Why Sending Thoughts and Prayers
Is a Pointless Exercise
Show me your religion through your acts,
not through your words, and I will believe you.
On Wednesday, December 2, 2015, 14 county health workers were tragically gunned down during a work Christmas party in San Bernardino, California. In the flurry of media activity in the days that followed, one newspaper front page stuck out in my mind. It was on the New York’s Daily News front page on Thursday, December 3, 2015. Here is what it said:
“God Isn’t Fixing This!”
In around this bold headline was a series of tweets from various politicians, each expressing their sympathies and prayers for the victims’ families and asking others to pray for them, too.
Despite the fact that this newspaper’s provocative title split Americans at the time, I believe this newspaper makes an excellent point, don’t you? After all, what is the point of “sending thoughts and prayers” if you have the ability to assist but choose not to do so? Do your “thoughts and prayers” serve as an excuse for your lack of action? Consider the following question: Do your “thoughts and prayers” relieve you of your God-given obligation to assist those in need?
The majority of people would accept Christianity — despite its flaws — if there was less talk and more action on the part of religious leaders. In reality, religious zeal is useless if it is not accompanied by action! All of our religious activities, including worship, prayers, church services, fasting, and liturgy, are essentially worthless, useless, and ineffective until we put our beliefs into action. C.S. Lewis once said:
“If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man’s outward actions — if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before — then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary; Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in ‘religion’ mean nothing unless they change our actual behaviour.”
Thoughts and prayers are meaningless unless they are supported by action.
A problem as old as religion itself
The discrepancy between religious speech and religious practice is not a new issue. When it comes to religion, people are quite adept at congratulating themselves and convincing themselves that God is happy with them.
In the Bible, there was a period when people were so engrossed in their religion that they lost sight of what God actually intended them to accomplish. They engaged in a variety of ostensibly religious and worshipful acts, but God eventually rejected their worship.
Because there are two types of religions, one that God accepts and one that God rejects. The individuals in Isaiah 58 appear to believe they are doing everything correctly. They are acting in a really religious manner.
They believe that fasting will make God happy and grant them favor. They’ve been taught that this ancient practice — this religious deed — of fasting and humbling oneself before God — is beneficial. Yes, it is. But not by itself. God chastises the people in Isaiah 58. Here’s how it goes down:
The People say to God: Why didn’t You notice how diligently we fasted before You? We humbled ourselves with pious practices and You paid no attention.
God Responds: I have to tell you, on those fasting days, all you were really seeking was your own pleasure; Besides you were busy defrauding people and abusing your workers.
Your kind of fasting is pointless, for it only leads to bitter quarrels, contentious backbiting, and vicious fighting. You are not fasting today because you want Me to hear your voice.
No, what I want in a fast is this: to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice, to lighten the load of those heavily burdened, to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none, giving those who are homeless a space in your home, Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.
Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun; in an instant, you will be healed. Your rightness will precede and protect you; the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you.Then when you do call out, “My God, Where are You?”
The Eternal One will answer, “I am here, I am here.”
If you remove the yoke of oppression from the downtrodden among you, stop accusing others, and do away with mean and inflammatory speech,If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need, then your light will shine in the darkness,And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day.
The Eternal One will never leave you; He will lead you in the way that you should go. When you feel dried up and worthless, God will nourish you and give you strength. And, you will grow like a garden lovingly tended; you will be like a spring whose water never runs out.
You will discover there are people among your own who can rebuild this broken-down city out of the ancient ruins; You will firm up its ancient foundations. and all around, others will call you “Repairer of Broken Down Walls” and “Rebuilder of Livable Streets.”
Look at Me, God!
In Isaiah 58, the people think that God is betraying them. They’re really perplexed. They believe God isn’t performing his duties. Hearing the prophet Isaiah’s harsh condemnation of these ostensibly loyal deeds must have come as a shock.
How could God be dissatisfied? Why isn’t God delighted about us? We’re going to synagogue, fasting and praying, and sending our prayers and thoughts… Come on, people! Look at us, God! Take a look at all the things we’re doing to praise God! God, you owe us!
When God doesn’t respond in the way they expect, they think, “God isn’t fixing this! God isn’t doing his job!”
What True Religion Looks Like
I believe that this paragraph enumerates a number of characteristics that define real religion. Actions that benefit others and help alter the world are the signs of a changed life, not empty religious activities.
This Biblical scripture is incredibly beneficial since it provides us with at least two very practical actions that we may take. It shows us what true religion — religion that God accepts — looks like. God desires the following from those who call themselves Christians:
Number 1: God wants you to bring freedom
In verse 6, God says,
This is what I want: to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice, to lighten the load of those heavily burdened, to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
Justice is the most visible manifestation of genuine religion. If you want to see if your heart is in sync with God’s, ask yourself this question: Do you have a strong desire to advocate for the poor and underprivileged in our society?
We’ve never been more positioned to make a difference, and Christians should lead the way. When was the last time you spoke up for the voiceless? When was the last time you signed a petition, became a part of a protest movement, or wrote to a politician demanding action on issues of inequality and injustice?
Now what is the kind of worship that God loves. It lives to set people free. So the challenge that I have for you today is this: What cause are you behind? Who are you standing up for? To whom are you lending your voice?
Number 2: God wants you to serve the poor
In verse 7, God says,
A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none, giving those who are homeless a space in your home, giving clothes to those who need them.
Renowned preacher Tim Keller says,
“A life poured out for the needs of the poor is an inevitable sign of connection with God”
because God’s heart is for the poor. Poverty and helping the poor are mentioned over 2000 times in the Bible, making it the second-most discussed topic in Scripture. In fact, there is no way you can have the reality of God’s character in your life unless you are giving away your stuff and your money. Money is quantifiable. It’s concrete. It’s measurable. How much of it do you give away from your abundance?
The heart behind true religion
Live to free others and love, serve and help the poor. This is the kind of religion that God loves and accepts. Your worship counts for little if your life does not reflect the heart of God for the poor and oppressed.
That said, I want to be clear on this. Often when we hear messages like this, we can feel guilty about our lack of action. But your motivation for doing these things must be love and not guilt. Guilt will not lead to a lasting change, but love can.
The things we do for God must always be our loving response to God — not our quest for acceptance by God, because that is not even necessary (we already have the full acceptance of God). Our good deeds can actually become part of our misguided religious fervor if we are not careful. It can become religious box-ticking.
The promises of true religion
The wonderful thing about Isaiah 58 is that it is full of promises. Of what God will accomplish if we spend our lives advocating for the poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged as part of our regular response to what God has done for us. Many If/Then propositions exist – if you do this, God will reply with that. These promises are fantastic. And here are some examples:
Verse 10: If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need, then your light will shine in the darkness, And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day.
Your darkness will be transformed into brightness. This makes great sense; when we focus on the misery of others, we are less engrossed in our own problems and are reminded that we are, in many respects, lucky.
Verse 11: If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need, then the Eternal One will never leave you; He will lead you in the way that you should go. When you feel dried up and worthless, God will nourish you and give you strength.
He will never leave you, he will show you what to do, he will give you strength — a three-in-one promise. Some of us spend a lot of energy trying to work out what God wants us to do. I think a great place to start is to live our lives trying to set the world right on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
Verse 12: You will firm up its ancient foundations. And all around, others will call you “Repairer of Broken Down Walls” and “Rebuilder of Livable Streets.”
You will repair and restore broken people and cities. What an incredible promise. Wouldn’t it be good if Christians were known for what they build up rather than what they tear down? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were known as people who restore and repair and rebuild broken and hurting people in our broken and hurting cities?
The Last Word
So, back to where we began — with this headline:
You could pray a thousand times for the destitute to be helped. You might sing a thousand praise songs to God and yet not see justice served. A thousand sermons might be spoken on how God invites us to devote our lives on behalf of the impoverished and oppressed. You may fast for a thousand days in the hope that God will save the countries, but if that is all you do, you may end up thinking to yourself, “God isn’t fixing this.”
God put the tools in your hands and said,
“You fix it!”
You have money in your pocket and ideas in your mind. You are God’s hands, feet, and voice in the world; now get out there and do something. Isn’t that, after all, what God accomplished for us? He serves as a model for us. God got in via a breach in the world’s ceiling. Now, whose planet will you enter and assist?
We may easily get caught up in our quaint traditions, our religious clichés, our spiritual passion, and our nostalgic rituals, but the fact is that our thoughts and prayers are completely ineffective in the actual world.