Leading Your Congregation to Pray During Global Heartbreak and Hopelessness

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The international news this week was bleak. We watched a desperate situation unfold in Afghanistan as men and women swarmed to the airport, clinging to departing planes. We heard stories of Afghanis who fear for their lives because of political or religious reasons. We saw video footage of flattened houses following the earthquake in Haiti.

This week, the news was hard to hear. Some hearts broke. Others felt a stab of hopelessness. During times like this, pastors have an opportunity to teach their congregations how to pray through global crises. Pastors can teach their people to lament and rehearse the old story, while also encouraging them to be specific in their prayers.

Teach them Biblical Lament

First, pastors can lead their congregations to pray by teaching them biblical lament. Psalms of lament and an entire book – Lamentations – call Christians to godly grief over a broken world. Mark Vroegop describes lament as “the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.”[1] While lament can feel foreign, it helps Christians process their grief that results from the brokenness of the world. As Vroegop says, lament leads “from heartbreak to hope.”[2] Pastors can use the template of biblical lament as they teach their congregations to pray. Vroegop offers four steps to biblical lament:

  1. “An address

  2. A complaint

  3. A request

  4. An expression of trust.”[3]

Instead of turning away from the news in denial or numbing the pain with entertainment, pastors can help their churches turn to God – the creator and sustainer of the universe. They can teach them to verbalize their complaints, including their heartaches, and their horrors, and give them permission to mourn and grieve that the world is broken. Then, they can encourage their congregations to ask God to move in big ways, challenging them to pray specifically for these global events that feel so hopeless. Finally, they can help their church members declare their continued trust in God.

Rehearse the Old Story

To assert their trust in God, pastors can encourage their congregations to rehearse the old, old story. In the beginning, God created a good world. Humans, created in his image, had a unique relationship with God. But the man and woman chose to disobey God, which broke their relationship with Him and also introduced sin, sickness, evil, and death into the world. Humans tried to find ways to fix their broken existence, but they could not.

The wages of their sin was death and only the mercy of God could save them (Rom 6:23). God promised that he would send a Savior who would set the world right. He sent his Son, Jesus, who was fully man and fully God. He lived a perfect life, demonstrated his divinity through miracles, proclaimed his coming kingdom, and gave his life willingly as a sacrifice for humanity. Those who believe in him are saved. Jesus makes a way for them to have a right relationship with God. The free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Rom 6:23).

When they follow after Jesus, they are given new hearts, which changes the way they interact with other people and their world. But God also promises a day when he will return and set all things right. One day, we will live in God’s presence. There will be no more sin, evil, sickness, natural disasters, or death. God will reign, and there will be peace.

Today, we live in the time in between. Jesus has come and inaugurated his kingdom, but the fullness of that kingdom will not be expressed until he returns again. In this time of pain, pastors can teach their congregation to prayerfully cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20), helping them to look forward in hope to the day when Jesus sets everything right.

While praying for Christ to come, pastors can also acknowledge that there are so many still trapped in sin and darkness who have not heard or responded to the gospel. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is patient because he does not want people to perish. While Christians mourn the brokenness, the sin, the injustice of the world, they also compassionately and boldly act, showing the world glimpses of God’s coming kingdom. They proclaim the good news and promote the gospel through their actions,[4] actively waiting with hope for Christ’s return. Therefore, pastors can lead their congregations to prayerfully ask that God would send out laborers to make his name known (Matt 9:38) and draw men and women around the world to himself.

Praying Specifically

While pastors can teach their congregations to pray generally along the lines of biblical lament and God’s story, they can also encourage them to pray specifically for a number of things to occur. Below are some specific requests related to current news headlines:

Pray for Afghanistan:

  • Pray for the people of Afghanistan.

  • Pray for the physical safety of people in the country.

  • Pray for protection for women and children who are vulnerable in this new government.

  • Pray that the people of Afghanistan would turn from Islam to Jesus.

  • Pray for Afghani believers around the world. Pray for those in the country as they prepare for persecution. Pray for their bold witness and that many would come to know Christ through their work. Pray for their safety.

  • Pray for Afghani refugees fleeing to other countries. Ask that they would be able to find places to live, jobs to sustain them, and communities to thrive in. Specifically, pray that God would put them places where they can hear the gospel.

  • Pray for the Taliban leaders. Pray specifically that God would call these men to himself.

  • Pray for US soldiers who have served in Afghanistan. Pray for comfort as they wrestle through their times in the country and the things they saw as they exited.

Pray for Haiti:

  • Pray for the many people who lost family members in the earthquake.

  • Pray for wisdom for those who are trying to offer aid to the people of Haiti.

  • Pray that people might come to know Jesus in the aftermath of this earthquake.

Pray for our world:

  • Pray that the heartbreak and hopelessness that people face in today’s world would make people receptive to the gospel.

  • Pray for the global church as they respond to crises in their own context. Pray that Christians would joyfully proclaim God’s gospel and promote the good news through how they love and provide for others.

  • Pray for your church. Pray for opportunities to participate in God’s mission, proclaiming his good news and promoting it with their lives. Teach your congregation to say, “Here am I, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).

The news of the past week has been heartbreaking. Pastors can help their congregations move from heartbreak to hope through biblical lament. They can revisit the old story that reframes the current news in light of God’s plan. They can pray specifically for people around the world who face unimaginable crises. And they can teach their people to trust the One who promises his presence in this world and hope of a new creation without heartbreak.


. . . . . . . . . .


[1] Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, 27.

[2] Vroegop, 28.

[3] Vroegop, 29.

[4] John Dickson presents and argues the twofold proclamation and promotion of the gospel in Dickson and Zacharias, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission.

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Anna Daub

Dr. Anna Daub is the Director of Special Projects and Partnerships for Global Theological Initiatives at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She holds a PhD in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina and an MDIV in Missiology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. She has also served overseas in South Asia and worked with international students in the United States.

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