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How the Psalms Help Us Pray in the Midst of Tragedy

September 14, 2017 8 Comments

How the Psalms Help Us Pray in the Midst of Tragedy

Americans have faced terrible tragedy. With wildfires raging in the west and two hurricanes destroying major cities in the south, natural disasters are destroying people’s homes and livelihoods. The images from the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Harvey can be especially startling. Our hearts go out to the people who face such terrible tragedy.

It can be hard for Christians to understand how to respond to God in such circumstances. We, typically, talk about finding peace or trusting God. We ask people to think about God as a loving God who has a plan for all of us while they’re standing in the flood zone. While these things are true about God, they aren’t particularly helpful at that moment. We need a way to pray to God and to speak about him that fits our experience. How do we respond to God when he brings tragedy?

Communal Lament Psalms

God gives us prayers for all circumstances in the oldest prayerbook of the church, the Psalms. The psalms show us prayers of rejoicing, praise, and every other aspect of the human experience. They even show us how to pray when God brings disaster. Scholars of the psalms call them the communal lament psalms , such as Psalms 44, 60, 74, 80, 85, and 90.

G.  Brook Lester , who literally wrote the book on the Psalms of lament, says that these Psalms have common features. See the example in Psalm 44.

  • A direct address to God (Psalm 44:1)
  • A complain about what God has done (Psalm 44:9-22)
  • A petition to God to fix the problem (Psalm 44:23-26)
  • A statement of trust or description of God’s saving acts in the past (Psalm 44:1-8)
  • A vow to offer public thanksgiving when God responds favorably. This one may be missing, especially in communal lament Psalms (Psalm 44:8)

Psalm 44 describes the actions that God has taken in the past to save Israel. He drove out the nations that lived in Canaan. He protected God’s people, and he established a home for them. He promised to go out and fight with their armies.

Then the psalm turns to the present. God brought disaster and defeat for his people. The nations around them are winning battle after battle, and Israel is a laughingstock. They feel great shame and fear because of what God is doing. Then, they call on God to remember his promises, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?” and “Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!”

How We Can Pray In Tragedy

When churches and cities lay devastated from fire or flood, these psalms can guide us in prayer. Perhaps the easiest way is to pray them as our own prayer. To lead a congregation in singing or speaking the holy prayers God has given us.

But we can also model our prayers after the example God has given us. Here is an example of how we might pray, based on the lament psalms:

Holy God,
You have made us your children through your Son, Jesus Christ. You promise that you are with us, that you protect us, and that you keep us always. But our cities and our homes face terrible destruction. Our churches are flooded or destroyed by wind. Our families have lost everything they had and even lost their lives. Protect us, heavenly Father, with your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, because you have given us your steadfast love through Jesus Christ. Just as you gave him new life after a terrible death, bring comfort to the families who have lost so much. Raise up faithful men and women to come to their aid. Remind us of your love and the peace that you give us through your son Jesus Christ, so the world may see your love in us and rejoice in you as we do. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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8 Responses

JJ Woody
JJ Woody

September 27, 2017

When man (Adam) sinned, he relinquished the power of the air (first heaven) to satan. The Father made man to have dominion and man gave that dominion to satan for a piece of fruit. You can’t bow to the devil and expect Elohim to make everything alright or blame Him when His hand has been lifted from the weather for the current time. As His children, we have the power to rebuke the weather because it is not of God, such as hurricanes etc. We fail to act in our position of Holy authority that the word clearly states we have as children of the most High

Pamela Berkley
Pamela Berkley

September 24, 2017

I forgot to add that these horrific hurricanes, earthquakes and fires that we and the islands have been enduring has certainly brought people together in the eye of all the destruction. We realize that there is a much greater power than man, Our Father God, and our flesh is weak in the eye of a great storm. But when we are faced with the storm and the aftermath, we have the ability to be resilient and gather in God’s name and pray for those who come in harm’s way to be safe and afterwards, get help to those affected!! We send food, water, clothes, diapers, shoes, medicine, just to name a few things. Doctors and nurses, first responders show up. As a nation, we act like God would want us to and we continue with our prayer chains and our fund raising until our people have been restored and not forgotten. So the Psalms help us to pray in these times where words may not come easily to us because of times where there is devastation and fear.

Pamela Berkley
Pamela Berkley

September 24, 2017

I see that we as Christian’s have become, for the first time in my life, not the normal part of our society anymore!! It really makes me sad that I now have to defend my way of worshipping the only one true God and his son, Jesus Christ. With all the chaos going on in this fallen world, there is more and more acts of terror against each other and even against other countries that occurs now. It is frightening to me and I’m sure is against our Father God’s grace and mercy! I think He often must feel that He needs to wake us up and show us who really has the power to make decisions about this world and those who are not following his word. I’m not saying that everyone affected by these awful storms deserved this destruction because it directly affects us all because of the trickle down effect on all of our resources. It certainly has opened our eyes and brought us together as a nation and as a result many prayers and tithes have gone to these people so I hope that He has created a change in everyone’s thought process. That would be to realize that God is in control and we need Him more than ever before in our lives to be loved by Him and Accept and Believe in His son Jesus Christ, for it is by this that we can have eternal life in Heaven! No matter what you have done in the past or how much you have ignored Him, He still will want a relationship with you and will welcome you with open arms if you are willing to Believe and become His Child!! Please do this for yourself!! You’ll Never Regret It!!

Beth Martin
Beth Martin

September 24, 2017

I would like to edit my first comment. I know God is not targeting Texas or Florida, etc., But I do think God is trying to get the world’s attention. We have strayed so far from His Love , Teachings and Commandments and our mortal souls are at stake. He already paid the price for our sins by dying a horrendous death on the cross so that we might have eternal life in Heaven!
Will we embrace our cross, follow him, for the ultimate reward?
He is a compassionate Father who knows we are suffering. He lifts us up! Don’t try to rely on your strength, lean on His Strength. Trust and Hope in Him and do the best you can. He sees you! Let Him comfort you.
I loved you presentation on the Psalms. I hope many people read it!

Paula Green
Paula Green

September 24, 2017

I love the blog because of the descriptions of Psalms. However, God did not cause the disasters…man did. God promised He wouldn’t destroy us through water… which caused the devastation. Cause and effect was water and man… not God. Maybe we should pray that God take a hold of the men who want to play like they are their own god but can never be God. Thanks for listening

Beth Martin
Beth Martin

September 24, 2017

The weather can be out of control due to the first sin which cast us out of the garden of Eden.
God allows these things to happen to remind the children He loves who have forgotten Him that He is Good and we shall not have false God’s in our lives.
He loves us. He wants us to turn back to Him.
He is not picking on Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the many Islands and other countries affected by natural disasters…or maybe He is, I don’t know. But He wants Everybody’s attention! Prayer will not only help you and console you praer can make changes. He is in control no matter what. Trust Him.
Do not be afraid. It is I." Maybe we can see Jesus’hand in each first responder, volunteer, shipment of goods, food and water, a shower, hotel room. God is in all these things and much more.
God bless you all. You are in my heart and prayers. My relatives and friends are in it with you.❤

Carol Ann
Carol Ann

September 24, 2017

Great prayer Psalm 44. I was unaware of this Psalm. Thank you.

Gay Ford
Gay Ford

September 23, 2017

Yes, when the storms in our lives prevail because we are in a fallen World as well as fallen creatures, we do Pray these Precious Ps. Solomon said," Nothing New under the Sun, what has been, will Be!" This is HIS Wake- up call to HIS children as HE always Works in HIS World! Heb. 13:8….. HE Tryly is the SAME!

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