Taking Action When Your City Groans

Crowds form outside of governor's mansion. 

Crowds form outside of governor's mansion. 

My city, like Baton Rouge and Dallas, is in deep pain and despair. These cities are groaning with the whole creation as in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8:22) because of the violence and injustice against Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five officers killed in Dallas.

What can we do? What should we say? These are hard questions that need answers from many different voices and vantage points. I want to provide just one important answer as a pastor ministering in Saint Paul: Let’s pray.

Christians may hesitate to give this answer. In the aftermath of tragedy, some communicate a desire for more action, not just prayer. The assumption here is that if all Christians do is pray, then our hands are passively folded in sanctuaries rather than actively engaged in the public square. There is an element of truth in this critique of prayer. If prayer is one’s way of saying, “I wish you well,” then we do need more action.

However, the Scriptures teach both that prayer is an effective action in itself, and that prayer also leads to more action.

I’ve been praying much these last couple days. I got up yesterday morning and biked down to the governor’s mansion to pray, listen, and observe. My family and I went that evening to the vigil at J.J. Hill Montessori School as a local pastor led the crowd in a prayer of lament. We prayed while we marched from that school to the governor’s mansion. We drove to Larpenteur and Fry to lay flowers at the site of the shooting, and to pray and reflect.

This morning, I joined with church leaders from all over the city at a Saint Paul police station to pray for restoration. Looking around that room, I saw different generations, different ethnicities, and different races. In Christ, our differences made no difference as we united in prayer.

My experiences of prayer these last couples days are far from being inactive. Yet these experiences of prayer in my city are only a small part of the action of prayer. I have just described prayer on the horizontal level but not the vertical.

The Scriptures teach that our Father in heaven hears our prayers because of Jesus Christ our Lord (John 14:13-14), and the Holy Spirit helps us “when we don’t know what to pray for as we ought” (Romans 8:26). In prayer, we pour out our desires for everything we need, as our Lord taught us to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). Prayer not only changes us, but in prayer God calls us to change the world (Isaiah 6). Indeed, to “clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world” (Karl Barth).

I don’t know all the answers right now. I’m still learning and listening from others about social and political solutions to these injustices. Finding solutions in these areas is important and necessary. However, what good are human solutions without the help of the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17)? What kind of reconciliation will we achieve without the one who reconciled to himself all things at the cross (Colossians 1:20)? The brokenness before us needs more than human strength and solutions. We need the strength of the one who defeated sin and death on the cross, and who reconciles us both to God and to one another. It will take the power of the resurrection to bring renewal to our groaning cities.

Jesus, we need you, and only you can help! May Saint Paul, Baton Rouge, and Dallas be as it is in heaven. And give us today what we need to bring about restoration in our communities.

So take action, church, by praying.  

Church leaders gather to pray at a Saint Paul police station.

Church leaders gather to pray at a Saint Paul police station.

This post is by Pastor Bryan Lair.