Pop Culture Prayer Room: How do we pray for murderers?

Photo cred: cnn.com

Photo cred: cnn.com

When I think about the man we’re praying for this week, I can hear the voices of sports fans (and everyone else, actually) echoing something like, “here we go with just another one of those thug athletes.”

A few months back, sports news was plagued with the story of Aaron Hernandez, tight end of the New England Patriots, shooting a friend (Odin Lloyd) several times to his death. He’s been in jail ever since, awaiting a trial with six charges against him. His arraignment is this Friday, and from there a jury trial date will be set. This whole situation kind of has potential to be the O.J. Simpson trial all over again. If convicted, it’s likely that Hernandez faces life in prison.

My heart breaks over every aspect of this story. It breaks for the family and friends of Odin Lloyd, who was obviously mixed up with a bad crowd that ended up costing him his life. My heart breaks over the example guys like this are setting for young men aspiring to be NFL superstars. My heart breaks for Aaron Hernandez, who must be a disturbed individual to do what he did that night.

Rolling Stone did a really extensive story on the whole thing, walking readers through what happened that night, and also through Hernandez’s life that led him up to that point. There was this one line that stopped me, and I read it two or three times before I continued with the story. It said, “There was such hunger in that kid for a father’s hand, and such greatness itching to get out…”

Hernandez lost his dad when he was 16, and according to anyone who knows him, that’s when rebellion began and thing spiraled out of control.

Is this an excuse for murder?

Absolutely not. But this gives me a great grid for how to pray for him. “God, let prison be the place that he learns he may have lost his dad, but he has a Father in you. No multimillion dollar contract can hold a candle to the inheritance you intend for your children to have in eternity, and not even a man behind bars for life is too far gone to take hold of the inheritance you have for him.”

What if redemption wasn’t out of the question for him? What if we prayed in such a way that we believed that?

And what about all the other broken hearts connected to this story?

I’m praying for the family and friends of Odin Lloyd who lost a friend, son and brother in the blink of an eye. Lord give them peace, let justice be served for the loss of his innocent life, and after that let grace rule in their hearts and not bitterness.

I’m praying for the broken, lost family of Aaron Hernandez to find the Healer so that they can find healing that will last.

I’m praying for the next generation of young athletes to become the Godly men and women that I want my children to look up to. Which means I am also praying for the local church to begin to influence the influencers.

As soon as this trial begins, there will be people saying all kinds of awful things about it. We have an opportunity to fight that in the spirit. Should we pray for justice? Yes. Should we believe that Aaron Hernandez can get what he deserves and still receive grace? You better believe it.

When vulnerability tears walls down


This story is the back story to my last post… the story of the day I met Monica and Doreen.

We sat in our team meeting on our fourth morning in Gulu, all teaming up in pairs to go out for the day. Joanna needed someone to come with her to do a discipleship lesson with the two women she had led to Jesus the previous day, so I went with her.

Joanna and I walked to the market where they work, talking through the lesson we were going to do and praying that God would somehow take our measly words and speak to our new friends. We sat down in their tiny shop where they both spent most of their days sitting at a sewing machine. The shop was about half the size of the dining room I’m currently sitting in at my house as I write this, and it was just a hop and a skip from the fish market, so the smell coming through the 90 degree heat was as wonderful as you can imagine, I promise.

And you know, when you’re the only white westerner within a two mile radius, there just isn’t a natural sort of feeling going into the situation. You try to act normal but the reality is that it’s uncomfortable and there’s language barriers and cultural chasms standing between you and everyone else. It’s like a wedgie for your emotions.

Somehow, though, hungry hearts bridge the gap and these women hang on every word we say, because they’re desperate for the hope and joy we claim to have in this Jesus they just met. And I felt the fear of God in a new way, knowing that it would have to be Him and not me that came in to change these new friends’ lives.

Well, we kind of stumbled through the lesson for the first half. Joanna and I kept passing it back and forth as one of us would get frustrated with the language barrier, coming to the end of our internal thesaurus capacity, and hoping the other would have some other word to use that they would understand. 

The lesson was on prayer and there’s a place in the middle where someone is supposed to share a story of God answering a prayer in their life. Joanna shared a story about a family member who was far from God, and how years of praying led to that family member finally turning back to Jesus. 

And then something miraculous happened.

All of a sudden, there was a shift. It was more than a shift, actually. It wasn’t just a subtle, “wait a minute, this feels different.” Barriers were breaking and walls were falling, and you could feel it — it was powerful and I could almost swear that I felt the earth shake in that moment. Suddenly we were just four broken women clinging to a God who heals and restores. Masks had come off and barricades had departed.

Joanna’s vulnerability in sharing a story opened a door for breakthrough, and it was like we all joined hands and busted right through the wall together.

Monica and Doreen shared deep things they were believing God for. Things I’d believed for too, like broken relationships and families. And with tears in our eyes we prayed together to see God deliver our friends and families. Four women with the same heart, no longer separated by language or culture, but united for the sake of His kingdom come. 

This is the power of vulnerability. It’s the power of testimony. When God moves, we tell about it, and it stirs faith in others to believe that He could do the same for them. Stories of His faithfulness bind us together, and even weeks later and on the other side of the world, a part of me remains in that tiny shop in Gulu town. 

And I wonder, how unified would we be if sharing deep stories of the healing and restoring power of Jesus became our normal?