15 prayers for a violent world

As a father of two elementary-aged children, news of the May 24 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, just three hours south of my home in Austin, which killed 19 children and 2 teachers, shook me deeply.

Driving my daughter to school the next morning, I felt the fragility and unpredictability of life intensely, and found myself becoming intensely frightened and increasingly angry.

Just 10 days earlier, a racially motivated 18-year-old man, wearing a bulletproof vest and brandishing a rifle with a high-capacity magazine, shot and killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket, injuring 3 others. Eleven of the 13 victims were black.

A day after the mass shooting at a Tops Friendly Markets store in upstate New York, a gunman entered the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, where a group of parishioners s gathered for a luncheon honoring a former pastor of a Taiwanese congregation who uses the church for worship services – and shot and killed one person and injured five others.

One nation bombs another, one denomination keeps a secret list of abusive pastors, a man is profiled because of his skin color, a Christian is persecuted because of his faith, and thousands are cruelly displaced from their homes, all of this happening against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

It’s tempting to shut down emotionally in light of all this violence. It is tempting to give in to despair. “So goes the world,” we might say, wishing it were different but feeling powerless to make a difference. It’s tempting to distract yourself with busy work or reach for spiritual platitudes to numb the pain. “Let go and let God.” “The Lord’s mysterious ways.” “Heaven is our true home.”

But our world is violent, and the Bible does not allow us to ignore its violence or explain it away with neat theological slogans. He asks us to look our world in the face, together, and, if need be, cry out our rage to God. The Bible invites us to get angry with God, because he can bear all our bitter and angry tears and curses. And such words must be spoken out loud, for that is part of how we prevent the chaos of violence from taking root in our own hearts.

As I write in my book on the psalms, there is no faithful prayer in Israel’s official book of worship, the Psalter, that trivializes evil, no genuine faith that ignores the destructive powers of sin. , and no real witness who turns a blind eye to the violence of our world. It is for this reason that we turn to the psalms for guidance in times like these, for they show us what we can – and indeed should – pray in a violent world.

But one question remains: how exactly do we pray in the wake of such violence? What lamenting words can we put on our lips that give meaning to the foolish? What could all of God’s people say “amen” to in light of the corrosive power of hatred that allows one neighbor to irrationally kill another? What does a weary and discouraged people say to God at such a time?

These questions are, of course, far from easy to answer, but over the past two years I have attempted to give language to such questions in the form of prayer collections – in the hope that they could prove helpful, and perhaps comforting, to people coping with the terrors and traumas of violent activity in one form or another.

May the Lord in his mercy hear our prayers.

An angry prayer:

To the God whose holy wrath heals;
To the Messiah whose righteous anger triumphs over evil;
To the Spirit who prevents our anger from becoming destructive:
Receive our wounded hearts;
Take our burning words;
Protect us from the desire for revenge.
May our righteous anger become the fuel for justice in our fractured world
and for mending broken relationships in our neighborhoods and homes.
For God’s sake – and ours – we pray.
Amen.

A prayer after a mass shooting:

O Lord, you who abhor those who murder the innocent, do not be deaf to our bitter cries, we pray, and do not leave us to our pain this day. Hear our angry words of protest, O God of Jacob, hear our groans for justice and join us in this humble and desperate place. Wake up, Lord! Wake up ! Deliver us from evil, for your love the name! We pray this so that we can testify of your power to save and your power to heal. We pray this in the name of our Fortress and Refuge. Amen.

A prayer of bitter lamentation:

Merciful God, you who weep with those who weep, who save the oppressed, who listen to the needy and bind up the broken hearts: hear our prayer. End our distress. Save our lives. Save us. Heal us. Be close to us today. We pray to him in the name of Jesus, man of pain, accustomed to pain, on whom we throw all our worries. Amen.

A prayer for peace in times of war:

O Lord, you who are the True King, have mercy, we pray, on the people who suffer today from the ravages of war. Silence the warmongers, scatter the bloodthirsty, smash the weapons of war and have mercy on the vulnerable, so that true peace and justice may be restored to this land. We pray this in the name of the Prince of Peace. Amen.

A prayer against bloodlust:

O Lord, you who abhor the bloodthirsty, rebuke the murderers, we pray to you, and break the sword of the violent, that we may testify to you as the God of justice and the Lord of righteousness under the light of the noonday sun. We pray this in the name of Christ our King. Amen.

A prayer in response to death:

O wounded Christ, you who went into the monstrous depths and swallowed death whole, tasting its bitter finality and conquering it once and for all, we pray that you release us from the fear of death and comfort us in losses. that we suffer on account of death, so that our hearts may be infused today with your resurrection life. We pray this in the name of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.

A prayer for the police:

Oh Lord, you who love righteousness and justice, we pray today for all police officers, that you support and bless them in their duties, and strengthen them to defend the cause of the vulnerable, uphold the right of the oppressed , serve the good of the community, and preserve peace in our cities, so that they may be the emissaries of your justice in the world. We pray this in the name of the Sovereign of Nations. Amen.

A prayer for our enemies:

O Lord, you who ask us to do the impossible – bless our enemies, pray for those who persecute us and love those who seek us evil – we ask you to do the impossible in us: Help us to love our enemies as you love them and to remember who our real enemies are: Satan, death and the spiritual forces of evil. Also work a miracle in our enemies by your Spirit, and in your sovereign may restrain the power of evil in this world. We pray this in the name of Him who does impossible things. Amen.

A prayer against the hatred of the neighbor:

O Lord, you who command us to bless our enemies, protect us, we pray, that you do not turn our neighbors into enemies, worthy only of hatred and deserving only of insults and curses, and grant us instead the heart of Jesus, so that we might love our neighbors as you love them. We pray this in the name of Him who raises the sun on both the wicked and the good. Amen.

A prayer to love a hurt neighbor:

O Lord, you who do not take your eyes off the pain of this world, open our eyes, we pray, to see the pain of our neighbor and, by grace, to become for him the presence and the healing power of Jesus, so that our hearts might be kindled with the love of your neighbor on this day. We pray this in the name of the Merciful. Amen.

A prayer to become a righteous people:

O Lord, you who hate those who record unjust decisions, may we be a people who stand against the injustice that occurs anywhere as a threat to justice everywhere, so that we may become worthy representatives of your righteous kingdom and extremists for Christ’s sake. We pray this in the name of Him who liberates the oppressed. Amen.

A prayer for those who tire of doing justice:

O God, you who see the hearts of all with perfect clarity, I confess my annoyance towards those who intimidate their way with words, who think that no one sees what they are doing in the shadows, and who live in a world of denial. I’m angry and scared and tired of doing the right thing. Strengthen my heart, please, so that I do not lose hope. I pray this in the name of the Good Shepherd and the Just Judge. Amen.

A prayer against duplicity of heart:

O Lord, you who have been cheered and mocked by the same crowd, have mercy, I pray Thee, on my own deceitful ways: openly confessing one sin while concealing another; blessing God on one side of my mouth, while cursing my neighbor on the other; smiling in public but furious in private; love God and money equally; and all the other sins besides. Grant me the grace of integrity – to be one thing through and through – no matter the cost. I pray this in the name of the One who remains faithful. Amen.

A prayer for the kingdom of peace of God:

O Lord, you who manifested yourself to the world during the visit of the Magi, manifest yourself to the world today as the King who refuses to use the violence of the world to obtain the peace we so ardently desire, so that may we be strengthened to do the work of your peaceful kingdom in our time and place. We pray this in the name of our Redeemer and King. Amen.

A Prayer of Allegiance to the Prince of Peace:

O Lord, you who deserve all our loyalties, we pledge our allegiance today to the Lamb of God and to the overthrown kingdom which he represents, a holy nation under God, the Servant King and the Prince of Peace, with freedom and justice for all without remainder. We pray this in the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen.

W. David O. Taylor is associate professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Open and Fearless: The Psalms as a Guide to Life and accompanying illustrated psalm prayer cards.

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