The achingly-familiar reaction started before we knew all that had happened. Posts on social media encouraged us to pray for Las Vegas. Tweets sent #prayers to the victims and their families.
It’s all so unacceptably familiar.
Columbine. Aurora. Fort Hood. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. San Bernardino. Orlando. Las Vegas. What place will be next?
We see the horrifying images that remind us of the horrifying images from the countless other shootings — different place, different massacre, same sick feeling. We dust off our “Pray for the people of (fill in the blank)” and hashtag a prayer their way.
And then we do nothing to prevent it from happening again. Which means we’re really not praying at all.
It’s not enough to mourn the victims of gun violence, say a prayer, and move on. That’s not how prayer works. Prayer always involves an openness to be God’s answer in changing the status quo.
Prayer always involves change
What are we going to do about it? Will we work to change our society’s embrace of guns and violence? Or will we do nothing and simply wait for the next, even worse massacre?
This is on you and me.
The words of a prayer are only a starting point. Those words can be empty, or they can become the most powerful thing in the world. It depends upon whether we’re willing to become the answer.
Prayer always involves change — change in us and in our world. It always involves taking a risk, which is why prayer is such radical stuff at its core.
Prayer is more than a request; it’s a commitment. If we’re not willing to engage ourselves and our world in a challenge to do better, then we’re the ones falling down on the job. Saying a prayer and moving on is never sufficient.
Prayer is powerful and personal and always involves a response on our part.
That’s how prayer works
We pray for the person who is hungry, and then we feed them. We pray for the person who is bleeding by the side of the road, and then we help them. We work to change our systems so that we have fewer people hungry and fewer people bleeding in our streets and in our schools and in our churches and in our nightclubs and in our music festivals.
Look, we have a pretty good idea of what God is waiting on us to do. What parent wants their children murdering each other daily? It’s up to us to change it.
We don’t do that by accepting violence and clinging to our weapons. Nor do we do it by defending the status quo. Or by being indifferent. Or by throwing up our hands and saying the problem is too big.
And it sure doesn’t mean waiting for God to wave some magic wand to make it all go away. That’s not the way it works. We created the problem; God has already given us all that we need to fix it.
You’ve prayed for peace and healing? Good! Now start working for it.
This is on you and me.
Instruments of change
Yes, advocating for peace is exasperating and makes us vulnerable, but that’s how it works. We have to be patient and persistent. Love is patient and persistent. We have to have the audacity to respond to hatred and fear with an unflinching love that heals and shows a different way.
All of those prayers in the past two days? We’ve already received our answer: God wants to use us as instruments of change.
We make the guns. We glorify the violence. We accept the status quo. It’s on us to fix this. God is with us and has given us all that we need. The rest is up to you and me.
Time to get off our butts and do it. Time to get off our hashtags and start praying for real.