Reflecting on Sutherland, TX
When You Don’t Feel Like Praying Anymore…
I’ve got to be honest. Sometimes I don’t feel like praying any more for the things I’ve already prayed for. Sometimes I find myself feeling frustrated (or even a little angry) with God that I keep praying for the latest victims of terrorism or evil, and that He seemingly does nothing about it. Is it okay to be honest, and broadcast the fact that sometimes I find myself a little irritated that we keep praying for these things to stop and they don’t stop? I hope so, because that’s the exact emotion that sparked this blog entry.
When I saw the headline on Sunday that 27 people (I count the one in utero) were killed and many more left wounded in a church shooting in Sutherland, TX, of course my heart was broken. Innocent people, almost half of which were children, whose lives were taken from them in such a horrific way should break your heart. Of course compassion, sympathy and sadness are the emotions that you feel towards the family of these victims and the entire town that was affected as I believe that to be a true reflection of the heart of Christ. On the other side of this, completely removed from the heart break for the victims and compassion for those involved, my feelings were quite different. As I started scrolling through my social media feeds and the “Pray for Sutherland” posts started filling the page my heart break for the victims remained, but honestly I was aggravated because I thought to myself, “Do we have to keep publicly posting our prayers for these sorts of events? I’m not sure I even feel like praying anymore.”
The fact that this was an attack at a church is a secondary issue for me. The fact that there was an attack at all is the primary issue.I spend a lot of time in a church so this one does feel a little close to home, but you could replace “church” with “school/airport/night club/movie theater” and I would feel the same way. The fact is that it seems like we’ve prayed for this already, doesn’t it? We’ve prayed for Paris and London and San Bernardino. We’ve prayed for Vegas and Newtown and the list goes on and on. Just to be clear I AM NOT MAKING THIS AN ISSUE ABOUT GUN CONTROL because I’ve “prayed for Baton Rouge” when they experienced devastating flooding two years ago and then “prayed (again) for Houston” this year when that great city was devastated by even more flooding.
As a Christ follower these emotions raise all sorts of questions for me. One thing that is not an unanswered question for me is, “Where is God in all of this?” That answer is obvious to me, and you don’t even have to look very hard. You see God in the bravery of men and women rushing in to rescue and aide those involved in these tragic events. You see God in a “Cajun Navy” who risks their lives (and their boats) to pull people off the roofs of their flooded homes. You see God in the determined faces and skilled hands of nurses and doctors doing all they can to bring healing to the physically wounded. You see God in the selflessness of volunteers who come in after the fact giving of themselves to help put back what others have lost. You even see God in the compassionate faces and tender hands of pastors ministering to the hurting and broken hearts of those left to pick up the pieces after a tragedy.
It’s never been hard for me to see God amongst tragedy, but one question that I’m not always great at answering is, “Why does this crap keep happening?” Why do these acts of violence and human suffering seem so unrelenting in their attacks? The ones that make the headlines and the ones that don’t. Why does evil seemingly continue to triumph over the heartfelt passionate prayers of righteous people who genuinely care for those who are suffering and have pleaded before the Lord for His righteousness and justice to claim victory over those evils, this evil and the evil that is inevitably looming right around the corner?
The short answer to that question is that they don’t. The evil in this world will never have victory over the Lord of this world. As a Christ follower, I know how this story ends and we win! But the question remains, what sort of comfort is there for us as we continue to await this coming victory?
I asked the Lord that question following the shootings in Sutherland, and for whatever reason He lead me to read the book of Habakkuk. I often refer to memorizing the Book of Habakkuk in my sermons as something that is not required for becoming a follower of Jesus or a member of His church. Ah, Habakkuk, that’s fun to say! Turns out Habakkuk is more than just a fun name to say, but is actually a book that asks a lot of the same questions facing Christians today. Look at this:
Habakkuk 1:1-4 (NLT)
This is the message that the prophet Habakkuk received in a vision.
How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is
everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil
deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction
and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law
has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far
outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.
I actually wrote in my Bible the Monday after the shooting next to these words, “What it feels like to be a Christian in America these days…” Doesn’t it though? Habakkuk’s complaint read like an echo chamber of my own complaints. The circumstances that are the source of his complaints are a lot different than mine, but the results are equally oppressive. You will have to take the time to go read the story in Habakkuk (it’s only three chapters:) to get the context, but I want to make sure you see not only the similarity in “our” complaints but also the relevance in the answer God gives him. Look at God’s reply to Hab’s complaint:
Habakkuk 1:5 (NLT)
The Lord’s Reply
The Lord replied, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am
doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if
someone told you about it."
On the surface that doesn’t seem like a super encouraging answer. Take some time and think it over for yourself, but in the meantime here’s a couple things that encouraged me from God’s reply to Habakkuk:
We can’t turn our attention away from the things that are happening in our nation.
God told Habakkuk to LOOK and BE AMAZED. The notion to just look away from tragedy in our nation can be tempting. As a follower of Christ we should not and can not just turn away from these things that happen in our world. For starters because God wants us to stay aware of what is happening to others in our world so that we never lose our ability to empathize with their hurt or forget to have compassion towards their heartache. Secondly, because if we look away we may actually miss the amazing way that God is going to turn what is awful now into something beautiful later.
That’s actually the second encouragement from God’s answer to Habakkuk.
2) God is always doing something behind the scenes that if you knew about it today you wouldn’t be able to believe it.
Because God is true to His Word and cannot contradict His own character we can have confidence that while we await the ultimate triumph over evil that God is still in the business of bringing little victories in the interim. The truth is that we (watching from a distance) may never actually see the fruit of what God is doing now amongst the brokenness, but because God is faithful I believe that long after the news outlets stop talking about it there is something that will come of this that I wouldn’t be able to believe if I knew what it was today.
This is often little conciliation to those who observe and pray from a distance, but by faith those who believe trust that until it is good God is not done working. Until wrongs are made right God will not quit. Until broken hearts are mended (although likely never fully healed) and hopelessness is vanquished, God will not abandon those He loves. We trust in a good God that is doing something in these tragedies and through these tragedies that we wouldn’t believe if He told us. Both for those who weep and mourn and for those who watch and pray.
So what then is our response as believers when we don’t feel like praying anymore? I think our response should mirror Habakkuk’s. Check this out:
Habakkuk 2:1 (NLT)
I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard-post. There I will wait to
see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint.
What do we do when we don’t feel like praying anymore? We get over ourselves and we climb back up to our post and we pray and we wait. And we pray and we wait. And when we’ve prayed a lot and don’t think we can pray anymore we pray again and we keep waiting. Praying in faith to a good good Father and waiting in great expectation for the coming victory. Both the little victories now and the ultimate victory to come.
So, if you haven’t yet, get on Instagram now and post your “Praying for Sutherland” picture. Even if you’ve felt frustrated/aggravated/angry that you keep having to, go now and pray again. Climb up on your post and pray again with compassion and from faith, and wait to see how the Lord answers this time where we see His Victory.