THOUGHTS are powerful things. Indeed, Jesus taught that our thoughts come out of our hearts, revealing who we really are. The Christian scriptures speak of “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” And those same scriptures are described as a two-edged sword, “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Believers are challenged to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Thoughts are powerful things… far from being meaningless or powerless, they reveal who we are, they can re-shape our way of seeing the world, and they can influence our actions and those of others. If I am truly* thinking about Hurricane victims, I am more inclined to grow in compassion and empathy, speak of their plight to others, and be moved to action myself.
PRAYERS are similarly powerful things, if truly* offered and practiced. As modeled in the Psalms, prayers cover the full gamut of human emotion and experience. Like music, they are a way to express the height and depth of pain, joy, sorrow, elation, gratitude, and more. Jesus further modeled and taught his followers to seek and pray for God’s will to be done. Lest that seem pointless or without power, note that God is described as compassionate, just, merciful, wise, loving, and much more. To pray against racial injustice or for victims of natural disasters is to seek healing, justice, truth, mercy, relief, deliverance, and more. Like “thoughts” prayer aims us in a good and godly direction and releases us for action and ministry. Beyond “thoughts” prayer seeks to orient our wills towards the goodness of God, out of our own natural desires and self-focus toward loving, serving, and blessing the community and the world. True prayer re-orients us toward others as it re-orients us toward God.
So yes, I get as frustrated as the next person when “thoughts and prayers” are thrown out there as a seemingly meaningless phrase. But give me a person who takes thinking and praying seriously, and I am heartened for the influence and impact they will have for good on the world around them.
*Just as one can say “how are you?” in passing or “fine” in response, we do often throw out empty or near-empty phrases like “thoughts and prayers.” My desire for myself and in this post is to lift up real “thoughts and prayers” that are sincerely offered and actually practiced as truly potent things in this world. (Similarly, an authentic inquiry of “How are you, really?” can open up significant conversation and interaction. That’s a good thing, too!)
References: Matthew 15:19; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Hebrews 4:12; Romans 12:2