As we contemplate the devastating losses experienced from flooding and wildfires in the United States, many are responding by donating money or supplies to charitable organization or donating their time to help clean up or rebuild. Many also are praying for recovery for victims of Hurricane Harvey and wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, millions in the southeastern United States and in the Caribbean region watch the path of Hurricane Irma with baited breath. Psalm 118 is instructive for those who pray in such circumstances. Written originally for people surrounded by hostile people and nations, the psalm and the prayers within it focus on the enduring love of the Lord, and on the assistance and refuge available through him. People of faith do not view God as a magical talisman or a “get out of jail free” card; he is not their “imaginary friend in the sky.” The Psalmist calls on God who liberates in his time of distress (verse 5), but he also reflects on the God who “has disciplined me severely, but has not given me over to death” (verse 18). God has created the world in which we live. Our experiences within it influence the shaping of our souls. We may cower or we may reverence the God who created both storm and humanity as we contemplate forces that exceed our technology’s capacity to resist.
Psalm 118:4 Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. 6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 7 The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man…14 The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
As the storm approaches the United States, and as fires rage in the northwestern region of the nation, people pray, and they act also to protect the devastated and defend the vulnerable. Thousands of government employees, National Guardsmen, and first responders prepare to mobilize to help. Among the military personnel are Chaplains and enlisted Religious Affairs Specialist who will pray, but also help plan, and will use their training to help emotionally worn helpers and victims adapt to new realities and somehow make sense of their new reality. The Psalmist continues:
17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. 18 The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
The storm will pass and the fires will wane. In the aftermath, let us pray that survivors will have the resilience to survey what remains and to pray:
21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! …28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118 recognizes the reality of pain and consequences. The psalmist does not pretend that his anguish will disappear. However, he confirms his faith in a God who loves and sees in the midst of opposition, anxiety, and fear, that this too is a day that God has made in which we may rejoice. I have friends who live among the fire-ravaged states; I have immediate family-members, friends, and former colleagues who are in the path of Hurricane Irma. Other friends still are sorting through what remains after the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey. Please pray for all these whose lives have been, or may be, turned upside down through these cataclysmic events. And, if you have the opportunity or ability, act to help. Remember that the God who loves and liberates still has agents working on his behalf in the midst of chaos and destruction. Remember the God who is your strength and your song.
As storms and fires batter our nation, I pray, God, that you will provide insights that will generate wisdom and maturity in the midst of chaos. I pray for calm in crisis, and for forgiving spirits as long-time enemies set aside grudges to rebuild communities. As winds accelerate, thunder roars, and lightning strikes, may those who huddle in shelters kneel in courageous prayer rather than cowering in frantic fear. May they have a vision for how you will use them to rebuild and repair what has been damaged, whether physically or emotionally. Thank you for first responders, and for agencies whose workers will strive to bring back order. I pray that leaders will act decisively, wisely, and courageously to meet needs and to ensure that processes that prepare for events like this are not removed because of budgetary policies. Your love endures. May our love and our faith grow. I pray in Jesus’s name, amen.