Note: The last seven days have brought renewed and visceral images of systemic racism in our culture and society. We are members of that culture and we’re appalled by it. George Floyd was a brother in Christ, killed on the streets at the hands of someone sworn to serve and protect him. I’ve spent several mornings praying, thinking, grieving. This is one thing I want to share with our body on what to do now. There are many other things to walk in, but this, for now, is what I feel led to say because I believe it can lead each of us toward the calling Jesus has uniquely given us all.
While this is written amidst this one incident, it applies to school shootings, war, and other atrocities we encounter on a daily basis. I want to encourage us to make this our liturgy in the face of evil.
How did “Thoughts and Prayers” become such a horrible response? When it became the easy way out instead of the strenuous journey to our souls and back again. That is when it became the socially acceptable shorthand for, “That’s sad, let’s change the channel.” I understand the angry rejection of this kind of “thoughts and prayers” to a violent culture that kills children and destroys people groups in the name of law and order. It’s infuriating to know the thought was shallow and the prayer brief. I know they were because they’ve often been mine.
I’m sad we’ve allowed “thoughts and prayers” to be anything but thought and prayer. What if we were drawn to deep thinking? What if we sought soulful prayer? I want to invite us into these profound practices because I believe thought and prayer will lead to long obedience to Jesus and his kingdom. They bring us to conviction as agents of reconciliation that will live that calling beyond the media cycle, beyond the screen, and beyond our homes. They are the way of Moses, Deborah, Esther, Jeremiah, Jesus, Rosa Parks, and MLK.
The noise of our world overwhelms our capacity to comprehend the depths of atrocities, pain, and suffering around us. Without thinking, we enter a cycle where pain enters our consciousness, stimulates our brains, and gets a reflexive response. But we were created with a greater capacity to think critically and think deeply.
How did this happen? How deep does this run? Where does this come from? What horrors is this simply the tip of the iceberg? What root does this expose? What belief undergirds this atrocity? How do I share in that belief? Why is that wicked? How does that differ from the heart of God for humanity? What is the scope of Jesus’ transformative gospel? What is the power it can bring? How does Jesus deal with this?
I’m not advocating that we attempt to investigate video footage and scour the internet for evidence to decipher what happened as java-script juror. I’m advocating you do as the prophets did, and ask the questions that peel back the layers.
Often we reduce prayer to a list of requests to God. In this view alone, asking the creator of the world to do something to fix his world is valid. However, prayer is more. Prayer carries us through our souls toward a caring savior. Prayer brings us through tears, sin, pain, and anger into the presence of Jesus’ loving ear. Prayer works Jesus’ will through every atom of our being as it animates our resolve to faithful obedience to the kingdom of hope he brings. Prayer brings us into contact with what is true about the world, God, and ourselves and commissions us into that world with power to persevere. This cannot be done in five seconds. It isn’t an easy way out.
Listening to the Heart
Begin prayer by bringing your heart to God. When we come to prayer our gracious God reveals—not just himself to us, but ourselves to us. We pray: “Search me, O God!” reveal my heart, reveal my apathy, reveal my numbness, reveal my pride. In silence, perhaps for longer than we feel comfortable, we ask: “How do I feel?”
In prayer, we’re given language and audience to utter our grievances. This is the language of lament and it joins grief with anger. We lament the state of our society, the evil, the destruction, and the loss of human life. Many of our encounters with lament in the Bible are found by prophets, but perhaps the most pointed was Jesus weeping over his city because: “They are sheep without a shepherd”. He’s lamenting the destruction happening within its streets. He’s lamenting the failure of leadership, the rejection of God, and the deep issues that continually cause chaos. Jesus is both angry and sad.
Our anger and tears must go somewhere. When we skip lament, our rage becomes a weapon we cannot hone. While we hope it harms others, it devours us. Nothing can bear the weight of evil except the gentle hands of Jesus. Through lament, the Spirit channels our righteous anger and grief toward injustice.
In prayer, we’re given the sacred moment of naming what is real and broken through confession. In confession, we name the deep seated evil, thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs that result in such wickedness. We put them in view of the cross and we put ourselves there, too. How have I participated? How have I ignored my calling? How has my absence of love for neighbor led to this?
With all the evil exposed within us and our society, the shadow of the cross grows. The depth of his love is more clear. The ultimate justice is seen in his selfless love. Forgiveness becomes a flood while the cause of Justice becomes a calling. We’re ready to look outward.
In petition, we ask God for what we want. We ask without reservations. We plead until we’re exhausted.
We ask for healing, for reconciliation, for exposure of evil. We ask him to make things new. We ask for his kingdom to come. We ask for safety in our community. We ask for God’s presence with the mourners. We ask for justice. We ask for powers to be broken. We ask for all we can think of and imagine: revival. We can pray like the Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Now, we ask: Holy Spirit, What am I to do? What role do I play today? What do I say, who do I say it to? How do I love? We make our lives available, like the prophet Isaiah, with complete trust: “God, I’m yours, I’ll go where you send me.” This is exciting, because it often leads to things we might have been inclined to do from the start, but with a conviction we’re empowered by the Spirit of God! It’s also exciting because the Spirit leads us with creativity that exceeds the social norms of reaction. Lastly, it’s exciting, because the Spirit often calls us to obedience to hard paths and local acts of faithfulness that require the Holy Spirit operating within us. I believe Jesus wants to call us to more than we’re doing; not less. I believe the Spirit will call you into profound arenas of mercy that might be unseen by many but will be life-changing to the few.
Walking in Hope Toward Dark Places
Now, we get off our knees. We open the doors to our prayer closets, we close our journals, and we walk into the world with the courage that only comes from knowing that the resurrected Jesus walks with us and he will not lose. We’ve worked out the virtue of hope in a kingdom that is already coming and will one day be here. CS Lewis writes:
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
Reclaimed Thought and Prayer
We need to reclaim Thought and Prayer, as I’ve described, as our first response and our first step toward a tangible revival that leads to Peace. What is at stake? I mourn the transformation (or lack of transformation) that will happen when our reaction doesn’t begin with thought and prayer.
If we don’t, we bypass transformation for social posts.
If we don’t, we’ll be activists of angst.
If we don’t, we allow anger to create the burst of energy without direction and without resolve
If we don’t, we will judge ourselves for “not changing anything”, and we’ll grow weary until another emotive moment stirs our senses.
If we don’t, we’ll become jurors of everyone’s reaction, deeming our thoughtless response as the only valid one as we seek signals of virtue instead of virtue itself.
If we don’t, we will become pawns in a political army, alter boys in their liturgy, and fuel in their quest for power, not transformation.
If we don’t, we will not take up our calling to live as agents of reconciliation, ambassadors for the One who has the power and purpose to make all things new.
If we don’t, we will miss out on the transformation of life—even the messinesses of it—with Jesus.
I know all of these dangers are real because I’ve lived them.
How would sitting with Jesus in prayer change the way you respond to injustice?
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