Reclaiming “Thoughts and Prayers”

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What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  –James 2:14

In the last week, I’ve read several comments, cartoons, and editorials that were, in effect, bashing the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers”.  I understand why.  Some people carelessly throw that phrase around during a tragedy.  The words seem empty, not followed up with action.

And there’s so much going on that demands action.   The need to stand up for justice, or donate to a relief effort, or write your congressperson is very real.  If we don’t do any of these kinds of things, the possibility of positive change becomes less likely.

I get it.  I see that urgent need as well.  But please, stop treating the notion of “Thoughts and Prayers” as if the words were pointless.  In the rush to condemn human apathy or criticize lip-service, a vital activity at the heart of Christianity is getting caught in the crossfire.

Thinking is NOT doing nothing.  In fact, we could all stand to do it a little more.  Critical thinking in a time of crisis can be hard to come by.  People are scared, numb, in survival mode.  Rash actions and words are not the answer.  God gave us minds, and wants us to use them.  When faced with a crisis, there are few things that can be more important than taking a deep breath, examining the situation, and sorting out our thoughts as clearly as possible.

Similarly, Praying is definitely NOT inaction. Prayer sets the foundation that makes sure future actions align with the Kingdom of God.  Prayer focusses one’s own spiritual energy, and joins with others pursuing common goals.  Prayer conveys our great needs to God, and invites us to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Prayer opens us up to receive the improbable or seemingly impossible.

When a person of faith says, “My Thoughts and Prayers are with you”, it is not an empty phrase or a polite brush off.  It is a statement of alignment, with God and with neighbor.  It is a promise of attention and focus.  It is the promise of divine action, channeled in part through the believer.

Or at least, it can be.  Truly, that phrase has been dumbed-down and co-opted, but that’s not the way it is supposed to be used.  Rather than letting sacred activity be mislabeled as inactivity, let us put this false dichotomy to rest.

The work of the Christian in the world has internal and external components.  Thoughts and Prayers not without Action.  Faith not without Works.  All these words are to be taken with utmost seriousness.  Reverence, even.

Those are my Thoughts and Prayers.

Can I get an Amen?

Have a good week,

Mitch

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My Second Mouth

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10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

–James 3:10

I’m having surgery next week.

Yep, gonna have a second mouth installed.  Right in the back of my neck.

I figure it’ll cut way down on the time it takes for me to eat a meal.

And I’ll be able to give my wife a kiss and look at my iPhone at the same time, so that’s nice.

Oh, and harmonizing with myself?  It’ll be beautiful, I’m sure.

Of course, I predict some drawbacks with having two mouths.  Twice as much time brushing my teeth, for one thing.  And probably twice as many dental bills.

But that will be worth it for the main benefit having two mouths is going to give me:

My front mouth will be do the praising, and my back will be for cursing.

Isn’t that perfect? In that scripture up there, James is right when he says to do both out of the same mouth is just plain wrong.  It’s this mixing of the sacred and profane.

It’s a misuse of the mouth!

So now, with my second mouth, I can keep things separate.

My front mouth will be kind and gentle, faithful and humble.  I’ll have a kind word for everyone I see.

Meanwhile, my back mouth will be used for moments of road rage, commenting on idiots on the TV, and general gossip and hate speech.

It’s a great system.  As long as I can keep my back mouth shut when I’m at church. Or with my in-laws.

I wonder.  Which mouth will get more use?

And then I wonder this:  If I have a mouth designated for foulness, will I come to hate it?  Will I get tired of hearing the filth that comes out of it?

Imagine me, going through this whole surgery, only to get fed up and duct tape my second mouth shut.

Well, I guess that’s one way to cut down on my cursing.

Another way could be avoiding the surgery all-together, and trying to be more mindful of the words that pass through my lips.

God hears every word we utter, no matter how many mouths we have. So perhaps I can work to make the things I say a better reflection of the Grace God has given me.

In the end,

It’s better to practice graciousness and self-control,

than to go through life being two-faced about it.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Blocking God

…for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  -James 1:8

“Thank you for waiting”,  James smiles thinly.

“I have a little survey for you to fill out.  Please use a #2 pencil.

“Question #1.   Do you have any doubts, as far as your faith is concerned?  Ever wonder about the miracles Jesus performed, or if there’s a Heaven, or if God hears you when your pray?   Hmm.  Okay, that’s interesting…

“Question #2.  Are you single-minded in purpose?  Do you always know exactly what you want, where you’re going, and what you believe?  In other words, are you 100% focused?   Aha.  Let me just write down a few notes here…

“Question #3.  Are you dependable, rock-solid in your faith, and totally devoid of neuroses?   Okay.  As I suspected.

“I’m terribly sorry, but you do not appear to qualify for any assistance from God.  You’re just too much of a doubter, too double-minded, and thoroughly unstable.   Maybe you can try back in six months.”

—-

Yep.  That’s how I picture an encounter with James happening.  I mean, wow, those are some pretty tough criteria in the scripture above.  Could you meet those criteria?  Could anyone?  I picture James sitting behind a window with a big ole’ rubber stamp that says ‘denied’.   He has a little fake sad smile for you as he looks at the person behind you in line.  “Next!”

Wow.  Is James really that tough on who gets some assistance from God?   Well, it says it right there in the Bible, folks who don’t meet the requirements  “must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

Oh wait…I just realized something.  James is talking about what you and I will receive from God.  Not what God is transmitting to us.   See the difference?   James is saying there’s nothing wrong with God — God wants to give us Love, Hope, Faith, Patience, etc.   The problem is on our end, with our receivers.  

It turns out this isn’t some restrictive list James made up to keep people from getting God’s Good Stuff.  It’s a list of the conditions we humans find ourselves in that make it hard for us to receive it.

Sometimes, try as we might, we let our doubt get the best of us.  Instead of letting faith light our way, we gum up the works with too many questions, too much uncertainty.   When we give in to doubt, we’re blocking God.

And other times, we get distracted.  We become double, or triple, or quadruple-minded.   We’re thinking about the bills, troubles at work, and the argument we had with a friend.  When we become unfocused like that, we’re blocking God.

And at other times, well, we’re an unstable mess.   We can’t think clearly.   Can’t make good decisions.  We feel like we’ve let the walls of our lives come crumbling in around us.  When we’re unstable, we’re blocking God.

James is merely saying, “Push through that!”

Easier said than done, right?  Actually, James knows that.  He’s here to help.  Here’s what he has to say in verses 2-4

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James isn’t some disinterested nay-sayer.  Quite the contrary.  He’s reminding us that tough times met head-on with faith produces endurance and wisdom.  You may go through hard times when your life threatens to block God from reaching you, but hold on to your faith.   Consider it joy that your faith will sustain you and help you grow!

That is Good News, indeed.   Something I know I’ll try to remember.

Thanks, James.   If you were here I know you’d say,

“You’re entirely welcome.”   And then you’d say…

“Next?”

Have a Great Week,

Mitch