Responding to Disasters

Psalm 88:1-2

O Holy One, God of my salvation, when at night, I cry out in your presence,

let my prayer come before you: incline your ear to my cry.

Invitation to the Word

When disaster strikes close to home or in distant lands how do we respond in faith? There are two ways that may resemble like faithful responses but nevertheless fall short.  One way is to despair, give up, or simply shut down in the sheer weight of the disaster.  The other way is to lean on empty optimism and use grace language too quickly and thus watering down the gravity of the disaster—“Everything will be okay.  God will make everything right.”  Both ways fall short of faithful biblical response to disasters.

The biblical response to disasters and acute suffering is to cry out in faith and express our anguish, fear, affliction, distress and petitions to God.  We find many examples of this type of prayers in the Bible, especially in the Psalms.  Psalm 88 is such a prayer that cries out to God in midst of distress.  This way of praying is not a comforting way to pray but a struggle of faith in hardship expressed as a lament and  outcry to God from the depth of our hearts.  We can pray such a prayer in our own struggles or we can cry out for help on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are struggling near or far away from us.


Read aloud Psalm 88 individually or as a group.  Try to read it with emotions appropriate for the psalm, emulating the ringing cry of the psalmist.


Pray this psalm.  As you read it offer it up to God as a prayer for yourself or for others who are suffering because of a disaster.  It may be difficult to pray this psalm because we are unaccustomed to crying out to God in distress.  If you feel remote from the psalm confess that to God and ask God to help you to express your suffering and grievance to God or on behalf of others.


In a small group or by yourself, read psalm 88 and carefully observe the repetition of words and flow of the prayer.  How does the repetition of words and phrases like “cry,” “cry out,” “call” shape the prayer in content and tone? Notice that even for such a painful prayer as this the psalmist is engaged in faith—the psalmist is not crying out in isolation but to God; the psalmist is “desperate” (v. 15) but as an expression of prayer to God.  Why are we not as familiar with this kind of prayer as we are with prayers of thanksgiving and praise? What prevents us from praying this kind of prayer? Why is it difficult for us to cry out to God?


Memorize just one verse of the psalm that speaks to you most powerfully.  It may be the first two verses:

O Lord, God of my salvation, when at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you: incline your ear to my cry.

Use this psalm as a crying out prayer for your own distress or as prayer for others who are in distress.  God will surely incline God’s ear to our cries.


When we are confronted with personal disasters we are to cry out to God but also to seek and receive help from others.  When we witness others suffering through disasters we are to offer our prayers and help.  How can we become communities of receiving and giving in times of hardships and disasters? Paul describes the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) and therefore the arms and legs of Christ that does his work.  How can we, as the church, live more faithfully responding to disasters close and far?

2 thoughts on “Responding to Disasters

  1. Maryann Smith

    When dealing with an expansive disaster, Bishop Tutu says to remember the answer to the following question: How do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time.
    I am teaching a class on becoming Good Samaritans at my home church every Wednesday night in Lent. For our first assignment we are creating Hygiene Kits for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. We are a small church but we will take on whatever God needs us to do.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.