Praying for Justice

Two Microphones, Sixty Petitions, Four Hundred Students

A shy female student stepped to the microphone and prayed: “Bring peace to regions of conflict, especially Sudan, Israel, and Gaza.” A tall male student bent over the same microphone: “Bring consolation and companionship to widows and orphans.” Another student, standing on tiptoes, adjusted the microphone to her mouth: “Renew our nation in the ways of justice and peace.”

Students offered these prayers at a recent worship service at Calvin College. The sermon that evening was on Amos 5:21-24, a text where God expresses startling words about justice and worship: “Take away from me the noise of your songs, to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In this passage God calls people to justice. God declares that worship on Sunday is displeasing when there is no justice on Monday. So that evening at our college worship service, we prayed for justice.

The plan involved all worshipers. It included two microphones set up in the aisles, sixty prayers for justice, and over four hundred tiny slips of paper handed out as students walked into the chapel. After the sermon, while the piano played softly, we invited students to come forward and read their short prayer.

The preparation for these prayers began the week before. As a planning team we spent time reflecting on justice. We didn’t debate what ought to be done or feel guilty for what has not been done; instead we dreamed of ways we want to see God at work. We talked about racism, classism, sexism, and ageism. We discussed inequalities in the court system and discriminatory practices against those who are poor, weak, and marginalized. We spoke of the need for justice “out there” as well as “here” on our campus.

After generating dozens of possible petitions, we mined the list of topics for petition on pages 182-184 of The Worship Sourcebook (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2004). We also looked at the Heidelberg Catechism. Its exposition of the Ten Commandments suggests many concrete ideas for prayer (see especially Q&A 105-112).

In all, we devised a list of almost sixty prayer requests for justice in our world, community, and campus. We printed seven copies and cut out over four hundred slips of paper. Knowing that some requests would be repeated, we acknowledged the benefit of hearing these petitions more than once.

As the students came forward to pray, I was moved to tears. It was a tremendous blessing to hear the voices of our community lifting up so many requests for justice. In that moment I felt a palpable sense of God’s pleasure in our worship.

Excerpt

Petitions for Justice

Help us to see the same potential in others that you see in us.

Help us to be conscious of what we say behind other people’s backs.

Renew our nation in the ways of justice and peace.

Guide those who make and administer our laws to build a society based on trust and respect.

Help us to look with compassion on all who suffer.

Help us to support, with your love, those with incurable or stigmatized diseases.

Inspire leaders of all nations to strive for peace and justice.

Give us, who consume most of the earth’s resources, the will to reorder our lives, that all may have their rightful share of food.

Bless the work of students who will be venturing into various areas of the country during spring break on Service Learning trips.

Mend broken relationships and restore those in emotional distress to soundness of mind and serenity of spirit.

Strengthen and encourage those who tend to the sick, comfort the dying, care for the poor, and befriend the oppressed.

Keep us attentive to the needs of the people we live with, and help us to tend to those needs.

Help us to view our coworkers not just as people who help us get the job done but as friends.

In our desire to do great things, help us not to overlook the simple acts, done faithfully, that make a huge impact for your kingdom.

As we often focus on the needs of our global neighbors, may we not fail to recognize and act upon the needs of our literal neighbors.

Liberate the victims of sex trafficking and restore their broken bodies and spirits to wholeness.

Do a mighty work within the country of Burma. Bring peace to the ongoing conflict and wrap your loving arms around the millions of refugees scattered throughout the world as a result of this turmoil.

Bring peace to regions of conflict, especially Iraq, Afganistan, Sudan, Israel, and Gaza.

Help us to be humble and willing to work with others, not proud and confident in our work.

Thank you for those with the initiative to bring safe drinking water to nations that would otherwise be without this life-sustaining resource.

Provide warmth for those without homes during the cold winter months.

Thank you for those who tirelessly run homeless shelters and soup kitchens, often providing individuals with so much more than just food and shelter.

Help us to be mindful of the amount of food we take at meals, and to keep waste to a minimum.

We pray for justice in our school systems, that all may have an equal opportunity for excellent education.

We pray that we may live with respect for your creation and use your gifts with reverence.

We pray for all who are in need because of famine, flood, and earthquake, that they may know the hope of your faithfulness through the help of others.

We pray for the wisdom and the will to conserve God’s good earth.

We pray that we might not forget the needs of the aged and infirm.

Use us to bring consolation and companionship to widows and orphans.

Bless all of those whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may love one another as God loves us.

Thank you for the work of local nonprofit organizations that work for justice in our city. Provide for them the resources needed to continue their efforts.

Remind us of the power of an encouraging word.

Give us courage to tell our loved ones how thankful we are for them.

When faced with temptation, help us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.

Make us people who are deeply unsettled by our nation’s consumerism and egoism.

Convict us of the power of our words, that we may finally understand that loving our neighbor means speaking lovingly toward and about them.

Convict us when we disrespect people behind their backs.

As we grow more independent of our families, may we not neglect relationships at home. Help us work to right any wrongs between us and our siblings and parents.

Grant us compassion for the student in the desk next to us who is struggling to comprehend the material.

Help us to not get so comfortable or exclusive with our friend groups that we forget, or lose the desire, to include people who are in desperate need of community.

May we never be too rushed to say hello to someone else.

Give us grateful hearts for the countless ways you provide daily for us.

Nourish all those who have never experienced the satisfaction of a full stomach.

Thank you for the Service-Learning Center and its work to connect students’ individual gifts and talents to needs in the community.

May we never be too quick to give up on difficult relationships. Help us to be prayerfully persistent in working toward reconciliation.

Invigorate our approach to social justice with creativity and innovation.

Make us followers of Christ who uphold and honor the dignity of our neighbors.

Work within systems that perpetuate racism and break down glass ceilings of inequality in the workplace.

Give us the courage to move beyond our fears and into reckless obedience to your commandments.

Make us quick to forgive those who wrong us.

Make us willing and faithful servants who follow you daily and bring glory to your throne.

Show us what it means to make our lives living sacrifices, holy and pleasing in your sight.

May we extend the same grace to others that you extend to us. Make us slow to anger and rich in love.

Heal the physical and emotional wounds of victims of domestic violence.

Free those who are in emotionally or physically abusive relationships.

Comfort children who go to bed to the sounds of yelling and hurtful verbal exchanges between their parents.

Wrap your loving arms around the children whose idea of a parent is one who cares more about a drink or a drug than about them.

Paul Ryan (psr2@calvin.edu) is coordinator of Christian formation and resource development specialist for worship teams at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan.