I’ve noticed in the world of Facebook that people will often say something like “Our thoughts and prayers are going out to Joe Green and his family in the difficult time they’re going through”. Or, “Prayers going out to the family of Mary Smith, who died last night”.
Here’s the thing, though: we send our thoughts out to people, but we don’t send our prayers out to them. We send our prayers out to God, on the people’s behalf.
Why does this matter? Am I just being nitpicky?
I don’t think so, for two reasons. First, if prayers are just something purely human that we ‘send out’ to people, like sympathetic thoughts, then they can’t really give those people any significant help – other than the comfort of knowing that friends are thinking of them, which is surely what ‘sending out thoughts’ means. In other words, the ‘prayers’ are not really that much different from the ‘thoughts’; they’re just a different way of saying the same thing.
Second, if we’re actually sending our prayers out to John for his healing, for example, then prayer becomes a sort of ‘mental ray of love’, and the more rays, the better. So we can fall into the trap of thinking that if we can get a thousand people praying for John, that’s more effective than, for instance, two or three. The more prayers, the better! Whereas Jesus clearly tells us that two or three are enough. One is enough, actually; if God is my father and I am his child, and if he is anything like the best earthly fathers (which he is), then the voice of even one of his beloved children will surely be heard.
No – we send our loving thoughts and hugs and best wishes out to our friends who are suffering, but we don’t send our prayers to them. We send our prayers to the place where they can really make a difference: the heart of God. And because God is a God of love, he will hear those prayers, and in his own time and in his own way, he will answer them.