That Good Doctor, part thirty-eight

There are three words that have somehow become controversial in our society. Thoughts and prayers. A deadly flood tears through a city? Our thoughts and prayers are with you. School shooting? Thoughts and prayers. In a society that respects people of faith less and less, the phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become an invitation for attack. It’s being viewed as a politician’s empty line when something bad happened that they didn’t care to help us avoid, a way for them to appear like they care after the fact even though voters believe they’ll do nothing to make sure it never happens again.

It might surprise you to learn that a large part of me agrees with the anti-”thoughts and prayers” people. The Bible clearly states that empty words are useless.

James 2:15-17 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Empty words and rhetoric, especially that of politicians, is useless if not backed up with action. What’s not useless is the prayer of a righteous person. Most people who have come to hate “thoughts and prayers” aren’t people of faith. If they were they wouldn’t be so quick to turn up their noses at heartfelt petitions brought before the creator of the universe. When I tell you that I am praying for you, I am giving you the greatest thing I can. I am asking a God who I believe (even if you don’t) is capable of anything (creating the universe in 6 days, raising people from the dead, parting an entire sea, living forever, etc.) to move on your behalf. So while I can understand the backlash against “thoughts and prayers”, I’d be careful before scoffing at the prayers of a righteous man or a woman.

That’s all just a long introduction for today’s verse from Luke. This comes from a moment when Jesus is really verbally laying into some religious leaders of the day.

Luke 11:46 “Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.

This situation wasn’t exactly the same as “thoughts and prayers” but it was a situation where people in power weren’t doing anything to help those in need. And what made this particularly bad is the fact that these religious leaders were the ones making life so hard for people.

What’s funny about this is the fact that I spend a lot of my time in ministry dealing with something similar to this. People, especially those who aren’t very deep into their relationship with God, can sometimes feel a crushing weight when they try to live a Godly life. One of the things that I’ve been called and equipped by God to do is to help them realize that there isn’t supposed to be a crushing weight, and that if they’re feeling crushed then it’s either being brought on by themselves or the enemy. The burden of God is light, and that includes the burden of living a godly life. What may feel like a list of unattainable rules and guidelines in the Bible is actually just a set of guardrails that protect us from veering far enough off of the right path in life that we get ourselves hurt or lost. I used to feel strangled by God’s rules and now I feel comforted by them. They are His love for me manifested. His wisdom and care for His children are evident in the ten commandments and other guidelines for living found in His word.

So, when someone comes to me feeling discouraged or crushed, I always pray for them first. Like I said a few paragraphs ago, it’s the best thing I can possibly do for you. Then, we start to talk. Why are you feeling crushed? What would help you, what can I do in your life to assist? A pastor friend of mine this morning used the phrase “putting feet to your faith”, which is basically just saying that you’re fulfilling James 2:15-17. Offer good thoughts and words, offer encouragement, pray, and then follow up with whatever practical assistance you can.

Luke 11:46 “Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.

I’ve got a different three words for you now. Ease the burden. You are surrounded by people in your life who are being crushed under heavy burdens. What can you do to ease their burdens? Pray for them? Definitely. Now, what else are you in a position to do? The last thing you want is to ever be comparable to the Pharisees that Jesus was chastising in this verse from Luke. They were believers in name only, worshipers of rules and power and tradition, not of God. They loved their position and their power and their routines, not people, and not God.

God is a relational being, and we are made in His image, making us relational beings. Warm thoughts don’t build a relationship. Getting out of bed at midnight to pick up the friend who had a rough night and made some mistakes is how you build a relationship and love like Jesus. You pray as you drive, you ease the burden by coming through for someone in need. Making time in your busy schedule to sit and speak with someone who is hurting eases the burden. Giving up entertainment time to spend time with God builds your relationship with Him, and it also equips you to properly ease the burden of more and more people.

Thoughts and prayers? Absolutely, you have them. Sometimes that really is all we’re in a position to offer. But if we’re in a position to do more, we need to be doing more. If Jesus had set idly by in heaven and offered his thoughts and prayers to us instead of coming down and doing something to ease the heavy burden of sin, every single one of us would be destined for hell. Thankfully, Jesus was a man who always practiced what he preached. That means I’ve got a place in eternal paradise waiting for me when I die, and it means that I’ve got the ultimate example of easing the burden for others to follow.
______________________________

I love you wonderful guys and gals. I hope everyone is having a great week so far and I’ll see you again on Thursday!

If you have any prayer requests or just need someone to talk to, please feel free to email me at freejenkins@gmail.com.

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