Within my first 10 months as the pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, we have served as the location for several funerals caused by the recent gun violence in Madison. I have participated in the funeral services and witnessed the extreme pain family members endure when losing someone suddenly and unexpectedly. I have watched as family and friends sob uncontrollably. I have watched children cry loudly, knowing that they would never see their father again. I have watched mothers sit in the front row as the morticians close the cover to the coffin, knowing it will be the last time they would see their child.
I have witnessed all of this pain, using everything within me to hold back the tears in my eyes and prevent them from rolling down my face. The pain I felt for these families is unexplainable. I felt as if I had lost a loved one. It seemed as if my brother had died. I felt so much pain for the children who would now have to live the rest of their lives without their father being there. Their lives were snatched too soon. I didn’t know them personally, but I felt the love the family had towards the deceased. It seems unnatural when a parent has to bury a child. As the pastor of so many people looking to me for hope and inspiration, I felt like King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:12 “For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”
Yet this narrative in 2 Chronicles chapter 20 can offer Madison hope. King Jehoshaphat receives word that three armies had banded together to destroy him and the city. Instead of calling his generals together to strategize a plan to defend the city or calling his engineers to fortify the walls, King Jehoshaphat calls the city to pray. “So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.” (2 Chr. 20:4) In the midst of all this trouble, danger, and violence, the church must seek the Lord. The Christian church must stand tighter. We must depend on God to intervene and provide peace in our communities.
As leaders in the communities, we understand the problems that continue to leave so many in a state of helplessness. We know all of the discouraging statistics that continue to cause despair, striping away hope from the least, the left out, and the looked over. When individuals live a life in the state of utter helplessness, they become hopeless, and because they are hopeless, they are willing to do anything, even if it is unlawful. Hopelessness leads to reckless behaviors. Many overcome hostile situations only because we have thought through the consequences of our actions, thinking to ourselves ‘I have too much to lose if I do a wrong deed.’ However, when you are hopeless, you may feel as if you have nothing to lose.
King Jehoshaphat and the citizens of Judah are helpless but they are not hopeless. While they were seeking the Lord’s presence, God began to speak to the people, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” (2 Chr. 20: 15, 17) The hope we have is that God is with us, and because of His presence, we do not have to be afraid or even discouraged. We trust that He will be able to handle what we are unable to endure.
So to all who may read this I want to encourage you that God is with us. We see the violence. We feel the pain of our community. We have observed the helpless and hopeless demeanor of so many. But I pray that we all will take on the spirit of King Jehoshaphat, willing and ready to seek God to help us overcome this dark period of life. We may be helpless but we are never hopeless.