Since last week’s shooting, I’ve vacillated between grief and anger like pretty much everybody I know. I’ve fist-pumped at impactful posts only to despair at online arguments that are more about blame-shifting than truth-seeking.
One trending idea that’s caught my attention is that politicians will once again offer only “thoughts and prayers” but no real action. It’s a clever goad, daring the powers-that-be to come up with a solution rather than sympathetic noise (assuming politicians actually read our Facebook posts and Twitter traffic).
Interestingly, I saw versions of the same idea posted after Hurricane Harvey and other disasters, and not just directed at lawmakers. This makes me think there’s something far more cynical and despairing underneath than just a “dare you to act” challenge. Somehow “thoughts and prayers” have gotten such a reputation as useless words in a sea of other useless words that we may be losing faith in them altogether.
So with that in mind, here are three ways we can transform “thoughts and prayers” into something of substance and perhaps rekindle our faith in the process:
First, let’s refuse to let “thoughts” be thoughtless. We’ve got to sit down and contemplate not only what we know (or at least think we know) but also what we have yet to learn.
God created our minds to imagine, create, dream, plan, question, and investigate. He made us capable of seeking out not only knowledge but also the wisdom to apply that knowledge.
Hate to remind us but that’s going to take humility, diligence, and work. Look at how Proverbs characterizes Wisdom and the necessity for pursuing her:
“Wisdom calls out in the street, she shouts loudly in the plazas; at the head of the noisy streets she calls, in the entrances of the gates in the city she utters her words: “How long will you simpletons love naiveté? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If only you will respond to my rebuke, then I will pour out my thoughts to you and I will make my words known to you.” Proverbs 1:20-23 NET
Wisdom stands there in the bustling marketplace, raising her voice above the noise, in order to round up ready pupils. Those who make the effort to get schooled by God’s wisdom through His word, His wise teachers, and His daily interactions with us during prayer are going to be able to gather and evaluate the other information around them in ways that lead to wise plans and actions. They will also not be too arrogant to listen to other voices and seek out truth. (And just as a side note – the fact that Wisdom is portrayed multiple times in Proverbs as a wise older female voice should tell us something about how God esteems actual “wise older female voices” as some of the teachers of His truth—that’s awfully encouraging to me!)
Second, let’s elevate “prayers” from mere lip-service to the spiritual power-punches they are meant to be. I’ll make you a deal: if I say I’m going to pray for you, then I’m going to do it, most likely right then and there so I don’t forget. I will resist the urge to say, “Well, I’ll be praying for you” as some kind of catch all phrase when I don’t know how to end a hard conversation.
Time to energize those prayers—they‘re not wishful thinking offered up to the sky. They are meant to be fervent and specific, based on Who we know our God to be and what we know Him to be capable of doing.
Even if the prayer is “Father, I don’t know what to pray. Teach me,” we are in good company.
Christ’s disciples asked that very thing—they were seeking wisdom in how to pray—and He gave them a model for praying heaven right down onto the earth. He also told them to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking at God’s door, trusting in a Father Who gives good gifts to those who ask. (Luke 11)
Third, let’s use our thoughts and prayers to propel us to into action. At the heart of the “All the politicians have to offer are thoughts and prayers” rebuke is a great truth: “So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself” (James 2:17). Faith is more than simply agreeing that we believe something. James will go on to say that even demons believe there’s a God and shudder because of it (2:19).
Faith is stepping out to do the righteous will of God because we know, love, and trust Him.
Of course, to discover God’s righteous will, we’ve got to be busy seeking wisdom and seeking Him. I often find, too, that God reveals the course of action bit by bit once I’ve awakened to an issue and started taking steps of faith. Then, my steps begin to join with others in ways I hadn’t expected to create momentum.
A friend with a passion for foster care and adoption explained this kind of momentum like this: as God begins to awaken us to a larger issue (in her example, how to ensure vulnerable children thrive), He gives each of us different pieces of the answer. Some will become foster or adoptive parents. Some will begin to work passionately to strengthen families of origin so fewer children enter the system. Others will be called to be advocates in the schools for kids who don’t have a voice. Different actions, yes, but all part of a solution that begins with having faith that each small part matters.
So don’t be afraid to think and pray and act even when the darkness seems insurmountable. After all, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV). Let’s hold fast to hope.