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How to pray for a world in turmoil

Shock. Sadness. Just grief. In the words of a recent Christian song:

Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)

Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)

But do you know that all the dark won't stop the light from getting through? (We do)

Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

Romans 8 anticipates that our response to a broken world such as the one we are in is to intuitively sense our need to pray. However, it also says that there will be times when we struggle to know what to pray. Waking up today to the news of another horrific shooting has certainly made today one of those times. Here are three thoughts that have helped give some direction to my own prayers.

1. Be still and let the Spirit intercede.

Romans 8 tells us that all of creation is groaning, sighing, grieving over how broken it has become through the presence and effect of sin (v.22). We, as the world’s chief inhabitants, groan along with it (v.23). It’s hard, sometimes, to put those groanings into words and even know what to ask for. The truth is, Scripture acknowledges that. In a broken and hurting world, there will be times when we simply do not know what to ask for (v.26). In those moments, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit knows exactly what we need, knows exactly what the will of God is, and thus prays effectively for us.

While we don’t know exactly what the Spirit’s ‘prayer requests’ are, we do know the objective of every one of His prayers for us. His goal is the faith, growth and glorification of his children while they wait for the coming redemption. I don’t know how God will use the tragic events at the Robb Elementary School to do that, but the Holy Spirit does. I know that right now He is praying for them as well as for you and I and not one of his prayers will be left unanswered.

Of course, that does not completely absolve us of our obligation to pray altogether. When the mental strength returns and enables it, pray scripture.

2. Pray Scripture.

Perhaps the words that seem most appropriate are like those of Habakkuk:

“How long shall I cry and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me…..” (Habakkuk 1:1-3)

Of course, we need to be careful when praying God’s words back to him to pray God’s point back to him too. That means understanding that Habakkuk 1 doesn’t stand in isolation from Habakkuk 4 where the prophet righteously concludes:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 4:17-19)

3. Pray what you would want prayed for you.

When news breaks of tragedies like the horrific event in Uvaldi yesterday (to which we could add the 20+ slain in a Mexican cartel shootout that same day, the men and women of color targeted in Buffalo, the millions of families scarred by war in Ukraine and the families grieving over loved ones lost to COVID), we would do well to stop and consider Jesus’ words:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Lk. 6:31)

Because of your own experiences of grief, some of you may understand or imagine better than I can. As I look in the faces of my own children and imagine experiencing the heartbreak that too many fathers and mothers throughout history have experienced, I can imagine needing comfort beyond words, physical strength, hope, restful sleep, financial aid for funeral arrangements, grace to forgive and avoid bitterness, and love that continues to serve those in the family who remain. They’ll need support that lasts longer than the news coverage, and peace that replaces worry/anxiety to name just a few things. We may not be able to supply any of these things, but we can ask God to.

For the past three months, the agony of Ukraine has been a somewhat distant reality. Buffalo, New York is hundreds of miles away. Yesterday morning, tragedy seemed far away from Texas too, but by mid-afternoon, it had entered the door of many homes there. Tomorrow, it may be ours to share. Jesus described our neighbor as the one who needs us, not necessarily the person next door. He also instructs us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). For these reasons, I offer these suggestions for how you might pray for our neighbors in need both today and until our groaning is silenced by the renewal that Christ has promised.

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