I realize the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 just occurred yesterday, but why should I pray for Orlando?
Politicians have said it, and the anchormen and women on the news have too. Pastors have written it and will no doubt say it from pulpits all over America this coming Sunday. Friends and family on Facebook have made it their only comment as they share news stories about the attack the past two days. Every celebrity and his brother is taking to Twitter to offer some variation on the same general phrase:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this terrorist attack in Orlando,”
But what exactly does that mean?
What should we be praying for as Christians when we pray for Orlando? Yes, we might implore God to intercede so that no more of the victims would die of their wounds. We might pray that those who are frightened and heartbroken by news of this violence will be comforted. We might pray for physical healing and emotional peace of mind for the victims and their families, and I’m sure we should pray for all that. But that’s not all we should be praying for.
I’m puzzled as to what ardent and apparent secularists like Obama mean when they urge us to stand unified as Americans and pray for Orlando. Who is this god President Obama urges us to pray to for the victims of this Islamic terror attack? Surely not Yahweh God, the God of Christianity and the Bible, the one he and his supporters continually mock and show revulsion toward by their promotion and affirmation of abortion and homosexuality and all manner of other perversion. Surely that God whom they have no regard for is not this same higher being we’re being told to pray to.
After all, true Christians didn’t need to be told by Obama to pray for Orlando. True Christians were already praying for lost sinners who don’t know the Lord and might die unrepentantly in their sins apart from Him, including but not limited to those who were in that gay bar in Orlando when the Islamist opened fire. But that’s not what President Obama is talking about, and it is doubtless both he and most of the countless other politicians and celebrities miming him would balk at the suggestion that any who either frequent gay bars or attack them are in need of real confession and repentance of sins. No, they wouldn’t just balk; they’d be outraged.
No doubt many would say that to suggest repentance is what’s needed right now is insensitive in a time like this. Yet what benefit is it to pray to a false god of your own imagination – one who isn’t holy and doesn’t demand repentance? A false god of your own imagination has no power or ability to save or comfort you. And what benefit is it even to pray to the true God if you don’t really believe in Him, and to pray to this God in whom you don’t believe for blessings on unrepentant sinners who will die or already have died in their sins after rejecting Him? The true God we serve demands repentance, and only He has the ability to save and to heal and to comfort in any real or lasting way.
As the real and true Christ we serve commanded us:
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”
This is what we should be thinking about when we take to Facebook or Twitter and call on our brothers and sisters to join us in praying for Orlando. If we as Christians really do see the bigger picture, we can’t pray merely for the physical or emotional well-being of victims and would-be perpetrators, that they would find greener pastures and a better path. Authentic Christian faith demands that we pray for the eternal souls of these men and women living in a state of war with their Creator, Yahweh God, the God of the Bible.
And who are we praying for, the dead victims? No, it’s too late for them. They’re gone. Yet we can pray for those who are wounded but have not died yet. We can pray for the families of victims who are frightened and angry and mourning right now. There is yet hope for these so long as they live, and perhaps in the pain and grief of this moment their hearts will be softened to hearing the gospel. Perhaps in brokenness they’ll receive the good news of sins forgiven, eternal life, and a right relationship with God restored through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross by the same power that raised him from the dead after three days.
Yet if it still seems insensitive calling for repentance at a time like this, ask yourself why we pray to begin with. Why do we say we’re going to pray or that we should? Perhaps we’re trying to cultivate a reputation for piety. Perhaps we want to seem spiritual. Praying for people even in vague, general terms does seem like the Christian thing to do, after all. And it’s just so easy! Mumbling a few words now and then doesn’t really require putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable. And if that’s all we’re doing, mindlessly announcing to the world that we’re going to pray or disingenuously mumbling some phrases we heard at church, are we praying merely to satisfy some vague feeling of duty to refer to our faith or God in a painful situation?
The simple truth is that our motivations for praying or saying we’ll pray may not be so good and holy as we’d like to assume. And if they are vain and selfish motivations, there’s no reason to expect any real or lasting good to come out of acting from them. God’s not impressed by your ability to impress your fellow man with how spiritual you sound.
Again, as Jesus said:
“When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
In other words, our prayers ought to be motivated not by our own self-gratification or merely a reputation for righteousness, but by an earnest and sincere desire that God would be pleased. When politicians and celebrities and media personalities urge you to pray for Orlando, remember that Jesus instructed us how we should pray and gave us the clear example to follow.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
So why should I pray for Orlando?
Deliver us from evil. That’s how The Lord’s Prayer ends, but what does it mean here?
For starters, it means we’re praying that God would deliver us from false gods who command us to murder men, women, and children all over the world and strike terror into their hearts. It also means we’re praying that those who worship false gods already would see the light and turn to the true God who alone has the power and authority to save them from their sins.
It means we’re praying that God would deliver us from the temptation and evil of fulfilling whatever lusts and passions suit our fancy, with no regard for propriety and righteousness. We’re praying that God would help us minister to the sort of people who frequent gay bars, telling them not only of God’s love but of His holiness and mercy as well, and urging them to repent of wickedness and folly.
It means we’re even praying that God would deliver us from the temptation of an insincere faith, the sort that strives first and foremost to get the praise and approval of men but cares not a whit for the character or commands of the God we claim to serve. We’re praying that it could not be said of us:
“This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
And since we’re praying that our Father’s kingdom would come and that His will would be accomplished, we can’t just be praying. We need to be telling potential jihadists about Jesus before they throw their life away in terrorist attacks like this, futile attempts to win the favor of their false god. We need to be telling the people who frequent gay bars about Jesus before their lives end in death and destruction. The time is short, and it’s too late to tell them about Jesus once the smoke clears and both jihadists and hedonists have lost their lives.
If we are praying as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, that our Father’s will would be accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven,” we need to be proving our love by opposing the things that destroy those people we claim to love – in particular the false religions and godless philosophies that bar them from the truth.
That, in short, is both how and why I should pray for Orlando, and it’s why you should too. Otherwise, for any other reason and in any other way, we might as well save our breath.