In the wake of the recent tragedies in Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas, many people are offering “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families that they may have never met, but their hearts are collectively breaking for.
“Thoughts and prayers” is not a trite statement meaning “I’m saying I care about you, but I really don’t want to give you the time of day.” Prayer is a beautiful thing – one of the most beautiful sentiments we can offer to another human being. True prayer is saying, “I care about you so much, I’m going to go to God on your behalf, and ask Him to do what only He can do in your life and situation.”
Prayer is the Greater Work
Even if you don’t believe in God, prayer is a beautiful thing to share together. You don’t have to agree with other people’s beliefs about God and faith to show them kindness and respect, or to see prayer as beautiful. If you think about it, a significant portion of the world identifies with faith in some higher power, and the necessity of prayer – Christians and other major faiths represent a vast majority of the world’s population who can at least agree on the need for prayer on behalf of our world, and the importance of prayer in times of tragedy.
As a Christian myself, I believe prayer is one of the most important things we can do. Now don’t get me wrong – I believe we should always pray, but I don’t believe we should only pray. There are times we should do more than just pray (I wrote about this here). But it’s been said that “prayer is the greater work.” Meaning that more can be accomplished through prayer than human effort, and sometimes prayer is the only thing that will make any real difference.
In the case of these recent tragedies, Americans are divided on what we can “do” in response. It has become a divisive issue, and there are arguments for the differing responses we must take. We need to be more careful to be kind to each other in the midst of disagreement. Spending your life casting angry and bitter comments, and angry and bitter news stories only contributes to the problems in our society. There’s a better way forward, and it starts with kindness in our disagreements.
I believe Americans will find a way forward, and will bring needed changes to protect ourselves. This doesn’t mean that tragedies won’t still present themselves, but I for one, am praying for the tide to turn in our nation – praying for God to move in a supernatural way in churches and society alike, and show many more people the reality of the gospel. A heaven-sent revival would solve many of the godless and evil tragedies that have taken place in America. Revival has turned the tide time-and-time-again through American history, and it can change our nation today.
You Helped Me By Your Prayers
Does this mean Paul didn’t encounter persecution and eventually martyrdom? Not at all. Reading about Paul’s missionary journeys is quite an adventure. He went through continual hardship and persecution in order to bravely share the message about faith in Jesus Christ, in a time when few people had heard of Jesus. But Paul believed, as we believe, that without the collective prayers of those early churches and believers, he would have been on an even rougher ride than he already was.
Pete Scazzerro, a pastor in New York said, “The early church believed the world was kept from flying into chaos by the prayers of Christians. It is still true.”
Our prayers matter, often more than we realize. As a Christian, I believe it is not so much the power of my prayers, but the Person I’m praying to that makes all the difference. I believe in a Sovereign, and all-powerful God who although He has given humanity free-choice and free-will loves to intervene on behalf of the prayers of His children. So even when my prayers are weak, they reach the ears of a strong God who cares for us. Throughout my life, I’ve seen countless answers to prayer.
God is a speaking God – he is always speaking into the chaos and pain of our world through His Word, the Bible, and he is often speaking and answering the cries of His people, just at the right time.
But what about when we don’t see answers to prayer?
God is not a genie in a bottle, or a cosmic vending machine. We don’t ask for all the problems in our world to disappear, and suddenly we live in a problem-free world. That is not the way God works, nor the way the world works.
Humans have free-will to choose to follow God, or themselves, and so much of the pain, and tragedy in our world is humans choosing poorly. Proverbs 19:3 says, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the LORD.” The presence of pain in our world doesn’t prove God isn’t there, it just proves how much we need to invite God into our world!
Many people wish they could do better, and be a better person, but they cannot find the resolve within themselves. But when we believe and receive the gift of salvation God has given us in His Son Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to take the penalty of our sins in our place, the power of sin in our lives is significantly diminished (see Romans 7:19; 24). Christians are not perfect, by any means (they need the grace in the gospel just as much as the next person), but let me assure you – following Jesus changes the trajectory of our lives. It is like hopping on a plane that will either go to Los Angeles or New York City – a complete reversal of where self would take us.
God Always Answers Prayer
It’s been said that God always answers prayer. Sometimes it’s “yes”. Sometimes it’s “wait.” And sometimes it’s “I have something better in mind.” Even in times of unbearable pain, and unthinkable tragedy, God is still with us, working for our good, and comforting like no one else can.
My friend Greg Laurie writes about the response of “Joe and Claryce Holcombe, who lost nine family members during the Sutherland Springs shooting. Despite this unthinkable tragedy, Joe Holcombe 86, said that he and his wife “are very close to God” and have not wavered in their faith as a result of Sunday’s traumatic events.
“We’re strong,” he said before speaking of a future time when he believes he and his wife will see their family members again in heaven. “We’ll be with Bryan and his wife and the whole family one of these days — and we look forward to that.”
The faith of the Joe and Claryce in the midst of this tragedy is mind boggling. The only explanation for a statement like that is otherworldly. God is strengthening and comforting them. Our thoughts and prayers are helping them, as they walk through what no one should ever have to walk through. In their grief, they still have a grasp on the hope of heaven.
Without an understanding of eternity (the life beyond this life), suffering in this life doesn’t make sense. But if you understand the biblical promise of eternity, you know that all those who lost their lives, but had faith in Jesus Christ, are now ushered into the perfection, beauty and happiness of heaven with God forever. And all of us who trust in Christ will be with them again one day. (If you want to understand more about this, read the book “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn)
We can’t change everything, but that shouldn’t keep us from doing what we can
We can’t go back in time and stop the tragedies in Sutherland Springs or Las Vegas, or the tragedies before that; we can only grieve. Grieving is good and right, and the healthy response.
The wrong response to tragedy is to start passing blame, and attacking people who have different views than you. Instead, we should come together, grieve together and pray together. Because we can all agree on something – we can all agree this was wrong…evil…and we want it to stop.
One of the greatest mercies that could come from the recent tragedies in our nation is for all of us to come together, and agree on at least a few things – that we are all humans. We may not all believe the same things, or agree on everything, but we can agree on some things:
- One big thing we could agree on is our concern for each other’s safety. None of us want hate to reign in the streets, even if we have vastly different perspectives at times.
- We could all agree that we are incredibly grateful to live in America, a nation that despite its failings, has economic opportunity and political liberty at the same time – something rare and breathtakingly beautiful.
We can’t go back and change these tragedies, and although we wish we could, there is one thing we can all do – go home and love our families well, and be gentler and kinder to our neighbor (both on our street, and online).
Mother Theresa is respected by all – she gave her life to serve the poor and destitute and dying in Calcutta, India. Daily, she would walk through the garbage dumps in search of poor, dying street children who the world had forgotten about. In that mess of humanity, she lived out her faith that God can bring something merciful even in those forgotten garbage heaps – through her devotion and love. She was once asked, “what can I do to promote world peace?” Her answer was as simple as it was profound, “go home and love your family.”
If you think about it, that is where real change in society and our world starts – love one another.
Matt Brown (@evangelistmatt) is an evangelist, author, and founder of Think Eternity. He and his wife Michelle are impacting millions of people with the gospel each year online and through live events. They also minister to more than a million followers on social media daily.