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Ramadan is well underway with all its intensity and contradictions. Muslims who take their faith seriously will fast from before dawn to after sundown. Their fast also means not drinking any liquids. Not eating during the day is one thing, but not drinking when desert lands are scorching hot—now that is really sacrificial! (The timing of Ramadan is calculated by the lunar month, so that means that it moves forward a few weeks each calendar year. In recent years it has fallen at the hottest time of the year, but now it is moving towards cooler months.) On the other hand, the Ramadan fast signals the time of the year when more food is purchased and consumed in Muslim lands than any other time of the year. So, although fasting is a sacrifice, the hours of the night are often marked by gorging on rich foods.
Lest Christians become judgmental, we can remember that we have turned Christmas into a season of feasting and drinking. It seems to be a characteristic of human nature that religious sacrifice is usually paired with over-indulgence.
For the past 25 years or so, Ramadan has also been marked by millions of Christians praying for Muslims to come to know who Jesus really is. Though they revere Him as a great prophet, it usually needs a spiritual encounter with Him for Muslims to know Him as the Son of God. Researchers have confirmed that the Ramadan prayer commitment has coincided with an unprecedented number of Muslims turning to Christ. The majority of those seem to turn to faith in Jesus because of a dream or a vision or some other supernatural event in their lives.
A BUS RIDE THAT CHANGED HISTORY
It started with a very slow bus ride across the Sinai Desert. I was a member of a group of about 15 Christian mission leaders who were meeting in Egypt. We were from all around the world and we generally moved our regular meetings from one continent to another. We had planned to meet in Cairo with Egyptian Christian leaders and then to travel to the Red Sea for our last few days together.
The bus that arrived to take us across the Sinai turned out to be small and under-powered, so all our luggage had to go on the roof rack. On that particular day, a very strong wind from the east was blowing across the desert, so we ended up fighting an unrelenting headwind all day. (At one point the wind was so strong that it broke the restraints and a few suitcases, including mine, were scattered across the desert. I found myself sprinting across the desert to retrieve underwear, socks and various bits as the wind attempted to blow them back to Cairo. Among the bits was my treasured and irreplaceable travel alarm/filter coffee maker. It took quite a while for me to forgive the driver who failed to adequately secure my luggage!) Since the bus was small and seriously underpowered, progress was frustratingly slow and we decided to work through some of the agenda items for the business part of our time together. It must be said that, like so many meetings of Christians, we always planned worship and prayer into our times together, but the business agenda seemed to expand and take up the vast majority of our available time.
This time it was different. No one could be heard in the noisy little bus unless they had the microphone that was usually used by the guide. Because of that, most of the usual jokes and other interruptions were excluded. It seemed almost miraculous that we had dealt with all our business by the time we reached our destination. What a surprise! We were left with the best part of three days with no agenda.
So we worshipped together and asked the Lord what He wanted us to do. It was so clear to the group that God had worked in our circumstances to give us time to pray for the Middle East.
GOD SPEAKS WHEN WE LISTEN
There were about 15 of us and we were together in unity and prayer for Jews, Arabs and other Muslims. The Spirit dealt with us about our attitudes—our tendency to take sides in the disputes of the Middle East. We made a commitment to be “two-eyed”—seeing both sides of the conflicts, especially the deadly hatred between Jews and Arabs. In principle, we all knew that God loves people without regard to race or gender or ethnicity or nationality, but in practice we often strayed from that divine plumb line.
A COVENANT ON THE THIRD DAY
For many of us in that group, the Muslim world was both overwhelmingly large and discouragingly unresponsive to the Gospel. But God called us to be willing to give our lives, as He directed us, to reach Muslims and Jews. To mark that challenge from the Holy Spirit, we went a few miles inland into the Sinai and then began to gather large rocks. We made a pile of rocks like a pyramid and then stood around it in a circle and solemnly declared that we, and our families, were available to God to reach those who seemed to be so far away from knowing the true Jesus.
OUR LIVES WERE NEVER THE SAME
We had no idea how the Lord might respond to our commitment, but we knew He was calling us to it. Much came from our agreement with God. For me, it confirmed that I was to go ahead with the Reconciliation Walk in the late 1990s. That was an astounding, life-changing, perspective-shaping event over three years, from late 1995 to mid-1999.
All of us knew that we were to pray for Muslims and my dear friend, Floyd McClung took a lead in a project to pray during the Ramadan fast each year. With his staff and his global network of friends, he produced the first 30-Days Prayer booklet for the following year. Since then, the initiative has grown far beyond our expectations, but more importantly, the seemingly impenetrable barrier keeping Muslims from knowing who Jesus really is began to crumble.
UNPRECEDENTED PEOPLE MOVEMENTS
Dr David Garrison’s extensive research demonstrates that, prior to about 1992, there were virtually no large movements of Muslim-background people into faith in Jesus, but since then there have been scores of such people movements. (He used a parameter of more than 1000 people from any particular group.) AND, the momentum is growing each year. Prayer really does change things!
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE JEWS?
During those three days in 1992, we prayed extensively about both Jews and Arabs and Muslims in general. The Lord clearly spoke to us to make our commitments to be two-eyed and to be available to reach Muslims and to get the 30 Days prayer movement going. It was clearly His initiative and His time.
Since then I have been asked from time to time: “Why don’t we have a similar annual season of prayer for Jews?” My usual reply is, “Great idea! If you have that on your heart, you should do it.” Floyd had a clear Word from God to encourage prayer during Ramadan. There is no way it could have become what it has, except that it was God’s initiative in God’s time.
More prayer is also needed for Jews. Who is God speaking to about that? How does he want it done? All I know is that His heart for the Jews is one of unrelenting love.
Recently, we have been in another season of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis and most of the press reports are very critical of Israel, while a few news outlets are more pro-Israel. The conflict, the photos, the reports all provoke us to take sides—to become one-eyed. I will always remember the depth of God’s dealing with us in the Sinai and I recommit myself to pray and to hold fiercely to vision from both eyes!
It is not too late to order 30 Days of Prayer booklets. Information is available at: