Again and again, cable news networks announce "Breaking News." All too often it's heart-breaking news.
A school shooting. A quake or a crash. A storm, a fire, a flood.
It's hard to be a news anchor or politician at those times. Trying to find the right thing to say. Often, they will simply say, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you." Or the social media version of consolation, "Sending good vibes."
That's good. But not good enough for some victims who have begun to say publicly, "Thoughts and prayers are nice, but we need more than that. We need action."
With my precious wife's passing still a fresh wound in my heart, I've been thinking about those "thoughts" and "prayers" and "action." And reaching a few conclusions.
First, "thoughts" are only helpful if they're communicated. To this day, I am deeply grateful for the people who, not only thought about our family during our loss, but took the time to write those thoughts to us. Those tributes and encouragements, Scriptures and memories are like a well of comfort I can draw from on the dark or lonely days.
Sometimes news anchors and leaders can only muster "thoughts" to send. No mention of prayer. Because, in our "selfie," God-free world, we have no supernatural source of comfort and strength when tragedy hits. All we have is ourselves. Just "thoughts." Hardly enough when your heart - and world - are broken.
Second, prayer inspires action. Or it should. Often, as I pray about a need - mine or someone else's - God plants a "do" in my heart. To call or text. To visit or reach out. God's action step will be a whole lot better than some impulse of mine. He's got the whole picture.
Yes, prayer can be a cop-out sometimes. A spiritual-sounding substitute for getting involved. But any heartfelt prayer ends up asking, "What would You have me do, Lord?" And to be honest, running off and doing something can often be a powerless substitute for praying! When, in fact, "the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results" (James 5:16 - NLT).
Third, prayer is not just some "feel better" exercise. It is, in fact, the single most powerful response anyone can have when things are spinning out of control. When we understand what prayer really is - and pray like that - "prayers" in a crisis are more than "nice." They're decisive.
Anticipating the life-shattering experiences we all face sooner or later, the Bible asks this provocative question: "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" The answer is not an action step. It's a spirit-lifting guarantee: "The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne" (Psalm 11:3-4).
Life may have suddenly been ripped from our control (if it ever really was in our control) - but not out of God's control. And He extends to us an absolutely stunning invitation: "Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most" (Hebrews 4:16 - NLT).
I have taken Him up on that invitation more times than I could ever count. And the spiritual adrenaline of God's grace has surged through my body and soul, making the unbearable bearable and the undoable doable.
So when I pray, I am consciously entering the throne room from which billions of galaxies are governed. And bringing my broken and my burden to the God who runs it all.
Years ago, I heard a story about a meeting President Kennedy was holding with Cabinet secretaries in the Oval Office. Suddenly, the door opened, and someone did the unthinkable - they came in unannounced.
It was the President's two-year-old son, "John-John." Who walked right past all those power people and crawled into President Kennedy's lap. Yes, he was arguably the most powerful man in the world. But he was John-John's daddy.
This is the wonder of prayer. When I pray I am entering the throne room of the most powerful Person in the universe. Who invites me to crawl in to His lap and pour out my heart. He's my Daddy in heaven.
Asking the God of the universe to aim His love and power and grace on some person or need or situation on earth isn't just "nice."