When all else fails, pray. That’s the response most people make to a crisis—shown once again by the immediate response to the tragic injury to Damar Hamlin during the Buffalo Bills/Cincinnati Bengals game on Monday night football. Sports commentators, who normally eschew or lampoon references to religion, repeatedly said all they could do in the situation is “hope and pray.” Social media lit up with similar calls to pray for Hamlin and his family. One fan in the stadium made a quick sign calling for prayer, which was shown repeatedly on the national broadcast.
Some critics dismiss these calls to prayer as shallow expressions of civil religion. But that misses an important point. When life is overwhelming, most people revert to their core convictions and beliefs—and for most people, that includes belief in God. While most news about organized religion in the United States indicates an overall decline in church participation and denominational allegiance, the same surveys indicate the vast majority of people still believe in God. Tragedy brings that out by revealing where we turn for help when circumstances are overwhelming. Heartache puts people back in touch with their deepest spiritual longings and reduces them to resting on what really matters.
For Christian leaders, this should be a motivating reality. We should reject the superficial distraction of being told our work is irrelevant to secular people who have little interest in relating to God. That’s just not true. Our message is timeless, addresses the deepest needs of the human condition, and demands we communicate it so people have the foundation they need for their darkest hours. Our discipleship processes must be consistent, focusing on shaping biblical and theological underpinnings so Christians have genuine spiritual resources—not just folk religion—to fall back on.
We live in a frivolous world, captivated by politics, sports, entertainment, and countless issues which seem so important—until they aren’t. As Christian leaders, we can’t get caught up in these pursuits to the extent we forget our core responsibility to preach and teach truth that matters. Hurting people need a spiritual foundation to rest on when all else fails. It’s our job to build it by establishing sound doctrine as the buttress against whatever storms life throws at us. National calls to prayer reveal people want this, more than they are willing or even know how to express most of the time. Wise leaders recognize these spiritual impulses and what they reveal. We recognize spiritual longings common to humanity and intentionally address them—in season and out of season—with consistency demanded by both the truth we proclaim and the needs of people it meets.