Any time there is a tragedy or hardship, we can often here people offer their “thoughts and prayers”. It’s become such a common idiom, that we say it without a second thought, which is a bit ironic I think. I’m not really sure where this started, or why we feel compelled to say it, other than the fact that we are trying to be sensitive to the fact that some don’t have the same faith tradition as we do, such that the “prayers” part, isn’t really appreciated or accepted. But why would thoughts matter?
Now, it is nice to here someone say, “I was thinking about you”. It lets you know that you are important enough to someone to justify some of their thought life when you are not around. It confers prominence to the recipient. But those “thoughts” don’t influence the recipient in any way. Sending people good thoughts is a godless form of prayer. It implies prayer doesn’t does nothing, while at the same time insenuates, that general positive energy changes the universe.
Thoughts influence what you do, but prayer influences what God will do.
My thoughts can’t change the behavior, circumstances or outcome of anyone but me, however, prayer isn’t the same thing as thoughts. To be honest, while I know what prayer is, in a broad sense, I can’t say I really understand what it truly is,
or how it works entirely. We have glimpses through scripture about prayer, and there are plenty of traditions regarding prayer that we rely upon. But if we really think about prayer, it’s an impressively large honor that we often turn into a glib task. That being said, I don’t think God minds all that much.
At our house, we pray before dinner. Our tradition is that everyone joins hands around the table, and a short, usually standard prayer is said, and when it is over, we eat. This is rarely done at breakfast or lunch. It has become a habit to do it at dinner, and much of the intentionality has been drained from it. In that sense, it is truly a religious procedure. All that being said, I still believe it is honoring to God.
I’ve had the notion for years, that there is a right way to pray. The disciples had this same notion, and asked Jesus how they should pray, and he faithfully demonstrated prayer for them. Without a doubt, the elements in the Lord’s prayer are correct, but there are a number of examples of prayer, even prayers by Jesus, that are not in this format and are heard by God. So there is good evidence that imperfect prayers are always better than no prayers.
Not long ago, I had a patient ask me to pray for them in the office. I wasn’t sure of their religious background, so I offered a generic verbal prayer, and to be honest, I wasn’t very fervent at the time. After she left the office, I felt a little guilty for my lack luster prayer, and decided I’d give a better effort. Head bowed and hands clasped, I addressed the Lord. As I began to work through the elements of a “correct prayer”, I was interrupted by God speaking. The message was simple, “I heard you the first time.”
I was blown away to realize that a simple prayer could move God. It also reminded me how little I know about prayer. God has the power to do anything, and requires our assistance for nothing; yet He chooses to involve us in His plan.
There’s no equation for results, other than committing to prayer and trusting God. Over and over in scripture, we are encouraged to pray, but never prescribed an incantation to obtain our desired result.
Prayer is God’s way to recruit us into what He is doing
Prayer is less about getting what we want, and more about abiding in Christ. Trusting God and involving every aspect of our lives in our relationship with Him moves our earthly dealings into the heavenly agenda. Prayer isn’t about diverting God’s eyes to earth, but fixing our gaze to what is happening in the heavenlies.
Next time you hear someone is facing a crisis, skip the thoughts and don’t skimp on the prayers. God doesn’t require that you understand the details, but He does honor your prayers. If the person you are praying for is offended by your offer of prayer, it’s okay. They don’t have to know. After all, answered prayers give glory to God and further the kingdom, they don’t exist to highlight your special abilities.
Pray more, worry less, and see what God will do.