Hurricane Harvey is flooding the Gulf Coast. From everywhere, people are sending their "thoughts and prayers." Whenever anything bad happens, you can hear the newscasters say it and people write it on Facebook. "Thoughts and prayers." "Thoughts and prayers."
It's like non-religious people will send their thoughts and the religious people will send their prayers.
What does it even mean? I'll think about how terrible things are in Texas as I go about my regular day. Even for those of us who are religious, does saying that we'll pray really change our response?
These are so often vapid words. Our thoughts stay in our own heads. They don't do anything. When we say them to someone, they have some power to provide sympathy or empathy, but they don't clean the water out of a flooded person's house or give them more than a modicum of support.
Prayers are different. The Bible is clear that prayer is effective. Our prayers don't just go out into the ether like "good thoughts". God hears our prayers and He wants good things for us. But, God also put us in a world that works according to natural laws. So, we pray, but the hurricanes still come. What can happen, though, is that God can work through the natural disasters to change the individual outcomes and to change peoples' hearts and character. So, please pray. Pray with all your heart.
But, just saying that our "thoughts and prayers" are with the people of the Gulf Coast means nothing. If we want our prayers to be effective, they need to be truly prayed, not just a one-off, "oh, yeah, I'll pray for you" as we go on our merry way.
Telling people that our "thoughts and prayers" are with them must be followed by action. In the early church (see the book of Acts), the early Christians gave everything to support each other. Yes, they prayed daily, but they also put feet behind their words.
No matter what you tell people who are in the middle of some crisis, do something. Send money to a reputable organization. Be part of a team that is doing something useful. Google what kind of help is needed. (Don't send second-hand stuff unless a relief organization requests it!) And pray. Pray hard.
And if there is no disaster in your town, that's OK. Find some way to practically love people in your town right now. And just wait. Your turn is coming.