In the wake of a devastating shooting in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people and injured 21, a new term swept the nation: Prayer shaming. Emma Green of The Atlantic coined the term after social media users started rebuking those who offered their “thoughts and prayers” on Facebook and Twitter.
At the same time, the New York Daily News blazed a front page headline that read, “God Isn’t Fixing This,” blasting Republican politicians that offered their prayers in response to the tragedy.
The prayer shaming trend inspired Relevant writer Tyler Huckabee’s piece “Do ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Do Any Good?”
Huckabee explained why it is a natural response to offer thoughts and prayers in the midst of tragedy. “Whatever else gunmen are able to do, they cannot take away our ability to think and pray,” he wrote. “It’s comforting for us to be able to offer some little piece of ourselves.”
But are the prayers working? Huckabee points out that in the 2015, there were more mass shootings than there were days of the year. The United States has the highest margin of mass shootings in the world. Our closest competitor is the Philippines which trails behind by 65 percent.
In an editorial for The Washington Post, Russell Moore wrote that prayer is not inaction for people of faith.
“For religious people, of all sorts, prayer is doing something. We do believe that God can intervene, to comfort the hurting and even to energize ourselves and others for right action,” he wrote.
Huckabee agrees. “Prayer is not a substitute for action, or even preparation for action. It’s something much more fluid and powerful,” he writes.
“Perhaps it’s best to say that prayer and action are at their best when they are in harmony, and if we are serious when we say ‘our prayers are with you,’ then our prayers must be in intimate relationship with redemptive work.”
Prayer and action together is key to establish change in the future.
Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter says we should approach praying for events that occur in the news with a strategy. We should start by picking what kind of news we want to specialize in (local, world, business, etc.). It is too much to pray about every aspect of the news.
We should remember to pray for authorities, whose names come up in the news so frequently. Additionally, the journalists who bring us the news should be included in our prayers, as their work is important, but challenging and draining.
Finally, we must avoid focusing all of our attention on the news. Carter writes, “…don’t let the news become and idol. Never let the bad news brought by the media supplant your focus on the good news of Jesus.”
The Christian response to pray after tragedy is certainly appropriate. After all, scripture tells us that, “The earnest prayer of the righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16).
It is up to the individual to decide if social media is the appropriate place to pray, but one thing is for sure: Earnest prayers are heard and answered by God.
As Huckabee writes, “whatever value there might be in telling God how sorry we are about our broken world, there can be little doubt that there’s more value in asking Him to give His people a desire to heal it.”
If you feel led to pray for the tragedy in San Bernardino now, you can pray this Prayer for Trusting God in Hard Times by Debbie Przybylski in earnest:
I have nothing to fear with You on my side. I will be strong and courageous even in hard times. I will not be terrified or discouraged, for the Lord my God will be with me wherever I go (Joshua 1:9). You will never leave me or forsake me (Joshua 1:5).
I do not need to figure everything out… I will not try any man-made method to do only what You can do. Show me Your supernatural power. Teach me how to walk by faith and pray breakthrough prayers… Just like Joshua, You will give me the land and every place where my feet step (Joshua 1:3).
“Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever” (Psalm 44:5-8).
“Faith does the impossible because it lets God undertake for us, and nothing is impossible for God. How great – without qualification or limitation – the power of faith is! If doubt can be banished from the heart and unbelief is made a stranger there, what we ask from God will surely come to pass. Prayer throws faith on God and God on the world. Only God can move mountains, but faith and prayer move God.”