I found a series of tweets following the mass shooting in Las Vegas insisting, “PRAYER DOESN’T WORK” in advocacy for government policies to prevent such events from occurring again. I nearly responded to counter the argument, but I stopped myself.
Sure, the standard response of the Christian might, in fact, be “Of course prayer works.” But to what kind of prayer was this person referring? It was likely not penitent prayer that acknowledges our sin before God and fully submits to His lordship and sovereignty in our lives.
That is not to say that the author of these tweets would have agreed with that statement at all. His worldview is clearly man-centered and relying upon ourselves solving all of our own problems. Nonetheless, the society likes to talk about sending thoughts and prayers to situations such as these, and while we shouldn’t entirely malign the good intentions of unbelievers when such thoughts are offered, it would appear that the society is catching on to the flaws of a civil religion in which “God” is an impersonal, nondescript force upon whom we call when we manage to admit that we don’t have everything figured out.
Some of this is the society’s fault simply for being under the judgment of Romans 1:18–32. Some of it, however, is OUR fault as the church for insisting upon the civil religion as a universal good, allowing the “unknown god” of Athens (Acts 17:23) to be confused with the triune God of the Bible. “Thoughts and prayers” to the Athenian unknown god don’t work and have never worked. Impenitent prayers to the triune God don’t work. Penitent prayers to the triune God work. They’re the kind of prayers that acknowledge that the power is not in our prayers but in God Himself.
Would you and your friends like to know how to pray penitent prayers? Repent and believe the Gospel. Know HIM, then “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” and share the Gospel with your friends, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13–14)