How to Pray in a Crisis

Jonathan MunsonJonathan Munson

Make no doubt about it – in this life, it’s not a matter of “if” we will experience a crisis, but “when.”

Webster defines a crisis as a “time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.” Crises challenge us in unexpected ways and often last longer than we would like. They come in all shapes and sizes: health, financial, relational, career, etc. Mark Twain shrewdly says, “The calamity that comes into our lives is rarely the one that we’ve prepared for.” Even if we are somewhat prepared, a crisis is typically way harder than we ever imagined.

In Psalm 86, David finds himself in the thick of a crisis. He explicitly states the cause, “The arrogant are attacking me, O God; a band of ruthless men seeks my life – men without regard for you” (v14).

Talk about an intense situation. David is literally being hunted like a wild animal. Think of the physical demands of always being on the move, never letting your guard down, and incidentally not being able to truly rest. This undoubtedly took an emotional toll on him. We know this because in verse 1, David says, “I’m poor and needy.” To put it another way, he’s in an extremely desperate situation. As a warrior and king, David was no stranger to the imminent threat of death. Still, this particular crisis rattled his soul. How could it not?

“Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.”

Psalm 86:11

You can see how David responds. He earnestly prays for 4 qualities:

  • Teachability
  • Practical Obedience
  • An Undivided Heart
  • Reverence

These are hard qualities to pray for at any time, but especially during a season of crisis. Honestly, do these sound like your prayers over the past few months? I don’t know about you, but I often use a time of intolerable stress as an excuse to make poor choices or harbor a bad attitude. I confess that 2020 didn’t always bring out the best in me. How about you?

David, on the other hand, reacts in the complete opposite manner in the middle of his crisis. He deepens his devotion and intensifies his worship. Instead of compromising his personal ethics and lowering the bar, David actually raises the bar.

In a moment, I’ll circle back to the 4 character traits found in his prayer, but for now, here’s what we need to notice:

In the middle of a crisis, David turns to the Lord in prayer, not away from Him.  

Crises are unavoidable in this fallen world. Yet, in every crisis, we get to choose our response. The Greek word for crisis, ‘crisis,’ describes a turning point in a disease. The situation is either about to get worse or get better. It is a pivotal moment where life literally hangs in the balance.  

And so it is with us. A crisis will either drive us to the Lord in trust or away from Him in despair. We decide which way to go.  

While we may feel momentarily disoriented and disheartened when a crisis invades, we must remember that we were never promised a crisis-free life, but rather the presence of God in the middle of the crisis. 

Scripture is filled with people like David, who endured all kinds of hardships and dangers. And time and time again, we see God’s people running to Him in prayer and finding strength in His presence.  

There is no greater example of this than Jesus, as He faced his own crisis hours before the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. The writer of Hebrews states, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (5:7).

There are some similarities between Jesus’ prayer in the garden and David’s prayer in Psalm 86. So, let’s unpack those 4 qualities I mentioned earlier:

Teachability- David prays, “Teach me your way.” Teachability is an important quality that all coaches desire from athletes, that teachers want from their students, and that parents want from their kids. It’s no different in our relationship with our Heavenly Father. The Lord wants His children to humbly listen to Him and then adjust their way to His way. He often uses our trials to teach some of His greatest lessons. Ask yourself, What is the Lord teaching me during this season of crisis?

Practical Obedience- This is where the rubber meets the road. Obedience must shift from the theoretical to the practical. What is practical obedience? It is obedience acquired through practice or action rather than theory or speculation.

David’s prayer to “walk in Your truth” shows his sincere aim for obedience in all things. The verb “to walk” connotes a step-by-step obedience in the everyday situations and relationships of life. In a crisis, the risk for all of us is that we grow careless or even use it as an excuse to disobey. 

An Undivided Heart- In Hebrews, the heart is the center of personality, emotions, and will. It is the control center and motivational headquarters of life. David desires to have a heart that is “undivided” and solely focused on the Lord. If the Lord truly gets a hold of his heart, then David knows it will directly impact every area of his life.  

Reverence- David wants to maintain a healthy fear of the Lord for who He is and what He has done.  In 2021, where reverence is rapidly disappearing, there is a great need for believers to model reverence all of the time, but specifically in a crisis. Staying reverent in adversity anchors us to strength and wisdom far greater than our own and is a powerful witness to a watching world. 

Regardless of your current life situation, ask the Lord to work these characters’ traits deep into your soul. And take heart. Your hope is not in your ability to perfectly reflect teachability, obedience, an undivided heart, and reverence in your life. (Even David sometimes failed at this.) Rather, your hope is in Jesus, the Son of God, who did everything perfectly on your behalf. And that is truly good news in the middle of a crisis.