“Hey, I’m sending you my thoughts and prayers!”

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If you’re anything like me, your outrage has pretty much exhausted itself. Most days, what with the presidential election and all, I feel spent, outrage now in dangerously short supply. I know I’m not alone.

But I can still get worked up about a few things if I try hard enough.

Take prayer.

Surprised? You wouldn’t think that prayer would be high on my list of concerns, but it is. I’m more than a little concerned about the way people pray. And in my line of work, as you can imagine, I hear a lot of prayer – some of it touching and heartfelt, but much of it, frankly, shallow and empty.

My concern isn’t posture or whether or not people should close their eyes or fold their hands when they pray, though to be honest I wish someone would take Donald Trump aside and tell him what to do when he’s surrounded by evangelical pastors who want to lay their hands on him and anoint him with their prayers. I don’t expect him to get on his knees, but a facial expression that says he’s in the presence of a power greater than himself would be a nice start.

No, my concern is actually with the content of the prayers I hear – what people pray for and what those prayers sound like to me.

Whenever there’s a tragedy in the world – a mass shooting or bombing, let’s say – I will invariably hear that my friends are sending their “thoughts and prayers.” Politicians like to send a lot of “thoughts and prayers” these days, have you noticed? But here’s my question: Does anyone know what in the world that means? I haven’t figured it out. Can I actually send my thoughts to you? I assume they would be happy thoughts.  Or maybe supportive, comforting thoughts. Look out, here they come.

To be blunt about it, that’s not how I learned to pray. And I don’t recall that Jesus sent “thoughts and prayers” either, though I might have missed a situation in the gospels where he did just that. I’ll keep looking.

And then, since I’m venting my spleen about this subject, I can’t believe all the complaints I get about printed prayers in our order of worship. A few weeks ago someone told me that she had a problem with our church’s use of printed prayers – like the prayer of confession which we pray in unison every week in morning worship. She told me that prayers should be “spoken and spontaneous.” I tried to appear understanding, with my best pastoral expression, but I was thinking, “Lady, have you heard of the psalms? They sure look like printed prayers to me, all 150 of them.”

But I’ve saved the big one for last.

As a pastor I find myself on a lot of prayer chains. People are always asking me to pray – for that upcoming surgery, for the biopsy report, for the job interview, even for a parking space. And most of the time, I pray. I don’t send anyone “thought and prayers,” but I do let God know what I’m thinking and feeling. A family member was taken to the hospital a couple of Saturday mornings ago, and you’d better believe I was praying for her, for the ambulance driver, for little or no traffic on the way to the hospital, for the doctors who would be waiting for her, even for the person who would take down the insurance information in the ER. I think God probably noticed the  note of desperation in my voice. That was my hope.

I don’t have a problem with those prayers, and I offer my share of them. I ask God for stuff all the time. But I think there’s a different, higher purpose for our prayers. I think that when we pray we are conforming ourselves to the person of Christ.

When Jesus taught the disciples what we like to call the “Lord’s Prayer,” he wasn’t giving them tips on prayer. He was saying, “Pray these things until they become the desire of your hearts.”

Frankly, I’m not much interested in “daily bread.” I would prefer to have a comfortable retirement and the finer things in life.  “Daily bread” has never been high on my list of prayer points. But I think Jesus was hoping that I would pray that particular prayer until it became what I truly wanted.

Same with temptations. I kind of like temptations, don’t you? I would like to enjoy my temptations, without actually falling into them. But I think Jesus was hoping that I would change my attitude about temptation, by learning to pray differently.

Read the rest of the Lord’s Prayer. It works pretty much the same way. Prayer is asking God for stuff – I get that – but prayer has a way of changing us too, if we let it, if we start to think about what we’re praying for, if we can only learn to let God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. And don’t be afraid to use a printed prayer. I know a 150 of them that might help.

So, there. I got it off my chest. Thanks for reading.

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(Photo: Above, my grand daughter strolling along Lake Michigan near Holland. Below, the cozy cottage at the lake.)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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16 Responses to “Hey, I’m sending you my thoughts and prayers!”

  1. helen hennings August 17, 2016 at 5:59 am #

    Dear Doug. Thank you for perfectly expressing my thoughts and feelings on this subject! Even though U can no longer vent my spleen as I had to leave it in the op table. I’m still rather miffed about it.
    I am starting to feel a tiny bit brighter and looking forward to finding out what God has in store for me next?
    By the way, we don’t call that a cottage, looks more like a mansion!!!

  2. Don Wagner August 17, 2016 at 8:13 am #

    Right on Doug. I sign many sympathy cards for friends at Palm Beach State and am always bothered by the sending of thoughts and prayers. I can’t believe how your granddaughter has grown. I remember when you told us about her birth from the pulpit in South Florida.

    • Doug August 17, 2016 at 9:38 am #

      It’s a big thrill to live these first months and years all over again with a grandchild (and to have considerably less responsibility)! Good to hear from you, Don.

  3. Kathy Bostrom August 17, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    I say those words all the time – so I am guilty of sending thoughts and prayers. It’s my thought that when I pray for someone, whether it’s to ask for something in particular or just for God to help that person through the darkness that is descending upon them, that this is sending thoughts and prayers. I don’t believe they stay in my own head but somehow, through the Spirit, are sent beyond the confines of my own skull. The main thing for me is to actually do what I say I’m doing. If I tell someone I am sending positive thoughts and prayers and then go on to check my next email or FB page, then I fail. Words are meaningless unless we follow through.

    You are more eloquent than I but I hope this makes some sense! We mean well!

    Stunning photos – thanks for sharing!

  4. Karen Owen August 17, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

    I miss your straight forward approach to faith. So enjoyed this particularly. I always say, “You are in my thoughts and prayers.” Meaning that I am thinking about the person in emotional distress and praying earnestly for that person especially.

    • Doug August 18, 2016 at 7:18 am #

      I miss you too, Karen. And for what it’s worth, though you don’t need my approval, I like your approach to thoughts and prayers. Am guessing that’s where the expression started before it morphed into something that strikes me as meaningless (and therefore safe for politicians to use). Hi to all in south Florida!

  5. Marion Robbins August 17, 2016 at 9:00 pm #

    Greetings, Doug,
    Prayer…funny you should mention it!
    I just returned from a high school class reunion in Minnesota. (Who were all those old people and why did they know me?)
    On the nine hour drive back to Illinois I encountered an horrendous rainstorm…the kind of downpour where you grip the steering wheel and simply try to focus on the road ahead. I don’t remember whether I said a prayer or not. As the storm subsided, I crossed the border into Wisconsin and came upon a nasty accident. I said a quick prayer for the car’s occupants who were being transported into a waiting ambulance and then I said another prayer of gratitude for my safe travel.
    Prayers of gratitude….I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Could it be because I’m growing older and wiser or perhaps, just maybe, I’m growing spiritually?
    Shalom,
    Marion Robbins

    • Doug August 18, 2016 at 7:20 am #

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Marion. I loved the description of your class reunion. I always feel sorry for my classmates too and how they’ve aged so horribly. Sad. And I agree about the gratitude. Am working on that prayer too.

  6. Charles Scouten August 17, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

    Lately I seem to be praying less for stuff or things and more for a word that gives me some confidence that I’m not doing the wrong thing. As you know, I’m not timid about going over the side like Peter, but like Peter soon have second thoughts. I’m thankful to a young pastor in Chapel Hill who termed this “sinking into grace.” Just as Peter had to stop relying on his own abilities to receive grace, so must I. But it’s hard. Prayer surely helps – and for me seems an absolute necessity. So, now I find myself also praying for improved hearing. I do want to sink into grace!

    • Doug August 18, 2016 at 7:21 am #

      Miss you, Charles – and your willingness to get out of the boat before anyone else. And I like it that you’ve found a way to frame it spiritually. Am glad I know you.

  7. Jürg Kessler August 21, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    Hi Doug,
    Time for Pizza!!
    Why do you get upset about a lady who has an issue with some printed prayer in the bulletin? To even it out: I think our prayers for forgiveness on a Sunday to Sunday basis are very good. They touch me and EVERY Sunday show me things about myself that need forgiveness. So. Let’s keep printing (and praying). As far as the “prayer chain” goes I think this is mainly about intercessory prayer and I think it is good to know needs and pray for them. And usually people send messages or “prayers” of thanks as well. And by the way, I thought of you and Susan this morning and prayed for a good last part of your vacation and a safe return. So enjoy!

  8. Greg Anderson August 23, 2016 at 3:53 am #

    Good words–and great “cozy cottage at the lake.”

  9. Stephan August 23, 2016 at 4:37 am #

    Hi Doug – the holiday enjoyer granddad 🙂
    me, too, feel sometimes a similar exhausting outrage – even with praying in the focus.
    Get this feeling when looking at wars around the world where intervening powers pray for being blessed country-wise nearly everyday – even when lying about facts to be allowed to start the killing far away from home. Or when we remain simply moveless against the agonies behind refugees, fight with laws to escape accepting some of them in our own countries – countries with christian backgrounds.
    Get this feeling when in christian backgrounded countries we let managers get away with ultra-exorbitant greedy salaries at the same time as there is not one simple dollar for increasing salaries of the poorest-payed. Accept the thesis that their misery is their own responsibility.

    And then we moan about the way to pray, printed or spontaneous, with eyes open or closed and more of that sort. I share your discomfort about those aspects. Are we not made to look + behave differently but still to be united in our striving for improving on our “individual ourselves”?

    Is prayer not a personal reflection on how to improve oneself first to allow for living one’s life so much closer along His commands than is presently the case, to come closer to stand the mentioned challenges, indeed to have those “desires of my heart” changed as you describe it? With that achieved so much would feel differently, we would have more energy left to tackle the real problems, and outrage could not hit us the same way as it sometimes does now.

    Apart from that: do our grandchildren not show the world HE had spoken of for us? Blind trust in (grand-)parents – just as Christ offered it to us for “an easier living”. No space for outrage of any sort.

    Enjoy every moment with your loved ones before returning to sunniest Züri-see soon.

  10. Georgia Hamilton August 24, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

    Oh, Doug, you do say so well what many of us can only struggle with! I’m comforted by Cathy Bostrom’s thoughts and other viewpoints as well. I’m trying very hard to make prayer a part of my day (can I compare it to teeth brushing, as in doing it every day, without fail?) I also smiled at Marian Robbin’s entry—I too attended a high school reunion. It was great fun and so glad I decided to go. Thanks for continuing your blog.
    Georgia.

    • Doug August 25, 2016 at 8:57 pm #

      It’s wonderful to hear from you, Georgia. Am hoping to see you again one day.

  11. Heidi Gagnon August 27, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

    Doug, I always enjoy reading your blog. It’s very thought provoking…. I say, just keep praying!
    I love the picture of your home in Michigan and think about all your wonderful family time there!

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