I first wrote this blog post in 2013 following the terrible flooding in southern Alberta. But as I looked at it again I thought it was appropriate to share during this COVID-19 pandemic.
There is a calligraphy print on the wall of my office, which comes from my grandmother. It’s a quote from Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:6-7 in which Paul writes “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul was calling the Philippian Christians, among other things to a life of prayer. Nothing is too small or too trivial to turn into a cause for prayer. They are important words, which we should pay attention to. But Paul does not really give any direction about how to pray, only that we should.
So how do we pray “in everything?” How do we pray especially when we face a disaster? In the last few weeks, there have been a number of disasters. Some, like the Southern Alberta floods, have been close to home, others further away. So how do we pray when we encounter a disaster, whether it is something like flooding in Alberta or the train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec or whether it is a more personal disaster, the loss of a significant relationship, or a health crisis or something else that is equally devastating? How do we pray when it’s a disaster that affects us or when we are observing a disaster from some distance?
When we pray under such circumstances our prayer needs to drive us to God, our heavenly Father, and to his sovereignty as a place of comfort. Not that God made this disaster happen. God permits these things to happen, not because he is a vindictive judgmental God, but because for the most part, these disasters are the result of the natural order of our world. Rivers flood, earthquakes happen. They are all part of the broken, fallen world that God is in the process of redeeming.
Our hope comes from the knowledge that even in the midst of a disaster God is very present. He is in fact right in the middle of it. He is there with his grace, his comfort and his power. He is available as a solid rock onto which we can cling even as the storms of life rage around us.
So how can we pray? How can we pray for ourselves and how can we pray for others going through difficult times? Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, that three things remain, faith, hope and love. These three can guide us as we pray.
Fear is a big challenge in the midst of any disaster. Fear about what could happen and what will happen. There is a saying…
“Fear knocked at the door,
faith answered it,
there was no one there.”– English Proverb
Faith counters fear because it points us to Christ and our heavenly Father, who is able to overcome all circumstances that we face. In faith, we can stand upon the rock of Christ, which stands firm no matter what storm passes our way. So we should pray that fear would be replaced by faith. Pray that the Lord would help us deal with our unbelief and that our faith would be strengthened for the trials others or we face.
Secondly, we can pray that hope would replace despair. Hope looks past present circumstances in confidence that God is in control and in confidence that the promises of Scripture are true. Hope is the light that shines in the darkness. When we are tempted to give up, when the circumstances around threaten to overwhelm us, it is hope which will be our anchor. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)
We can pray for faith and for hope, but we also need to pray for love. God’s love in the midst of struggle, for people to know and experience the love of their heavenly Father for them, love that recognizes the sacrifice God made of his own Son to rescue us from our real disaster, which is our broken relationship with God that leaves us distant from him. In times of distress, we can be tempted to turn away from God, to even reject the love he offers to us. So we can pray for greater love for ourselves and for all those affected.
Faith, hope and love are just the start. God is in the midst of every disaster and through the Holy Spirit, he can guide us with specifics of how to pray. Even if those prayers are only the deep inward groaning of the Spirit praying through us (Romans 8:26). The Spirit will guide us as we pray in all our circumstances bringing faith, hope and love into our situations, and as we do we may experience the blessing of God’s peace.
“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7