In the last week, newspapers have spent a great deal of ink covering church prayer services. For this we Christians should be grateful. It's good for journalists and the larger community to see how essential the local church is to so many people.
The only problem is that nearly every journalist seems to be clueless about what exactly is going on in these services. A sampling of recent headlines:
- "Seeking Solace in Time of Fear: Religious Leaders Tread Carefully To Soothe Worried Worshipers"
- "Residents attended church services throughout the San Gabriel Valley this weekend as a means of seeking comfort in troubled times"
- "Finding comfort in prayer and reflection"
And on it goes in papers big and small, from The Washington Post to The Fresno Bee. Today's issue of The Winchester (Va.) Star reports that "Ideally, [spiritual leaders] want to help quiet internal battles between war and peace, and between faith and politics."
Let me be fair: journalists are partly right. Prayer does, in fact, bring comfort to the fearful and anxious. But why are these journalists universally reporting that the whole scope of these prayer services is to bring comfort? Are the pastors telling them this? Are parishioners? Why are so many assuming that the primary purpose of prayer is to make us comfortable? Is anyone in these churches telling these journalists that they are missing the biggest story going on in these prayer meetings—that prayer actually changes things?
It seems that one saying of Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard has become the lens through which journalists look at prayer. Kierkegaard once wrote, "Prayer does not change God but changes him who prays." Here's the train of logic I think Kierkegaard was following: God knows everything ...1
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