|Posted on 22 February, 2018 at 20:15|
I have asked a fair few people over the years if they would mind if I prayed for them. People from lots of different backgrounds, that is. And only a few have ever said no. So I was really listening carefully this week when people around the world reacted to a President's response of "our thoughts and prayers are with you." I have seen God do some wonderful things in prayer- people have been changed, healed, loved, all those things by my choice to think and pray for them. And we as a church have as one of our core values that "honest prayer is powerful."
So what happened when a public figure offered to think and pray for hurting people this fortnight? The story I am referring to is the mass shootings in schools in the US, which has received a lot of coverage in the past few weeks. We each may have different views about what has happened and what should be happening. But the thing which grabbed my attention was the outrage that some felt when the President and others said their "prayers and thoughts" were with the victims of the shootings and their families. I realised it was not that people hate God or prayer necessarily. It was that they hated to see praying used as an excuse for not doing anything. And the Bible agrees with them at this point. In James chapter 2 we read these words
"15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
Jesus in this part of the Bible is saying to us that prayer cannot just be good intentions. And our words, thoughts and prayers have to be connected to our actions. When we separate them, the faith, the words, the thoughts, are...dead. So I found myself agreeing with the outrage at that point. And like I said before, our church core value is that "Honest prayer is powerful." It is so important to bring honesty into the process of talking to God. You can't shock God, you can't surprise Him with your thoughts. But you can hide yourselves in a game of token prayers. And when you hide, you disconnect with the love, grace and power of God. He wants us to come out into the light, and meet Him there. I know that is a hard thing to do. People may judge you if you're praying with a group. Or even worse (and this is what I think our fear stems from), God may reject you. A lot of us are petrified by this thought. We know God is powerful, we know God is holy, and so we know that nonsense is not allowed at the table so to speak. But could it be possible that our definition of "nonsense" is upside down when we use prayer as an excuse rather than a cry? I actually think that some Christians, held down by a fear of being rejected by God if they bring nonsense to the table (which is the wrong name they give to their brokenness), bring dishonesty to the table. And in doing so, they end up bringing nonsense.
As an Australian, I remember well the events around the mass shootings in Port Arthur in the 1990s. We have not had a mass shooting like that since 1996 because big changes were made after that event to minimise its chance of occurring. So, I don't get it really. But I do get the outrage when people are hurting and those who can make a change say they will think and pray for you, and appear to make no plans to DO anything. That's the sort of outrage James speaks of in the Bible. He says it's dead faith, when you say (or pray) one thing and do another. It's totally useless.
More than wanting to make social comment on US gun policy, I'd like to allow us to think very personally about the way we pray. Not the words, but the honesty. When you can come to God honestly, with all your stuff, you are off to a good start. When you can come to God and remember that He is God, and He is able to powerfully love and work in any situation, you have Biblical prayer. I would love to see more of this burning passion for honest, powerful prayer, in me and in those around me.