Northside Blog

A Guide to Praying In Uncertain Times

We are witnessing a new way of life with the advent of COVID-19. No one wants this, but there may be treasure hidden in the pain: greater awareness of our seniors and those with medical conditions, a summons to act on behalf of others, growing attention to the many who provide for us day after day in the medical, food, shipping, and energy industries (and many others), understanding that ours is a global community, and, above all, heightened awareness of our profound dependence upon God. Here are Seven Ways We Can Make the Most of Our Prayers during this season of unrest:

  1. Don’t Hold Back. Do you remember Hannah, who told the old priest Eli she was a woman “deeply troubled” and who had been “pouring out her soul to the LORD” because she could not conceive? (1 Sam 1:15). Eli thought she was drunk, and she set him straight, “Not so, my lord!” Even Jesus gave voice to his own tortured soul while on the cross with the words, “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani,” translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 24:46, NIV). What are you feeling today? Fear? Uncertainty? Even despair? Now is the time to talk it out with those closest to you, time to listen to what they have to say, and, more than anything, time to pray simply, directly, and honestly about what you are thinking and feeling most deeply.

  1. Settle In. Hysteria reigns when people fail to remember God is in control. Time to take a deep breath and remember that we aren’t alone. If God is with us everywhere and always - and we believe this! - He is also and equally with us in all circumstances, including COVID-19. It is important to pay attention to the many helpful warnings we’re getting about staying out of harm’s way, but it’s equally important to stick with those routines which in no way present a threat to us just now, and particularly holy habits like prayer. John Walker (Blessing Ranch) reminds us to replace things we can’t control (the reality of COVID-19) with things we can (prayer). “Stop, think, and pray,” says Dr. Walker. Good advice. Time now to be faithful to who you are, your true gifting, to do well the things God has given you to do in the interest of others. Don’t allow paralysis to creep in. Adapt to the new reality with your deepest love for others and heartfelt prayers offered on their behalf.

  1. Soak Up Scripture. Books like Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and the Psalms speak loudly to life in the midst of uncertainty. So do characters like Mary (the mother of Jesus), Paul, and, of course, Jesus Himself. Just remember that many have traveled this path throughout the long history of human existence. We are not alone. Psalms 23, 27, 63, 121, 126, and 131 are especially helpful. Also, Isaiah 40:27-31, 55:1-13, and 61:1-11. Then there are Matthew 6:25-34, John 14:1-31, Romans 8:1-39, and 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. As you read, meditate on the words and ideas in these texts. Absorb their meaning. Put yourselves in the shoes of our ancient counterparts in the faith who were hearing them for the very first time. And, above all, pay close attention to those words and phrases which seem to leap off the page right into your heart and mind. The Holy Spirit may be trying to grab your attention with them! Finally, pray as you read, allowing God Himself to give you the right words, the words of Scripture itself, to offer back to Him in the midst of your doubts and fears.

  1. Lean into God. Isaiah 46:3 reads, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You.” Few moderns say it better than Frederick Buechner: “I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross - the way he carries me.” Time now to fix our eyes on Jesus, church. Remember these words from Paul? “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things, for you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4). Times like these help us to see what really matters, what ultimately matters, and to understand that many things that once seemed so important to us don’t really matter much at all. Leaning into the Lord produces a kind of sifting. We’re being purged of attachments which, in the long run, we might do well to release. God created us, Jesus redeemed us, and the Spirit is our Advocate! In the end, and even for the present, “All will be well” (Julian of Norwich).

  1. Remember the Cross. God, the Son - Jesus - knows our suffering inside-out. That is, in His coming, and especially in His dying, Jesus suffered entirely. The pain we experience in life, be it emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual, Jesus surely suffered as well. We are not alone! But remember, “The cross is a symbol of (both) death and life, of suffering and joy, of defeat and of victory” (Henri Nouwen). In other words, the key symbol of the Christian life, the one we wear around our necks, on our tattoos, and in our hearts, reminds us that, while suffering is part and parcel of life itself, never does it have the last word! Resurrection Sunday is right around the corner. So please let your prayers be seasoned both with the pain and the glory, saying, “Lord, help us to hang on to the truth of our future, secure in You.”

  1. Care for Others. Perhaps the greatest irony of the times is that we’re called to social distancing in a season of profound human need! Time now for the redeeming merits of social media and virtual presence (used compassionately) to speak into the needy lives of the many who are isolated in their homes and hospitals. Online church has kept us together in a tear-soaked, powerful proclamation of our growing faith in the God who gets us through these moments. We’re living the resurrection by choosing to care for others. But it can’t all be virtual. You can’t eat a virtual lunch. Our best prayers right now happen as we’re shopping for groceries to stock food pantries, delivering meals to seniors, and volunteering wherever we can lend a hand. Relief organizations will need our money. Developing countries will likely eventually be hit hard. Prayers with hands and feet - this we will need in abundance! Stay tuned to those agencies, authorities, and - yes! - churches who can offer reliable guidance as we mobilize in the wake of COVID-19. This too is a form of prayer.

  1. Wait Patiently. Psalm 27:14 reads, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD,” and Psalm 130:5-6, “I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning … put your hope in the LORD.” Night watchmen spend their evenings and early mornings studying shadows and tracing faint movements. Imagine their delight as the first rays of light creep over the eastern sky. Richard Foster put it so well, “I am tired of praying. I am tired of asking. I am tired of waiting. But I will keep on praying and asking and waiting because I have nowhere else to go.” When all is said and done, when science and governments have done their best work, when relief workers and folks in the service sector have exhausted their energies, when financial markets have bottomed out and people begin to assess the damage, then we will realize anew that, much as we would love to get back on track instantly, life is filled with a wait. Many little, and some large, waits. God is in no hurry. He has patiently waited for us to track with Him. Let’s learn from His example. “Wait for the LORD, be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”


A CLOSING THOUGHT: In Acts 4, upon the release of Peter and John from jail after the religious leaders in Jerusalem had tried to put a stop to their preaching, the early church prayed, “Now, Lord, consider their threats.” Consider their threats. “You, Lord, consider their threats.” Isn’t it right for us to pray the same today? “Lord, You consider the threat of COVID-19.” Having done all we can do, humanly, isn’t it enough to pray, “You take care of it”? Times like these test what in fact we really believe. So let’s pray it, church, and mean it: “You take care of it!” The rest of that prayer in Acts reads, “Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” and “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Could there possibly be a better prayer for this moment in history?