People in America seem to be growing more and more skeptical of Christians. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Sometimes it’s because they disagree with a belief that we hold dear. I have no problem with that. In fact, we’re warned in the New Testament that speaking the truth will often drive people away.
(Sidenote: We’re called to speak the truth in love, which means we have to constantly ask ourselves this question – are people upset because of the truth, or because we’re saying it in an unloving way? And no, “tough love” is not always the answer to that question.)
Anyway, I get their response. I’ll admit it. Even today, when I’m convicted of some un-Christ-like attitude that I’ve had, my first reaction is usually not humility and repentance. My first reaction is usually, “That can’t be right!”, followed by a period of denial. Maybe some sulking. Hopefully, eventually, repentance.
Sometimes that denial can last for a while, though.
So, like I said. Nothing new. Sometimes people disagree with Christians, ignore Christians, and mock Christians because we believe things they disagree with. However, sometimes people disagree with Christians for another reason – they hear us talk about him with our lips, but deny him by our lifestyle. (Thanks to some DC Talk song for that reference.)
For example, they rolls their eyes at us when they hear us quote verses about helping the poor, but yet our churches seem to focus all our money into building bigger and nicer buildings. They ignore us when they hear us talk about how God loves everyone the same, but we refuse to let people join our churches because of the color of their skin. And now, today, they’re mocking Christians who talk about how much God cares about the sanctity of all life, and are more than willing to offer up prayers for victims of gun violence, but don’t seem to want to do anything to stop it.
Now, I know you may disagree with their position. You may view the issue in a way where, to you, it’s not hypocritical at all. I get that. There’s room for a lot of different opinions in American politics, after all – and well-meaning Christians can disagree about many non-essential issues. We’ve been doing it for centuries. What I’m asking is just that we stop and consider the non-Christian’s perspective for a moment.
Because some non-Christians have said some harsh things. This morning, the New York Post’s headline read, “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.” There’s a backlash growing on Twitter as I write this. These are the sorts of statements that are going to provoke Christians to respond – In fact, just this morning I heard one particular radio personality already making the case that some politicians are coming out in “opposition to prayer”.
Hey, some people probably are. I know a few atheists who are, in fact, extremely anti-religion and anti-prayer, and they’re happy to tell you so. They’re a minority, though. Most people out there (even most of the atheists I know) aren’t really against prayer – and I just want us, before we respond, to consider their perspective. To think about where they’re coming from, and maybe how we sometimes look to those who don’t share our views.
Here’s how I see it. When it comes to prayer, most people don’t care one way or the other. They’re just very, very upset about the violence we see in our society (and I think we all are), and they’re incredibly tired of watching people pray for God’s comfort and healing for victims of gun violence, but then not want to take any steps that might help stop that violence – whatever those steps might be.
In short, they’re tired of very public Christians praying for one thing and not following through with action.
Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, let me propose something to you – Christians today (and I’m including myself here) often use prayer as an excuse to not actually do anything.
Take the believer who’s constantly asking for prayer for their health and their medical conditions – but then they refuse to change their diet or exercise? We all know that guy. I’ve been that guy. I still am in some ways.
You ask them – what have you done about it? “Well, I’ve prayed!” I know, but what have you DONE about it?! It’s an interesting dynamic that manifests itself over and over in Christianity. For some reason, God has chosen to work through humanity. Broken, hurt, fallible humanity. And in doing so, He expects us to pray, but He also expects us to do.
You can pray for the sermon all you want, but someone still has to preach it. You can pray for the homeless all you want, but someone still has to offer them shelter. Food for the hungry. Comfort for the afflicted.
And when we see people praying but not doing, we – understandably! – acknowledge it, and are frustrated by it.
God, cure my cancer. But I’m not going to stop smoking cigarettes.
God, fix my marriage. But I’m not going to stop looking at porn.
God, fix my kids. But I’m not going to actually spend any time with them. (Just let the youth minister do it!)
God, help me find a better job. But I’m not going to send out resumes, or anything.
That sort of behavior makes us crazy, and justifiably so! So why are we surprised that non-Christians are also frustrated by this behavior?
But this is what we’ve become. We’ll pray for “missions”. We might even toss $5 in the pot when one visits. But we’re not about to go dig wells somewhere. We’ll pray about that homeless couple on the corner. And we might even crack our window long enough to pass them a few bucks. But we’re not about to get involved in their lives.
We’ll pray about racism. Maybe. Assuming we’ll admit it actually exists. But when it comes down to letting that black family join our church. Well, fortunately, our pastor’s willing to help them find a church where they’ll “fit in better”.
We’ll pray about abortion. We’ll donate to whatever candidate says he’s going to get Roe v. Wade appealed. We might even make a sign and go down to Planned Parenthood to march around. But we won’t step out of that picket line and try to get to know the women agonizing over that choice.
We’ll pray about orphans. We might even sponsor one, for a few months – especially if we feel guilty at the last Christian concert we went to. But we’re not going to adopt one.
I know that sounds harsh. It’s not meant that way. God knows there’s a lot to do, but we’re not all, individually, called to do everything. But we are all called to do SOMETHING. And when those “somethings” pop up, do we need to pray about it? Yes. And then we need to get off our butts and do something. All of us. Even me. Especially me.
There’s a great article from Relevant about this. In fact, I should probably just link it instead of writing all this, but I was already almost done. Let me quote from that article, by Tyler Huckabee:
“I used to believe that prayer changes things. But now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” Mother Teresa said that, and history has no record of anyone ever telling Mother Teresa they were sick and tired of her prayers.
Perhaps that’s because Mother Teresa understood the words of Jesus and James—that prayer is not a substitute for action, or even preparation for action. It’s something much more fluid and powerful. It is the holding of ourselves and others nearer to God, that the shalom of God might be made manifest in our lives. It’s not passive. On the contrary, God is in the business of creation, and those who love Him are joining Him every day in the work of redeeming all things. It’s a very active thing.
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. Comfort for the afflicted. Justice for the innocent. Change for the future.
The people who are up in arms on this issue? They’re not anti-prayer, not really. They’re anti hypocrisy. They’re just tired of hearing us say one thing and then do another (or, just sit on our hands.) Please understand, this post isn’t about guns. I’m not even giving you my opinion on guns. (So take that!) This is about us, as Christians, remembering that our responsibility doesn’t just stop with prayer. Is prayer great? Yes. Do I believe prayer is powerful? Yes. But prayer needs to be accompanied with action.
I think that’s something God would approve of. After all, the Old Testament prophets made it clear – God’s not impressed with all our prayers and sacrifices if we’re not actually interested in love, mercy, and justice.
We shouldn’t be, either.