We have lived in Houston twice in our married life and have many lifelong friends in the middle of the mess called Harvey. One friend who lives here in Wisconsin where I live now wrote and told me she wants to pray but can’t even figure out what to pray in a situation of this magnitude. To answer her I had to think through what I know about prayer, what I believe about the impact prayer makes and remember who I am praying to. In the face of overwhelming need I found the exercise so helpful. Below are the thoughts I shared with her just as I wrote them.
My husband gave me some good advice when we were watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I asked, “how in the world do you pray for this?”
His suggestion was to pay attention to the faces in the news coverage, pick one and pray for them. It made it much less overwhelming and more personal.
As for your second question about praying the right things:
Relax. There are no perfect prayers. Help them! works just fine here.
Prayer is about remembering who God is which restores our often skewed perspective when we feel hopeless or powerless.
This situation in Houston certainly makes me feel those two things.
My favorite way to pray for all things is to pray God’s word back to Him. In this case I have been praying
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…. “
And Isaiah 43:16
“This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters…”
I pray these words from His word will become very real to the people in Houston.
Another way to pray in this situation is to think about what you would want if you were in their situation and ask God to do that for them.
If your words feel inadequate, don’t worry, He hears your heart.
My friend Sarah, often prays ,” Do what you do God.” I think it’s another way to pray “Thy will be done.”
A few other thoughts since I wrote you before:
1) Think what it does to those in Houston to know that people all over the country are praying for them. It strengthens their spirit, reminds them that God is present and caring for them and gives them hope – no matter what we words we use to pray.
2) Prayer can move the heart of God. We see this over and over in scripture.
3) Prayer gives courage and hope to those who receive it even if it doesn’t change anything about their circumstances.
4) God is very present in this tragedy but there are many who don’t see Him. Pray He is seen, heard and proclaimed in this hard time. Times like this often open hearts that might have been closed otherwise.
5) Prayer is a chance to praise God and thank Him for what He has done. I have seen so many news photos of people gathered in shelters in prayer circles thanking God for what they have and His care for them.
6) Watching God answer prayer in the lives and circumstances of others strengthens our faith muscles.
Hope this gives you some things to consider.