During national tragedies like natural disasters and mass shootings, the phrase “in our thoughts and prayers” is often used by officials and other public figures to express concern in difficult times.

The phrase has recently received criticism for its repeated usage in the context of gun violence and has been labeled by a word I have recently learned, slacktivism. Unlike activism which works to achieve a desired result, slacktivism can be defined as merely giving lip service to a political or social cause without exercising much effort or commitment.

The phrase “in our thoughts and prayers” has also itself received criticism from others as being insensitive to those who sincerely pray for victims. I believe that prayer is the most powerful and productive form of action you can engage in during a crisis. Thoughtful meditation and prayer improve focus and reduces anxiety but more importantly calls upon the ultimate power in the universe to help in time of need.

When I was pastoring, people in my congregation appreciated and commented favorably when I would call or text them letting them know that I am thinking about them and praying for them. When people came to mind, I figured that God put them there and then for a reason, so I would pray for them right then in that moment. Sometimes I would text them just to let them know that I was praying for them RIGHT NOW! They always expressed gratitude that I did that.

So many times, when people share concerns with us, we tell them, ‘I’ll be praying for you.” That is good and it is important that we follow up with that, but experience has taught me that there is no time like the present, so in that moment whether on the phone or in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store, I would stop and pray for them. I would put my hand on their shoulder and offer a brief prayer for them and their concern right then and there.

There is tremendous power in prayer and there is an empathetic calm that gets conveyed when we connect with those who are hurting and in need. Our presence represents Christs presence, and our prayers activate the healing power of the Holy Spirit. We should never shy away from offering the peace passed along by your compassionate thoughts and the energy emitted through your purposeful prayers.

I don’t believe that just anyone should be able to walk into a gun shop and walk out with an automatic assault weapon, but I do believe that in the wake of mass shootings, that the victims should not be used as pawns in another political debate about guns. I also believe that we shouldn’t blame anyone but the perpetrator for the heinous crimes committed and, in those moments following a massacre, there is very little we can do apart from offering up our thoughts and prayers.

Of course, there are times when we can provide tangible things along with our thoughts and prayers. Depending on our proximity to the event we can show up and clean up as in the aftermath of a tornado or hurricane. We can make financial donations to reputable relief organizations. We can send cards to victim’s families reminding them that God draws near to the brokenhearted. If we know the victims families, we can just sit silently with them.

When we feel upset, angry and we don’t know what we can do, we are then drawn to actions that we can take. This sense of frustration reminds us that there is something we can do and do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is an opportunity for us to invite the grace of God to enter in and do the rest. If we are sincere and do not just use this expression as some catch phrase, we can humbly offer up our thoughts and prayers and have confidence that God hears them, that the victim’s families feel them and that we are actively making a positive difference.