Prayer in the Midst of Injustice and Destruction
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11 ESV)
I am writing this early on Sunday morning after a restless night. Like you, I spent the night following the news of protests and eventual riots in our city of La Mesa. This is a city in which many of us in our church live and work, and in which all of us worship. This makes the events particularly heartbreaking for all of us.
Also, like you, I have struggled with what to say, and often the best I have been able to do is exclaim, “I can’t believe this!” In our modern world we are often expected to know exactly what to say at a moment’s notice about events that are complex and chaotic. While it is vital and important to pursue wise speech in the midst of these events, one thing we often overlook is how we speak to our God. If we are honest, we may struggle even more with what to say to God during times like these. How do we pray? What do I say to God other than, “Please bring peace!” As Christians, we will be better equipped to speak to others about these events if we are continually praying to our God.
But how do we pray in the midst of chaotic and confusing times? How do we speak to God when we are devastated by current events, confused by injustice, and aghast at the fallen nature of our world? While there are many things we can, and should, speak to the Lord about in prayer during these times, here are a few things to help us in the immediate presence of these events.
1. Speak to the Lord.
Don’t stop speaking to the Lord! Pray, even if you don’t know how to pray. Pray, even if you don’t understand current events. Pray, even if you don’t know how to articulate your thoughts and emotions. Pray, even if the world tells you that prayer is equivalent to passivity in the face of evil. Pray at all times (Ephesians 6:18)! As those who trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and intercedes for us with groans too deep for words when we struggle to know how to pray (Romans 8:26).
2. Speak of your sorrow and confusion to the Lord.
Prayers of lament are often the starting point for God’s people in the midst of sin, destruction, and injustice. Prayers of lament are how we, as God’s people, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Prayers of lament are how we mourn the brokenness of our earthly home. Prayers of lament are expressions of our fear and sorrow to a God who bends his ear to his people. Prayers of lament are one way in which Christians facing injustice trust in the God who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). Prayers of lament are how we can give voice to pain that is complicated and chaotic.
Here is just one example of a lament for us to pray during this time:
“By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:8–11 ESV)
Look at how this passage gives voice to what we are feeling, but also directs us to our God:
The steadfast love of the Lord, and the song which accompanies this reality, is with us day and night. Whether we are aghast at injustice taking place in the harsh light of day, or fearful of what the night will bring, the steadfast Love of the Lord is with us, and we can sing of this love day and night.
We can voice our confusion to the Lord as we live in this restless world. Where is the Lord in these nights of chaos? Has he forgotten his people? Where is the Lord in the midst of hateful actions and words? Has the Lord left us? Bringing these questions before the Lord gives voice to our cries, but also drives us to answer these questions with the truth of Scripture.
The world will see our hope as pointless and ineffective. The world will say, “Where is your God?” The world will think that prayer is weak and ineffective while their raging is potent and powerful. We know, however, that while the nations rage, the Lord sits in heaven ruling, reigning, and sovereignly working through the prayers of his people. God forbid we ever think that the prayerful words and cries of the Lord’s people fall dead to the ground! The simple, humble, and breathless prayers of God’s people are louder than a thousand earthly screams.
The days of praise are coming! Laments turn our hope to the Lord as we wait for the day when we will praise him for all eternity. A day is coming when sing to our God with one voice for all of eternity. This is not wishful thinking. The full and complete establishment of God’s Kingdom is more certain than the rising of the sun. Christ’s return is as certain as the historical reality of his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
We are all grieved because La Mesa is our home: the home where we live, the home where we work, or the home where we worship. It breaks our hearts to see injustice and destruction in a place we consider (at least in some sense) to be our home. But praise be to God that neither La Mesa, nor even this world, is our true and final home. We belong to a heavenly home where evil and injustice cannot enter, where destruction will be a distant memory, and where evil and suffering will not have even the slightest of footholds. Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20)!