Mass shooting in Las Vegas: what do our prayers mean?

USA (MNN) — Nearly 60 people were killed and over 500 wounded in Sunday’s mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. It’s now the worst mass shooting in modern US history.

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo courtesy of Prayitno Photography via Flickr under Creative Commons:

The shooter rained gunfire into a crowd of over 22,000 people from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. When police broke into the hotel room where the gunman was holed up, he was found dead. Investigative authorities are still searching for a motive behind the vicious attack.

Greg Jao with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship says they have chapters at college campuses in Nevada. “We have had InterVarsity students who were at the concert. So far, we’ve been able to check in with the ones that we know about and they all seem to be physically fine. They’re obviously still reeling from the experience and we’re checking with the larger chapter population.”

Jao says one way Christians can respond is, “If we’re part of a larger network or denomination, to support the churches in Las Vegas that are engaging this issue. Issues like mass shootings…call for extraordinary resources on the ground, and supporting those churches is really critical.”

Also, he says it’s important to “engage the people around us in the conversations our hearts long to have. There was a death at Hamilton College this past week and our staff and students went on campus and asked people, ‘What are the prayers you would want to pray in a moment like this?’ And several hundred students stopped and wrote down prayers, many of whom said they weren’t religious but were longing for a way to express their grief, their anger, [and] their confusion. And I think for Christians in moments of tragedy to listen and to invite conversation is part of the way that the Church extends Christ’s healing hand in the world.”

Many are praying for the victims, but prayer is sometimes criticized as a lackluster response — sort of doing the bare minimum. Jao says we need to be careful not to use ‘praying for you’ offhandedly in tragedies like this.

“I think the first thing is to acknowledge the critique that it’s easy to say that we’re praying without choosing to engage the brokenness, evil, and hurt that cause shootings or allow shootings to happen… So to the extent that we say, well, we’re praying so we don’t have to do anything else, I think we fail to understand what prayer really is.

“At the same time,” he adds, “I absolutely believe that prayer is the first, most authentically human and most authentically Christian response to tragedy and disaster. When we’re confronted by a shooting or a hurricane or an earthquake, our first response should be calling out as a human being, recognizing our limitation. We cannot change anything about this nor can we fix the situation for those who are hurt or dying, so we turn to the only one who can actually bring help, healing, and aid which is God himself.

“I think when we pray, ultimately, what we’re doing is we’re also confronting the principalities and powers that drive these kinds of evils.”

Luke 10:2-3 illustrates this interplay for prayer and action in the Church. In the passage, Jesus is speaking to his disciples: “He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

Jao says of the Scripture reference, “I think this brings it full circle. When we pray, we’re actually telling God that we choose to be available and desire to be used by him to engage the issues that we pray around…. When we say, ‘Lord, would you do something in the midst of the continual shootings that we see in the United States?’ I think he’s also telling the Church, if you are willing to pray that, then go and make a difference in those situations.

“So I don’t think it’s actually a ‘bare minimum’ response. I think in fact prayer is, as I said, the most authentically human and Christian response, but it also is the Church saying, ‘I’m willing to be used to change this. Lord, allow me the privilege of being an answer to the prayers that I pray.’”

Pray for Christ to comfort those hurt by the Las Vegas shooting — whether they were injured or have lost loved ones or have seen their community broken by this. Pray for the grieving, for the healing, and for eternal hope.

Simultaneously, Jao says we need to ask this question among our churches:

“If this were to happen in my community, is my church prepared to respond? If there’s a shooting in the schools in my community, how is my church prepared to respond? Because unless we’ve planned for these events we’ll be caught scrambling.

“Frequently, where the Church shines in its witness in the world is when we’re prepared to act in the face of tragedy, when we run towards the cries of pain rather than away from them, when we open up our churches as places of shelter and prayer, when we’re quick on the scene to help those who are most in need.”