S ince March, much of our attention has been squarely on the coronavirus pandemic and how we can best navigate our way through this ongoing global crisis. Our world has been shaken and our rhythms disturbed. Some of us are grieving real losses as our loved ones or people we know have died of COVID-19. Others continue to suffer from the many fears associated with the pandemic, along with the collateral damage that comes with it. It feels like a wave of fear has hit our world as we think about the future and what life may look like. How should we pray when we find ourselves in a crisis like this one?
As if things were not stressful enough with the pandemic, we are now facing a second crisis within the United States as we respond to the tragic death of George Floyd and the systemic racism his death has brought to the forefront. Peaceful protests about systemic racism and police brutality in cities across the nation have at times become mixed with violence, rioting and looting in our streets. As we mourn injustice and long for genuine change, we are also grieved as cities burn and racial tensions escalate. We feel almost overwhelmed by it all. What is happening in our world? These are turbulent days and we feel a loss for words. How should we be praying in such a time as this?
Prayer that expresses our grief
As followers of Jesus, many of us have either discovered or rediscovered a rich source of prayers and heartfelt expressions found in our Bibles known as Psalms of Lament. Praying through Psalm 42 with its honest refrain: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
This pastoral expression of prayer brings us comfort, reassurance and hope for our hurting souls. We remind ourselves where our real source of hope lies. But is this kind of prayer really enough? While it may be honest and certainly a place to begin, might there be other ways to pray—ones that go beyond our need to express how we are feeling? How can we pray in ways that bring us into greater alignment with everything that God may be intending to accomplish during this season?
God’s ways are higher than our ways, and God’s thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God alone sees the big picture of our lives from an eternal perspective, knows what is really going on behind the scenes in these crises, and the purpose for which God allows it both in our individual lives and in our world. How can we pray as God’s people in greater spiritual alignment with Jesus and God’s kingdom purposes in the midst of our crisis?
Elisha’s prayer for eyes to see
During the days of the great prophet Elisha, the king of Aram was repeatedly at war with the northern kingdom of Israel. This created a crisis for God’s people. But the Lord was helping Israel by revealing to Elisha the strategies and every move made by Aram against Israel. Frustrated by this obvious disadvantage, the king of Aram decided he would hunt down and capture Elisha. Hearing a report that Elisha was in Dothan, the king of Aram sends his horses and chariots and a rather formidable army to surround that city, all under the cover of night (2 Kings 6:8-15).
Getting up early the next morning, Elisha’s servant discovers a massive enemy army surrounding his city! From his limited perspective, things look bleak and even hopeless. “Alas, master! What shall we do?” the servant desperately asks Elisha (v. 15).
The prophet’s answer to his servant is rather surprising. “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The servant cannot see what Elisha sees. So how does Elisha pray? “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see” (2 Kings 6:16-17).
When the Lord does open the servant’s spiritual eyes, he then sees a completely different scenario—the hills full of “horses and chariots of fire” all around Elisha—a vast spiritual army more powerful than even Aram’s physical army!
The result of seeing with new eyes
Seeing with new eyes—seeing beyond the physical realm into the spiritual—completely changes our once limited perspective and radically alters the way we pray. With spiritual eyes wide open we are in a much better position to pray more “in alignment” with what God actually wants to accomplish! Perhaps we can learn something about how to pray in our own crisis from Elisha.
Finishing the story, Elisha then asks the Lord to strike the enemy army with blindness. When God answers, Elisha is able to lead this army straight into Samaria where they are easily captured by the king of Israel. When God reopens their eyes in response to Elisha’s next prayer, the enemy soldiers recognize their defeat.
Elisha, full of God’s Holy Spirit, then instructs the king of Israel not to slaughter or even harm their enemy, but rather to set some food and water before them. Remarkably the king of Israel agrees, prepares a feast for the captured army and sends them away in peace. After this, the bands from Aram stop raiding Israel’s territory (2 Kings 6:18-23).
What began as a real crisis ends wonderfully in a number of ways. Elisha and his servant are able to “see” the situation from God’s higher perspective. Elisha is praying in great alignment with God’s own heart and purposes concerning both Israel and their enemies from Aram. The Lord demonstrates that he is able to protect his own people while at the same time choosing to bless an enemy. The kindness shown through Elisha and Israel’s king creates a major change of heart within the enemy so that years of raiding actually comes to an end and unexpected peace is accomplished. Praying in alignment with God is at the center of this story. We need to learn to pray beyond our limited perspective and lean into praying all that the Lord wants to accomplish.
Pray during a crisis for new eyes
When we find ourselves in the middle of our own crisis, whether it be personal, national, or global, we struggle from our own limited perspective similar to that of Elisha’s servant. It is very natural to simply pray: “Lord, please take this cancer away!” “God, please stop the injustice and the violence in our cities!” “Lord, please bring a swift end to this pandemic!”
Those are very honest and heartfelt prayers to be sure. God desires our honesty and wants us to bring all our heart’s burdens and requests. What if in addition, we also considered asking to see from the broader view of God’s perspective, perhaps in greater alignment with the larger thing God may be intending to do?
What if we were to pray more like Elisha did: “Lord, we find ourselves in a crisis and do not know how to pray. Open our spiritual eyes so that we can see!” “Sovereign God, as challenging as life is during this pandemic season and in our time of stress, open our spiritual eyes to see!” “Holy Spirit, enable us to pray in full alignment with Jesus and his kingdom purposes in the midst of this crisis!”
May God grant our prayer.
Jim Harrison is the coordinator for prayer mobilization in the Reformed Church in America.