10 Bible Passages (and a Hymn) to Pray When Tragedy Strikes

When your heart and mind find it hard to pray, these words may help.

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Posted in , Apr 9, 2021

Praying through tragedy

I learned early Thursday morning that a friend and business associate of mine, Dr. Robert Lesslie, was killed tragically along with his wife and two grandchildren in South Carolina. When such things happen, whether I know the people involved or not, my heart and mind find it hard to pray. 

That’s one of many reasons God’s Word is such a precious gift; it helps me when I don’t know how to begin my prayers. Sometimes in the wake of tragedy I’ll open my Bible and start thumbing through the pages and, before long, my eyes will alight on a passage that expresses my heart. At other times, though, I’ll turn to one of these go-to passages that I’ve prayed often when my mind is muddled, and my heart is hurting:

1)  Psalm 5
I prayed Psalm 5 in its entirety following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and have since turned to it often to express my heart’s cry. From first (“Give ear to my words, O Lord”) to last (“For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield”). It tracks with the highs and lows of my thoughts and emotions. 

2)  Psalm 23
The “Shepherd Psalm” has consoled countless souls, and I repeat its fourth verse as a calming refrain: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NIV).

3)  Psalm 46
The familiar lines of this psalm begin:

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging (Psalm 46:1-3 NIV).

I occasionally read this psalm aloud while pacing back and forth until I believe it, until my heart and mind align with the truth my voice repeats. 

4)  Psalm 90
This entire psalm of Moses lifts my perspective from an earth-bound, limited viewpoint to a heavenly, eternal way of seeing myself and the events of this life. 

5)  Psalm 94
I often need the rugged, unvarnished way of praying that’s preserved in The Psalms—such as Psalm 94, which begins: 

The Lord is a God who avenges.
    O God who avenges, shine forth (Psalm 94:1 NIV). 

And ends:

But the Lord has become my fortress,
    and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
He will repay them for their sins
    and destroy them for their wickedness;
    the Lord our God will destroy them (Psalm 94:22-23 NIV). 

6)  Psalm 121
Many people are familiar with the first verses of this psalm, and it’s a balm to my soul. The second verse, in particular, is one I sometimes repeat over and over until surrender, peace and trust in God assuage my turmoil: 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2 NIV).

7)  Psalm 130 
This psalm is called the "De Profundis," from the Latin version’s first two words, which are translated, “Out of the depths.” The emphasis in its central verses on waiting for and hoping in the Lord always re-orient and restore me.

8)  Habakkuk 1
The prophet Habakkuk’s opening complaint—an unapologetic appeal to our just God—helps me express my own outrage in a healthy, biblical way: 

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4 NIV).

9)  Matthew 6:13
The phrase given to us by Jesus in The Lord’s Prayer—“Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13 KJV)—is a fitting and oft-repeated prayer in the face of tragedy. 

10) “He Hideth My Soul”
The chorus of Fanny Crosby’s hymn, drawn from Exodus 33:22, are a frequent refuge, whether I say them or sing them:

“He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.”

These are just 10 of my “go-to” passages that help me to pray when I don’t know how or what to pray. I hope they’ll be a blessing to you whenever and wherever you need them.

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