This past Sunday a gunman shot up a Texas Baptist church while the congregation was in prayer. The gunman had come to the church because his in-laws attended there, and he intended to do them harm. He had a history of domestic violence and rage.
Should not the fact that this congregation was praying have protected them? For the skeptic, the tragedies that can befall Christians, even when they are gathered in worship, is proof positive that prayer does nothing and probably that God doesn’t care or even exist. In fact, many people abandon the faith because their sincere prayers were not answered. They are either angry with God or convinced that prayer and God is pointless.
First of all, it is important to understand what God promises His people and what He doesn’t. He does promise to hear and answer prayers offered in faith. The answers are subject to our obeying him in what he asks of us and also need to fit within his will for a person or situation. He doesn’t promise a hedge against the world’s problems and sins, and He doesn’t promise that being a Christian will not lead to your death. For some, they are chosen to give a final witness of their faith by being faithful as they are murdered. That is why they are called martyrs. The Greek word “martyr” means witness.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of this earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been had been completed. (Revelation 6:9-11)
It is also important to understand that our existence is much longer than the few years we have here, and much better after death if we belong to Christ. It is only for those who have nothing beyond death that death seems like the ultimate loss.
We need to keep this in mind whenever we pray that somebody’s life be extended. We are not meant to stay here forever. We may pray for someone to be healed or protected. Who knows how often the course of events is altered because of such a prayer? However, sometimes it is time, even if a person is still young. The plans of God for each person are beyond our comprehension.
God did not send the gunman to that Texas church. He went out of his own evil intent. God chose not to stop his sin in its entirety. He didn’t promise to do that. He does promise to take those who die in Jesus to Heaven and to bring comfort if not good to those who grieve their loss.