Just a few months ago, guns shot across the magical city of Paris. The glittering lights throughout the cobblestone streets dimmed as violence attempted to break the hearts of strong Parisians. Lives were lost and the world ached for the people there. Headlines, Instagram posts, and Facebook filled with the French flag. People stepped up to #PrayforParis, join hands, and support the city that has touched so many of our hearts.
Just a few days after this horrible event, I saw another slew of Facebook posts. People, justifiably so, calling out the media for those prayers—those prayers handed out as condolences, possibly because some felt compassion or out of the uncertainty of how else to respond. When in reality, how many people would really be in prayer for those hurting from this violent attack? These skeptics questioned those prayers' validity, and forced me to question my very own as well.
Why was I saying that I was praying? To seem like I cared? To make myself feel like I was doing something? Was I really on my knees and interceding for these people? And not just the people of Paris, but all of those suffering from the hands of violence. Those whose suffering the media chooses to display, and those who go unnoticed, like our friends in Syria, Kenya, and even those suffering in our very own land.
In Psalm 107:28–29 it says, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” (NIV). As the earth trembles in pain and suffering, am I, as a child of the Mighty God, calling out for him to come and be our rescuer? This question plagued me.
The media and friends throughout the social world began to call out these seemingly false claims of prayer. I wanted to deny it, but I knew their accusations held truth. They, rightly so, wanted to see action, not just sympathetic responses. I began to speculate about my own prayers and the power that they held.
We pray for Paris. We pray for healing. And yes, the notion of the world coming together and desiring to pray over issues is beautiful, but I also believe the reality of what we are saying is discouraging.
How often do we throw around prayer without real reverence for the power that it holds? In James 5:16 it says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV). Do we really believe there is power in our prayers?
We say we are people of action, but how often does the way we walk prove that our faith falls short? We may lift up requests but with little belief that God hears and is able to answer. In Psalm 116:2 David cries out, “Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath” (NLT). And Matthew 21:22 states, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (ESV). If I know he hears and longs to answer, there should be such fervency in my faith that I cry out to God.
Our prayers can be so much more than just musings of our own issues, than just a grocery list that we spout out to God to fulfill and leave. Our prayers have power and the more we believe the effect they could have, the more we will lift up in faith and belief. John 14:12 states, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (NIV). Jesus is saying here that we have the power to accomplish what he accomplished. Jesus performed countless miracles, he had compassion and love for the least of these, he saved us, and his life was filled with action. Yet, what we can do with the Spirit living in us and through prayer is even greater. We desire for our cries to God to evoke powerful responses, but unfortunately, we are lacking in belief . . . and the world is noticing.
I can say this so strongly because I am guilty. Maybe I am a lone wolf, saying I am praying but with little belief that God hears, or if he does hear, that he will actually answer. I halfheartedly offer up a name of a city for God to help. But when that prayer starts to require my sweat and tears while crying out, I break. I busy myself with comforting thoughts of my own dreams and desires until I can push out those hurting around me.
My hunch, though, is that I am not alone. My hunch is that Satan is having a real good time drawing Christians away with the business of our own lives, keeping us from realizing the true power of the living God inside of us. Instead, we walk through our days paralyzed in fear, in self-protection, in doubt. In C.S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters, two demons are writing to each other about how to overcome their human assignments. One demon writes:
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
This is what I believe the enemy is doing. Keeping us busy enough, distracted enough, uncomfortable enough by the suffering of others, to keep out the very tool that we have to create change. Just enough that the uttering of one of the most powerful weapons we have, prayer no longer holds any power to the principles at work. Our prayers that could be a battleground for victory turn into a weak response to satisfy our discomfort toward brokenness.
I believe it is time to be people who take action in our prayers. Like Jacob, I want to wrestle with God for the promises I believe he has for us. In Genesis 32:26–27 Jacob wrestled through the night and would not stop until the blessings came. I imagine he was tired, in pain, dirty, and possibly even feared all he was wrestling for would never come. And yet, he pressed on. I want my prayer life to look like this. To wrestle, call out, cry for those in pain, and boldly ask God for the promises that he has laid out for us in his Word. Promises of hope and a future, promises of his comfort and love.
As a child of God, my knees should bruise because I spend so much time on them. My tears should burn running down my cheeks as I fight in prayer for the hurting in the world. I want my heart to hurt for the broken and suffering so much that I can't help but to fall on my face before the Lord. I want to call out our neediness for a Savior and rise up from that place, as he would have me to love and take action for his children. It might be painful, but I no longer want to live in apathy and unbelief, distracted by the superficial. I want, even when I don't see answers, to continue fighting in prayer, for I know God hears.
"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that is, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." (1 John 5:14 NIV)
God calls us to devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Col. 4:2). I am interceding, and as a wise woman once told me, I am not getting up until my knees feel planted like the roots of a tree. Only then will I rise from my place of prayer, having cast all my burdens before my wonderful Savior.
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