How Can I Pray for my Oppressed Neighbor?
How Can I Pray for my Oppressed Neighbor?
by Pastor Tim St. John
Philippians 2:3 tells us to see others as more significant than ourselves. This mindset is a vital aspect of empathy in which someone else’s story, the valley of suffering they are in, their genuine needs, and who they are as a person are more valuable to me than my own life. This is the mind of Christ that was displayed on the cross, and it’s the only mindset that allows his love to truly flourish in our relationships.
Prayer is one vital way we respond when a spotlight has been placed on the oppressed. Let the stories that you are listening to begin to sink in, let them draw you into the valley of someone else’s suffering, and then begin to pray through the emotional experience of pain that they are facing. This is what your prayer might sound like:
Consider their fear.
Father, my heart breaks as those close to me and those I have never met are bowed down in fear under a power that presses on them and that is lorded over them (Mark 10:42). We have seen the ugly reality of that evil power that presses down through the officer who killed George Floyd. Father, I pray that the fear my brothers and sisters feel would continue to help us all identify real dangers, testify to righteous concerns, and all draw nearer to you in faith.
Consider their anger.
Father, you are angry with evil (Exod 15:7). You are angry with all who oppress. You have made us in your image to recognize wrong, to stand against it, and to act to end the injustice (Psalm 82). May the wrongs of oppression come to even greater light and clarity in this season. May more people see how power is being used to press down rather than serve. May your justice increase to take power away from those who do harm, and may we have the wisdom to know how to advance this justice as we seek your kingdom.
Consider their shame.
Father, we live in a country that associates glory with vanity, power, and influence rather than servanthood. It so often leaves those without this culture’s advantages feeling isolated, defiled, exposed, and rejected. As those who know shame and have been oppressed continue to take make their voices heard, may you be the lifter of their heads. May their eyes look onto you and see you as their helper, their fellow sufferer, and as the only one whose opinion matters for them. As we stand together, may we sense your Spirit testifying that in Christ we do not have a Spirit of crippling fear, but a Spirit of power, of love, and of sound judgment. (2 Tim 1:7) May we continually find our sense of dignity, worth, strength, and courage not in how we are treated but in how you love us.
Consider their guilt.
Father, protect the oppressed from seeing their suffering as merely their fault. May the oppressive system continue to be brought to light, may the oppressors continue to be exposed, and may those suffering recognize that they have been forced to live within the consequences of the sins of others. Together, we grieve over the genuine suffering the oppressed must face, and we ask that you might protect their hearts from feeling condemned for not doing better or for not doing more to change their situation. Protect them from a legalistic guilt that scoffs at them, lies to them, and blames them.
Consider their hopelessness.
Father, oppression in this country can feel like an impossible problem. But while we wait on your timing and for your Kingdom to come, may we take heart that there is hope. You have told us that our actions make a difference, leave a legacy, and can give hope to others (Gal 6:7). May we find daily freedom, not in minimizing oppression, but in hoping that your steadfast love is at work in every moment. May your kingdom and the incorruptible hope of your love strengthen our hearts and give purpose to each step we take for your glory and for our joy in you.
Each of these brief prayers, while general, is meant to capture a sense of what it looks like to listen, seek to build an understanding of someone, and put words to that understanding before the Lord. We can pray for oppression to stop, but those who are suffering need to feel someone with them as they journey through their valley. Can you enter into the valley of someone’s suffering in this moment in history, feel their pain, and draw near to God alongside them with words that show that you hear them?