I love the news. Like my black coffee, I like it unadorned, straightforward, and hot. So I begin my day with the local morning show, catch the national evening news, then top off the day with Nightline. I read a daily newspaper and two weekly local papers as well as the Sunday edition. My Internet homepage is programmed to report world and national news headlines, and my car radio is tuned to my favorite news station.
Recently, though, my media consumption became a concern. I began suffering from higher levels of anxiety, headaches, and insomnia. After a thorough exam to rule out physical causes, my physician suggested all my devotion to world events was taking its toll. I realized I was paying more attention to the problems of the world than to the Problem Solver I served!
Then I read an article on intercessory prayer that highlighted a prayer group that meets weekly in a nursing home to pray through the newspaper. The members share clippings they collect through the week and pray for the people and events in the articles.
Suddenly my avid interest in the news no longer seems like a condition, but a calling. Being an informed Christian is no longer an end in itself, but a means by which I can serve through prayer. If you're a similarly afflicted newshound, consider that God may be calling you to regular intercession for the world. Here are some guidelines to help you.
1. Spend more time in God's Word and prayer than in the news media. My day now begins and ends with the Bible, not the daily headlines. This helps me remember it doesn't all depend on me but on God! It also provides a regular check-up to keep things in perspective. God's Word helps me remember that while headlines come and go, God's truth is everlasting. If I've got time to read the paper and watch the news but haven't spent time in God's Word, my priorities are confused.
2. Spend a portion of the television newscast praying for people and daily events. I still tune in to the local and national news, but I keep my Bible, a globe, and information regarding the missionary work in each country handy. (Two excellent sources of prayer info for every country are Operation World by Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, or the Personal Prayer Diary, published by Youth With A Mission.) I jot notes on potential prayer items and switch off the television after the major stories and the weather. I choose to avoid the second half where reports often are sensationalized spin on the health or science news of the day. I get the same reports from the newspaper where I can focus on the facts apart from the emotionally charged impact of video news.
Spending the rest of that half-hour in prayer serves several purposes. Praying immediately gives God an opportunity to inform my opinions before I form them. I consult with him as to what should and shouldn't concern me. Interceding on the spot means the items are fresh on my mind and won't be forgotten later.
3. Use the daily newspaper to pray for and develop a love for your community. Several times a week, I pray through the items in the newspaper. This can mean prayer for politicians and governments or for victims of earthquakes and landslides. I pray for firefighters, police officers, criminals, and victims alike. Prayer may involve requests for healing for accident victims or wisdom for local teachers and administrators of the public schools. I've prayed for the families of those listed in the obituaries—for comfort and healing. Other times my prayers focus on the poor and the homeless or the teens of my community.
At one Christian school, news items are brought up regularly during morning staff devotions. Individuals introduce headlines from the local paper —an injured toddler in critical condition or the family of a soldier who has been killed in Iraq—to the group for prayer.
Praying through the newspaper has become an exciting opportunity to grow in love for my community and to open myself to the possibility God may wish to use me as an answer to some of these prayers. Besides praying, I've taken actions ranging from personally encouraging someone I know to writing editorials expressing the Christian view on a local issue.
4. Resist letting the news shape your worldview. An interesting exercise on any given day is to ask myself how God might have laid out the newspaper. Would that movie star's love life be on the front page, or would the deaths of thousands in an earthquake overseas have topped the news instead? It's funny how often the world's priorities slip in and become ours.
I became sensitive to this issue through my friend, a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators. On furlough in the United States, her heart remained with friends living in the war-torn Congo. Barb was frustrated that U.S. news coverage of this catastrophic event often was relegated to a small item on a back page.
Now when I read the paper, I ask myself how an event affects missionary work in that area. Does it impact the church in that country? Will persecuted Christians suffer more because of this event? Will Bible translation work be interrupted? Or does this event open a door for Christian workers to come into a closed country and share the gospel?
Most mission agencies have websites where information is available for the countries in which they work. Numerous websites contain information on praying for the world, including www.operationworld.org, www.24-7prayer.com, or www.persecution.com.
5. Take an occasional media fast. This helps keep my media habits in check and provides a regular period of refreshment. Like a Sabbath rest, it's a good reminder that I don't make the world spin, God does.
An exciting benefit of being relatively uninformed during these periods is that I'm more likely to listen to other people relay the events and their opinions before I share my own. It's opened my ears to opportunities I would have missed when I was always "in the know" and ready with an answer. I've benefited from listening both to seekers and believers share perspectives that have enriched my own.
I frequently remind myself that God exhorts me to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15b). But he doesn't say I have to have an answer for everything!
There are many ways to share your news-based prayer ministry with others. Offer to pray through the news with an elderly or shut-in friend. Pray through the news with your older children. Help them develop the habit of intercession and teach them about God's work in the world (Window on the World, by Daphne Spraggett with Jill Johnstone, is designed for family prayer on world issues). Start a group that meets to pray through the news. The perspective of others will expand your own.
You can also use the sections of the Sunday paper as guidelines for prayer: When you read the comics, ask God to make you a joyful person; let the home section remind you to pray for the homeless; let the editorials prompt you to ask God to inform your opinions.
You don't have to be a recovering news junkie like me to begin channeling the news you ingest into prayer action. Waking up to the prayer potential of the news helps me sleep much better at night!
Lori Roeleveld, a freelance writer, lives with her family in Rhode Island.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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