Thoughts and prayers.
Some people find them valuable, while others would actually pay to avoid them.
A recent study found that Christians generally value the offer of thoughts and prayers, even from a stranger.
Who doesn’t need prayer?
Two sociologists studied a group of North Carolina residents in the fall of 2018 after Hurricane Florence struck. They talked with more than 400 residents, asking them to describe the hardships they had suffered. Then they made an offer of a thought or a prayer, and they tied the offer to money.
What did they discover? Christians valued prayer from a stranger, putting its worth at more than $4. The nonreligious participants, however, said that they would pay more than $3.50 to avoid a Christian stranger’s prayer.
Wait … what? Who doesn’t need prayer? More than that, who actually wants to avoid it?
People who see the offer of prayer as a platitude. A warm and fuzzy nice thing that is not tied to kind, practical action. A bailout from actually providing real help.
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it” (James 2:15,16)?
Let’s admit this about prayer. “I’ll pray for you,” sometimes means, “I’ll delegate your problem to God. He’ll take care of you while I go take care of me.” Giving problems to God is good. Not being part of the solution is bad.
Jesus presented this very case in the parable of the Good Samaritan where church people passed by a man in need. Then along came a guy who didn’t pray, but did help. Jesus presents him as the hero of the story.
Better than the Good Samaritan
But there’s someone who is even better than the Good Samaritan. He prays for us, notices us, comes to us, comforts us, provides for our needs, and gets us back on our feet. More than that, his loving actions to all people provide God a substitute payment on our behalf. In his love, God sees us as having loved others. I’m talking about Jesus.
You can be better than the Good Samaritan, too. Understanding the challenge of offers for prayer being simple platitudes, be sure that when you offer to pray for people, you consider these loving actions:
- instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you,” pray right there, on the spot, with the person (even on the phone or in a text message)
- when you say, “I’ll pray for you,” included in that prayer asking God to help you be more available as part of God’s answer to that prayer
- keep a prayer journal of people you are praying for; don’t lose track of them
- follow up a few days later and ask, “What is God doing in your life these days?”
- ask the person how you can help, or lead the conversation to discover the help they need, and then do it
So, it’s a both/and scenario. Don’t just pray, but also act. And don’t just act, but also pray.
Dear Jesus, sometimes I pray as a substitute for loving, merciful actions. I want you to do the dirty work, so I can keep my hands clean. Hear me now, praying for me to be more loving, to be part of your answer to others’ needs. I need your mercy, and need to show that mercy to others. Amen.
Read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Meditate on this, and ask God in prayer where he needs you to show mercy to your neighbor. Then, stop praying and start doing.