The Powerlessness of Prayer-Shaming



By Justin Poythress - Posted at Reformation 21:

"What if you and your family were starving, and someone with an abundance of food responded by letting you know that they were 'offering thoughts and prayers'?" You're immediate inner thought would be, "Stop praying. Do something!" A preponderance of these and similar reactions fire around social media in the wake of national tragedies, and have dug trenches of familiar battle lines over the past decade. One 'side' reaches out with general condolences, which the other 'side' interprets as dismissive, patronizing, or at best, lazy. Thus the battle is taken to the field whose terrain is most conducive for facilitating thoughtful dialogue and spawning effective solutions--that of social media, of course. Prayer-shaming ensues, adeptly rebuffed by shaming the prayer-shamer.

For the moment, let us put aside the issue of the rhetorical triteness of the phrase 'thoughts and prayers', and examine three underlying assumptions of a prayer-shaming statement:

Assumption 1: Prayer and action are mutually exclusive.


If we block out the noise of some assumed political track which responsive action must surely take--which is often suggested in contrast to prayers--we can nevertheless join in rejecting passivity. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you." (Phil 2:12) We work because God works in us. James 2 assaults the man of empty faith, who sends well-wishes, while neglecting the resources at his disposal to do real help.

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