26 people were murdered and others injured yesterday by another mass shooter. This time it was during services at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas when Devin Patrick Kelley stormed in and started killing. I’m a pastor. My Texas church is about the same size, although our community is larger than the tiny town where this occurred.
My first response to ensure the safety of my people. Posting shrill diatribes on social media won’t do that. Prayer will. You may think that is not a very practical solution. If you are an unbeliever, I understand. However, you may have an incomplete or incorrect understanding of prayer.
Prayer must always result in action. We talk to God. He moves, then we move. The Spirit of God gives wisdom to the heart or mind of the person who is engaged in prayer. Prayer is a conversation, not a monologue filled with requests, or complaints. I open my heart and mind to the Lord. I open the Bible. I ask God to speak to me. Then I get up off of my knees and act on what God has revealed.
Prayer is not an effort to get God to do what I want, but the means of discovering and aligning myself with His will. In his model prayer Jesus taught us to say: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s what we pray before we ask, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
How does that apply to a tragedy like this?
Let’s start with preparation. In the same model prayer, Jesus taught believers to say, “Lead us not into temptation (or testing), but deliver us from the Evil One.” We recognize that “the devil prowls around like the roaring lion seeking someone to devour,” and we need protection, and deliverance from his harmful intentions. We put our trust in the Lord, and then we prepare for the onslaught. To put it another way: Trust God and lock your doors. Pray, then get up off of your knees and take preventative action, as the Lord gives you wisdom, knowledge, skill and understanding.
Immediately upon learning of the incident in Sutherland Springs my instinct as a protector of my congregation lead me to take steps to further ensure their safety. We’ve already assigned some men in our church to watch the doors for potentially dangerous individuals. I texted those men and reminded them of our need of their vigilance. I continued to think, and pray, and act. I contacted our Teaching Pastor to update him. We’ve already installed auto-locking deadbolts to our children’s ministry doors. I updated the codes. We will also restrict access to our worship area more than we have previously.
I continued to pray this morning. We will start a men’s ministry and ask our men to be on alert and watch the doors. I have other training that may help us, and I am praying about how and what to do to teach others.
In most instances where a mass shooting takes place, the people are unarmed and no one opposes the shooter(s) at first. We are not told to run from the devil, but to oppose him. “Submit yourself to God, resist the devil and he will flee.” When these shooters are opposed with force, they stop shooting. Then they run and often shoot themselves. They rarely stop because someone stays, “Please, please, stop!”
What am I trying to say here? Pray, then act. If you have the ability to fight, then pray and fight. If you are trained and properly licensed, use your gun. Don’t rely on your gun; rely on God. But if you may legally carry a firearm and have trained to use it, then you may be the one God calls upon to stop a terrorist. Pray, then act. If you are not armed, you may at least be able to keep the murderer from killing more people by taking other action, perhaps action in concert with others.
Here are some examples where the outcome could have been as bad or worse than Sutherland Springs, but someone intervened.
In December of 2007 Matthew Murray shot several people at the YWAM missionary center in Colorado, then proceeded to New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Murray entered the church and fired, but he met with resistance, an armed security guard named Jeanne Assam. Assam shot Murray dead before he could carry out the massacre he likely had in mind. Murray had an assault rifle with 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Assam had law enforcement experience.
Two men arrived in my own town of Garland, Texas on May 3, of 2015 with the express purpose of carrying out a mass shooting at the Curtis Culwell Center. They immediately met with resistance from a Garland Police officer who shot both with his service weapon. Both men die, along with their intent to do harm. No one inside the conference center was hurt.
Finally, early reports indicate that Devin Kelley was kept from killing and injuring even more people at the church in Sutherland Springs when an armed citizen confronted him. Kelley fled in his vehicle, then crashed and apparently shot himself.
So, the lesson here? Pray, then act. Prayer is always an effort to gain an understanding of God’s will. Prayer proves that my trust is in God. Then I get up and DO SOMETHING to make a difference. People may ask why God didn’t do anything to stop the Sutherland Springs tragedy, but I see that he did interven. I don’t know why 26 people were killed, don’t know why it happened to the good folks of FBC Sutherland Springs, but I know this. We’ll be ready. We’ll be prayed up. We will act to keep our people safe. So help us, Almighty God.