I see this pattern again and again online: something bad happens – like the recent earthquake in Nepal – something devastating that shakes people up, and the internet is filled with: posts sharing the news; posts sharing links for donating to charities that are trying to help; posts urging people to pray for those who are suffering as a result of the disaster; and then, inevitably, there are the angry posts yelling at Christians: forget praying, put your money where your mouth is!
as if it’s either or.
You see, prayer – when you’re a born again Christian who knows God personally, having the Holy Spirit living in you – is a conversation, and when I pray, when I talk to God about the stuff that’s on my mind, I take the risk that God will say something, sometimes something uncomfortable. He is not the type to just let me get away with staying in my comfort zone forever, and if I have the ability to help the people in Nepal with a financial donation and I don’t, when I pray for them he’s going to remind me of that.
He sometimes prods people to do a lot more than that – to get up and go and offer their practical skills. To risk their lives sometimes.
God commands us to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves. That includes sacrificing financial resources, time and energy, taking risks – it includes a lot of what goes under the general headings of “doing good” or “acts of kindness”, and we’re told to do it without blowing our own trumpets, without demanding great rewards, so there’s plenty of stuff Christians do and you won’t know about it.
But loving our fellow human beings also means praying for them.
Of course if you don’t believe in God then this might seem futile to you – if you think God doesn’t care, or that he isn’t all powerful, then it would seem like we’re wasting our time. But I know different. I have seen God answer prayers in amazing ways. I know he is almighty and I know he cares, so asking him to help is totally the obvious thing to do!
Sure, I give money to charity. But my financial resources aren’t endless and I can’t send enough money to all the different charities in the world to end all suffering. None of us can. We can each do our tiny little bit – and it’s good to do our tiny little bit! – but if I know the living God and have open communication lines with him, it would be seriously stingy of me to just press a Donate button and send the price of a few lattes and then bask in the satisfaction of having done my bit. It would be super mean and miserly to do only that and not bother to talk to the living God, the Creator of the Universe, the one who has unlimited resources and unlimited power and who can make a bigger difference than all of our tiny bits combined.
If you knew of people suffering somewhere and you happened to be related to the king of that country, or you happened to be friends with some multimillionaire who could help, would you just send $10 to charity and not bother contacting the powerful person who could help them?
When you hear Christians talk about praying for those suffering as a result of an earthquake or a terrible disease or a horrible plane crash or whatever latest devastating thing – remember that this doesn’t mean we don’t give financially, because it’s not either/or! and understand this: it would be horribly stingy and wrong of us not to pray. There is a huge amount of suffering in this world – far more than any of us can help with financially! but God is all powerful, and since I can speak to him and ask him to help, far be it from me to remain silent.
P.S. No, God doesn’t automatically do everything I ask. Of course not. He isn’t my dog, he’s my God. Does that mean I shouldn’t ask? Of course not. When you were a child and you wanted a new toy or an ice cream, and you asked your parents, did they always give you whatever you asked for? probably not. Did that mean you never asked, because they might say no? When you know your daddy loves you, you ask. You learn early on that sometimes the answer is no, or not now – but you still ask.
And taking this back to the context of praying for others who are suffering – imagine a young child finding a cat that’s been run over by a car and is lying there injured, bleeding. The child cares, but doesn’t know how to make the cat better. It would be most natural for the child to run to his parents and ask them to help the injured cat. That’s what I’m doing when I pray for people suffering as a result of an earthquake, or a terrible disease, or a horrible plane crash, or whatever else – I’m running to my daddy and saying: help! and I know that he cares. He might choose to show me how I can help, to perhaps teach me some bandaging skills or let me hold the cat while we drive to the vet, and maybe he’ll let me contribute some of my pocket money towards the vet costs even though they’d be a tiny little drop in the ocean, just to build up these good habits in me. But don’t tell me that I’m wrong to cry to my daddy for help. If I saw the cat lying there and didn’t help because I don’t know how, and didn’t call my daddy even though I could – that would be so very wrong.
Now I’d better go pray for the people of Nepal, and for those persecuted by Isis, and for oh so many who are suffering in so many parts of the world in so many different ways – it may take a while, but I’d better put my praying where my mouth is. I know the Creator of the Universe and he has, through Jesus, given me the right to approach his throne and speak to him, and to call him Daddy. This is an amazing privilege, which I mustn’t waste.