Many years ago, long before blogs and social media and YouTube, Neil Postman asked this question: “How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?” The weather report may compel you to grab your umbrella on the way out the door, or news of a local crime spree may remind you to double-check you’ve locked the windows before you turn in for the night. But generally, the news you hear provokes no response, it motivates no change to your life, it has no impact on your routines. It elicits emotion and opinion, but rarely sparks action.
Postman describes this as “a great loop of impotence: news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.” If this was a concern at the dawn of the era of television and cable news, how much more is it a concern today when we live so much of our lives in the glare of our little glowing rectangles and their endless streams of news, information, and opinions delivered instantly and constantly from every last part of the globe. I’ve often wished Postman was around to help us navigate this strange new world we’ve come into. We could use his help.
Postman was right on many accounts, but wrong on a key one: News we can do nothing about. There is always one thing we can do: We can pray. Recently, prayer has been maligned as an insignificant, wasteful, or even cruel practice as a response to another person’s pain or trial or difficulty. Some of those who pray have been “prayer shamed” into silence, having been told “I’ll pray for you” is a trite, ridiculous, meaningless promise. But it should not be.
As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer. We believe there is nothing trite about prayer. To the contrary, we pray before we act, we pray while we act, and we pray after we act. We make prayer instrumental, not supplemental to all we are and all we do. We make prayer a matter of first priority rather than an afterthought. We have unshakable confidence in its power and effectiveness.
Why? Because for Christians prayer is not merely speaking words into a void. It is not wishing upon a star. It is not summoning positive thoughts to a cold and indifferent universe. Prayer is a child making a request of his loving Father; it is a son claiming his generous birthright; it is a saved one obeying his kind Savior. Prayer is speaking to the Father because of the love of the Son under the mediation of the Spirit. Prayer is taking hold of the promises of God and repeating those promises to the one who made them. How could this be anything but powerful and effective and meaningful?
There is nothing trite, nothing minimal about “I’ll pray for you.” To say, “I’ll pray for you” is to say, “I will speak with the Author and Creator of all things. He’s my Father and invites me to come to him any time. I will speak to him about those things. I will plead his promises. I will speak to the one Being in all the universe who has all knowledge and all power and who is perfectly good, and I will ask him to help, to intercede, to grant joy and peace and meaning.”
When it comes to prayer, there is nothing trite about it. We sometimes can and must do more than pray, but we must never do less than pray.