Thoughts and prayers stink.
That’s what I’ve been thinking this week. Thoughts and prayers just stink. To the legislators who received vast sums of money from the NRA but always say that their the thoughts and prayers are with the victims of gun violence, David Frum, a conservative columnist and an editor at The Atlantic magazine tweeted this verse from Isaiah: “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”
Thoughts and prayers stink. And sometimes God, at least God we read about in Scripture, gets fed up with thoughts and prayers. You’ve prayed enough, God seems to say. You’ve prayed not to me so you can listen to me, but you’ve prayed to me so you can listen to yourselves. You’ve thought about justice, not for others, but you’ve thought about your wants and desires and sins and justified them all. You’ve acted in my name, but not for me, but to give cover to your own ends. So don’t pray—you’re not praying to me. You’re praying to yourself through me.
God will not be used. In the end, when all we do is justify ourselves, or use our worship and piety to distance ourselves from the God that is both a burning fire and the sound beyond silence, God will stop listening.
That is maybe the scariest thing that I can imagine. So I ask myself, do my thoughts and prayers stink? Has God stopped listening to me?
This week, we’ll read from St. Paul, who writes: “For Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I can attain the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached my goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Sometimes, we have to give up our thoughts and prayers. We have to give us the things that make us comfortable in the face of tragedy and horror, and we have to do something even harder than prayer: we have to reach out in faith to the one who has made us his own, and say, “Change me.”
God consistently tells his people that prayer and faith change who you are. My grandfather used to say to me, “Faith is not a way of believing, faith is a way of living.” Thoughts and prayers are part of this way, but sometimes you have to pray with your feet and your hands and your deeds. God wants to hear from all of who you are.
So the good news is this: faith changes us. In tough times, cling closer to the cross. Let Jesus change you. Pray with your whole self, and pray wholly to God. Something will change.