Good Thoughts?

I’ve been through two deadly earthquakes, billiard ball-sized hail, and a hurricane, but none of these prepared me for an out-of-control wildfire. We feel blessed that our home is out of danger, at least at this time, but we live in a forest, with trees surrounding (at the requisite 30 foot distance) three sides of our house. The neighborhood of several hundred homes that went up in flames Tuesday night is only twelve miles away—less if you’re a wind-borne ember.

I’ve been on Facebook a lot the last few days, trying to see how friends are doing, letting people know we’re okay, and posting photos of the fire as seen from our driveway.

As I read through the posts, I see numerous requests for prayer: Pray for rain. Pray for the wind to let up and the record temperatures to fall. Pray for God’s protection over the firefighters and other emergency responders. Pray that God spares homes.

Most of these pleas come from our church-going friends, but even those who don’t consider themselves believers, at least in the Christian sense, are asking for prayer. There’s something about being desperate that allows God to get our attention.

On the other hand, I’m seeing a vast difference in people’s responses. I know this is nothing new, but never has it been so plainly obvious.

Our Christian friends respond with assurances. Yes, we’re praying for you. We’re praying for your city. We’re praying for God’s mercy. I’m grateful for this, because I know that God answers prayer.

It’s our non-Christian friends who baffle me. They tend to say something along the lines of:

  • “I’m still hoping for more rain for you all.”
  • “Fingers crossed that this thing will be contained soon so that you can go back to your home.”
  • “Trying to send some rain your way!”
  • “ I … send much positive energy at that thought.”
  • “I’ve had you guys in my thoughts.”
  • “I’m thinking good thoughts for you today.”

Hoping? Crossed fingers? Positive energy? Good thoughts? And this is going to help, how?

I appreciate that they’re trying to offer sympathy. When we’re hurting, we want people to know and care. But I wonder, why don’t they just say that they’re sorry and that they care? Why this emphasis on thoughts? Thinking good thoughts doesn’t do much to help someone who is being evacuated because their house is about to go up in smoke.

I suppose that good thoughts are all that’s left if you don’t believe in a loving God who answers us when we call, who steps in and intervenes on our behalf. We sound sincere, like we’re saying something meaningful. But really, these phrases are useless. They lack power.

Facing a wildfire, other disaster, or even something else huge and scary and personal in our lives can seem totally overwhelming. We think we’re powerless, so we offer empty platitudes that do nothing to help. But we are not powerless.

God has not left us orphans. He is our Father, who loves us and cares for us. Circumstances may look like hell, but we have the kingdom of heaven living among us. We have the power of the Holy Spirit inside us. What we do can offer real hope to a hurting world.

Let us pray.

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