Sojourner’s magazine and daily online publication posted an article titled 8 Sayings Christians Use to Let Ourselves Off the Hook, by Natalie Patton. Patton wrote the article in August of 2017, and either I have been out of touch for a bit, or the article has just recently trickled down to me. At any rate, you can find the entire Article on Ms. Patton’s blog [click here for link].
The Article, as the title suggests, is about 8 things we Christians could do better. The first on her list is when we proclaim to each other, “I’ll pray for you”. This is how she addresses it.
#1. “I’ll pray for you.” Or: "We’ll pray for you." "I’m praying about that." "Praying."
How This Lets Us Off the Hook: "I’m sorry for your situation, but please don’t ask for my money, time or assistance to help with your problem. I’ll pray for you when I remember."This reminds me of comedian Hannibal Buress’ sketch where he says, "You’re going to pray for me? So basically you’re going to sit at home and do nothing…while I struggle with a situation.
Don’t pray for me — make me a sandwich, or something. When individuals or communities are in a desperate situation, love is more felt in actions than in words. A promise of prayer without corresponding action can be felt at the very least as an annoyance – at the worst, said with smugness and apathy – it can inflict even more pain. Jesus modeled a hands-on approach, by caring for hungry, hurting souls. He was present in physical touch. He actively fed five thousand. He turned water into wine. Sure, he had power as the Son of God, but his entire ministry was less talk and more action.
Yep, she’s saying that actions speak louder than words. And I agree with her wholeheartedly. That is not to say that I, in any way, do not believe in the power of prayer, or that we shouldn’t pray for each other! I do, however, believe that we tend to throw the proverbial “I’ll pray for you” or “Sending thoughts and prayers” around like a tree sheds its leaves in the fall. In all honesty, we are all guilty of doing this at some point in our lives.
My point is that if we say we are going to pray for something or someone, then we should do it. It also means that we are committing ourselves – uniting ourselves – with that person or thing and their particular need. Often that might require us to physically do something about their need.
Our Book of Common Prayer states that, “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words”. (BCP 856) These sorts of prayers are prayers of intercession or petition. The Prayer Book also asserts that we pray these prayers so, “That God’s will may be done”. (BCP 857)
That makes prayer a sacramental act. By our “thoughts and deeds”, by engaging in the work God has put before us, we share in whatever we are praying for with the people we are praying for. We help them with their burden. Again, this may very well (and probably should) require some physical action on our part. When we do this, we become in communion (common union) with each other.
What might doing God’s will through prayer look like? Are we being called to answer someone’s prayers?