Propel Sophia   

3 Ways To Pray in the Face of Tragedy

by Judy Douglass


My son called on an early morning in June to tell us he and his wife—in labor with their first child—were blocked from entering the hospital zone because of some huge disaster down the street.

The huge event was the mass shooting at a nightclub. A security guard had killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at the popular gay club on Latin night.

As we awaited the birth of our granddaughter, the hospital became a chaotic place of life and death as staff ran to care for incoming victims.

The horror of shootings around the nation and the world had come home. The people of Orlando were traumatized. Unbelief, anger, weeping prevailed, but eventually evolved into determination, unity of spirit and commitment to honor those slain and to ensure “never again.”

Yet the anger and fear laid a blanket of heaviness on the city. The grief was palpable.

Soon afterward, a group of 60 or so Christ followers gathered to comfort each other and to pray. It seemed the right response.

But where do you begin to pray in light of such atrocity?

Begin With Lament

Like David the psalmist, we began with lament.

In Psalm 80, David faces attacks on all sides. He has no resources to confront his enemies. He cries out to the Lord, “How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?  You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful….(Psalm 80:4-5)

David was confident God would hear and receive his cries of lament and come to his aid. We, too, are invited to pour out our lament to Him. Our God is not threatened or offended or even angered at our lament. He waits for our petitions.

During that night of prayer, we sought to understand how lament expresses our desire, our efforts to enter into the pain and loss and grief of others as well as our own. We thought of those who have lost loved ones, who are oppressed, who don’t receive justice.

And we expressed our laments—for our own sin, for our own city of Orlando, for the hatred and killing and strife and prejudice in our nation, and for the terror and horror and poverty and injustice and oh, the fear.

Sometimes our lament is very personal and close to our hearts.

A close friend just lost his mother in a violent auto crash. His pain is devastating, his lament filled with tears.

Another friend, a single grandmother rearing her grandchildren, lost her job. How will she support these kids? She cried out in fear.

Not long ago my son awakened to find his roommate hanging from loft above. He had taken his own life. My son still tears up at the mention of it.

David’s words express our lament: “How long, O Lord?”

Acknowledge God

Then David leads us to a right response:

“Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:7)

I am most helped to make my way to such a prayer of hope and restoration by stopping to acknowledge what I know about this God.

Zechariah did that for years, then got his answer straight from an angel:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” (Luke 1:13a)

This message assured Zechariah he had nothing to fear—and that his decades of prayer for a child had not fallen on deaf ears. God had heard. And now was the right time for God’s answer. His son, John the Baptist, would prepare the way for the coming Christ.

What else can I know about this God? These few of many truths help to turn my lament to trust:

Psalm 34:18:  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Deuteronomy 31:8: ”The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Hebrews 4:16: ”Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Give Thanks

What happens in my heart and my mind? I grasp that He knows, He cares, He is able. I believe what He says. I begin to trust that, even if the grief remains, if I don’t see immediate change or relief, God is at work, accomplishing His good purposes.

I fall to my knees, even on my face, crying, “Thank You, Lord.”

Just as David did: “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Ps. 86:12).



Judy Douglass

Judy Douglass is a writer, speaker, encourager and advocate. She partners with her husband, Steve, to lead Cru globally, is the author of five books and speaks around the world. Judy writes at You can find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jeedoo417. Watch for her 2019 book release When You Love a Prodigal: 90 Days of Grace for the Wilderness.