“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and well-fed,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” –James 2:15-16
I have thought about this for a long time, but this particular rant results from my observations of Facebook commentary. On many occasions I have seen my friends ask for prayer over particular things, gallbladder surgery, pneumonia, bike accidents, a splenic laceration, delayed adoption paperwork, dying grandmothers, the severe illness of the family dog, chronic pain. I think it is good to share struggles and seek prayer from as many as possible. That is one of the things that makes Facebook great. Communication with hundreds of people is effortless, and suddenly prayers from all over the world drift like smoke signals to God’s ears to on your behalf. That is a beautiful thing because prayers are powerful.
Here is my problem. Many times, over and over when I read comments on these pleas for intercession, I find others offering to send “good thoughts.” How does this help the afflicted? Maybe I don’t understand, but what power do these good thoughts have over the circumstances of my friends? Can these thoughts heal or guide the hands of surgeons? Do they prevent accidents or motivate foreign governments to action? Do they soothe the grieving? While I appreciate the courtesy, I don’t see how the offer of good thoughts is helpful. I imagine that saying “good thoughts” makes the “thought-giver” feel better, but who exactly is the recipient of these thoughts? Must I receive a certain number before good comes my way? Do bad thoughts travel this way as well? Is it possible to cause calamity simply by thinking? Surely humans should not possess this power.
For me, good thoughts in the end amount to worry. When I am dwelling on good thoughts for my friends and family in need, really, I am considering contingencies, reviewing the possible outcomes, wondering how my friends will handle things if the good thoughts don’t work out. I have started with good thoughts and ended up in a worried stress frenzy. I appreciate so much what Francis Chan has to say about this. In his book, Crazy Love, he says, “Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.” Worry and stress presume that I am in control somehow, which I am not. They imply that my God doesn’t care enough about me and my friends to take care of our circumstances, and ultimately, by allowing this stress, I begin to believe that my concerns are important enough to excuse me from being impatient, ungraceful, overly controlling, and generally unpleasant. These good thoughts can become quite complicated. Personally, I don’t want to reek of anything, especially not arrogance.
I know not everyone shares my faith, but then I wonder, if I did not have this faith, what would I do? If I did not believe that God is a benevolent, sovereign, omniscient God who hears our prayers, where could I turn? If I did not know that prayer is powerful, what hope would I have? Would it be sufficient for me to place my faith in the good thoughts of others? I think I would be left at the mercy of circumstance which gives me no assurance at all. I think thoughts about anyone’s misfortune should motivate action. Sometimes there are tangible ways to help, buying some groceries, cooking a warm meal, listening to a distraught friend, providing physical comfort and encouragement. More though than any visible action, prayer helps in ways we cannot know. Prayer places us in a place of dependence on God so that we can receive the outflow of his grace. By interceding for our friends, we direct them towards the Almighty, the lover of our souls. I just don’t see how any amount of just thinking or wishing can accomplish as much.