On social media I tend to follow several fan accounts dedicated to the geeky things I like. On twitter I also follow several of the creators, directors, and actors who bring those things to life. This means I was aware that at the very end of February director and writer Kevin Smith suffered an almost life ending heart attack. I knew this because, he announced he had a heart attack by posting a picture himself in a hospital bed on twitter. In response to this Chris Pratt, an actor known for his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, tweeted that he was praying for Kevin Smith. The initial response to Pratt’s comments was overwhelmingly negative. This backlash mocked the power of prayer, considered it a waste, and ineffective. As seems to always be the case in Internet dialogue the discourse devolved from there. The knee-jerk reaction for followers of Christ is to jump to defend the power of prayer. However, this was an ideal opportunity for Christians to listen to the zeitgeist of the culture.
One of the early negative responses does a good job at summing up the growing cultural mood of the era. A twitter user responded by posting: “If you wanna help, actually help. Praying is just a way to feign helping so you don’t have to go out of your way.” Now for the record, I disagree with this person. I believe strongly in the power of prayer, and I believe that when we pray God can and does change the fabric of reality to answer those prayers. Even though I disagree it is important to hear him, because his viewpoint is one that is growing in the world.
It has become a terrible cliché that whenever ever a tragedy of any type happens in the world, our political leaders (of both parties) respond by expressing their “thoughts and prayers.” The criticism often leveled against these political leaders is that thoughts and prayers are meaningless if we are not ready to back them up with action. Over the past several years, this discontent has grown, and it manifest itself has disdain for prayer that was seen in reaction to Chris Pratt’s tweet. Again, I think it is important that Christians here this. Right now what the world wants from the church is more than just our thoughts and prayers, they want us to act. The world is not interested in hearing about our displays of faith, they want to see us back it up with our deeds. James, the brother of Jesus, would agree with that.
In the New Testament Epistle of James, he plainly stated “faith without deeds is dead.” In this section of scripture James is not writing that we earn faith, through our actions. Rather deeds is the natural result of faith. A proper faith grounded in the grace of Christ will produce the fruit of deeds that serve and love others. This is the one of the core beliefs of the United Methodist tradition. Article X of the denomination’s articles of faith state, “We believe good works, pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, spring from a true and living faith, for through and by them faith is made evident.” Faith without deeds naturally growing out of it, is not true faith. Faith without the fruit of deeds is all talk with no game to back it up. Faith without deeds is thoughts and prayers without any power behind it. It is just a facade, it is a veneer that might use church-y sounding words but has no true substance to it.
I think the negative reaction to thoughts and prayers is related to the fact, that too many non-believers have had too much negative experience with that kind of hollow, fake news faith. The type of faith that the world is waiting to see from us is a faith that is more than thoughts and prayers. As James also states in the scripture: “Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” It seems today, that if non-believers are going to welcome and accept our prayers then they need to be dirty prayers. By that I mean our thoughts and prayers need to be about things that we are willing to do something about. We should be willing get our hands dirty and do the work to bring about real justice, real restoration, and real reconciliation. It seems that the zeitgeist of our current age seems to understand faith without deeds is dead. So if we are going to make disciples of Jesus Christ, then we have turn our thoughts into actions and offer ourselves as living sacrifices that God can use to do good deeds that fulfill our prayers and transform this world.
There is saying that is often misquoted to John Wesley. He did not say it, but his preaching inspired it and this quote evolved organically out of the Methodist Tradition. So even though John Wesley did not say it, this quote and the ethos behind it belongs to us. It goes like this: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” This is one of the reasons why United Methodist is the expression of Christianity I resonate the most with. Historically, United Methodist are doers. It is embedded in our doctrine and church practice not to sit on the sidelines, but to be the church through actions we do. Acts of mercy should be one of the most prominent ways we display our faith. In other words, they should know we are Christians, not because of our thoughts and prayers, but because of our love.