Why pray to God when people don’t listen anyway?

Why pray to God when people don’t want to listen anyway? Seriously, why would a Christian Pastor say, “We ought to pray as if it all depends on God”? And to make it worse, follow it up with, “But we have to work as if it all depends upon us”?

Why pray to God when people don't listen anyway?

At least the monkeys in the image have a common theme.

One doesn’t say anything.
One doesn’t see anything.
One doesn’t hear anything.

That’s supposed to represent speak no evil, see no evil, and hear no evil.

But the theme from the pastor is – say something that sounds good.
And then follow it up with, even though that sounded good, I’m not going to do it.

What makes the whole thing so sad is that both of these themes are representative of the conservative, Republican, and all too often the Christian approach to gun violence in America.

Some pretend everything is OK. Just blame it on mental illness. And to then do nothing. That’s the speak, see and hear no evil.

Others pretend they’re going to seek God’s help. And then do their own thing anyway.

I sometimes ask, how did we get here? Well, this goes a long way to explaining why we’re here. And why we’re not going to either stay here – or get even worse.

So we’re going to look at faith and deeds, faith and no deeds, and no faith or deeds.

Why pray to God when people don’t listen anyway?

If you read carefully, you noticed I wrote, But the theme from the pastor is say something that sounds good.

The pastor said something that sounded good? But the implication is that it wasn’t? Well, it’s not an implication. He did say something that wasn’t good. Maybe it was a poor choice of words? But the conclusion indicates it wasn’t.

Here’s the background on what’s happening, from ‘We cannot remain on the sidelines:’ After Texas mass shooting, faith leaders call for action after prayers.

Faith without deeds

I wholeheartedly agree with the first statement in the article.

As a reverend whose closest friend in the ministry is a Nashville pastor whose church lies 3 miles from where a shooter killed six at a private Christian school in March, Stephen Sanders absolutely believes in the importance of thoughts and prayers.

“You have to give time for people to grieve,” said Sanders, lead pastor at Oak Hill United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. “We have to care for people in response to a tragedy. But my faith tradition says that faith without works is dead. If all we do is pray to feel good about ourselves, I think we have a very trivial faith.”

If anything, what Pastor Sanders said is an understatement. Faith without deeds, according to James in the Bible, is less than trivial.

Faith and Deeds

Jas 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Jas 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Jas 2:20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

Jas 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

notice especially this portion, from the middle of the passage:

Jas 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Jas 2:20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ?

Thoughts and prayers are good. They’re important. However, thoughts and prayers alone aren’t always enough.

In any given instance, such as one mass shooting, the simple reality is that most of us cannot do much other than pray. It’s not like we can travel there and help out.

But if we live there, know people, things like that, maybe we can help.

Even with prayers though, actually praying is a good idea. And not just throw out a couple words, but really take the time to talk to God and express our feelings.

Acknowledge that God can help. Call out to Him for help. You know, put in some time and effort. Just like we’d want someone else to do if it was us being prayed for.

I think that’s where the difference comes in between faith with no deeds being dead, as opposed to faith with no deeds being trivial.

As I often write, we can’t boil the ocean. In the same way, we can’t solve all the problems in the world. But if we don’t help to solve any of the problems in the world, even though we have the means and the ability to do so, then we need to question whether our faith. Is it alive and well, thriving even? Or is it trivial and on life support? Or is it dead?

Remember, it’s not the amount of deeds we do either. It’s what we do compared to what we could do. A similar scenario is pointed out to us by Jesus.

The Widow’s Offering – Mark

12:41-44 pp — Lk 21:1-4

Mk 12:41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Mk 12:43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

So it’s not a measuring stick of how much we do. It’s actually, reading between the lines, a look at how much we love.

12:44 This woman’s complete faith is contrasted with the scribes’ religious pride and shallowness. They rip off widows’ resources. This widow gives all her resources to God and thereby depends on Him by faith to provide her needs. In giving, God looks at the heart, not the amount (cf. 2 Cor. 8–9). But also notice the amount was all she had. Giving, like deeds and words, reveals the heart!  1Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter: Vol. Volume 2 (p. 150). Bible Lessons International.

Faith with no action

Sadly, the article points out what we see far too often with conservative Republicans in government leadership positions.

In the wake of all-too-common mass shootings, a predictable pattern unfolds: Amid calls for tighter gun restrictions, some GOP lawmakers face backlash for instead insisting the focus should be on “thoughts and prayers” for victims and their families.

Christians who support this kind of response from leaders they support are quick to point out that God appoints our leaders, so we must support them, because that’s what God wants.

But wait!

Doesn’t the Bible show us that God often allows wicked people to rise to power in order to teach the people, us, something? For instance, that we need to call out to God for help? Or that it’s our wicked ways that led these people to come to power? And isn’t that especially true when we’re the ones who voted those people into power?

How does it follow that God appointed our leaders when it’s us who voted for them? And then, when they do something that’s decidedly not Christian, claim that it must be followed because God put them there? All the while, it’s people who put our leaders in power because they wanted to force everyone to do the unChristian things we wanted to do in the first place!

That’s circular reasoning, with a false premise. If anything, it’s God giving us what we want to show us that we’re not following His desires. How can we look at all these mass shootings and then just say it’s God’s will that we have all these weapons, so let’s just pray because that’s all God wants us to do?

Doesn’t God want us to help all the victims here? And, let’s be honest, if we claim the problem is mental illness, then the victims are certainly those shot, whether injured or killed. And their family members. And their loved ones.

But what about the mentally ill person who did the shooting? If you think all this gun violence is due to mentally ill people, whether that statement’s actually true or not, shouldn’t we be helping mentally ill people? I know, we don’t. But if our claim is that all shootings are from mentally ill people, then how can we just cast aside the mentally ill person? Because, as Christians, we should care for all people, including the mentally ill!

If we take that thinking even further, then if we cared for the mentally ill, then there would be no more mass shootings! So, why, Christian political leaders and those who support them, and Christian faith leaders, why aren’t we doing something for the mentally ill people?

According to political opinion, that would solve our homelessness problem as well. And a host of other issues. And yet, we just pray. Or worse, yet, we go through the motions of prayer. Or tell someone else to pray.

No faith or deeds.

That gets us to our pastor who said – We ought to pray as if it all depends on God but we have to work as if it all depends upon us”?

“We ought to pray as if it all depends on God,” said Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the 15,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, who was an evangelical adviser to former President Donald Trump. “But we have to work as if it all depends upon us.”

someone ought to pray to God …

Do you see the problem with that? Why it’s no faith or deeds?

We ought to pray as if it all depends on God

Here’s the thing with that word –ought.

It has a definition. Of course. But, do we use it that way? I dare say no.

Here’s the definition:

  1. (used to express duty or moral obligation):
    Every citizen ought to help.
  2. (used to express justice, moral rightness, or the like):
    He ought to be punished. You ought to be ashamed.
  3. (used to express propriety, appropriateness, etc.):
    You ought to be home early. We ought to bring her some flowers.
  4. (used to express probability or natural consequence):
    That ought to be our train now.

The dictionary.com definition shows the problem. The actual definition supposedly shows an obligation. However, the example, and the common application of the word today, shows something very different. Today, ought is either taken as a suggestion, or we just don’t care about obligations anymore.

Either way, when someone says, we ought to pray, I don’t believe it’s taken as an obligation. Not as an imperative. In other words, it’s not something we feel like we need to do. Yes, someone should. But not me.

… but we have to do it ourselves.

Ultimately, with the full statement in mind, does it even matter whether anyone prays or not? Quite simply, it does not matter! Why not? Because with the mindset of pray but do it ourselves, we’re not going to listen to anything God might say to us even if we did pray!

Do you know/remember The Lord’s Prayer? What about the words Jesus said before He gave us The Lord’s Prayer?

Let’s look at the introductory words. After all, if we’re not going to pray to God with the intention of listening to Him, then the prayer itself doesn’t matter, does it?

Prayer – Matthew

Mt 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Yeah – praying to be seen by people. Not by God, but by people.

That sounds a lot like our conservative, Christian politicians, doesn’t it? For that matter, although today’s topic is guns and the support for assault style weapons from our conservative Christian politicians, it also fits for the other side as well, doesn’t it? The big difference is that the Republicans make a big deal of praying, while the Democrats don’t.

But both want to take care of things their own way. The Republicans want to blame it on the mentally ill. The Dems want to pass more laws.

But who actually prays to God and then listens for a response from God? But then, in this day and age, even someone who does that isn’t likely to come out and say, “God told me …” are they?

And yet, doesn’t God tell us quite plainly? You know, in the Bible?

I could quote from Love your enemies. Or many other passages. But that’s too easy for this one. This one really comes down to – why won’t we do anything about the mentally ill people? I need to write a longer version of what’s below. It needs more of an explanation. But I also feel like it needs to stand alone as well, so it can be found apart from any other topic.

Check out this passage:

The Healing of Two Demon-possessed Men – Matthew

8:28-34 pp — Mk 5:1-17; Lk 8:26-37

Mt 8:28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

Mt 8:30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

Mt 8:32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

What’s wrong with that passage? Why do you not like me using it? Why don’t you even like reading it? Because it talks about demons.

We know better today.
There’s no such things as demons.
There’s no devil.

Then why did Jesus say what He did in the passage below?

Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-two – Luke

10:4-12 pp — Lk 9:3-5
10:13-15, 21, 22 pp — Mt 11:21-23, 25-27
10:23, 24 pp — Mt 13:16, 17

Lk 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

Lk 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Lk 10:18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus did not correct them and tell them there’s no such thing as demons.

If we then, as Christians, don’t believe there’s such a thing as demons, what does that say about us? Do we claim to know and understand more about God’s creation than God Himself? Uh – yeah – we do that all the time.

And we also ignore what James wrote in the passage we read earlier about faith and deeds. Do you remember reading:

Jas 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Yes – James said even the demons fear God. Is it possible they fear God more than we do?

There are good reasons why we should believe in demons today. Especially with the knowledge we have today. We have more evidence of them than the people did in Biblical times. And yet, because of our egos and pride, we cannot admit it.

This is what I want/need to expand on. I’ll add a link here when it’s written.

The bottom line is that, I believe, because we refuse to believe in the devil and in demons, we also have no real solution for a lot of things, including mental illness. On top of that, it’s not some fancy disease that attracts celebrities and others like that to try to do anything about it. Plus, we have no reason, in our own minds, to attribute mental illness to. So we ignore it.

Sure – we pray for the symptoms. We pray for the people impacted by those with mental illnesses. But we ignore the true victims. Those who are mentally ill.

Conclusion – Why pray to God when people don’t listen anyway?

I firmly believe that, too often, we pray to God because we feel like we should. Certainly, because we want other people to see us doing it. Jesus told us as much.

But do we really expect any result? Even the Pastor in the 15,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas doesn’t seem to expect God to do anything.

I think that if we truly took the time to know God, to experience His love, to have even the tiniest faith and trust, our prayers would be so much more effective. And that God would answer.

I’m not going to say my faith is totally awesome, for even all that great, but my own experience tells me that when things get tough, when I really need God, and honestly reach out to Him, He is there, does answer, and that’s awesome.

The adjacent box has a link to a series I did on my other site about my ongoing experience with cancer over the past three and a half years, since 2019. No one wants to get cancer. You never really get cured. But these past few years have been amazing, because of Him.

God is worth praying to. And listening to. And then acting according to His will, not ours. Including not mine.

Image by vul31969427 from Pixabay

  • 1
    Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter: Vol. Volume 2 (p. 150). Bible Lessons International.

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