After Vegas: Why Bother Praying?
Our country has been deeply divided between red and blue, black and white, kneelers and standers. The tragedy in Las…
Our country has been deeply divided between red and blue, black and white, kneelers and standers. The tragedy in Las Vegas has united us in common shock and sorrow. We can pray with one voice for healing and hope.
There has been the usual flurry of those who responded with the words “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” – a gesture of sympathy and solidarity with those suffering.
In response to the flood of those sending the “thoughts and prayers” message has come a frustrated backlash with the sentiment that we need to do more than just send thoughts and prayers. We need to actually DO something.
We can’t even seem agree on whether or not to pray.
I get it.
If our sending “prayers” is merely a way of excusing ourselves from taking action, and the phrase becomes a disingenuous filler line we throw out to alleviate ourselves from the guilt of our callous inaction, then, of course, it’s wrong.
God’s people must do more than pray.
The scriptures command us to do more than merely feel bad about the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the widow, the refugee, the suffering. In the face of evil we are not only called to drop to our knees but to rise up as change agents, so that the prayer “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” will be answered through our own lives.
We are not called merely to “say prayers” but to be the ANSWER to prayers through our loving, bold actions of God’s justice and compassion.
I understand how anger or concern can lead someone to say the time for praying is past. That’s why our church at Mountain not only prayed for hurricane victims, we took offerings and sent funds for hazmat suits and water. We will send teams who will roll up their sleeves and help rebuild. They are walking prayers.
And in the aftermath of Vegas, we may feel especially aware of our helplessness. I think the fear and hopelessness is leading many to say, “We can’t just pray! We must take things into our own hands!” And every Christ follower should engage through whatever tangible expressions are available, so you can, as the old rabbi said, “pray with your feet” through personal involvement, voting for change, speaking out, making a real-world difference as the Spirit directs.
But I think it’s important to remember there is a huge flaw in saying, “Don’t just pray, DO something!” The chief error is the assumption that praying is doing nothing. Nothing is further from the truth.
In times like these, prayer is one of the best things we can do. Biblical prayer isn’t divorced from action; it IS a form of action. And it is the first step toward more action. If praying without action is bad, skipping prayer and jumping into “action” that isn’t guided through prayer is worse. Prayer is a form of action.
May I remind us of a few other reasons why your prayer matters?
- In prayer we engage the highest Power in the universe! We are not just musing in our minds about nice thoughts; we are making contact in an active conversation with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. That’s why I’m not a fan of the phrase “our thoughts and prayers are with you.” My prayers go to God, not anyone else. And my thoughts are merely private wishes circulating in my own mind. They have no real power. Some people assume prayer is the same – nice private thoughts swirling in someone’s mind. Not so. Prayer knocks on the door of heaven, and the God who brought light, beauty and order out of chaos at Creation responds in our dark chaos when we call. So instead of sending thoughts and prayers to people, let’s just pray to God instead.
- Prayer changes things. Other people are changed. Circumstances change. Prayer can change God’s mind – God is moved by the prayers of His people. And perhaps most importantly, prayer changes the one praying. In prayer we don’t just talk with God, but take a posture of listening, opening ourselves to hear what God is calling us to do in response to the matter.
- Prayer helps us find clarity in the chaos. The news Monday ran like electric current through us, leaving us paralyzed in shock; prayer grounds us in God. It brings us to calmness even while the storm rages. Prayer delivers unusual peace in times of trouble “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
- Tragedy makes us feel cut off, isolated on an island of hopelessness. Prayer is the bridge over which arrives God’s endless supply of comfort in pain and strength in times of weakness. “God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
- Time in prayer reorients our minds to the mind of God, so we ae able to see our way out of the darkness of the present situation. When we don’t know what to do, his Word lights the path (Psalm 119). When our hearts become anxious in the face of hate, we can put our minds on things above – the pure, the lovely, the good, from God. (Galatians 5:22) Contemplating the power of hate and the swath of pain in this world can make your head hang low. In prayer, God gently touches us beneath the chin and lifts.
“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” Psalm 3:3
- A tragedy like this is broadcast incessantly for days. We are bombarded with various perspectives on the shooter, his motives, the victims and their stories. Immediately the political arguments begin, the debates about guns, the blame, the politics, the analysis, the maps of the hotel, and we find ourselves analyzing things.
Prayer invites us instead to be human – to feel, to weep, to be angry – and to bring it all to the One who knows and cares. Praying breaks down the protective barrier around our hearts and allows us to voice our pain, our fear, our anguish. Prayer allows to get real with our grief, allowing our humanness to express itself to the only One who can truly help:
I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer. Psalm 6:6-9
- Prayer forces us toward the truth, toward good theology. People around us despair and say everything is falling apart. Prayer brings us back to a God who is in control, even when all seems out of control.
- Prayer brings us close to the Lord. I am amazed at how people run to their politics in times of trouble. In prayer we say, “Even though I walk through the valley of death itself, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and staff comfort me.” Psalm 23. Thank you, Good Shepherd. This sheep needs some tending right now.
- Prayer does NOT answer all our questions. It does not solve everything overnight. It does not make light of the horror of what has happened. It does not bring back everyone whose life was lost. It does not guarantee no one will suffer terribly. And it does not fix its eyes exclusively on the next world, knowing God has called us to be salt and light in his project of making things right in this world.
But in the face of unspeakable evil, the most natural – and most important response you can have is prayer.
It is not doing nothing. Prayer is action.
First, we drop to our knees, in sympathy and supportive solidarity for those who are suffering, knowing we are all part of the same human fabric. We call upon God for strength, help, hope, and healing for all.
Then we rise to our feet to address the needs – even the controversial ones – putting feet to our prayers, empowered by the One we have just spoken with in our prayers.
Jesus faced the darkest evil and most hate filled campaign ever. With death breathing down his neck, Jesus bowed in prayer. “Whatever you want is what I want.” That’s what he prayed.
Then he got up and entered into the fray, putting himself in the middle of the solution at great cost to himself. And God used it for tremendous good.
Let’s pray like that.