There are no adequate words to bring salve to the tragedies and injustices that continue to take place in America. Charlottesville is just one of too many more in recent days to even name.
It sometimes feels like every time you wake up in the morning, another tragedy – another reason to be saddened, anxious and confused – is pumping on the headlines.
Because we don’t often know what to say or do, our first inclination is to pray. We feel compelled to say or do something, and so we pray, and we post online that we care, and we are praying.
I’ve noticed lately, in the midst of some of these tragedies, that some people are complaining about online posts about “thoughts and prayers,” for a few reasons:
- They don’t want support from people who they feel don’t truly care about their situation.
- They are tired of people praying, but not working with them toward change.
- Some don’t feel “thoughts and prayers” make any difference at all.
As a believer, who has experienced God’s mind boggling presence and support in my life on a continual basis, I know the greatest thing we can do is pray. Through our prayers, God moves and ushers His gracious care into countless hearts and lives. God can do more than I can do, so I want His help.
I think “thoughts and prayers” should always be welcomed. Who doesn’t want more people concerned for their community? This is a way we heal together, and support one another.
However, maybe there is something to be said about those who are frustrated with simple statements like “thoughts and prayers.”
We should listen and be considerate about the concerns of people around us. We should try to represent Christ in ways that draw those far from God toward His love and grace.
There is a Biblical precedent for times when prayer is not enough. The Bible says we should “always pray, and never give up” (Luke 18:1), but it doesn’t say anywhere that we should only pray. In fact, there are Biblical commands to do good works beyond just praying, so sometimes to only pray would be a sin. Praying should never be an excuse for not moving with action.
Here are 6 Biblical times when prayer is not enough:
- PRAYER IS NOT ENOUGH IF THERE IS UNCONFESSED SIN
David said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). We need to come before the Lord with pure and humble hearts on behalf of our nation. It is not enough to pray, we must also obey.
In fact, the change that can change a nation comes when thousands, even millions of individuals collectively confess and repent of sin and disobedience in their own lives.
Are there areas of your life you need to confess to the Lord? Don’t wait another moment, do it now.
- PRAYER IS NOT ENOUGH, IF WE ARE PRAYING FOR OUR OWN SELFISH GAIN
The Bible says “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3).
One of the roadblocks to God’s help in our lives is praying selfishly. We can pray to God all day, but if it is for our own selfish gain, He will not honor those prayers. He wants to guide us away from the destructive nature of selfishness for our own good and lasting joy.
Consider your recent prayer requests. Have you been asking selfishly for personal gain? Change the objective of your prayers to always be unselfish.
- PRAYER IS NOT ENOUGH, IF WE ARE NEGLECTING OUR FAMILY
The Bible says, “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
How we treat those around us, especially our spouses and our own family will determine whether or not God hears our prayers. If we don’t honor others, even those who don’t deserve, God will not honor our prayers.
Are there apologies you need to make to your spouse or family for how you have treated them recently, or words you have spoken in anger? This is a Biblical word especially written to husbands everywhere. Before you keep on praying for God’s blessing your life, business or nation – first, obey what the Bible says, and treat your wife and children with respect and kindness, otherwise your prayers will be fruitless.
- PRAYER IS NOT ENOUGH, IF WE ARE PRAYING FOR OUR OWN WILL, NOT GOD’S WILL
The Bible says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).
God’s will is different from man’s will. We need to feed daily on the Word of God and allow God to transform our thoughts so we can be a people whose prayers reflect the will of God, not our own.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
How are you doing at this? Are your prayers filled with your own thoughts, or have you permeated your life with God’s thoughts?
- PRAYER IS NOT ENOUGH, IF WE ARE NEGLECTING TO SPEAK OUT FOR INJUSTICE
The Bible says we should lend our voice to injustice. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed” (Proverbs 31:8).
Justice pleases the heart of God. An important Scripture to remember is Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
God doesn’t want our shallow acts of righteousness if we are not interested in bringing justice to the poor, speaking up for the broken down, freeing the oppressed.
We should speak up on behalf of injustice in our government, and law enforcement systems. We should speak against racism. We should do what we can to encourage dignity and freedom for all people. Just as we should stand with the vast majority of those honorable in law enforcement who protect us each and every day. Both sides need us to speak on behalf of what is true and right.
It is not enough to pray, if we are not lending our voices to justice as this Scripture commands.
- PRAYER IS NOT ENOUGH, IF WE ARE NOT DOING WHAT WE CAN TO HELP
For the vast majority of us, we cannot change the system with a Tweet or Instagram post. It can often feel like we can do pitifully little to help or change the situations that cause our nation to grieve. But that shouldn’t stop us from doing what we can.
Andy Stanley has said, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” You may not be able to do much, but you can do something. Shine the love of God to the people around you. Speak up for justice for the oppressed. Stand for peace for all sides. Show God’s graciousness and loving kindness to all you interact with. Be a voice of hope in a world mixed with pain.
The Bible says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
James warns about this earlier as well, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:15-16)
So don’t just pray if you can do something for someone. Do what you can.
If you have done these six Biblical commands, dedicate yourself anew to pray and call on God on behalf of our nation.
Pray and trust God to do what you cannot do. Because God is much greater than man, He can help in our pain like no one else can. God can do more in a moment than we can do in a lifetime. I’ve seen it over and over again with my own eyes. God is always working, and redeeming what the enemy meant for evil.
Tragedies will always arise on this earth, but we will always arise to pray and to shine God’s love and truth.