Why pray? Why go to church? Why worship God?
These questions have been dramatically tossed out before our culture. When Devin Kelly slaughtered twenty-seven people ranging in age from an unborn baby of eight months to a seventy-seven year old man, he directly challenged the value of Christianity. When men, women, and children our gunned down in the very act of praying and worshiping, culture cannot help but surmise that following Christ is a pointless practice. And now some would extend that sentiment and claim that religion is dangerous.
Most members of secular culture tolerate some religious observances. The finger pointed up to heaven as the baseball player rounds the bases and the kneel by the quarterback who just crossed the goal line are deemed acceptable. Admittedly some do get a little queasy when encountering these displays of religious devotion. But most Americans view religion to be nothing more than the Marxian opioid that enables people to slug through the difficulties of life. Our secular friends do not inhale our religious fumes but they are happy for us to partake.
Much of that indifferent, societal good will vanished on Sunday, November 7. The worship of Christ resulted in the death of twenty-seven people. Instead of working hard to create laws that would have protected them and others from a mass shooting, the men, women, and children were worshiping God at church. Even worse, several national politicians worship this God.
According to many in celebrities and politicians, the prayers of the church members and other Christians failed. The day began with friendly smiles ended in the tears of sorrow. Hence our culture asks us, “Why pray?” The rhetorical questions implies we should not pray. God is distant, asleep, or at the very least inept. The time for prayer is gone according to the great thinkers of the twitter universe. The time for meaningful human action has arrived. Society needs to dispense with the opioids of religion and take real action.
While many in America challenge the relevance of praying, they do so from a secular worldview. They challenge prayer because they believe religion is nothing more than a social drug. They deny the reality of heaven and hell. Many Americans are modern day epicureans, seeking to find meaning in pleasure and experience. They believe that joy consists of doing as much of what you want when you want it for tomorrow we die.
They may employee the occasional prayer to God when they encounter an illness or a bumpy airplane ride. But to them, prayer is nothing more than one of many life-lines that can be used to escape or lessen tragedy. And if it fails to help you achieve your goals it should be abandoned.
But this is not the end goal of the Christian worldview. The goal of the Christian, to borrow from the shorter catechism, is, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The goal of the Christian is to commune and to be with God. Christians do not discover life through accumulating wealth, through mastering education, or through experiencing unique events. They discover life by experiencing God through his word and prayer by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Did Devin Kelly’s murderous actions separate his victims for the love of God? Did he destroy the Christian worldview? Did prayer fail?
Did Prayer Fail?
No. Death is not the end of life. Death is when real life begins for the Christian. Death is not the ultimate sign of resignation and failure. For the believer, death is the conduit through which he or she accesses unfiltered communion with God. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:23 that, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” Being with Christ means we experience no more pain, sorrow, or frustration. And it means we commune with God perfectly. We will no longer experience quiet times interrupted by day dreams. We will no longer fall asleep while praying. We will no longer leave a worship service perturbed, confused, and unloved. We will have a perfect relationship with God. The men, women, and children who died that day did not experience futility or failure. Their prayers did not go unanswered. They were answered in the most real and meaningful way possible. They came to worship God in part and ended the day worshiping him in full. To be with Christ is far better than anything in this world.
Why We Hurt?
While death was gain for the 27 people who died a few days ago, death is not gain for their families and for the people left behind. Paul also deals with the reality of loss. He notes in Philippians 2:24 “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Paul knows that death breaks human relationships. Death brings harm and discouragement to those who are left behind. Thankfully, God’s grace and mercy covers and sustains the broken-hearted. But the pain and sorrow associated with death is poignantly real, seeping into the depths of our hearts. Christ had to die to overcome death. And he did. And all who follow him will not be conquered by death. Rather they join Christ and conquer death through the power that raised Christ from the dead. All who appeal to God through prayer confessing their sins will not be disappointed. They may not get their best life now on this earth. But they get something far better. They get what God promised them, life with him.
Did prayer fail on November 7, 2017? Absolutely not.
Will you keep praying?
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[j] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-37