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Riots. What on earth do we do?

London is a mess. Like everyone else I’ve been shocked, saddened, angered, frustrated, watching so many images of violence, destruction, animosity and downright hatred. I was in Tottenham just before the riots broke out on Saturday, and you would never have believed what was about to unfold. Last night you could hear the constant sound of sirens from our flat – it all seemed like something from a movie. I don’t know whether you ever saw that part of Back to the Future when Marty McFly and the Professor journey back to a time that is rife with anarchy and darkness – that’s exactly what it looked like.

I’ve seen a flurry of comments and texts from people expressing all of those emotions and more. They range from ‘Get out of London’ to ‘Let’s get out there and clean up the streets’ and everything in between. To be honest, most of them express something of the powerlessness of the question ‘Why?’

Is all this the fault of the government? What responsibility do the parents of those committing violence have? Have we created so much inequality between rich and poor, that the undercurrents of tension were bound to overflow at some point or other? Do socio-political models indicate that it was all an inevitability?

I’m not going to speculate on any of that, but like everyone else, I’ve been asking those questions and more. It’s left me wondering ‘What on earth should I do as a Christian in response to all this?’

Well, the truth is there’s a myriad of things to do, but I’m just going to leave you with one. Pray.

That will certainly lead to action in due course. There are threatened elderly people that need reassurance; there are financially destitute people that need support; single moms need love and care; young people need to know there is a better way of resolving tension; streets need cleaning; local councils needs to know we’re here to help; local businesses need help getting back on their feet; the police need our cooperation; the church needs mobilising to action; broken glass needs sweeping up; lots of young people need fathering, discipline, love and grace; MPs would value ideas to help communities restore peace and togetherness; community support officers need lots more volunteers.

But if you want to know the best place to start, it’s on your knees (or however you like praying most!) The prayer sermon series earlier this year taught me that. There are moments in time when God seems to bring us to a point where there’s nothing else to do but look to Him. I think it’s one of those humbling moments when I’ve realised this city needs something that I, on my own, can’t provide. No one can, apart from Jesus.

So rather than asking lots of questions, I’m trying to fix my thoughts on the one person who’s got all the answers, and offers genuine hope and healing and restoration. It all sounds a bit cheesy to be honest, but I can’t think of any better place to go. The biggest hindrance to prayer is a lack of understanding about the character of God. If I knew – if I REALLY knew – how powerful he is, and how much he loves London and every single person in it, I’d find my way to my knees more quickly. So before you decide how you’re going to respond to the riots, can I exhort you to start there. God may speak to you about serving, or cleaning, or supporting, or rebuilding, but remember that His power is more effective than your service.

I’ll leave you with the words of one of my favourite hymns to meditate on, and I hope as you pray, you’re filled with hope for our amazing city, rather than despair.

 

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear.

What a privilege to carry,

Everything to God in prayer.

Oh, what peace we often forfeit!

Oh, what needless pain we bear.

All because we do not carry,

Everything to God in prayer.

 

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged;

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful,

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness,

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Are we weak and heavy-laden,

Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Saviour still our refuge,

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do your friends despise, forsake you?

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

In His arms He’ll take and shield you,

You will find a solace there.

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