Prayer Is Not a Tool

Bertram Mackennal [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bertram Mackennal [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Forgive me for the lapse in blog posts.  My husband came home from his two-week intensive training program on Sunday night.  As he was away for our anniversary, we took yesterday as a mini-vacation together while the kids were at camp.  We were able to go out for a whole day, without anyone else in tow, for the first time since before we had children.  Today’s post won’t be long or deep, as I’m too tired to think critically about much of anything.

On Sunday, I attended a church to which we don’t belong.  We were visiting because it was a special church service for my kids’ camp.

During the time of prayer, the pastor offered a simple, sincere, gentle prayer for the victims of the Colorado shooting and their families.  He prayed that those who had died would be welcomed into the Father’s arms, and that those who lived and the families of the victims would be comforted.  It wasn’t long, elaborate, or complex.

Some things the prayer wasn’t:  It wasn’t a speculation about the eternal fate of those who had died.  It wasn’t an opportunity to remind everyone that we need to extend grace to the shooter, even as we pray for the victims.  It wasn’t an evangelistic tool, despite the greater than usual number of visiting families.  It wasn’t a fervent request that God “use” the tragedy to create more disciples.

For that, I am grateful.

It isn’t that I have any problem with extending grace and forgiveness, thinking deeply about what happens after this life, sharing our faith with others, or looking for blessings amidst trials.  Those are all good things.  But they are not good a) immediately following a significant, tragic event when people are most in need of comfort; b) without a significant amount of careful consideration and a heavy dose of humility; and c) during prayer, pretty much ever.

It’s that last one I’m most concerned with.  Prayer is not a time in which we are supposed to be working the room for Jesus.  Prayer isn’t an outreach to others.  If it is, or it becomes so, then you’re not doing it right.  Prayer is between us and God.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It’s not something that should be carefully crafted so as to maximize its outreach potential.

Using prayer, especially after something so devastating, as a method of evangelism is a lot more common that people realize.  Strangely, the same people who think that we need to craft our words to God in order to have the greatest impact are usually the same ones who believe scripted prayer is insincere.  I fail to see how delivering a sermon in a prayer is more sincere than meditating on the words found in the Book of Common Prayer.

I’d like to see Christians stop using prayer in the wake of disaster as a “witness.”  You want to reach out to others, even present the Gospel, that’s fine.  But don’t use your time of communion with God to do that.

Let’s let prayer be our words to God, not to humans.


4 thoughts on “Prayer Is Not a Tool

  1. After a horrific death in my family, we were at the funeral. We should have received comfort, but what we got was speculation about the eternal fate of everyone in the room, both in prayer and in the service. It’s been several years and I’m still pissed about it.

    • I have seen that done. It also happens at weddings(?!). I do not understand why anyone would think that’s an appropriate time to make that sort of speculation is beyond me. The rationale I’ve heard is that people are more “open” at times like these. Seems to me like taking advantage of someone’s vulnerability.

  2. Nice piece, churches that are blessed never take advantage to “advertise” at someone else’s expense. Hence that is why they are blessed. When a church’s sole focus is getting more people in the door any way they can you have to wonder what their true motive is. Usually it is money.

    • I think churches that seek more people often start out as being idealistic, truly wanting more people to know Christ. I think that’s even true of individuals within such churches. But the larger culture, the larger narrative or power structure, seems to have a focus on having more people and more money. I don’t suppose most churches have figured out how to balance the reality that they do need money with making it about Jesus and about people. It’s hard to do that, and I agree that churches that have that part down are blessed indeed.

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