I’ve been asking the Lord recently about what He has called me to do and be in this time of climate and ecological emergency, where so many species are threatened with extinction, and the climate is warming at a frighteningly accelerated rate.
While some of us as believers may be aware of our calling to be stewards of His creation (Genesis 1:28 and 2:15, Jeremiah 2:7, Deuternomony 11:12), it’s hard to think of what we as individuals can really achieve when governments (such as the UK’s) and corporations are the ‘powers that be’ currently reversing net-zero goals and continuing to promote Earth- and nature-destroying fossil fuels while supposedly prioritising growthism and the economy. Do we just pray, or do we get involved as activists in local or national and global campaigns, such as petitioning for the UK government to pass the Climate and Ecology Bill? Are we to allow fear of what is coming to affect us, or do we remain hopeful, trusting God to deliver us from such a time of intense tribulation forecast to come to the Earth, both by most scientists and the Book of Revelation?
I’ve believed all my life that we are living in the last days, which Jesus describes as a time of great difficulty on the Earth, with the roaring and tossing seas perplexing many (Luke 21:25) and bringing great distress to its peoples, particularly those who are more vulnerable such as nursing mothers with small children (Luke 21:23). The latter is one reason I have never sought to have children of my own, though of course I care deeply about my stepgrandchildren and their futures, and about the futures of all children currently being brought into the world (global population has now reached 8 billion, according to Worldometer stats).
During a small-group discussion at a local ‘Community and Climate Cafe’ in High Wycombe on Thursday 27 October, where I was reflecting on articles I had just read about how the climate crisis is impacting Svalbard’s Longyearben population – the Earth’s northernmost region; here, scientists say, the Earth is currently warming six times faster than anywhere on the planet, greatly affecting local residents – and the current threat of what other scientists have warned is a coming insect apocalypse, I began feeling a deep sense of grief and loss about the impacts on this beautiful planet God created with the intent of supplying all we need to survive, as well as endless unique wonders to marvel at and praise Him for.
As I meditated on this, I was reminded that God once told me many years ago when I worked as a missionary-in training with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) that I was appointed to be a “mourner in His courts”, to serve as an intercessor. I sensed He was telling me that mourning and intercession are what I am called to do now in response to the climate and ecological emergency.
But what does this really mean, and how can I – or any other Christian or climate-concerned person who also feels called to respond in this way – apply it?
Why mourning – and what does it mean at this time?
Perhaps the reason Jesus said those who mourn are “blessed” – or happy – means that even when we are expressing or sharing a sense of grief and loss, of pouring out our hearts before God, we can know the joy of being close to His heart and concerns. Or perhaps there is some other kind of ‘reward’ involved in the act of mourning?
In the days of kings David, Solomon and other kings of ancient Israel, as reflected in Amos 5:16, there was such a thing as professional mourners, as distinct from actual family members or relatives, whose job it was to share the king’s griefs by weeping together with him. They were actually paid to go to a burial and cry and wail loudly, ripping their clothes, tearing their hair and scratching their faces. The greater the significance of the deceased, the more professional mourners were employed; this number helped establish the status of the person(s) being mourned, according to Psychology Today.
Apparently, this same custom has existed in other ancient cultures, eg China, Egypt, Rome and across the Middle East for over 2,000 years; even today, you can still use a service called ‘Rent-a-Mourner’ in Essex, UK and other locations across the world. Traditionally, such a role did not involve men, largely as not only were women better at expressing emotions, but also because of various stigmas associated with men weeping; today, of course, many of these sexual barriers no longer exist.
Yet the idea behind paying for a mourning service is that it provides a vehicle for expressing deep emotions – seen as truly appropriate – which perhaps others are either fundamentally unable or unwilling to express. But why is it important to do this?
According to US wellbeing site griefrecoveryhouston.com, “Grieving is a process that requires acknowledging our feelings. It is going to hurt. There’s no way to avoid that pain, and ignoring it will just make it worse. The way we feel has a direct impact on our mental and physical health, so it’s important to acknowledge our feelings instead of burying them away.” With the amount of outright climate denialism around, and so many not wishing to acknowledge or deal with the kinds of bleak scenarios presented in report findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and others, it seems clear someone needs to process and express grief and concern about what is happening to our planet.
Jesus said very plainly that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without His Father knowing (and presumably caring deeply) about it (Matthew 10:29). Considering some 49% of bird species are declining, with one in eight threatened with extinction, and at least 187 specied are confirmed or expected to have become extinct, according to The State of the World’s Birds report by BirdLifeInternational and highlighted in a recent Guardian article, report, surely that’s a LOT of birds God both knows and cares about. Shouldn’t we care too, then, as His followers? And how can be best respond – particularly if we don’t agree with the more radical tactics used by climate activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion?
The primacy of prayer
Well, apart from feeling and expressing grief at the rapid loss of birds and other species God created, the best avenue for positively channelling grief is prayer and intercession. Whether we believe we are actually in or nearing the last days, there are many prophecies in God’s word that describe the destruction of the Earth, of a third of it being utterly destroyed and / or burned up.
Accordingly, there are two responses we should make to such imminent prophesied disasters: 1) prophetic intercession, or praying as led and prompted by the Holy Spirit; and 2) fulfilling the Great Commission. But what actually is intercession?
The verb ‘intercede’ literally means “to come between parties or act as a mediator or advocate”, according to the Collins dictionary. It is also described as:
“Waiting before God to hear or receive His burden, His word, His concern, His vision or HIs promises, then responding back to the Lord and/or to the people with appropriate actions or instructions. When operating in prophetic intercession, there may be times of weeping or travailing. Sometimes one may experience pain in his/her body. There are burdens given for an immediate response and there are others you’ll carry with you over a period of time. When you have the heart of God, you’ll begin to experience brokenness, and your heart [will] begin to connect to the purposes of God’s heart (Luke 2:36).” — “Prophetic Intercession”, a 2016 article by Ora Holloway on ignitingthefireprayer.com.
According to this, the work of an intercessor can be quite challenging – even physically demanding. While we may not all feel or be practically up to such prolonged intercessory prayer and/or fasting, however, we can certainly pray regularly – indeed, even praying the Lord’s prayer (“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in Earth as it is in Heaven”) is a kind of prophetic intercession.
In my case, I am grateful to join an online prayer group on Facebook three times a week, which often remembers to pray for our planet and the world’s leaders as they make decisions that will impact it. As a writer, I also frequently express my grief and prayer in writing poetry and messages like this (I have a plaque in my garden that reminds me daily that “All poetry is prayer”). So such prayer and intercession need not be lengthy, merely consistent; all we need to do is to transmit what we read or hear in the news on a daily basis to God in prayer – that is infinitely more effective and more of a truly faith-full response than allowing yourself to wallow in despair, fear, anxiety or negativity!
“Doing our bit”
After a few failed efforts to persuade various individuals in my main church (I attend two; one is a small local Anglican church, the other a very large, non-denominational charismatic New Frontiers church in the centre of High Wycombe – but this only applies to the latter), I realise my perspective and response to climate change may not be shared by all Christians.
However, ultimately, it is God to whom I will answer about how I have responded to His word, His calling on my life and whether I have fulfilled it – not human church leaders who may or may not be supportive of or agree with my sense of urgency about this. If God Himself has called me to mourn and intercede for His precious creation, who am I to argue?
There was another point in time during my 20s, not long after I had embraced the gospel and been born again quite dramatically, where I believed that the Great Commission (to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” [Mark 16:15]) applied to every single person in church, and therefore everyone should be actively involved in missions – whether to Jerusalem (your immediate environs), Judea (your neighbouring areas) or the uttermost ends of the Earth (the still-unreached peoples – or some 6,825 ethnic or people groups who have yet to hear the gospel – organisations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators prioritise).
Of course, most Christians are faithful in sharing the gospel with their immediate friends, families and work colleagues, etc, but very few seem to be aware of the above statistics about the unreached – nor are many aware of the current alarming statistics re climate change impacts and biodiversity loss, which I cannot help being aware of as a journalist. While I now agree that perhaps not all are called to “go into all the world and preach the gospel”, as in further-flung, unreached nations, we are surely all called to “do our bit” by “being ready to give an account of the hope that is within” us (1 Peter 3:15).
And so, I believe, as Christians we should all also “do our bit” by being faithful to pray for His creation in this time of the Earth’s great suffering and loss. We do not really know how much time we all have left as individuals, or even as a species on a planet some believe may soon become uninhabitable if present global warming thresholds continue; surely, at this time of climate and ecological emergency, the first place we as Christians should be is on our knees.