Social media has fundamentally changed the way we interact, specifically we feel we must respond to or have an opinion on everything. To make matters worse, these responses are often met with responses of their own. Respond too quickly and you are guilty of someone trying to score “internet points”, respond too slowly and you are charged with not acting quick enough, respond with nothing and you are labeled as someone who callously turns a blind eye to the plight of others. Everything you say can, and likely will, be used against you in the court of public opinion. In other words, the internet sucks.
One phrase that has found itself under fire in recent years is the phrase “thoughts and prayers”. As tragedies happen, this phrase will continue to occur, and disdainful mocking will follow. As a result, I wanted to respond and provide some of my own thoughts on the phrase “thoughts and prayers”.
For our first two points we will focus on those who hate the phrase “thoughts and prayers”.
The disdain for the phrase “thoughts and prayers” hinges on the idea that prayer does nothing (more on that in point three). Ironically, it is not uncommon for those who condescend Christians and their prayers to turn around and “send good vibes” or say, “my heart goes out to so-and-so”.
At worst this is blatant hypocrisy. If my appeals to a higher power do not accomplish anything, your good vibes certainly do not. At best these are phrases indicating community or comfort, that we are in this struggle together which means these phrases, to the non-believer, are no better or worse than the phrase “thoughts and prayers”.
This Phrase Is Not Indicative of Inaction
Opponents of “thoughts and prayers” assume that this is the only action being taken by the one that says it. Sometimes this is true.
Sometimes this phrase is used for gain, for example a politician talking about “prayer” to appeal to religious voters.
Sometimes this phrase is all that can be done. We cannot always do something about a problem on the other side of the world or even the other side of the country, but we can pray. In that case I would think it would be better to do at least that as opposed to nothing at all.
Finally, sometimes this phrase is used alongside action. You do not know the personal lives of those who say, “thoughts and prayers”. They may foster children, volunteer at organizations, give to charity, or generally be active servants in their communities. The entirety of a person’s character should not be assumed from a short statement or hashtag. Instead of assuming you know someone’s whole life based on one tweet, get to know them, and try to figure out what you can do together to solve the problem.
This Phrase Is Not a Replacement for Other Actions
We turn our attention now to those that use the phrase “thoughts and prayers”.
We pray because we believe that prayer is effective and powerful. James 5:13-18 is a particularly robust text that shows us the working of prayer. However, it is also the book of James that shames Christians for seeing a brother or sister in need, wishing them well, and going on your way (James 2:14-17). Do not confuse what I am saying here: prayer is one of the most powerful actions a Christian can participate in, but it should not be the only action we participate in.
If you can provide for the need, pray for the person, and take care of what they lack. If you are not sure what you can do, pray, and then ask others what you can do in addition to help. Christians, we need to accompany the faith of our prayers with the working of our hands as often as we can for “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
Do Not Be Surprised at the Ridicule
It should not surprise us that those who do not believe in God see crying out to Him as complete foolishness. This, however, should not change anything for us. The lives of Christians are not supposed to make sense to non-Christians. In fact, it is those actions that do not make sense that cause nonbelievers to evaluate both our lives and theirs and ask “why” (1 Peter 2:11-12, 3:14-16).
Do not be surprised that those who do not believe in God mock those that do. Bear with the mockery, smile through the ridicule, refuse to stoop to their level of character bashing, and continue to serve God in the way He desires. It is through this process that many nonbelievers have come to know Christ.
The next time tragedy strikes or evil rears its ugly head, do not be afraid to send “thoughts and prayers” to those who are hurting. Yes, you will likely have to put up with condescension from nonbelievers, but that does not make prayer any less our duty or any less effective. And we must be sure to accompany our prayers with action lest we prove the detractors correct in their assessment of God and His followers.