Something that I keep hearing people say is, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you." I genuinely believe that the people saying these words mean the best when they say them. However, as a christian what does it mean to be praying for someone?
Maybe a cultural idea of prayer is a thoughtful recognition of a person or their situation, wishful thinking, or sending positive thoughts. Dare I say that prayer in our culture may be seen as a last-ditch effort when nothing else is working.
However, when I reflect on the Letter of James, he seems to think prayer is radically different. When should prayer be done? When we are suffering, joyful, experiencing illness, or have not lived up to our full potential as a human and need to a come to Jesus moment. Prayer then is a response to suffering, joy, illness, and sin.
Thanks to James prayer becomes redefined as an action. Many times towards the end of his letter he mentions prayer is never done alone and always leads to an action. Prayer is an action in response to suffering. Singing becomes the appropriate response to moments of joy. When you are sick prayer is not done alone but instead should invite others to gather and care for you. Even confession in light of sin is made with others. It says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16)
I argue that prayer is an action that creates other-centered people. Prayer becomes less about me and more about others. Then, while reflecting on others in prayer, I am moved to act if in any way possible to love and care for the people. I believe by creating other-ceneterd people prayer transforms us into people living with a foot in new creation and foot in the here and now. By living this way, we participate in God's kingdom work in the world.
Prayer is not a thought or a last hopeful wish. Prayer is partnering with God to bring his kingdom in a real and powerful way into the world. It draws us closer to each other in loving real ways. By its very nature praying for people pushes into action on their behalf.