Alton Sterling and “thoughts and prayers”

Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A great many things will happen on social media in the next few days, almost all of them predictable, few of them encouraging.

One of the predictable things is that Christians will offer “thoughts and prayers”; another is that atheists will rage at them for doing so. We’ll hear a lot about the uselessness of thoughts and prayers, mainly from people who think deploying Twitter hashtags counts as genuine activism.

Christians are commanded to pray. We are told to pray without ceasing; we are told to pray for our enemies; we are told to pray even when we do not know what to pray for, because in such cases the Holy Spirit will intercede for us. I would ask my fellow Christians to offer prayer in the aftermath of Alton Sterling’s killing; but I would also ask them to remember that typing the words “sending thoughts and prayers” is not praying.

We can and should do better than that. For starters, we could say what we are praying for. We pray for God to receive Alton Sterling into His presence and comfort him and wipe away every tear. We pray that God will comfort the friends and family of Alton Sterling — and all the people of Baton Rouge, and all the people of color in this land who live every day in fear — and give them peace in their spirits and hope for better days in this world as well as that eternal hope that transcends all others.

We pray, Lord, that you will turn the hearts of those who kill to peaceableness; that you will lead them to repentance; that you will make justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Further: May we remember that prayer ought to be the fuel of the spirit, the fuel that gives us the strength and the hope that alone can sustain work for justice and peace. “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace” — make me an instrument. Set me to work. In these dark days let me at least light a candle.

Hear my prayer, O Lord; and let my cry come unto thee.