Friday, August 31, 2012

What if we prayed?

When there is a calamity on the news, we are almost never there, but so often the horror of it strikes so deep in us, that we feel that we are. When talking heads are arguing over hot button issues, we inwardly argue with or right along with them, even though if we were honest, much of our lives would not be different no matter what the outcome is.

It strikes me that most Christians are more interested in issues than Jesus. They seem more in a hurry to prove a point than to allow Christ to reign. Too many Christians have become issues evangelists and have forgotten the very basics of Christian life, the most significant of which is prayer.

I wasn't ten minutes into watching news coverage of the horrible mass shooting in Aurora, when I knew what I would see as I logged into Facebook. People on all sides of gun issues were posting their thoughts about how things would play out if there were more guns or less guns or if laws allowed this or that. Most of the posts, on both sides, were downright illogical and silly. Then of course came the mocked up pictures and "ecards" with supposedly pithy witticisms that were really the same tired bumper sticker cliches that are really, to use another cliche, preaching to the choir.

And that cliche is apt, at least from what I could see, because most of these posts, vitriolic and vicious, came from Christians.

The urge was strong that day to respond in kind, as so many others did, with my own "reasoning" and explanations of facts. And had I done so, I would likely have spent the day engaged in a number of conversations that would have gone ultimately nowhere and done no more than alientate me from those I care about, make it hard for me to sleep and distract me from the work I had to do.

I chose, instead, to call on my Christian brothers and sisters to pray instead of posting their opinions. I tried to spend time in prayer specifically about this situation and everyone (yes, everyone) involved and affected. I do not write this to say I am an exemplary Christian. I am well aware of Our Lord's mandate to avoid praying in public or publicizing my spiritual life.And I certainly don't want to offer up some sort of formula or panacea for world peace. But I offer the question that perhaps most of us should ask about the controversies and chaos in the world: What if, instead, we prayed?


What if, instead of knee jerk reactions to the terrible things that happen and the horrendous people who have perpetrated and/or allowed them to happen, we took a few minutes to pray for the victims and their families. What if, instead of crying "Monster" toward person who had done something evil, we prayed for those who have become our enemies (don't pretend Jesus didn't tell us to do this), and for the families and friends who must live with the tragedy in a way we could never understand. What if, instead of placing and proclaiming blame to a politician or group or idea, for the hurt and pain that has come into our lives, we prayed for healing and wisdom and strength. What if we prayed for our leaders (another command of Christ) instead of emptying our brains with rhetoric? What if we asked for God's will to be done and for us to be at peace with it, no matter what it is?

What if, instead of reacting to the posts and proclamations on Facebook, we turned the computer off and prayed, for those we want to "correct," and for those whose opinions we agree with and feel compelled to add our own take to?

What if we looked to and relied on the Holy Spirit we say we believe in instead of (or at least before) we went searching the internet or our Bibles for something that backs up our position? Perhaps we need not only to get the mote out of our eyes, but the cross in our hearts before we let loose words we know in our hearts come from anger and fear as much as conviction.


I am not saying these opinions are not deeply felt or even wrong. I do not, in any way, want to minimize the importance of the issues we hold dear. But the truth is, if we are really honest with ourselves, most Christians do not put prayer first and foremost in their lives and when they do it is the perfunctory morning/bedtime prayers that are essentially the same unless we feel a personal attack or something is going wrong in our personal lives. And that is a good reason to take these matters to God in conversation. If they are personal enough to spread our opinions, they should be personal enough to talk to God about. And to shut up long enough to listen. If Christianity is to have the impact in the world we think it should, then shouldn't we want God's perspective and not our own?

Once, when I was trying to teach a class about research, I had a student who proclaimed, "I don't need to do research. I already know what I think." Sadly, more and more Christians take that approach to life. They already think they are right (and well may be), but forget that "being right" isn't enough. All the rhetoric in the world is useless if we are not centered on Jesus and willing to be silent sometimes and let God do the talking.

What did praying do for me? One of the first things it did was put me in a place of calm, where my emotions were not ruling me. One effect was that I did not attack the people who were posting things I not only disagreed with, but felt were harmful and sometimes hateful. I realized after a while that they didn't need correction as much as they needed Christ at the center. I found it easier, a couple of days later, to find more rational conversations and took part in those. 

And guess what, the fact that I did not participate in those conversations right away did not change anything. The dead still were dead. The criminal was still a criminal. The issue of gun control was not, as if it could be, resolved. But I was in a better place to listen to those I disagreed with and to express my thoughts. Or to just let things go.

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