Does prayer even work? Sometimes tragedy can make it seem like it doesn't

Surely by now, you’ve seen that a man walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, yesterday during their 11:00 am worship service and opened fire.

As of now, 26 people ranging in age from 5 to 72 are dead, with another 20 people wounded. The shooter, 26-year-old Devin Kelley, is also dead.

As often happens with these tragedies, the social media universe gets divided pretty quickly into 2 groups: the ones who post about praying for the people devastated by the shooting and the ones who tell those people to stop praying and do something.

When I woke up this morning, the first tweet I saw in my feed was from Katy Perry, and it was short, simple, and brutally honest: “prayer without action is powerless.”

You can see from my response that I don’t agree with the word “powerless” at all. Prayer (or those praying) can seem ineffective at times, but prayer will always be powerful when we allow it to accomplish two things.

God uses prayer to change people.

I used a pretty strong word in my response when I said that action without prayer is arrogant, but if we’re willing to skip prayer because we think it’s powerless or a waste of time, then what we’re really saying is that we’re smart enough to fix the problems that we created. I would humbly submit that we need God’s perspective and power to overcome the hatred in the hearts of men toward men, and that’s what happens when we pray: God changes the way we see things when we close our eyes in prayer.

Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-7 that we should pray about everything, and that the result of our prayers would be a peace that would guard OUR hearts and minds.

There have been times in my life when I’ve prayed about other people only to find that the only person who changed was me, and I am convinced that that’s the normal outcome of a lifetime of prayer. God uses prayer to change people, and the person He starts with is the one praying.

If we’re not prepared to change, then Katy Perry is absolutely correct, and we might as well stop hashtagging it. But if we’re open to God using prayer to change us, then we’ll be ready for what happens after we’ve prayed.

God uses people to change problems.

When we take the time to pray about the situations we face, God uses that time in prayer to make us people who can then rise and face those situations.

We can’t pray about racism and not open our lives to different races.

We can’t pray about refugees and not open our borders to the global homeless.

We can’t pray about the lives that have been ripped apart by more senseless violence and not stand and say, “What we’re doing isn’t working.”

I believe that the best place to gain the perspective that we desperately need on issues of gun control and violence like we’ve seen recently in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs is on our knees.

But if we don’t rise up from that place full of courage and conviction to help change the problem, then Katy Perry is right: we might as well have never prayed.

Not because prayer is powerless, but because we will be.

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Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is lead pastor of The Gathering, a community church located in beautiful downtown Albemarle, North Carolina. He's the author of God is My Air Traffic Controller and My Name's Not Lou. Paul is passionate about his wife, his 3 children, running, reading, coaching, leading people who are following Jesus, Swedish Fish and the Carolina Panthers.

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