How to pray in response to natural disasters

The following post has been adapted from the material prepared by Adam Johnston for our ‘Feature slot’
in the evening service on 01-10-2017.
If you’re anything like me then watching the news or reading your newsfeed lately has been overwhelming. By my reckoning, in the last couple of months we’ve seen two major earthquakes in Central America, four devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean and record flooding in South East Asia, and that’s just what I am aware of. In the wake of these events I confess I tend to respond with a confused mix of three reactions:
  • Uncaring apathy: I check my BBC news app, think “Oh dear not another hurricane in the Caribbean,” and immediately move on to read about the latest developments or lack thereof in the Brexit negotiations or whatever else is in the news.
  • Cynical Fatalism: another reaction I find myself having is seeing the headline and thinking “Well Mexico lies on a major fault line so earthquakes are inevitable.” Or “Well it is hurricane season in the Caribbean every year at this time.”
  • Or finally I can read the news and assign blame. Either to God, blaming Him for the suffering of millions, or blaming people: they deserved it.
Maybe those reactions are just me. I don’t know how you respond when you hear of disasters taking place throughout the world, but if you share any of those responses with me then we need to repent of our unloving, uncaring, unbiblical responses to these events. Apathy, fatalism and judgement should not be any part of how I think, feel or pray upon hearing of these disasters.
Instead, I want to suggest 4 ways we can lovingly and biblically pray when we hear of these events.
  1. Let’s trust that God is in control. God says in Amos 4 ‘I sent rain on one town but withheld it from another, one field had rain, another had none and dried up.’ Natural events aren’t random, they aren’t beyond God’s power, and they aren’t outside of His providence. We can therefore pray with the Psalm writer:
    God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
    2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
    3 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
  2. Let’s cry out to God for those affected. Ask the God of all comfort to comfort the families of those who have lost loved ones or whose loved ones are missing. Ask the God of compassion to hasten the rescue of those in dire need, and to speed the arrival of aid to those who desperately require it.
  3. Let’s pray for those who are involved in the rescue operation, the care of those affected and the reconstruction of the devastated region. So let’s be praying for the government, the first responders and the aid agencies as they rush to help those caught up in disasters.
  4. Let’s pray for the local church. Pray for Christians in the area, that their compassion and care for their communities would be a powerful witness to the gospel of their Saviour who has rescued them from much greater eternal destruction. Also pray for Christian aid agencies and their witness as they work in disaster zones as well.
  5. Finally, let’s pray both for those affected and for ourselves that these events shake us up in our materialism and worldliness. Let’s pray that as we see the evidence of a world under a curse because of our sin, we would have a deep longing for a better country, a heavenly country. A country where all evil, moral and natural, has ended and we live under the glorious rule of Christ.
Hopefully these five suggestions have helped us think through how we can respond in prayer to these events when we see them come up on our newsfeed. Prayer ought to be our first response but it need not be our only response, so you might choose to give money to an emergency aid appeal, to organise a fundraiser in support of a charity, even volunteer yourself to travel to the affected area and help. But, however else we respond, let’s ask God to continue to convict us of our cynicism, fatalism and judgement, and may we pray prayers which are founded in our trust in Him and are motivated by our concern for others in response to these events.
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