Think Before You Offer Thoughts and Prayers

”I guess their thoughts and prayers couldn’t protect them.”

“Your thoughts and prayers are worthless. Offer real solutions.”

Stop thinking and praying and actually do something.”

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working - James 5:16

Following the recent shooting at a school in Florida, many have taken to the news, social media, and elsewhere to offer their thoughts and prayers to the victims and any others affected. At the same time, just as many people have cried out with statements like those above - antagonizing the faithful by demeaning them for offering prayers when they should actually be “doing something.”

For many, especially Christians, after a national tragedy, there is an immediate desire to help by offering our thoughts and prayers. We want those people who are hurting that they are not alone. That we are there to care for them, and that we are appealing, on their behalf, to the highest of authorities.

To a non-Christian culture this is seen as doing nothing, as offering empty platitudes, and avoiding actually seeking solutions.

They don’t understand that, in those time of grief and mourning, turning to God in prayer is actually doing something - and doing exactly what is necessary. These people fail to see the warning inherent in God’s allowing these tragedies and they choose instead to continue turning their back on the only one who can bring about lasting change and offer hope and peace to those affected.

That’s not to say that we should offer prayers and move on. It should be our first reaction, but not necessarily our last.

We must consider prudent responses and make societal changes where necessary. At the same time, though, we must recognize that nothing a politician does can truly solve the problem because it’s a problem of sin. It’s a problem of a fallen world. It’s a problem that only God can solve, but so many fail to recognize that fact and instead eliminate Him from the conversation.

The Problem With Thoughts and Prayers

Through all of this rhetoric, though, I’ve noticed something that we as Christians, in trying to help, may be helping to perpetuate the prejudices against us and the myths that prayer has no effect.

Christians are just as quick as everyone else to say, “our thoughts and prayers go out to those who were affected.” On the surface, this seems to be the kind response. But, as in many areas of life, the “devil is in the details” and, by not choosing our words carefully, we may be helping make their point for them.

In that statement, we are equating appeals to the almighty Creator of the universe (prayers) with simple, emotional, ineffectual “good vibes” (thoughts). Is it any wonder, then, that a world already hostile to God that the effectiveness of prayer is dismissed?

If we don’t have a high enough view of the effectiveness of prayer and make it of equal importance of simple thoughts, we do a disservice to God and to those who need those prayers more than anyone else. Yes, it’s a semantic argument, but I think in a culture predisposed to hating God, we need to be specific in how we refer to Him and our communication with Him.

Much more effective, I think, is to tell people that we are praying for them. They may still dismiss us (most likely), but at least we are presenting prayers as something other, something effective, and something that can and does move the hand of God.

The Most Important Part

While we can choose the right words, while we can do all we can to prevent a subliminal diminishing of the effectiveness of prayer, there is another piece to this puzzle that is far more important than our semantics.

If you tell someone you’re praying for them, then pray for them.

Don’t use it as a quick hit statement that is a knee-jerk reaction to the pain of others. If we, as Christians, actually believe that prayers are effective, then we need to live that. We need to pray for people when we say we are. We need to believe that God hears our prayers and is sovereignly orchestrating all things for our good and His glory.

If we don’t believe that, if we don’t actually pray with a hopeful heart that God will move, then we may as well just offer our thoughts. They’ll be just as effective.