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A substitute for prayer?

“I’m sending positive thoughts your way.”

Let’s start by acknowledging the good will and intent behind these words. People say such things because they are concerned about someone in difficult circumstances and they want to voice their support for them. We’ve all been in this situation and know the powerlessness you feel—someone you care about is going through a rough patch and you’re basically in a spectator role. So, we say something to avoid saying nothing.

This particular phrase seems to have bubbled up as an alternative to, “I’m praying for you.” It’s the non-believers’ version of prayer. Additionally, it’s become the PC way of expressing your concern without running the risk of saying anything that could possibly offend anyone in anyway. (How exactly did we get to the point where this has become our overarching concern in life?).

Having acknowledged the good intentions behind the words, it’s nonetheless a silly little phrase that points out the impotence of life without God. “Sending positive thoughts” makes it sound like we’re some kind of cell phone tower or satellite beaming out our good vibes. It’s as if in our dismissal of God, we have somehow acquired super powers. (And yes, I recognize it’s possible to use these words in a figurative sense—as “break a leg” is used in the theater—but my impression is a significant percentage who believe they are actually sending something out).   

Let’s get this straight—no one is “sending out” anything. Good thoughts and positive vibes are wonderful in the sense we’ve discussed, but that’s it. They are poseurs when they are offered as a substitute for prayer and equating the two is like saying a tricycle and a race car are the same because they both have wheels.

Prayer connects people with the sovereign God of the universe. Each and every request is considered and answered by Him (though certainly not always in the way we had hoped). Good thoughts and positive vibes are the well wishing of one person to another and that’s where they stop. They have no power beyond that. They are human productions (because they chose not to invite God in), so they are subject to all the limitations humans are.

If the world wants to engage in this kind of speech that of course is their business, but I think disciples need to think twice before jumping on board and adopting this kind of speech (Romans 12:2). It’s inaccurate and it can come across as an endorsement that “sending out positive thoughts and vibes” is somehow a functional substitute for prayer.

What if we just told people we were praying for them? It’s true, some might be offended, but for others it just might open a door that could lead to life eternal.

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 2:15)

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