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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Prayer as opt out

Prayer as opt out. That was the message of the front page of New York ‘Daily News” following the San Bernardino shootings on Wednesday. Its headline: “God isn’t fixing this.” And it’s right. Yet another massacre in the US with some deranged individual spraying a group or crowd with bullets. "Just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic and fear, “ commented BBC's James Cook. Clearly something has to be done. You can feel President Obama’s frustration that the political establishment appears in the grip of the gun lobby. And so what are the candidates for his job saying? In particular, those Christians in the Republican party. Dr. Ben Carson My thoughts and prayers are with the shooting victims and their families in San Bernardino. Jeb Bush Praying for the victims, their families & the San Bernardino first responders in the wake of this tragic shooting. Gov. Mike Huckabee Praying for those impacted by the shooting in California today. Those who could be – and should be – seeking to find a way, however difficult, to regulate guns in the Land of the Free are just praying, no more. Clearly they have a very weak theology of prayer. But so do we. How often when I am seeking to fix a problem, do I hear the phrase “I will pray about it?” Prayer as a substitute for action; prayer as cover for indecision. However, it sounds good. It makes God our alibi. When I was a curate in Heswall, the head teacher of a nearby secondary school asked if I could take an assembly. Some of the students had been engaged in the occult with some frightening consequences. For me, an extraordinary difficult task but one clearly to be done. I needed help and so I asked a friend from a nearby church, himself a secondary school teacher, to take the assembly with me. A spiritual Christian, he had skills I lacked. To my surprise rather than saying “Yes, of course – they need our help,” he said that he would pray about it and let me know. He never did. It seemed obvious to me that when you see a victim of violence lying in the road you go and help. You don’t ask for God's guidance: you already have it. The default response for any disciple is that you go and help – unless you have good reason to think that God wants you to stay clear. I knew at the time that his pause for prayer was a ploy, a cover. It would have been more honest for him to have said that he lacked the confidence or the competence. But we need to be honest with ourselves here. When we say “I’ll pray for you” or “I will pray about it”, whatever the context, what are we actually saying? And when we do say that we will pray about a decision, what time scale are we envisaging? Four months, four days, four hours? One thing I have learned in ministry is when a decision is required, I can pray “What do you think, Lord?” and then think, confident that the Holy Spirit within me is at work in my thought processes. It can take upto four seconds. If the truth be known, most of our decisions are made intuitively anyway. Prayer is simply inviting God to be involved in our mental processing. He gives clarity and above all, courage. For often courage is what we need. It is Californian pastor Rick Warren who sees prayer as a call to action: “God is looking for people to use, and if you can get usable, he will wear you out. The most dangerous prayer you can pray is this: 'Use me.'”

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