Sometimes, certain topics have to be addressed with great care and caution, as they can affect a lot of people emotionally. And yet, they need to be addressed. This is one of those things.
Thoughts and prayers. With the growing number of public attacks, especially school shootings, I have seen a disturbing trend develop. Some people are saying “We’ve had (X) years of thoughts and prayers and that hasn't fixed the problem. We need to do something else (alluding to stricter gun control laws and measures).”
In my view, this statement has three negative connotations:
Thinking about people while intending sympathy or goodwill has never hurt anyone. It is human compassion being enacted. I’ll get more specific about prayer momentarily.
For the record, let me say that I have never owned a firearm of any kind and never will. My father never owned one, either for hunting or home defense. Even before I gave my life to Christ, I saw no value in owning a gun. That is a personal, individual decision.
But this isn’t actually about guns. We don’t have a gun problem. We have a sin problem.
What is “sin” really? Merriam-Webster defines sin as “an offense against religious or moral law” or “transgression of the law of God.” Dictionary.com defines sin as “transgression of divine law” or “any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle.”
In the Bible, Jesus was more direct about sin when speaking to his disciple, Peter:
Matthew 15: 15 - 20 (KJV)
"Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
Sin exists in people’s hearts. It is a more powerful weapon than any firearm. Sin leads people to abuse others -- or themselves -- through their words and/or actions. It pushes people to use any means to hurt others or themselves, even their bare hands. We are all born with a sinful nature and we have free will.
There is only one answer to sin, one escape: God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit can give us power to fight against sin in our own lives. Only He can change our hearts. And that comes through prayer to receive His Spirit, Grace and Mercy.
Through the Holy Spirit, prayer can lead to miracles, consolation and healing. Prayer can lead to protection and prevent bad things from happening. But as long as sin exists in this world, there will be harm and tragedies that result from it.
I know some people don’t believe in prayer, just like some people don’t believe in God. It is a choice everyone has to make. And everyone has the right to believe or not believe.
An increasing number of people probably have never heard God’s Word, the Bible. Others may have heard it and experienced someone professing to be religious but whose actions contradicted that. There are many bad examples, people who let sin control their actions. More importantly, they are not representing the Lord, just their own hypocrisy.
Jesus, who was a Jew, spoke against hypocrites often. He also gave an example for prayer:
Matthew 6: 5 - 15 (KJV)
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Answers to prayer are often not instant. Prayer is sincerely making your requests known to God. Only He can see everything and be everywhere at the same time. He knows what will best assist us and the ideal time to do so.
Some prayers may not be answered at all. Our prayers, whether we realize it at the time or not, can be selfish. And some things that we think will help us might actually do the opposite. God gives us what we need when we need it.
Prayer is for our benefit. It works towards furthering our relationship with God, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It is a way to get closer to Them.
In contrast, we are now more detached from our fellow human beings than at any time in history. The specific reasons are too numerous to list in this article. But generally-speaking, whether that divide is due to our use of technology (thus avoiding direct human contact), the ways we choose to entertain ourselves (often desensitizing ourselves to others’ suffering) or our growing disrespect towards other people’s viewpoints, it all has a cumulative impact on society.
Consider this: I’m not against technology, I’m a computer geek. And I’m not against entertainment, I write novels. I have to temper my own attitudes daily, often through prayer. All the time, people say and write things I consider offensive or express viewpoints I don’t agree with. This is life and we have to deal with it.
In conclusion, keeping people and situations in our thoughts and prayers is relevant. And it doesn’t rule out taking action. But before we step up and tackle something, shouldn’t we better understand the problem? Whether we encourage politicians to make new laws or change existing ones, we should acknowledge that legislation will not change human nature. It cannot eliminate sin in people’s hearts. Only God can do that, working through grace, faith...and prayer.
Thanks for reading this.
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian, happily interracially married since 1995. Father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.