One of the joyful byproducts of a melancholy time like the present is that people are motivated to pray.
And often, they’re prompted to pray based on certain Scriptures they know or have been taught. These days, two that people repeat to me most often are the confident, protective prayers of Psalm 91:1-2:
1Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
… or the peaceful easy feeling prayers of Philippians 4:6-7:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And both of those ARE great patterns for prayer, no doubt about it.
However. But. Yet. When I talk to folks — in a socially distanced way, of course — they often confess guilt for not “feeling” those prayers. Lacking confidence or missing serenity and so feeling like failures in the valley of the virus.
But what if many of us need to remember that the bible is a library, not a book, and as a library it speaks with multiple voices on as personal a topic as prayer? And what if understanding five different and often overlooked biblical patterns for prayer in a crisis would not only ease the guilt, but accelerate our connection with God? So here they are … five “new” patterns for biblical prayer in the age of a pandemic. Get your bible out and follow along:
One. The “how long?” prayers of Psalm 13, 44, and 88. Read them. You’ll be shocked at the nerve people have with God, as the psalm writers have the freedom not only to vent their anger at God but to question his job performance. And what will it teach us about God? Well, as a church that believes the bible really is “inspired, eternal, and true” we get the revelation that our God is so emotionally secure that he will inspire a Scripture that second guesses him. God can take it. And if you ask in the middle of Quarantine, “how long, O Lord?” he will not reject your emotion; he will honor your authenticity.
Two. The “doubting” prayers of Mark 9:24. In one of my favorite Scripture verses of them all, an anguished father pleading for the healing of his son says to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” What does Jesus do in response to his wavering? Rebuke him? Ignore him? Condemn him? No. No. And no. He heals the son. If you’re honest about where you are, Jesus is faithful to show who he is.
Three. The wise silence of Job’s friends in Job 2:13. In the aftermath of losing everything, Job receives a consoling visit from three close friends. The apex of their counsel is this scene: 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. If you’re trying to comfort someone with anxiety, loss, or both during the pandemic, cliches don’t help. Telling them “relax!” and “don’t worry!” actually induces the very emotions you’re trying to curtail! Instead, remember those friends’ “good” moment in 2:13 … and that when they open their mouths and start talking, the story heads south for many chapters to come.
Four. The “perspective” prayer of Philippians 3:4-14. When Paul compares all his accomplishments and all his accolades and even all his family privilege to a “dog pile,” he lets you know what’s really important: a life defined by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Your circumstances might not change a bit; your identity in Christ will sustain you anyway.
Five. The “lament” prayer of Psalm 22. The bible is full of people who lament their loss; my goodness, there is even an entire book called Lamentations! As you check out Psalm 22, you’ll hear familiar language and you’ll understand how Jesus saw his experience on the cross through the lens of these words penned hundreds of years earlier. If Jesus was free to lament to his Father, so are you.
I am so glad the biblical library contains material suitable for every emotion and every situation … including one, like now, that none of us have seen before.