#PrayForOrlando: What Does That Mean? A Local Perspective

Posted by Michelle Tepper, on June 22, 2016
Topic: Blog

The largest mass-shooting in U.S. history just happened in the city I grew up close enough to consider home. Only days before, a well-known singer was shot and killed signing autographs and spending time with fans after a concert, also in my city. Just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse, a child is fatally attacked by an alligator in the area of Orlando that is supposed to be the happiest place on earth. People are beginning to ask,

How much more can one city take?”

As a mother, my heart is breaking for the many families that face the terrible reality of having their child ripped away from their life. As a local, it is tempting to feel fearful and totally powerless in the face of such diverse tragedies in one place – not to mention how to tackle them on a national and global level.

#PrayforOrlando started trending on social media networks as stadiums, community centers, and churches around the world held vigils on behalf of our city. Yet even with the countless opportunities to join in, I feel left with an overwhelming desire to do more than just sympathize with the incredible grief and sorrow that accompanies trauma.

Like so many locally and abroad, I attended and was incredibly moved by many of the vigils that have been held, but left wondering why prayer just doesn’t seem to be enough.

“It’s wonderful that people of faith have gathered and prayed in the days following last week’s massacre,” writes Scott Maxwell, columnist for The Orlando Sentinel, openly questioning his own faith in the midst of the recent events. “But vigils and tears aren’t enough. Facebook memes and GoFundMe donations are not enough. Prayer is not enough.”[1]

Many want to personally respond in some tangible way, but what does that look like? What is ‘enough’? As a mother, I ask that on behalf of the many families that now face the reality of a life without a son or daughter. As a local, will any response bring true calm or comfort to the type of grief and terror we are all feeling in the aftermath of so many tragedies right where we live?

How can prayer be an appropriate or effective response to suffering on this level? The truth is in times like these, even Christians struggle to find the words, direction or even desire to respond in prayer. Yet, as I’ve witnessed the diverse and inspiring responses of our local Christian community, I’m reminded of why prayer is, in fact, a powerfully appropriate and tangible response to suffering.

Prayer Opens Hearts:

For Christians, prayer is more than remembrance, positive thinking, or a moment of silence on another’s behalf. It’s talking to God, our Father, who created this world and passionately loves every single human being as his own child. He is intensely moved when His children suffer, and stands in solidarity with every one of them in the midst of their pain.

On June 15, Church in the Son held a joint prayer meeting of about 20 local churches. As the night went on, church leaders from across the city led prayers of repentance for their lack of love, care, and welcome of communities in the city that were different to them. Prayer moves, softens, and challenges hearts that have grown hard and cold or indifferent to needs of others.

Prayer is also a powerful outlet for grief, emotional burdens, and honest communication. It is a natural human reaction to lash out in anger or confusion when we are hurting.

Prayer is a safe eternal space for those mourning to pour out raw grief without time limit, fear of judgment, or the need for repression. Grieving takes time and needs space, prayer is space for the broken hearted.

When I respond to tragedy through prayer, I am comforted by a Heavenly Father who knows what it is like to watch his own precious son be killed in an act of selfish hatred. When my natural response is to be paralyzed by anxiety or fear for the safety of my friends and family, in prayer I am reaching out in trust to the One who loves and cares for those dearest to me as His very own.

Prayer Opens Doors:

One of the most inspiring things I have seen from the local Christian community is how it has responded in such creative, relevant, and needed ways.

Many local congregations specifically prayed for supernatural guidance for ways to tangibly respond to victims that would both meet the most basic needs and break down historic walls of hostility in the city. The leaders and congregation members of Discovery Church felt moved in prayer to offer free funeral services for any and all shooting victims that needed them[2]. This was seen as such an unexpected and valuable response from the Christian Community that the church received a call from Kirstie Alley committing her personal backing of their efforts.

Throughout history, communities of faith have led the way in relief and rescue responses in times of national and international tragedy. Mother Teresa was guided to the poor of Calcutta through prayer, Jesus told Peter to give evidence of his devotion by “feeding my sheep.”

Prayer not only gives the Christian an outlet for requests, it is an opportunity to seek and receive supernatural guidance, revelation and wisdom from God Himself. When Christians use prayer in this way it can be a powerful response to the areas of greatest need in a community.

Prayer Opens Minds:

Christians also believe that prayer brings change, but usually it is not in the way we expect. Prayers that start as frantic cries for help, or outpourings of raw emotion, often turn to confident declarations of trust and focused hope.

In Matthew 6 – the most famous prayer – we see this phenomenon at work. Jesus teaches us to pray in a way that compels us to love and forgive others in the same way we want to be forgiven. We are reminded that God, “Our Father,” is personal, loving, and all-powerful. This invites us to trust that he will “deliver us from evil” when we feel powerless to fight it on our own.

Prayer is humble recognition that we are all in need of love, grace, forgiveness and rescue.

The more we are faced with that reality, the more we are filled with the gentleness and respect we desperately need in order to pour out love on all, regardless of what they believe, how they respond, or how vast our differences may seem.

This week, Jennifer Toledo, Pastor of Expression 58 Church in Los Angeles, urged her congregation and all Christians to pray that God would open their minds up to new ways of thinking and responding to people in light of the Orlando Shootings.

As believers we are called to be…Light, Ambassadors of peace and hope…the bringers of good news, those who love and honor in ways the world cannot understand. We help no one when we ourselves are swirling in fear and accusation…[When we do this] you forfeit your authority, and your authority comes from your love. The moment you devalue something (or someone) is the moment you lose your authority to influence it. There has never been a greater hour for the true followers of Christ to shine…[T]he world needs you to be the peacemaker, the bringer of hope, the one who loves people more than fears them, the one who takes a stand for the kind of gospel Jesus preached…”[3]

Prayer empowers us to love well, give grace, and to continually see the best, pushing us out from ourselves to the needs of others.

What good does prayer do in the face of these tragedies? In 2 Chronicles 20:12, when faced with national disaster, the people of God asked these same questions and came to the conclusion, “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 

Prayer lifts us up and out of our hopelessness and opens our hearts to love and comfort those who are grieving.

It helps us see and walk through the open doors of the greatest local needs, and it continues to fill us with compassion for others regardless of who they are without blame, judgment, or comparison. Please continue to #PrayForOrlando and for those suffering around the world. Pray that we would all be transformed into communities that supernaturally respond to suffering both near to us and far away with open hearts, open doors, and open minds.

2016 Orlando Insta

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[1] Maxwell, Scott. “Orlando Shooting: Struggling to Find Faith during Tragedy.” Orlando Sentinel 19 June 2016, Sunday ed., Commentary sec.: 6. Print.

[2] Michael, Melanie. “Orlando Church Offering Free Funeral Services for Shooting Victims.” WFLA. N.p., 2016. Web. 16 June 2016

[3] Toledo, Jennifer. “To my Christian Friends.” Facebook. June 14, 2016. [June 14, 2016, https://m.facebook.com/jennifer.toledo.71]