“Houston, We Have a Problem.”
How to respond to Hurricane Harvey from over 3,000 miles away, and why our prayers matter
As we watch the footage of the elderly being rescued from their flooded homes, the aerial shots of belongings left behind on rooftops and the ongoing efforts of rescue teams, it might inspire us to join in the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, wondering how we can help our fellow Americans in Texas. It is estimated that over 30,000 people are without homes and will need temporary housing until their homes can be rebuilt. That process could take months, if not years.
To give you some perspective, that’s nearly identical to the population of all of Cicero, NY. Imagine miles and miles of flooded neighborhoods, with an entire school district worth of families being displaced from their homes. Where do they go? What do they eat? Where do parents find diapers for their babies? Who pays for the cost of rebuilding homes? Bad news — your homeowners insurance won’t cover it. Can you imagine losing all of your belongings, and watching them slowly float away?
Many of us find comfort in aiding organizations that are currently on the scene relieving people. Some help from far away by donating cash, supplies or blood. For those in Christian circles, a commonly encouraged response is to pray. But let’s be honest, what are our prayers going to do? If your initial thoughts are anything like mine, you might not see the value in talking with God about a problem he’s already aware of.
Houston, we have a problem. It’s important for us to see why our prayers matter:
1. God says “pray for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1–8)
Why do we pray for faraway strangers? Doesn’t God want us to know if our prayers are answered when we pray for their well-being? These are questions I find myself asking, and you might too. Those questions find answers when we start to look at how God wants us to pray.
In 1 Timothy 2 we’re encouraged to pray for all people, not just those around us. What’s important is that we pray for more than just circumstances to change — we also pray for hearts to be changed. Rescue for the present is good, but rescue for eternity is better. When we see the hope of Jesus, we pray that others would see it too and that their lives would be forever changed. We can thank God for tough times and tragedy because it forces us to look beyond ourselves, and ultimately to the only one powerful enough to help. We pray that others’ circumstances would improve, but more importantly we pray that their hearts would be forever grounded in hope because of their ultimate Helper. We pray for their current situation, but hope that they find help for all of life’s storms yet to come.
Our prayer might start like this: “God, help them to see you nearby with open arms. Help them to see your inexplicable love and care through Jesus-like people who give them glimpses of who you are.”
2. God teaches us things when we pray (John 14:26)
Have you ever wondered how to pray or what to pray? Are you ever unsure about how to respond? As we look to God, He promises to bring things to our memory, specifically through His written Word. We find truth as we read the Bible in “real-time” and also through what’s stored away in the caverns of our minds. Through God’s Spirit, we’re able to piece together truth that we can’t understand on our own. The Holy Spirit leads our thoughts as we give Him permission. Have you asked God what He thinks? We find supernatural comfort and counsel as we ask God to teach us. As we ask, He teaches us about Himself, the complete source of all of our needs.
3. God shows us our next steps when we pray (James 1:5)
With God’s Spirit, we find wisdom for all life brings our way. God’s Words inform us on how to respond in all of life’s circumstances. When we look to God, we find something of ultimate value worth sharing. We find strength to face our own struggles, both now and later. We find peace in the middle of life’s storms, and peace to share with our neighbor. What should I do? What should I say? Ask, and He will teach you. Should you go to Houston to help? How much and where should you give? Can God help you care more for those you don’t truly care about or feel connected to? Together let’s look to God and His Words, and He’ll show us how and why to live.