Right after the tragic church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas in early November, social media was flooded with the usual chorus of people posting “sending thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. This is an entirely normal reaction to a tragedy, to acknowledge a sense of helplessness and beseech the Almighty to intervene where we cannot (unless the it happens close to where you live, the ability to take physical action is limited).
What startled me was the instant, sharp-tongued mockery of such statements from liberals, progressives, and otherwise godless individuals. People from A to Q list celebrities as well as average Joes and Janes hurled insults on Twitter to those sending thoughts and prayers for the situation. Most were mean-spirited, a few were clever or even funny. The tenor of the sentiment was essentially that thoughts and prayers are meaningless, and not enough, or not even worthwhile.
I take serious issue with that view, or at least part of it. Calling prayers useless is the part that I wish to side against with vigor. In this post, I’ll make a case for the power of prayer.
I’ll agree with the critics that “sending thoughts” or “positive thoughts” is of utterly zero value. Saying that may make one appear pious, but that is all. It does nothing to help victims practically or enlist the help of the only One who can.
Here are my rebuttals to the anti #thoughtsandprayers crowd.
Prayer is not only worthwhile, but it is also usually the best response
When tragedy strikes, whether a national crisis or within our own lives, that is when most people feel compelled to pray. Why is that? Because it often takes a crisis to realize how helpless we are, how little we actually have in our control, and how great and unspeakable the fallout from sin and resulting evil in the world.
I wouldn’t wish tragedy or hard times on myself or anyone. Having said that, if tragedy is what it takes to make someone do business with God, they will be better for it. Certainly from an eternal perspective, and most assuredly in this life as well.
As I said, when we can see no other option, we pray. Because somewhere deep inside, we know that it is the Almighty God and Him alone who can intervene. In the case of Sutherland Springs, and so many other tragedies in recent times, it is horrifying to see coverage and know there is not much I can do to help.
If I lived in the same town, I could bring meals to victims’ families. I could offer a listening ear to those who are fighting with grief. If I really wanted to go the extra mile, I could provide temporary lodging in my home for out-of-town family members who come in to sort things out in the aftermath.
In some cases, such as natural disasters, I could donate money to relief efforts. That is a tangible way I often choose to help. But in the absence of that…
It is God who can move mountains, inspire locals to act with compassion, grant effectiveness and wisdom to local officials, and most of all, to bring comfort to those suffering.
My passion and belief in the power of prayer comes from my knowledge of and love for God
I’ve spent my whole life reading God’s Word, the Bible. I’ve read the accounts of the amazing things He does through prayer:
- Prophet Elijah prayed for rain, and God ended a drought in Israel (1 Kings 18)
- Elijah also made a fool of prophets from false religions, with fire from heaven (also 1 Kings 18)
- Joshua prayed for a longer day to defeat Israel’s enemies before the sun went down, and God answered (Joshua 10:12-14)
- King Hezekiah prayed for life in spite of his mortal illness, and the Lord granted it (2 Kings 20:1-6)
This only scratches the surface of the truly amazing things God does when His people pray. In my own life, I’ve witnessed God work mightily through prayer:
- Healing a dear friend and more than one family member from cancer
- Giving me comfort and strength through every tough season of life
- Providing for my physical needs 100% of the time, even when circumstances looked grim
- Giving me boldness to do things I normally wouldn’t do, like share my faith with someone else
- Creating, and providentially leading me to, my husband, a man who is more soul-matey for me than I ever could have imagined
- Changing hardened hearts of people I know to be softened and opened to God
I realize that someone who mocks prayer as ineffective does so because his or her outlook on God is one that is completely removed from what God says about Himself in the Bible. There are many different nuances to that, which I won’t get into here. In short, those people don’t believe God.
Those of us who do, who have seen God work and love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), know that praying in the midst of tragedy is not only practical, it is likely the most effective thing we can do.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways.” That phrase is thrown around a lot, almost to the point of being diluted of its significance. But it is still so true.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.“
~ Isaiah 55:8-9
It is God alone who can:
- Change hearts and minds (Ezekiel 36:26)
- Give wisdom (James 1:5)
- Direct the steps of a man (Psalm 37:23)
- Inspire His followers to act with compassion (Philippians 2:13)
- Make the miraculous happen in the lives of the afflicted and grieving (John 11, Psalm 34:18-19, Luke 8:40-56, cf. the whole Bible).
So to those who mock the sincere prayers of others, I say without irony that I will be praying for you. May God open your eyes to His goodness and power, and the salvation He offers through Jesus (John 3:16).