Today, the New York Daily News released a front page design and short video critiquing the Republican candidates’ response to yesterday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, using it as part of the narrative for gun control. Proponents who share this viewpoint argue that it’s not enough to pray, that those prayers are meaningless unless there’s some type of action taking place afterwards. Some would even say that they rarely see any type of “follow through” from people who pray (i.e. Christians) and that people (i.e. politicians) should enact some type of legislation to prevent future atrocities and episodes (i.e. gun control) – never mind there’s a greater concern with this situation. While I’m not entirely “qualified” to discuss the theology of prayer, as a Christ-follower I do think the critique of “meaningless prayers” is offensive and inaccurate for a couple of reasons.
For one, I actually know of more people than not who don’t do nothing after praying. They don’t pray then go to sleep, or work, or school. Instead, they encourage. They speak out and speak to. They get involved and campaign and may even write a letter to their Congressman. If don’t believe me, I invite you to my church where I’ll be more than happy to introduce you to some of these individuals. Second, praying is doing something. For many people, it [prayer] provides hope. For some, guidance. For others, it actually is a way for them to get clarity and direction on how they can take action and what to do from here. It’s not just sitting around. It’s not just watching tv. It’s not scrolling through my feeds to get enough sound bites to come off as informed. It’s a deliberate, thought- and heart-filled action that believers are called to do, in seasons of praise and in seasons of need (James 5:13).
Prayer is so important that we should do it without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) and even more so that the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf (Romans 8:26)! God prays for us! Our prayers to God aren’t futile or meaningless just because we’re not in a public office to make change (or laws), just as your condolences aren’t meaningless if you attended a funeral for my daughter who was in a fatal car accident while riding her bicycle on the street (will you call for legislation for safer bike riding?) It’s much simpler – it’s a direct and accessible way of interacting with the Creator of the universe. It’s also, in the least, our way of doing something, anything, if there really isn’t much more we can do. When you chime in about how ineffective our prayers are or assume nothing more is being done, you are passively demeaning a deep, spiritual conviction we may have. Would you do that to a Buddhist in meditation? Would you do that to a new age healer? Would you go to the Muslims praying in their mosque?
As individuals, the least we can do is pray just as the least you can do is write a letter to Congress. After all, it’s not the greater institution that helps or heals or will enact change – it’s God within the people who are praying to and for Him to move. When we, the Christians who pray, come together under the Church, there is a change and transformation that takes place through our prayers.
“The problem, however, is that institutions can’t really help people. Only spiritual families will bring people to spiritual maturity where they themselves can reproduce.
Charles Simpson has made the point that institutions never save people. He has noted, for instance, that hospitals don’t save people; doctors and nurses do. Likewise, it’s not churches that save and restore people, but God working through the individual members of that church. Institutions and bureaucracies don’t care for individuals. But families do care for the individual. It makes a huge difference whether we build our churches to be institutions or families.” Mark Hoffman / The Joshua Principle
I’ve seen and experienced incredible things with prayer and know how destructive things could have been without it. If you are still skeptical or don’t believe/agree with me, that’s okay. I’ll still be praying for you.