What the “prayer-shamers” don’t understand

Our society has made a cottage industry out of complaining about “shaming” things. For every person who finds something objectionable (whether the position is right or wrong), there’s someone to accuse that person of “(insert offensive characteristic)-shaming.” But what’s ironic is that the voices who are usually loudest in this regard now seem to be the people most willing to attack the idea of praying for those undergoing the effects of what we now know to be terrorist attacks.

A growing chorus of voices is saying “your prayers aren’t helping.” Prayers, some argue, haven’t stopped the steady flow of violence over the course of what has been a disturbing several months filled with acts of cruelty and hate.

Now granted, the phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become something of a cliche. How many people actually pause to pray when they say it? How many remember to mention the families and loved ones who’ve suffered loss when they DO go to God in prayer? The argument goes that people are just using that phrase to say they’ve “acted” rather than trying to fix the issue – as if there were some magic formula to put America’s violent tendencies to rest.

But it’s worth addressing the accusation because I suspect we all think it at some point: We keep offering these prayers, but people keep dying. Are we wasting our time? Is God really listening?

The fact is that for the most part, Christians aren’t praying for terrorism victims with the idea that God is going to prevent these things from happening in the future. It doesn’t take much study of scripture to see that men have been killing each other since time began, and God has refused to prevent it.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
(Revelation 6:9-11 ESVST)

The reality of life is that righteous people are often killed by the unrighteous. Job agonized over the idea that the evil of the world seemed to prosper while the good suffered loss (Job 9:20-24), and Solomon wrote an entire book dedicated to the premise that life is simply not fair. Jesus told his disciples in no uncertain terms that they would be persecuted for the faith. If Christians cannot consider themselves sheltered from death at the hands of godless people, why would the world in general be spared?

The world has been “filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11) since man first rebelled against God. And as our society has generally become safer, it seems like the extremist acts become even more abhorrent and pronounced. The tools have changed, but mankind’s willingness to kill each other has not.

So how do I manifest faith in God in the face of such injustice? I pray – and place myself in the hands of my Creator (I Peter 4:19), believing that whether I live or die, I do so to God’s glory. I pray that I would have grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16) – because my primary concern is that I remain faithful no matter what, believing that God has not forgotten me. And I pray for others that they won’t allow the violence and hatred of this world to sink them into bitterness or despair, but that they would also lean on God for comfort and deliverance.

One of the cliches that irritates me the most is when we say “if we give in to fear, then the terrorists win.” It’s as if the terrorists’ primary goal in their actions is to make sure I don’t feel safe enough to attend a football game. NFL ticket sales may suffer for that, but I don’t really think that’s the extremists’ primary goal.

But the truth from a Christian perspective isn’t far from that.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
(Matthew 10:28 ESVST)

Jesus commanded us to love our enemies – surely that includes people trying to kill us? God appointed governments for the purpose of pursuing and punishing evil (Rom. 13:4), but he tells the individual Christian “vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19). What does it say about our faith if we believe that these men and women are somehow escaping judgment? Or that our response should be to turn and kill other innocent people in return?

If I allow fear of terrorism to hinder my faith, if I give in to hopelessness or bitterness and allow my service to God to be hindered by the “cares of the world” (Luke 8:14), then it’s not terrorists, but Satan who wins.

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