The joke among my Baptist friends is when another Baptist says, “I’m praying for you,” it simply means they’re leaving. It doesn’t mean anything else. They’re probably not going to pray. They’re not going to do anything. They’re just leaving.
This is what came to mind as I watched the protests after the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. Several of the speakers and marchers spoke to this directly. The protests went something like this: “Don’t pray for us. Don’t send us your prayers. Do something”. The speakers and marchers are tired of people brushing off their pain by simply saying, “I’m praying for you,” but not committing to any action to make our communities safer.
These speakers are like most of us. When we hear someone say they are praying for us, we don’t expect anything to happen. We aren’t looking for them to do anything that will really help.
That’s sad. What’s sadder still is most of us don’t understand prayer. Prayer is never a substitute for action, but the needed first step to faithful and good action. Without prayer, our “help” ends up being misguided at best, and harmful at worst.
Scripture gives us a very different picture of prayer than most of us have. Most of the great events and miracles of the Bible came out of and through prayer. Go ahead. Make a quick list.
Here’s a list off the top of my head:
-Hannah’s prayer for Samuel
-Moses’ prayers for Israel
-Elijah’s prayer on Mt. Carmel
-Jesus’ prayer at the feeding of the 5,000
-Jesus in Gethsemane before the crucifixion
-Jesus praying before the raising of Lazarus
-The church before Pentecost
My list is in a random order and incomplete, but the point remains. Prayer isn’t an absence of action, but the necessary first step to true and helpful action. Without prayer, our actions are thoughtless, reactionary, and because we haven’t taken the time to think through the issue, our actions caused more harm than good.
Yes, prayer is indeed a conversation, but prayer is more than just talking. Prayer is the moment the pilot checks the flight plan before taking off. Prayer is the meeting of the generals to go over the battle plans before the battle is engaged. Mechanics check over the race car one last time before the race, and coaches talk about the game plan just before the game starts –that’s prayer.Prayer is the long conversation where we make sure our hearts, desires, and thoughts are aligned with the heart, desire, and the mind of Christ. Then, and only then, are we prepared to act.
Prayer is the battle inside before the battle is fought on the outside.
Don’t misunderstand me. The battle still has to be fought. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, and as He humbled Himself under the call of the cross, He still had to endure the cross. Gethsemane was not a substitute for Calvary.
Praying for a friend doesn’t relieve us of the call to minister to that friend. After we pray, as we pray, we still visit our friends in their homes, or hospitals, or prisons. We still have to take them meals, read Scripture with and to them, and do all of the necessary things love requires.
I would be suspicious, even fearful, of any action that isn’t birthed and bathed in prayer. That would be like taking a trip without knowing the destination or cooking without reading the recipe. We know the disasters that have followed these well-intended, but misguided efforts.
We should absolutely pray for the communities involved in these mass shootings. We should lament our world has come to be a mess like this where lost and wounded young men think they can only deal with their pain by wounding someone. We should grieve that children going to the store with their parents to buy school supplies are shot – wounded and killed – by an angry young man they don’t even know.
We should weep with those who weep and then, we need to get up and do something. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know about “red flag” laws, or how much ammo any weapon should be able to fire without reloading. I don’t know the answer.
I know there is an answer. Somewhere in all of this discussion and in all of these recommendations, there’s something we can do to make our communities a little safer and our childhoods a little less violent.
Yes, pray. Then, get up and go do something. Find those young men, alienated and angry, love them and be their friend. Help them deal with their pain. Help them find their identity and move toward a more positive future.
Talk to gun groups, anti-gun groups, politicians and church leaders – find a common ground so we can find a safe and democratic future for all us.
I’m not anti-gun. I’m not pro-gun. I’m pro-freedom. I’m pro-life.
I’m praying about that. I’m working for that.
Love requires nothing less.