A Christmastime Prayer for the Hostages. And For Us.
A nephew of one of the Hamas hostages said his aunt “‘had to adjust to the sunlight’ because she had been in darkness for weeks. ‘She was in complete darkness, … completely cut off from the outside world.'”
Imagine living in total darkness, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 7 weeks — 50 days for the now-released hostages, 82 days and counting for those still in captivity. Think what you were doing on October 7th. Now think of erasing all you’ve done since then. All that work, vacation, time with family and friends, church fellowship, football, Thanksgiving, Christmas prep — all those moments you’ve held dear.
Imagine instead sitting and sleeping in plastic chairs or benches. In the dark. All that time. In some cases alone. In others, crowded together with strangers and ordered to keep quiet. One meal of rice and bread a day. Knocking on the door when you need to go to the restroom. Waiting hours until you are taken.
Isolation. Darkness. Deprivation.
I think about the hostages often. Grieve for them. Plead to God for their release. And for their spiritual deliverance. Especially here at Christmas and Hanukkah.
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” We can pray for God to shine his light in the hostages’ darkness.
Historically, God has done great work on behalf of captives in darkness…
“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the [darkness, isolation and deprivation of the] belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice… ‘I am driven away from your sight; Yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever…”
I think of the hostages who described walking down, down, into a vast network of tunnels further and further below the surface of Gaza. Many of them had just seen their spouses, children or loved ones murdered or raped before their eyes. Traumatized. Grieving. Descending into emotional depths of shock and terror.
Jonah shows us how we can pray that God would deliver them from the pit.
“…yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”
We can pray that God would turn the hostages’ thoughts and hearts to him. That they would “…seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.” Even deep underground in the dark. That they would discover that “he is actually not far from each one of us.”
From Jonah again, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
God is always calling us to lay down our idols, the things we treasure more than God, and treasure him above all. He alone can save us–not our families or work, our bank accounts or social approval. To ignore him or, because of our pain and loss, get angry and turn our back on him, is to forsake any hope of knowing and receiving his steadfast, life-giving love.
Hebrews 11 tells us, “…whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” We can pray that the hostages would believe that God exists, that he is good, that he will reward them with the comfort of his steadfast love as they turn in faith to him.
Jonah knew: if he lived or died, God’s love was his only hope.
So we can pray that in the darkness God would turn their hearts toward his steadfast love.
I have known decades of pain and loss from rheumatoid arthritis. But my bedrock in darkness has always been: “How could I walk away from God? ‘Only you have the words of eternal life.’”
And when I think of Jesus Messiah, dying on the cross, sacrificing himself for me, I confess “Only you have died to set me free from sin and death, only you have the perfect, steadfast love that we all desperately need!” We can pray that God will capture the hostages and their families’ hearts with the good news of God’s love for them in Jesus.
From Jonah, “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
There are many miracles in this story: A raging storm blows up. Jonah is chosen by lot as the cause. When Jonah is thrown overboard the storm is quieted. God prepared a big fish to swallow Jonah. Then it carries him back to Palestine, a three day trip, and throws him up on the beach. Many will say that was the big miracle!
But I believe this one is bigger: Jonah was mad at God and determined to run away. But his heart was miraculously melted. He was able to thank God for his salvation, acknowledging that God is in control, and vowed his obedience.
We can pray for God’s miraculous work in their hearts and miraculous work to deliver them alive and unharmed
Salvation belongs to you, God. You can deliver the hostages. When we are captive in darkness, you can deliver us. Help us turn to you with thankful hearts and follow you.
And if not, if our circumstances remain hard, dark, isolated, even at Christmas or Hanukkah … please cover us in your steadfast love. Make us free in your love, free to love you and others. And know the deep, deep joy loving well brings.
“And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”
Lael Arrington is a national speaker and author of four books — most recently, Faith and Culture: The Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith.