demonize (and dehumanize) people and once again deny the power of the gospel. As Russell Moore so eloquently argues, we need to spend our energy “opposing demons, not demonizing opponents.” For our struggle is not against “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This does not mean that we don’t hold people (especially leaders) to account for their sin. But it does mean is that we should see every human opponent not as an enemy to be defeated but as people to be won over.

Remember that we too were once enemies of God, without hope. But instead of coming to defeat us, Jesus came into the world to redeem us and entrust to us that same ministry of reconciliation. For two great examples of what this looks like in practice, check out this blog from Pastor Adam Mabry of Aletheia Boston and this video from Pastor Brett Fuller of Grace Covenant Church in Virginia.

 

 

Blog / Discipleship

When Jesus Takes Your Lunch

July 31, 2017

Preaching Workshop

NASHVILLE—Last week, I returned from our annual Every Nation Build Conference in Orlando, where pastors, church planters, and campus missionaries from all over North America gathered for a time of fellowship, worship, and vision-building.

For those who couldn’t attend, you can still check out a quick recap video and listen to the messages here. I have many highlights from this year’s conference. One of them was leading the Biblical Preaching workshop with Pastor Brian Taylor of Bethel Cincinnati and Pastor Chris Johnson of Divine Unity Community Church. My good friend and executive director of Every Nation, Kevin York, moderated our session. Brian and Chris are excellent preachers, and I was honored to share the stage with them.

On the last evening of the conference, I preached the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 from John 6. This story is rich with potential for preaching.

You could preach about the contrast between ministering to crowds and making disciples. Jesus did both but prioritized the latter (John 6:2-3). You could preach about how Jesus “tested” Philip to see if he would view the food shortage through the eyes of faith (John 6:5-6). You could preach about signs and wonders and the sad reality that people often follow (even worship) signs rather than realize that the signs are meant to point us to Jesus (John 6:2, 14). You could preach about provision, and how Jesus fed more than 5,000 people with just five loaves and two fish.

However, in my sermon, rather than focusing on the crowds or the disciples, I focused on that young nameless boy whose lunch Jesus used to do a miracle.

Though I have read (and preached) this text many times before, in preparation for my message, I was struck by a phrase that I had never noticed. After Andrew and Philip explain to Jesus how expensive it would be to buy bread for the large crowd, they add that there is a boy with five barley loaves and two fish.

Then John says, “Jesus then took the loaves…” (6:11)

I don’t know if Jesus asked or if the boy offered, but all we know from the text is that Jesus “took” the loaves. Again, the text doesn’t say, but I would be shocked if this boy was the only person out of 5,000 who had brought along some lunch.

So why did Jesus take the loaves from this boy? Is that really fair? How did the boy respond?

If I were him, I might have complained about being treated unfairly. I might have wanted some say over how Jesus and His disciples planned to use this bread and fish. I might have asked that they pay me back after their next fishing trip. I might have been offended and then just walked away.

What do you do when Jesus takes your last loaf?
What do you do when Jesus exerts His will upon your life?
What do you do when Jesus takes something from you without warning and without asking?

Though I had never realized it before, this story is about lordship. If anyone else had taken that boy’s bread and fish, it would have been unjust and self-serving. But because Jesus was the one doing the taking, the end result was blessing and multiplication.

Here’s the point: When Jesus takes your last loaf, it’s not because He needs it. It’s not because He wants to make your life miserable. It’s because He wants to do something in you and through you. He wants to take the natural and do something supernatural. He wants to take your ordinary life and do something extraordinary.

But that only happens when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and allow Him to take from us those things we’d rather hold on to.

Blog / Leadership / Miscellaneous / Missions

Before You Attempt to Do Ministry…

July 10, 2017

Preparation

NASHVILLE—Last week, I had the honor of speaking to a group of Every Nation North America Life Year missionaries who are being sent to Ukraine, Scotland, Spain, and New Zealand. Here’s what I told them to do in order to be successful and faithful missionaries.

1. LEARN. Teaching is part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), but we must learn before we teach. Don’t be that guy with all the answers, especially if you are in a foreign country or an unfamiliar culture. Be a learner first. If we want to learn, we must first study. Successful cross-cultural missionaries study the culture, context, and communications styles of their new world. Then they teach.

2. LEAD. But, what is leadership and and what is the best way to lead in my new context? Too many missionaries (and pastors, church planters, and volunteer ministry leaders) think that serving is a stepping stone to a leadership—that we are supposed to serve so that one day we can lead. That’s exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught. When James and John asked to sit on the right and left of Jesus, they were asking for leadership position and authority. Jesus said they were thinking about leadership like Gentiles (aka people far from God). He then described his view of leadership with two words that James and John would never use to describe leadership: servant and slave. Many are wrongly taught that service is the biblical pathway to leadership. Jesus taught the exact opposite. He taught that leadership is a platform for serving (Mark 10:35-45).  The best missionaries think and act like servants.

3. LOVE. It is common for good people to gradually get to the point where they love the fruit, adventure, and rewards of ministry more than they love God. It never starts that way, but it happens. Some find their way back to their first love, others spend their lives working for God or running from God. Peter denied Jesus three times, then went back to fishing for fish rather than fishing for men. Jesus restored Peter. But notice that Peter’s relationship with Jesus was restored before his ministry was restored. Jesus asked Peter relational questions, then restored his ministry. “Do you love me?… Do you love me?… Do you love me?” Three denials and three chances to express his love. If Peter had denied four times, I think Jesus would have given him four chances to affirm his love. Once the relationship was restored, only then did Jesus recommission Peter to ministry. “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). All ministry should flow out of relationship. Here’s the order: love Jesus, do ministry.

I can’t wait to hear from these missionaries once they are on the field. I know God will do great things for them, in them, and through them. Probably in that order.

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Leadership

Attracting Crowds or Making Disciples?

July 3, 2017

TOKYO AIRPORT — Observing the life of Jesus in the gospels is often an abrupt and painful reality check, especially in our social media saturated do-anything-for-fame ministry culture. I can’t imagine Jesus being obsessed with how many people “liked” his latest pithy post or how many people “friended” or “shared” his content.

His only obsession was to please the Father. We should be likewise obsessed.

Matthew reported that Jesus preached the gospel and healed the sick all over Galilee. (4:23) Because of his preaching and healing “His fame spread” which resulted in even more preaching and healing. (4:24) The predictable result of all this preaching and healing was that “great crowds followed him.” (4:25)

So, Jesus now has fame and crowds. The only thing missing (for modern success) is the fortune. But great fame, a massive following, and financial fortune did not matter to Jesus. And it should not matter to us. But it often does. Even in ministry.

What did Jesus do with his new found fame and huge following? How did he “leverage his platforms” in order to increase his following? How did he alter his “content” to increase his followers? How did he monetize his influence? That’s what we would do, right?

Notice carefully what Jesus did. “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” (Matthew 5:1 ESV)

Two important words: crowds and disciples.

1. “Seeing the CROWDS, he went up to the mountain.” Today when we see crowds in our Sunday service, in our campus ministry, or on social media we think we have succeeded. We must be doing something right and God is must be blessing our efforts. In order to be good stewards of our success, we do everything imaginable to maintain and grow our audience. Our first move is to leverage our platform for growth and influence. Jesus did the opposite. His first move was to walk away from the crowd.

2. “And when he sat down, his DISCIPLES came to him.” Unimpressed with his ever-increasing popularity, Jesus ignored the crowd and ascended the mountain. He traded a massive crowd of adorning followers for a small group of committed disciples. A careful reading of the gospels will reveal that the more crowds followed Jesus, the more he retreated to be alone with the Father and with his disciples.

Every leader of a growing ministry will be faced with an important decision: attract crowds or make disciples. Will we leave the crowds in order to make disciples, or will we allow the demands of the crowd to pull us away from small group discipleship?

Too many pastors and ministry leaders choose the crowds.

The irony of the situation is that very often, the leaders who choose making disciples over attracting crowds actually end up with massive crowds, but not crowds of fawning fickle miracle-seekers, crowds of disciples.

When your ministry starts to grow, choose wisely, my friends.

Blog / Leadership

When Disagreement Is Okay

June 22, 2017

Respectful conversation

MANILA—Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the Every Nation Campus (ENC) national leadership team meeting. After a productive meeting and discussion, I sent out this cryptic tweet:

“LEADERSHIP. Disagreement is ok. Disrespect, dishonor, and disunity is not. #bettertogether #rigorousdebate”

Here’s the story.

One of the conversation topics with our core ENC national leaders was sexual purity and how we should address this crucial cultural (and discipleship) issue on the university campus in the Philippines.

We all agreed that the biblical standards for sexual purity are clear: sex is a gift from God meant to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. If we had found ourselves in disagreement on this fundamental issue, it would not have been good. Unfortunately, some denominations and even campus ministries have had to deal with the fallout of disunity over such fundamental issues. Thankfully, our ENC leaders in the Philippines (and worldwide) are in unity here.

The disagreement came not in our theology of marriage and sexuality, but rather in our practical teaching on dating and relationships.

Some campus leaders and local churches strongly advocated rather strict courtship guidelines, while other leaders proposed a more relaxed approach to dating and relationships—one that encouraged purity but imposed few rules on the dating game.

Some campus leaders argued that a top-down implementation of dating practices for students almost always results in legalism (and weirdness). On the other hand, others argued that with a more relaxed dating model, too many well-meaning young people fall into sexual sin because they do not have the wisdom to put boundaries on their relationships.

The argument over dating practices was long, heated, and ultimately unresolved.

And that’s okay.

Disagreement over core theological issues is a problem within a campus ministry or church-planting movement. But disagreement over the practical implications of theology is natural and even productive—as long as we approach these disagreements with respect and grace towards one another.

Would I prefer that all of our churches and campus ministries in the Philippines approached dating and relationships the same way? Maybe. But on the other hand, there are complex cultural variables on the ground (even within Metro Manila) that cause me to defer to local leaders who understand their context and their people better than I do.

Ultimately, in order for us to disagree and still remain in unity, we must not only be respectful of one another but we must learn to trust each other.

As emerging leaders, we must trust that established leaders are doing their best to lead with wisdom (and may actually be right), even when we strongly disagree with them.

As established leaders, we must trust that the emerging leaders we have empowered are being led by the Holy Spirit (and may actually be right), even if we might do things differently.

In the end, unity is often more about relational trust than intellectual consensus.

Blog / Discipleship / Missions

How to Pray in a Time of Global Terror

June 14, 2017

Terrorism

MANILA—Since I landed in the Philippines last week, the nation has been gripped with the ongoing crisis in the southern island of Mindanao. Islamic militants have taken the city of Marawi and declared allegiance to ISIS. Hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced since the violence began on May 23.

Over the last few weeks, terror attacks have seemed ubiquitous around the world.

The day before Marawi, the Manchester bombing took the lives of twenty-three young people attending a concert. Last week, the London Bridge attack took the lives of eight people and injured another forty-eight when terrorists drove a van into a crowded area and began stabbing random people.

Though less publicized, the Middle East has seen the worst terror attacks of all over the last few weeks, with suicide bombings in Kabul (May 3), Tehran (June 7), and Karbala (June 9), each claiming the lives of dozens of civilians and injuring hundreds more.

How should we as Christians respond to such tragic events, to such evil? How should we pray in a time of global terror?

I have begun praying Psalm 83.

O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against your treasured ones.

These are the first few verses of one of a handful of imprecatory psalms in the Bible—psalms that lament human evil and suffering and ask God to judge the wicked. If, like me, much of your Christian life has been one of relative comfort and safety, imprecatory psalms can be very weird to read, much less pray.

But for Christians who have lived in a war-torn region or who face real persecution, then imprecatory psalms speak directly to their experience in a way that nothing else can. I used to assume that imprecatory psalms were exclusively useful for those in extreme, life-threatening situations. But now, I’m beginning to realize that they are useful for all Christians who are confronted (even secondhand) with the depths of human evil and suffering.

Why? Because imprecatory psalms give us a healthy way to voice our anger, fear, terror, and sense of helplessness in the face of human evil. They give us a way to talk to God—to appeal to His justice, His sovereignty, His mercy—when we have no words of our own. They teach us how to think—and more importantly how to feel—about something like a suicide bombing in Manchester or children being shot by snipers in Marawi.

With the psalmists we can pray of terror groups, like ISIS or Abu Sayyaf, like Psalm 83 shows here:

O my God, make them like the whirling dust,
like chaff before the wind.
As fire consumes the forest,
as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
so may you pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your hurricane!

Yes, it’s biblical to pray that God would bring His terror to the very people who are inflicting terror on others. And it is biblical to pray that God would bring righteous judgement on a group like ISIS.

But as you begin to pray these kinds of prayers, don’t forget that we should hate evil but love sinners. We should hate ISIS and the demonic principalities and powers that animate such wickedness, but we should forgive terrorists and pray that God reveals himself to them.

Even Psalm 83, with all its righteous anger, ends with a redemptive tone:

Fill their faces with shame,
that they may seek your name, O Lord.
Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
let them perish in disgrace
that they may know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.

But does this really happen? Can God’s justice (and eventual mercy) toward the wicked result in some turning to Him?

The short answer is yes. Think about the apostle Paul, who persecuted the church, then had a radical encounter with God on the road to Damascus. Think about the people in our Every Nation family in the Muslim world who were members of al-Qaeda before they met Jesus. Think about own your life before conversion, which was no less worthy of God’s judgment than that of a terrorist.

In his short time on earth, Jesus prayed both imprecatory psalms and prayers of forgiveness towards His enemies. And so should we.