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How to Prepare Your Heart When a Tragedy Happens

How to Prepare Your Heart for National Tragedies

Sometimes the English language is inadequate for conveying our thoughts. Words always seem to fall short when there is a personal or national tragedy. Tragedies remind me of Job’s friends who made a wise choice in the beginning not to speak so quickly. Horrific events render our minds into something like a busy intersection in gridlock. Each time I hear of one, I mentally pause, reflect, and mourn. You do this too because we’re Christians. We care. We also want to prepare our hearts as we respond to terrible events.

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Transcending Differences

We also cannot stop thinking about a tragedy because we’re humans. We are all different. Still yet, we’re all the same, men and women born in Adam sharing similar victories and collective losses. We love life, and when someone snuffs the life out of another, there is a sense of wrongness that transcends our differences while uniting us in our humanity. We need guidance on thinking about what’s wrong with us in these moments. If we don’t have a way to think about what went wrong, our agendas, experiences, and biases will blind us to the actual need, only compounding the complexity.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).

We need something more objective than ourselves to think about murder, massacres, and nonsensical mayhem. Mercifully, God’s Word can help to bring sanity to our thoughts by giving us a way to ponder the problem of evil in our world. In Romans, Paul has provided a deep and rich template that makes a beautiful guide when tragedy comes, whether on a national level or the loss of a loved one.

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:26-28).

Four Keys

Paul lays out four sequential and crucial elements that can help us better process what we collectively experience when a tragedy happens. I’ll mention them briefly and then make some practical applications afterward.

  1. Quiet: Before you speak, learn what God says. Job’s friends did get it right initially, but as you know, they started talking.
  2. Pray: Ask God for His perspective on the tragedy. Reflecting vertically before speaking horizontally is practical wisdom that declutters the mind.
  3. Believe: Trust the Word of God, as illuminated by the Spirit. As we engage God and His Word, we believe that He will inform us how to speak redemptively to others.
  4. Act: Respond to what God is calling you to do. Faith without works is dead. Once we have learned from the Lord, we want to speak and act in a way that reflects Christ to the world.

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Quiet

Tragedies force me to press into God with a quiet and reverent spirit. Because of my many weaknesses (bias and tendencies), I do not know how to think or what to say when bad things happen. It has proven wise for me to say nothing initially. Quietness applies to a national tragedy, adverse events closer to me, or when a family member does something disappointing. If I do not choose silence over speaking, I will say something inappropriate or unhelpful; I have done this many times. Sigh. James gave us sound advice about impulsivity and non-redemptive speech.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).

There is an element of mystery when trouble comes (Deuteronomy 29:29). I do not know everything, and even those on the scene reveal their mixed bias, agendas, and subjectivity. A tragedy must bring me to a place of biblical introspection and quietness as a first impulse. I have learned this through the trials of deep, personal hurt.

In 1987 my oldest brother was murdered, and in 1997 someone murdered my second oldest brother. In those moments of profound loss, there were no words that could bind the wounds of the brokenhearted. Tragedies like these remind me of when Ezekiel went to bring comfort to some folks in Tel-Abib, who were in deep distress. He found it better to sit, be quiet, and mourn.

And I came to the exiles at Tel-Abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me (Ezekiel 3:15-16).

Prayer

The next thing we want to do is start talking to God. Not knowing what to say to others should not be a problem but a motivation to pray. In our silence, we ask God to speak to us through His Word. We trust Him and want to learn from Him so we can do His will, which we won’t know how to do until we spend time before Him and His Word. Only God, who sees into the darkness, can bring sense to an evil world. I want God’s Word to shade the lens that gives me an interpretation of the problem with evil in our world.

I need the Spirit to take my heart and search it. I want Him to sort out my confusion and my hurt. The cultural noisemakers will not be quiet. They will talk about gun control, racism, mental illness, and whatever their pet cause is that colors their interpretative filters. Their talking points have a place in the discussion, and I want to engage with them, but God is of first importance. Thus, I will ask the Spirit to search my heart.

He will re-translate my groanings to God-centered perspectives that enable me to understand what I need to know and say. How could I know what is appropriate unless I speak to the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient One? The Lord will give me a renewed rest, knowing my prayers have been accurately re-translated. Though I don’t know the particulars, I know He is making all things come together for His good purposes. Big tragedies need a big God to walk us through them. Without Him, there is no way to endure the works of evil satisfactorily, so I pray.

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Believe

Having my mind recalibrated by God, I can now see with biblical clarity. I’m not as lost or as confused before going to Him. The pain is still there, but my heart is informed by and submitted to God. Believing God will always put the accent mark on His active goodness rather than the active evil in our world. Life events are about the accent mark; where will you place it—on God’s active goodness or the devastating evil? This question is not merely theoretical.

The Christian’s answer is the dividing line between our beliefs and the unbelieving culture. Believers believe in God. We find our guidance from His Word. Thus, we enter tragedy from a posture of faith—knowing God is working in ways we might not understand. Faith does not imply that we know the purposes or even the outcomes of God’s work. What we believe is that He will bring good out of any tragic event. His appeal to us is to believe in Him.

If you had asked me how God could have brought good from the murders in my life (two of my brothers), I could not have told you then. I can tell you now. God has used those sins sinlessly, a counterintuitive gospel message. God takes the evil in our world, flips it on its head, and brings about redemptive purposes. God works all things for good as long as evil exists. No matter the tragedy, His response will not change. He will be good and do good, and my experience affirms this to be true. Christians believe in God and act accordingly.

  • Do you believe in the active goodness of God despite tragedy?
  • Are you more controlled and informed by God’s purposes than by Satan’s?
  • What is controlling your heart right now—the darkness or the light?

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4-5).

Act

Before Jesus responded to trouble, He spent time adjusting His heart before the Father, a wise model to follow. Though people in crisis were looking for His help, He first needed to spend time with the Father (Matthew 14:23-24). There is a time to respond to tragedies, but prayer should always precede those actions. My primary aim for saying these things is that you should take as much time as you need to saturate your heart through prayer and reflective study of God’s Word. God will give you what you need to say when the time comes for you to share with others—if you have been quiet, prayerful, and believing.

Our words and actions must be Spirit-led and biblically informed, and this will come in proportion to the time we spend with God and His Word. God is willing to guide us in the truth if we seek and trust Him. (See Matthew 10:19-20 and John 16:13.) Our call is to present prayer-based, Word-informed answers to the world’s problems. If you do this, He promises the Spirit, who will intercede for you before the Father and will intervene for you before others.

The Father may draw some people out of the darkness and into His glorious light through our humble obedience. It may not be apparent to our friends about God’s purposes or how He is a relentless Redeemer and can flip any horrible narrative on its head for mind-blowing reasons. People may not know or lose sight of these truths, but that is where you come in; you are God’s light in a dark world. You are His wisdom too. Weep with the weeping while asking God for the skill to move the story from what some meant for evil to what He intends for good (Genesis 50:20).

Call to Action

  1. How do James’ words about being quick to hear and slow to speak apply to you when you hear about a tragedy?
  2. What is your first impulse—to learn from God or speak your mind?
  3. Why do you want God to re-translate your prayers and illuminate your mind with His perspectives on trouble?
  4. Are you experiencing transcendent rest when trouble comes? Why did you answer that way? What has been your experience facing tragedy?
  5. What has more power over your words when engaging others about a tragedy: God, your sinful attitude, or a canceling culture? How did you answer this question? Is there something you need to change about yourself? If so, what is that thing, and what is your plan?

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