It’s an interesting time in history to be a “Christian”, and the divide between which piece of Christ for which one advocates is a gulf that can only be healed by prayerful listening. Listening is an activity of patient humility and a discipline that heals division with the potential to shame the aggressor.
Christians are called to love by the God who self-identifies AS Love. Love is displayed by listening even when it hurts. Love grants latitude in listening at least long enough for the speaker to know their position was fully and respectfully heard. From here, it’s possible to move into new territory of understanding. Why is that crucial? Who is right? It’s crucial because the way we are currently conversing is an abject failure and yet another example of how those entrusted with the Kingdom of God message have been enslaved by worldly wisdom guiding the yelling, screaming, reductionist agenda of a kingdom that sneers at citizens who put their trust and Faith in the God who saw fit to die rather than to take up arms against His foes. This isn’t situated only in secularist dialogue but also in that which identifies as “Christian”. It’s possible to sneer at people acting on the basis of their Christian faith and think you’re the one who is the Christian. Thus the divide…
Right now, among other things, the question is “What are the effects of praying?” There are those from both the pro-prayer and anti-prayer camps who see the effects of prayer as though God is some sort of genie who grants prayer wishes. Is this the only function of prayer? Is an answered “prayer wish” the only possible proof that prayer “works”? Or is there some other positive, transformative result that can be experienced by praying?
I think the idea that God is going to stop people dead in their tracks who want to do others harm as in the recent mass shootings is not a position against which I’d like to argue, but I also don’t want to argue that this sort of response by God to prayer is the only value in praying. I believe God is The Principal Agent in the world, and He’s capable of whatever is within His character. But I also believe we see in the God of the Bible and revealed in Jesus a God who primarily works through His Spirit energizing human agency which results from prayer.
So I too am less than thrilled with quips about “thoughts & prayers” amidst tragedy. I see where that duo seems hollow and perhaps less than genuine. It hasn’t taken the San Bernardino shooting to tip me off to this either, but clearly it’s been highlighted during this tragedy. I do think that those who value and rely on prayer because it is the great subversion between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man know that sometimes the results of our prayers are readily known and supernaturally realized in spectacular ways. But we also know that when 2 or 3 are gathered there is the Spirit also Who is the Great Equipper of prayerful people. If we’re truly committing our thoughts & prayers to something, God will form us in new ways. He will move us to act. He will give us wisdom that comes from above, and at times won’t coincide with what we thought prior to praying. The more we pray, the more the Spirit will incite us to act or equip us to think about how to act and how to interpret the complexities that lie before us.
Therefore, it you’re pro-prayer, don’t discount the idea that you should be compelled to act in God-transformed ways, and if you’re anti-prayer, know that prayers are offered in hopes of achieving change within the culture which oftentimes happens when individuals pray and are changed or mobilized.