Psalm 55:17 says, “Morning, noon, and night I cry out in my distress, and the LORD hears my voice.” And, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 reminds us to, “Never stop praying.” So, when I read comments after the Texas Church tragedy that said, “Enough with the ‘thoughts and prayers already,’” and “prayers and thoughts don’t seem to be working,” it made me stop and think about how I would respond to someone who said, “They were praying when it happened. They don’t need our prayers.” Words such as these sound particularly irreverent for those of us who know that God wants our trust in the good times, and especially in the bad times. We know that when we, His children, are suffering in pain and grieving, God is weeping with us. He is not absent. He is faithful and is there with us because life matters to God, and senseless loss of life matters to God because He created that life.
It is true that we don’t always understand why things happen the way they do. But we know that the Lord is with us always and He wants us to lean in to Him and pray, especially in times of tragedy. Prayer is how we communicate with our God. Jesus Himself prayed to the Father as He was dying on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished.” John 19:30, and finally, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46. In 1 Samuel 30, when David and his men returned from battle to find their city burned and their wives and children taken captive, ‘they raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep’. And then, after his time of lamenting, David did not despair, but turned to God in prayer and worship and God strengthened him and comforted him.
Praying for help during painful times is very common in the Bible and is called, ‘lamentation.’ A prayer of lamentation expresses our confusion and suffering when we are faced with tragedies and death. To be sure, a prayer of lamentation is not a lack of faith, but an act of faith. When we turn to the Lord in times of chaos, we’re in pain, we can’t think clearly, we have doubts and we are angry. We are broken, but that prayer is the very first step of our recovery. John tells us in 1 John 5:14,” And this is the confidence that we have before Him: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us”. There is so much we want to say to God at a time like this. For those who perished we pray that they find rest in the Hands of God, for the injured, healing, for the surviving family members and friend, comfort and strength, and for all of us who are praying we want Him to know how thankful we are that He is always with us, that He cares deeply and weeps with us over senseless tragedy. We also pray that He would pierce the darkness of those hearts that would repent and come to accept Christ. God is never the author of evil, and suffering never has the last word, God does.
In my own experience with tragedy, I know that if I had turned away from God in my grief that I would not have survived. God understood my suffering and waited with outstretched arms for me to turn to Him in my sorrow and pain. I know firsthand that through my own prayers and the prayers of the countless number of people who heard my story, that God took my worst suffering and in His time wove it for good into the fabric of my life. For that, I am truly grateful. I love the above verse from 1 John, because we don’t even need to wait for an answer to our prayer. Just knowing that our God is listening and hearing our every word brings us such great peace. So, let’s not be distracted by those who disagree with our praying. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for God can be trusted to keep His promises.” Hebrews 10:23. To turn our face to God in the aftermath of tragedy is to turn our back on the power of evil, and to place our trust and hope in the One who can use even the greatest of tragedies for good.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7.
(photo of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Heinrich Hoffman)