by Jess Dahl, Resonate CWU staff
The further it's embedded in our post-tragedy lexicon, the more it's mocked as a form of civilian slacktivism, and more recently as a form of political obfuscation. - (A.J Willingham, CNN February 20, 2018, “How thoughts and prayers went from common condolence to cynical meme”)
The term “thoughts and prayers” was trending on Google last week. In the wake of another national tragedy, people were seeking answers. They were mad. They were believing that the prayer offered by Christians during a tragedy is not an answer to their hurt in any way. In fact, they believe it is a thoughtless slight, the equivalent of turning a blind eye.
How did we get here? How did coming to the presence of the God of the universe and asking him to intervene in a broken world become a trending meme of irrelevance? As Christians, we need to check our own hearts. Are we throwing around the phrase “I’m praying for you” in the place of righteous angst, holy heartbreak, and kingdom-spurred action that leads us to the throne of the Father? We should take seriously the cries of the hurting and beg for mercy.
Our Lord was a sent Savior, he prayed for us and he acted on our behalf. As his followers, we must do the same on behalf of those around us seeking answers.
When we offer our prayers, we must know the purpose and power of what we are offering and have an answer for the hurting world who doubts if prayers matter.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE AND POWER OF PRAYER?
1. Prayer reminds us who God is and who we are not
When Jesus teaches his disciples - thus teaching us - how to pray in Luke 11, he starts by addressing who God is. He calls him Father, and calls his name holy, set apart from us. When we pray we must start there. Everything else is temporal; God is eternal. He is not like us, he is completely other and outside our world. We have to remind our hearts that in the ebb and flow, the highs and the lows he has been and will remain the same.
There is much written on the significance of Jesus calling God “Father” in this prayer. We don’t think much of it now, but the people listening were shocked to hear the almighty eternal God referred to as the term of endearment between a child and father.
Josh Martin, one of our Resonate pastors, referred to a Christian’s relationship with God as one of both authority and intimacy. He is the one who can get stuff done, and because of Jesus dying on behalf of the sin that kept us apart, he is now near to us. We have access to the One who holds the keys and control.
Calling God “Father” reminds us of our posture in prayer as that of a needy child coming expectantly to a father asking him to make injustices right again.
Calling God eternal reminds us that He isn’t going anywhere (Hebrews 12:28).
Calling God powerful reminds us that he can change what is outside of his design for the world (Isaiah 55:8-11), and calling God good reminds us that he wants to change those things. (1 Timothy 2:4, Isaiah 30:18-19)
2. Prayer aligns us to his kingdom and his desires
Prayer changes our hearts. Once we remember who God is, we can orient ourselves to his kingdom and die to our own aspirations of control. Spending time in his presence and word reminds us that our eternal God has a plan to redeem this world. So often we come to God with an idea of what he should do or what justice looks like, most of it selfish at the core. In prayer, we are reminded that God’s kingdom is lasting and we have a part to play in his plan to redeem the world. In his kingdom, he empowers and equips his saints to usher in truth and push back darkness. If we die to our own selfish desires for our own kingdom, we can finally listen to what God has to say about his kingdom and what role he’s asking us to play. We will see that throughout scripture God uses his people to fight for justice, to be a voice for the voiceless, and take a stand when his children are being oppressed.
3. Prayer changes things
Prayer is a powerful weapon against the darkness of this world. John Piper says that prayer causes things to happen that would not happen if you didn’t pray. James 4:2 says that you do not have because you do not ask. Once we remind our hearts to God’s character and his kingdom, we can ask confidently for things in alignment with both of those aspects of our father.
There are countless times in scripture where God relents and bends his ear to the request of his people. When God becomes frustrated with the centuries of Israelites who continually forget what he’s done and blaspheme his name, he wants to wipe them out. Moses intervenes, reminding God and himself of his promises, and God relents (Genesis 32:9-14). One could argue that all that pleading and claiming God’s promises did more to bolster Moses’ leadership and care for the people he was leading than actually believing that God forgot his promises for a second. It’s as if God wants Moses and those looking on to remember who he is and what he can do.
He’s waiting for his people to believe and call on him in faith to bring his kingdom to earth.
Church, we have to be people who daily know who God is, what his kingdom does, and that we have a part to play. Prayer should never be the equivalent of “slacktivism”. It should cause our hearts to break as we see places where God’s kingdom does not reign. It should cause us to pray with a determined and disciplined angst. We can seek the Author and Authority of the universe with the intimacy of knowing we’re his children. What if we stopped treating prayer as a way to quickly tie up a hard conversation and instead believed it had the power to change hearts, minds, and earthly trajectories? What if a hurting world started asking us to pray because we took it seriously and allowed God to move?