On Sunday, I attended a church to which we don’t belong. We were visiting because it was a special church service for my kids’ camp.
During the time of prayer, the pastor offered a simple, sincere, gentle prayer for the victims of the Colorado shooting and their families. He prayed that those who had died would be welcomed into the Father’s arms, and that those who lived and the families of the victims would be comforted. It wasn’t long, elaborate, or complex.
Some things the prayer wasn’t: It wasn’t a speculation about the eternal fate of those who had died. It wasn’t an opportunity to remind everyone that we need to extend grace to the shooter, even as we pray for the victims. It wasn’t an evangelistic tool, despite the greater than usual number of visiting families. It wasn’t a fervent request that God “use” the tragedy to create more disciples.
For that, I am grateful.
It isn’t that I have any problem with extending grace and forgiveness, thinking deeply about what happens after this life, sharing our faith with others, or looking for blessings amidst trials. Those are all good things. But they are not good a) immediately following a significant, tragic event when people are most in need of comfort; b) without a significant amount of careful consideration and a heavy dose of humility; and c) during prayer, pretty much ever.
It’s that last one I’m most concerned with. Prayer is not a time in which we are supposed to be working the room for Jesus. Prayer isn’t an outreach to others. If it is, or it becomes so, then you’re not doing it right. Prayer is between us and God. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not something that should be carefully crafted so as to maximize its outreach potential.
Using prayer, especially after something so devastating, as a method of evangelism is a lot more common that people realize. Strangely, the same people who think that we need to craft our words to God in order to have the greatest impact are usually the same ones who believe scripted prayer is insincere. I fail to see how delivering a sermon in a prayer is more sincere than meditating on the words found in the Book of Common Prayer.
I’d like to see Christians stop using prayer in the wake of disaster as a “witness.” You want to reach out to others, even present the Gospel, that’s fine. But don’t use your time of communion with God to do that.
Let’s let prayer be our words to God, not to humans.