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How to Pray During a National Crisis

Trying times are an invitation to open our heart to prayer.

Praying during a crisis

We are living in uncertain times. The fast, global spread of Covid-19 has caused concern, claimed lives and brought parts of daily life in countries and communities across the world to a standstill. The tragedy—and resultant panic—unfolds daily in newscasts and online.

Many leaders have called for prayer in this time of crisis. But how do we pray? What do we pray? And for whom?

More than 70 years ago, Christian author and speaker C. S. Lewis wrote an essay “On Living in an Atomic Age,” when Cold War tensions and nuclear proliferation concerned many. 

He wrote:

The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. (Present Concerns by C.S. Lewis, Harvest Books, 1987)

I’m glad that Lewis mentioned “praying” first in his list of “sensible and human things” we can do in times of crisis. Prayer is primary at such times, especially since it can encourage, enable and empower all of the other “sensible and human things” we undertake. But how then should we pray?

I’m no expert. Like everyone else in this strange moment, I’m figuring things out on the fly. But I do have several suggestions:

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Pray the Psalms.
Praying God’s word is always a good idea, but especially when it’s hard to find words that fit our situation. Here’s a short list of Psalms to pray in times of crisis: 4, 6, 13, 16, 18, 23, 27, 31, 34, 42, 46, 57, 62, 67, 86, 90, 91, 121, 130, 131, 139. That’s just a partial list!


Pray for those who are most at risk of infection.
If you’re young, healthy and able to self-quarantine, you’re among the fortunate ones. So, in addition to praying for your own health and well-being, pray for those who must provide “essential services” (like doctors, nurses, law enforcement, etc.), those whose age or compromised immune systems make them more vulnerable or those who are homeless and unable to find shelter.

Pray for those most affected by changing conditions.
Yes, these are trying times—for some of us more than others. Parents of school children who face childcare challenges or risk losing their jobs. Hourly wage earners and service providers who face a crippling loss of income. Patients of hospitals and nursing homes who are no longer allowed visitors. As much as we may be struggling, there are others who are even more affected.

Pray for health to triumph… 
…over disease, order over disorder, compassion over conflict, community over division, reason and resolve over panic.

Pray for our institutions. 
For the world’s national, state and provincial, and local government officials who are making difficult decisions. For industries that must weather shortages and shutdowns—or insolvency. For families who must find new ways to function. For churches and agencies for whom “social distancing” challenges the very reason they exist.

Pray for “the end of the matter.” 
The Bible says, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8, NIV). Pray for good—even unexpected, unimaginable good—to result when the crisis has passed. Maybe even pray not for a return to normal but for a “new normal,” one that is better than what existed before we all had to stop, reassess, rearrange and rebuild. Pray for you and those around you to discover new joy and appreciation for “praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts.” Or something like that.

Whatever the external outcome, turning to prayer can bring some internal peace during trying times.


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