Our nation has experienced an unusual series of national calamities, including hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and violence that resulted in many casualties in Las Vegas, New York City, and Sutherland Springs, Texas. In response, many elected officials, pastors, leaders of other ministries, and people on social media encouraged prayer for victims and their loved ones. Skeptics have countered with snide comments, such as “praying doesn’t help anything.”
That, I think we can all agree, is a matter of opinion. Certainly, if one doesn’t believe in God, it would be easy to deny that prayer helps anything. But we could say the same about someone who comments, “Sending good thoughts your way.” Good thoughts? What good is that? Well, at least they’re not sending bad thoughts.
In one sense, I can understand the skepticism.
How often have you heard of someone’s plight and said, “I’ll pray for you,” and then gone on with your life and realized you never followed through on the promise to pray? I’ve done that. That’s why I’ve developed a habit of praying right then for the individual, rather than hoping something will jog my memory to do so sometime later.
There’s another side to this question. We pray many times because we know the needs of the individual, or family, or community, are beyond our capacity to meet. We trust in the assurance in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” The Lord promises to provide for what His children need, even though He doesn’t promise to satisfy our “wants.”
Sometimes, however, as we are praying for God to provide, He is expecting us to become part of His gracious provision. The book of James addresses this when it states, “If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:16-17).
So, if we say, “We’ll pray for you,” but fail to consider ways in which we can provide specific, even tangible help in answer to our prayers, we’re failing to muster the full power of prayer. Thankfully, when natural disasters occur, as well as man-caused tragedies, individual believers and congregations are often among the first responders.
Ministries like the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse are on the scene as soon as possible to offer physical, emotional and spiritual assistance. Church groups, and even mercy ministries from various denominations typically are quick to respond as well. They are wonderful examples of putting feet to our prayers.
Even in our own communities, as we hear of various needs – whether it’s a devastating illness, a family fallen on hard times financially, someone seeking employment, or many other possibilities – we find opportunities to both pray and, as God directs, seek to help in meeting those needs.
In response to the comment, “praying doesn’t help anything,” it might be correct if all we do is utter words without backing them up with action. However, prayer does help in many ways. We acknowledge only God can provide some solutions, whether it’s healing someone with a serious, even terminal illness, or a group of people beset by natural disaster halfway around the globe. It can be a means for reaching out to the afflicted, providing much needed spiritual comfort.
And as we pray, God might impress upon our hearts ways in which we can become directly involved, whether it’s making needed repairs to a widow’s home, generously donating to a worthy cause, offering to transport someone to a hospital for medical treatment, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or simply setting aside time to spend with someone needing comfort and perhaps a listening ear.
As the apostle also wrote, “The prayer of a righteous [person] is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). It can be a plea to God, accompanied by a willingness to become one of the ways He chooses to answer that prayer.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at email@example.com.