When tragic events happen, many people are quick to offer their "thoughts and prayers." But with so many "thoughts and prayers" out there, why is there still so much tragedy? I'm going to say something that might be shocking, especially for my Christian friends, but which must be said: "Praying" in and of itself is actually useless.
Why do I say that? Well, consider what praying truly is: Praying is fundamentally beseeching or requesting God to do something. So if you just "pray" without praying to the triune God of the Bible specifically, then you might as well just talk to yourself. Or stated differently, you might as well collapse the phrase "thoughts and prayers" to just "thoughts," because that's basically all that you're doing if you're not praying to the triune God of the Bible -- thinking to yourself, or thinking out loud.
To clarify that even more, the only way that sinful mankind can even approach a holy God in prayer is through the blood of Christ. Having been fully God and fully man Himself, Jesus is our only mediator between sinful man and a holy and perfect God in heaven. (See, e.g., Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Timothy 2:5; Matthew 27:51) He is our high priest and our mediator, and to Him and to Him alone we should pray. We cannot approach the throne of grace through any other means.
And finally, we have no reasonable expectation that God will answer our prayers if we living in open and unrepentant sin. (See, e.g., 1 Peter 3:7; 1 John 1:5-10; Ephesians 6:18) Now, He might still answer our prayers in such a situation, but He is truly under no obligation whatsoever to do so.
So putting all of that together, simply "praying" is no more effective than simply having "good thoughts," which is to say that neither is effective at all if we want God to change our country. Our only hope is to pray to the one true God, and to do so through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And even then, to also confess and turn from (repent) our sins, both individually and as a nation.
There's an Old Testament Scripture that's very relevant here, and that is 2 Chronicles 7:14:
"IF My people who are called by My name will (1) humble themselves, and (2) pray and seek My face, and (3) turn from their wicked ways, THEN I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
Now technically, that was a promise that God gave to "His people" during the OT time period, that being Israel. So technically, I don't think this promise directly applies to Christians today, and certainly not to America as a whole. But even if the promise doesn't apply today, the principal almost certainly still does: If we (or at least the true Christians) (1) Humble ourselves, (2) pray and genuinely seek the One True God of the Bible, and (3) turn from our wicked ways, THEN God will hear our prayers, and Lord willing, will heal our land.
But at the same time, when our country (and even much of the church) continues to outright reject God, reject His Word, reject His Ways, worship false gods, CELEBRATE so many sins, and do so much many other things that He calls evil, we can hardly expect anything from God except for exactly what we seem to be getting: His protection being taken away from this nation, leaving only His wrath, and giving us over to our evil desires. (Romans 1:18, 2:8; Ephesians 2:1-3, 5:6; Colossians 3:5-6. But see 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.)
And really, isn't that exactly what we've said to Him as a nation? "Leave us alone God, we'll do this our way!"
Maybe, just maybe, He is giving us EXACTLY what we've been asking for as a nation.
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"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:27)