What good does it do to pray?
A Facebook post from a high school friend stopped me in my tracks this morning. It read: "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be glib but: if thoughts and prayers don't stop you from getting shot in church, then what good are they?" It's an honest question, and one that deserves more than just a quick answer.
I found myself pondering this question for quite some time. Why pray? I have my own reasons and motivations, but in general, why should we pray? Curious about what the "experts" say, I Googled it. One article that seemed to be laid out in a clear and meticulous manner was by Focus on the Family. You can read it here.
Yet, even the Focus article may generate more questions than it answers when we look at the mass shooting that happened in Sutherland Springs. I'm sure those people routinely prayed for God's protection, so did He not hear? Did He not care? Was He powerless to prevent this tragedy?
Each of these sub-questions are no doubt the subject of many a Doctorate dissertation. In the limited time and attention you have to read this post, I'll boil it down. Yes, God hears the prayers of His people. Yes, He cares. Could He have preventing this shooting? That is the million dollar question that I think is at the heart of most everyone trying to ultimately understand why evil happens in this world.
Prayer is the intimate language between a flawed human and a perfect God. God desires relationship with us, and prayer is a means for us to speak with Him. Honest prayer lays it all on the line: our disgusting behaviors, our longings, our hopes, our fears. This "pillow talk" whispered (or sometimes shouted) to heaven, is part of what draws our hearts to His.
Intimate relationships between two humans have many of the same characteristics. We share the secret parts of who we are with someone we love. We trust that the one to whom we divulge the most personal portions of ourselves will be faithful and gentle. Ultimately, it's a matter of faith, for we never have control over the response or actions of another.
God desires for mankind to have this beautifully intimate connection with Him, yet, He will never force relationship upon us. We must choose whether we will love and trust Him. Many do not choose Him. They reject Him and fall victim to the very real evil that desires to devour all in its path.
The phrase "our thoughts and prayers go out. . . " can sound so meaningless, and depending on who speaks the phrase, might well be. If the prayers are anchored by way of intimate relationship with God, than they carry great weight. But the idea of praying to no one in particular, is about as effective as divulging your intimate secrets to a decorative pillow. They pillow is unmoved and unchanged.
Perhaps the question that most longs to be answered is: "Why doesn't God do what we ask Him to do?" It's again, an honest and painful cry of the human heart. The answer can't come in a simple blog post. It is one that is discovered through the process of experiencing intimacy with Him.
I am part of a beautiful love story that will continue to play out for as many days as I am given. If my death comes naturally at the age of 90, or "prematurely" in an act of violence, I have an assurance that the object of my affection has already secured by eternity. My prayers will continue to go out, for myself and for others. If I believe that God is good, than I trust His answers will be too, even when I cannot understand.