From Thoughts and Prayers to Action
I was having a conversation recently with a church member, and we started discussing the idea of Christians using the term "thoughts and prayers" when responding to bad news.
The gist of the conversation was that people tend to use phrases like that because they don't know what else to do.
Or, in the case of most politicians responding to yet another mass shooting, as a way of saying something but doing nothing.
I've used that phrase more than once in my life, but I'm starting to rethink it or, at the very least, try to reframe it. The phrase isn't the problem. Using the phrase to absolve ourselves from putting our thoughts and prayers into action is something altogether different.
Let me explain what I mean.
Every church I've ever been a part of has had what is commonly known in church-y world as a "Prayer Chain." This tool is used to share the prayer requests of church members and friends with a broader group, presumably so that the group can offer intercessory prayer for them.
Back in the day before email was so ubiquitous, the Prayer Chain at the very first church I served was a phone tree.
If you were part of the Prayer Chain, you actually had a chart issued to you, and you would get a call from someone with the prayer request, then you would call the next person, and so on.
Granted, it was a small church. Larger churches would distribute printed lists to the folks on the Prayer Chain to take home and use them to pray over.
But over time, prayer chains morphed into group emails. It was more practical and efficient, but there was also a cost.
Gone were the days when people would call one another and discuss the prayer requests they were sharing. The personal connection between people who were concerned about a fellow member or friend faded.
You might think that the efficacy of prayer chains would fade as well, but they persist despite the changes that have de-personalized them to a certain extent. I believe it's because we all long for that personal connection and to know that someone, somewhere, knows our struggle and cares.
At my church, we send a weekly group email with a comprehensive prayer list. Each request has the requestor's permission to be included on the list. It's a well-organized guide for prayer sent to our elders, deacons, Stephen Ministers, and more.
We hope that people will read the list, and even if they don't know all the people on it, they will be thinking and praying for the people on it. Or we hope they might see one or two names they know and think about and pray for them.
But we do more than that.
Each week, we have a dedicated group of people who meet and go over the list of prayer requests painstakingly. We share updates, determine who might need a visit, and send scores of personal cards weekly.
We work to find folks to come alongside those in need, who may need a meal or two delivered to their house, and find help for those who are grieving, feeling despair, and who need to know their church cares for them.
Our purpose in doing all this is so that people who offer prayer requests will see that our thoughts and prayers inevitably spur us to action.
And even if the action is a simple phone call, a card, a meal, or coming alongside someone in a time of need, we are doing all we can to be the answers to our prayers and to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Sometimes, all we can do in a moment of tragedy or struggle is offer our thoughts and prayers. But if those thoughts and prayers don't move us to act, to find a way to answer the prayers we are praying, we are missing the point.
This applies as well to the great big problems in our society. We think and pray about them, for sure. We should. But at some point, God nudges us to do something, and we should do that, too.
When we do, we become the change we seek and spread the shalom we long to experience in the world.
May it be so for you and me, and all of us. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.