In the wake of the 12-2-2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA, the New York Daily News jumped on Republican Candidates who tweeted “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. The paper published a provocative front page that said “God Isn’t Fixing This.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/02/the-new-york-daily-newss-very-provocative-front-page-on-the-san-bernardino-shooting/
Despite the apparent anti-religious bias of the Daily News, the excited affirmations of others who have chimed in, the intense debate over gun control, and the evolving details of the tragedy (which seems to be trending towards an act of terrorism), there still may be a worthy lesson here.
This post is not about gun control. The Daily News was using the prayer tweets as way to say more legal restrictions on gun ownership would be better than “thoughts and prayers.” There has been the inevitable outcry from the other side. The polarized and angry war of words continues. But my interest is not in the gun control issue or even the frequency of mass shootings (responses on these topics will not be included on my blog.) My interest is in prayer and it’s relevance for the real world, especially the real world of work. And when it comes to the real world-the Daily News piece has a shred of truth in it. But first, some pushback.
The PushBack—Prayer is indispensable, just not everything.
If you don’t believe in a God who is active in the world, a God who cares, then it’s logical to suggest that prayer is a waste of time. Prayer in the face of a tragedy seems pointless and hollow. Yet in the grand narrative of the Bible-the story we find ourselves in-there is a hearing and active God behind the reality we see. There are also forces of evil that seek to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus modeled a life of prayer for his followers. While prayer was sometimes a way to express grief and desperation, prayer was more often connected to action. Prayer is the way to discern what to do. Prayer is the way to gain the strength to act. Jesus prayed all night before choosing his inner circle of disciples and did the same before facing his trial and crucifixion.
More on the pushback here: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/prayer-gun-control-mass-shooting-san-bernardino/418563/Prayer is a critical, indispensable practice, but it is rarely meant to work independent of human action. When the God conversation is disconnected from our human activity it opens a door to bad prayers, prayers that offend God.
Some Prayers Offend God
A man named Isaiah, condemned his generation (a superficially religious crowd, in power ~ 700 BC) for putting on a big show of their prayers and fasting while at the same time exploiting the vulnerable, being self-centered, and ignoring gross societal injustice. God was not at all impressed with these prayers. In fact they offended him.
Prayer Is No Excuse for Inaction
Having spent over 4 decades conversant with and invested in what most would call a religious culture, I have had a sense many times that “I’ll pray about it” is often a ruse to avoid saying no or steer clear of any action at all. It reminds me of James words.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17)
Prayer Is Rarely Enough
In conclusion, I see a shred of truth in the Daily News’s contentious headline. Prayer for our work is important (which I doubt they’d affirm) (see prior series, starting here: Teach US To Pray For Our Work).But prayer is rarely enough—prayer is more often the basis for positive action as we move out into a messy and dangerous world, striving to bring God’s peace and justice to our neighbors and in our circles of influence.
How About You?
How have you seen a connection between prayer and helpful action?