Praying is also doing something.
There a lots of people mocking believers who say, in the face of tragedy, ‘our thoughts and prayers are with you.’ They say it’s ridiculous to pray; we should do something instead of pray. They fail to realize some things.
Plenty of Christians do things in times of crisis. In fact, one of the largest organizations working in disaster response is the Southern Baptist Convention. https://pjmedia.com/faith/2017/09/11/the-best-kept-secret-in-disaster-relief-southern-baptists/ In like-manner, groups like Samaritan’s Purse ‘do things,’ nationally and internationally. In fact, one of my ‘praying’ friends went with Samaritan’s Purse to staff a combat hospital in a dangerous combat area of the Middle East earlier this year. https://www.samaritanspurse.ca/article/emergency-field-hospital-airlifted-to-iraq/ These are just two of the untold numbers of organizations and individuals who back up their prayers with action.
Unlike politicians and celebrities, believers who do things don’t blather on and on about it. Most are regular folks who can’t afford to fund foundations in their own names; they can’t discuss their actions on talk shows or Tweet out to their millions of loyal and adoring fans. They just do it. They pray before, during and after doing it.
Those who ‘do things’ often don’t talk about it because the Bible tells them not to give in a way to be seen and rewarded by public acclaim. In the Gospel of St. Matthew 6:3, Jesus says ‘But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ And they don’t expect that reward to be temporal but eternal.
Christians prayer isn’t a ‘helpful suggestion’ from God, but a command. Over and over and over the Bible tells us to pray. ‘Pray without ceasing.’ 1st Thessalonians 5:17. ‘Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.’ Philipians 4:6. ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.’ Colossians 4:2. ‘Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.’ James 5:16 ‘Then Jesus told them a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.’ Luke 18:1. ‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Matthew 5:44. ‘I urge then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.’ 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
Of course, and this is very important, some people can’t ‘do’ all the things everyone thinks they should. They are constrained by finances or jobs, by families or geography, by health or age. Would we suggest to them that their kind thoughts, their hopes or their sincere prayers were utterly pointless? Does the feeble grandfather, praying for his grandchildren, have nothing therefore to offer? He has no money and he cannot travel. He may be bed-ridden. And yet, by the power of prayer his love is transported and his intercession heard at the throne of God. I saw an old man once with sore knees. I asked him if he knelt a lot at work. ‘No, I prays a lot,’ he responded. Even if you don’t believe that his prayers had any effect, would you deny such a person that hope? Indeed, I have always thought it a little silly to say simply, ‘I hope you’re better,’ if one thinks prayer is a joke. If prayer is pointless, so is hoping for someone in their trouble. One might as well say, candidly, ‘you will get better or you won’t.’ And if prayer is not useful, then certainly ‘sending positive vibes’ is equally pointless.
You see, we believe that prayer does things. Not in the caricature way that non-believers think we do. Prayer isn’t rubbing the bottle with the genie inside; it isn’t a secret formula. Sometimes prayers are answered immediately; sometimes not in any way that we can discern in this life. It doesn’t make them less prayerful and the fact that we don’t get what we want neither excuses us from prayer nor refutes its utility. It is a thing of relationship and transformation, of attitude and wisdom, as much as of intercession. And it helps us, when we pray for others, to keep their troubles before us so that when we can help, we do help.
Obviously, when it comes to tragedies or politics or whatever horror the news cycle brings, believers in prayer and non- believers alike often ‘want something done.’ However, they don’t always agree on what that ‘something’ is or should be. This, also, does not mean that their prayers are wasted time. Just that their viewpoint of the situation may differ from yours.
It’s a hard world. Sure, let’s do something to make it better; do what yo think is right. But those of us who pray should continue praying; and those who disagree with praying should not dismiss the praying so handily. Even if you think asking God for something is ludicrous, try to remember that the act of the prayer is (if nothing else) an sincere and profound act of love and concern, as ancient as humanity itself in one form or another.
That, in itself, may suggest it’s not so silly after all.