How to Pray in the Midst of Crisis

Like so many, I’ve found myself praying and reflecting on Scripture these past few days. I thought I’d send this to you and others in light of President Bush’s proclamation making Friday, September 14 a national day of prayer.

How do you pray in the midst of crisis? More than any other portion of Scripture, Psalms shows us how.

Beginning with Psalm 3, and over and over again until Psalm 149, we find the psalmist crying out to the Lord in various dire circumstances.

“How many are my foes!”
“Give me relief from my distress.”
“Listen to my cry for help.”
“Away from me, all you who do evil.”
“Save and deliver me from all who pursue me.”

In seven out of every ten psalms, the writer is either crying out to the Lord for physical salvation, thanking God for sparing his life, reminding himself of the differing fates of the righteous and evildoers, or renewing his allegiance to God and His Word in the face of rampant wickedness.

Of all the psalmists, Solomon alone fails to use the vocabulary of the oppressed.

The other psalmists employ scores of terms to describe their troubles. Against 82 times. Enemy and enemies 94 times. Wicked and wickedly and wickedness 108 times.

Of the 13 psalm titles that refer to some historical situation in David’s life, 10 speak of David’s enemies pursuing him. Two others indicate David had been delivered from the clutches of a particular evildoer.

Asaph and the sons of Korah also cry out to God about the haughty and violent in many of their writings.

Heman’s contribution, Psalm 88, is the only psalm that ends without some sense of praise or hope in God.

Ethan’s lengthy poem, Psalm 89, is almost as depressing.

Even the “prayer of Moses” in Psalm 90, the oldest of all the psalms, is a sorrowful plea for deliverance after years of affliction.

If the psalms teach us anything, it’s how to turn to God in times of trouble and distress. Here’s a brief synopsis with specific examples from various psalms.

1. Call out to the Lord... “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer” (Psalm 61:1).

2. ...and ask for help! “Hasten, O God, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me” (Psalm 70:1).

3. Tell God about your troubles...
“O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
They have given the dead bodies of your servants as food to the birds of the air,
the flesh of your saints to the beasts of the earth.
They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead.
We are objects of reproach to our neighbors, of scorn and derision to those around us” (Psalm 79:1-4).

4. ...and admit if you feel abandoned or forsaken.
“How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how fleeting is my life.
For what futility you have created all men!” (Psalm 89:46-47).

5. Describe what you want God to do...
“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:15-17).

6. ...and explain why He should act on your behalf.
“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
`The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.’
So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem
when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord” (Psalm 102:18-22).

7. Give a candid appraisal of your enemy...
“With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship” (Psalm 109:3-5).

8. ...and ask God to put that foe in his place.
“Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow” (Psalm 109:6-9).

9. Honestly evaluate your guilt or innocence...
“I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame” (Psalm 119:30-31).

10. ...and confess any known sins.
“I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands” (Psalm 119:176).

11. Affirm your implicit trust in the Lord...
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

12. ...and then praise God for His deliverance.
“Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:6-8).

Copyright © 2001 David Sanford, 6406 N.E. Pacific St., Portland, OR 97213, David Sanford serves as vice president of publishing and Internet ministries for the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association ( and is co-author of the Living Faith(tm) Bible (Tyndale House Publishers, Permission granted to forward via e-mail or post online in its entirety (including this notice). All other rights reserved.

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