By Pastor Larry Beane of Gretna, Louisiana. Original Facebook post here.
This was written in response to tragic mass murder last week at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. I especially needed to read this upon hearing of the shocking news of the death of a longtime Christian friend earlier this week.
The people who are mocking the victims of the Texas church shooting (and the notion of prayer) are exceedingly ignorant of Christianity – which even if you don’t believe in it you should know something about it, as it is one of the pillars of western civilization, American government, classical liberal economics, and the system of human rights that has become the world’s standard.
Christian prayer is not a magic spell.
It is a form of communion with God. It isn’t where we tell God what to do, or command the forces of nature to bend to our will. It is a humble submission to God and His will – even in the midst of the rubble of evil and chaos and death.
Our forbears in the faith prayed and sang hymns even as the Roman lions stalked them in the stadium before jeering crowds, and as the beasts ate their little children before their eyes. Prayer is our refuge even amidst evil and death. For we worship One greater than evil.
Rather than see prayer as a magic spell by which we assert our power over our enemies, in the words of our Small Catechism, “God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”
In this life, sometimes parents say, “No” even when the children cannot conceive of how this can be. And yet good parents do say “No” and sometimes must endure the pain and even anger of their children who do not understand why.
One thing we pray for is the grace to forgive our enemies, and for them to likewise partake of God’s grace and join us in eternity. We pray for forgiveness of our own trespasses, where we have sinned against our neighbors – and to be able to forgive those who trespass against us.
The heart of Christian prayer is found in the seven petitions that Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
We are not God, He is. His ways are not our ways. We do not see the big picture, which is eternal in scope. We live in the fallen world that we have broken. We are also sinners in need of forgiveness. And death awaits all of us. And yet, God chose to rescue us from eternal death by His willingness to lay down His life as a ransom for ours. That is the theology of the cross. It remains a ‘scandal’ and ‘folly’ that angers the world and results in our mockery, even as it was when St. Paul wrote as much to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:23).
But this theology is truly Good News, a word that in Greek and Latin comes to us in English as the Evangel, the Gospel.
Like children, we only see a small part of reality, and do not understand God’s will. And yet we put our trust in Him, not in princes, in science, in snarky skeptics, nor in any other entity to rescue us from our enemies. Like the three young men sent to the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar, we refuse to give up our faith, trusting that He will deliver us, but even if He doesn’t…
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
In the end, we pray, “Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10), trusting in His mercy and grace.