How to Pray When Tragedy Strikes

By Scott Neubauer

There have been no shortage of heart-wrenching tragedies in just the past few months. 2017 has been the deadliest year for mass shootings in modern history, with Las Vegas and now Sutherland Springs, Texas, being the most recent. In addition, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico; a major earthquake devastated part of Mexico.

After each one, you’ll undoubtedly begin to see the photos emblazoned with, “Pray For (Insert Location of Latest Disaster or Tragedy)” begin to flood social media. These will be followed by another chorus of those saying thoughts and prayers are meaningless in light of such tragedy.

If we believe that our God is, “a hearer of prayer,” as Psalm 65 says, then true prayer is not trite or inactive: it’s powerful and an entirely appropriate and necessary response in the face of tragedy. But while it’s easy to post, “Pray for Texas,” it’s harder to actually do it.

“How do I pray?”
“What do I pray for?”
“Who do I pray for?”

I’d like to offer just a few ways I believe we can pray biblically when disaster or tragedy strikes:

1. Pray that those affected receive God’s comfort.

Many Scriptures speak of how God comforts the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18, Ps. 147:3, Ps. 94:19, Matt 5:4, Is. 43:2), but if you’ve ever been around someone experiencing grief, you know that they need to be willing to be comforted. The question is not whether God will comfort the grieving, it’s whether the grieving will be open to receive it.

2 Corinthians 1:5 tells us the more abundant the suffering, the more abundant God’s comfort. So when you pray, pray that those affected would be open and ready to receive the comfort and peace that only God can provide.

2. Pray against fear.

Scripture is clear that the enemy comes to, “steal, kill, and destroy,” and one of the ways he does that through tragic events like these — beyond those directly affected — is by bringing a spirit of fear.

If we are not prayerful and confident of who we are in Christ, we can easily become crippled by a spirit of fear. Afraid to go to the mall, afraid to board a plane, afraid to go a large city. Pray for courage, confidence, and peace to prevail over fear, especially in the hearts of Christians. If our Savior has truly conquered death, then there is nothing to fear, not even death.

3. Pray for restoration.

Few people in all of humanity have faced an onslaught of disaster and tragedy like Job, and yet, in Job 42:10, we read,

“And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

Our God is a restorer. Our God takes the broken pieces left from tragic situations and turns them into something beautiful. We can be confident in this, and pray towards this end for those facing their darkest hour.

4. Pray for the attackers.

This may be the most difficult prayer to pray.

In situations where an terrorist or attacker has embodied pure evil by taking innocent lives — and survives — we are called to pray for them. Why can Jesus say with such confidence to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? Because our battle is not with them. They are not the enemy.

The evil powers and principalities at work in the supernatural realm are the true enemies. When we are praying in situations like these, we must ask God to open our eyes to see the spiritual realm where the real battle is taking place.

How to Pray When We Don’t Know How to Pray

Still not sure how to pray? The disciples didn’t know how to pray. They asked Jesus and He answered. I believe the Holy Spirit will teach us, if we just ask.

“The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.”
—F.B. Meyer


Scott Neubauer is pastor of Watershed Church in Elgin, Illinois. Read more from Scott’s blog here.