“Is Prayer a Cop-Out?”

Dialogue with the Disillusioned: Why Keep Praying Article 6

(Coaching a Congolese leader)

“Prayer does nothing. Absolutely nothing. There is no efficacy to prayer. AT best, prayer will make people less action oriented and more accepting of social inequities due to the false idea some higher power will look out for them.

How about teaching people to read, change the lending institutions in the area to provide micro-loans, start up local businesses that pay western wages, open medical clinics with real medicines, provide family counselling and contraceptives?”(gthink, 6/7/10)*

Are you, as gthink charges, mindlessly and passively expecting God to do what you need to do for yourself and for others? If not, what is the connection between your prayers and your taking responsibility to address the problems of the world?

In my opinion, gthink misunderstands the role of prayer, but so do many Christians. Pitting prayer against action, as if one had to choose one or the other approach to dealing with life’s challenges, is a false dichotomy. In our mission work around the world, we don’t teach pastors and leaders to pray instead of taking action, but to do both. We coach our students to create a vision and plan to address the pressing needs of their congregations and communities, but to do so from a place of spiritual depth and vitality.

As I argued in my last article in this series, it’s human to want to help others, but most of us are too pre-occupied or self-serving to sustain our good intentions, especially if our own interests are threatened. Here, I am taking that concept one step further. Not only do we need God’s help to be able to get past our own self-interest, a vibrant prayer life empowers us to serve others more wholeheartedly, effectively, and sacrificially.

Jesus saw no conflict between maintaining and developing a strong relationship with God and serving the needs of others. He told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. (Mark 12:30-31) In fact, loving God came first, and loving others second.

A look at Jesus’ life reveals the same two-fold priority: his service for humanity grew out of his relationship with God. By maintaining a rich prayer life first, he found the compassion, love, wisdom, strength, and courage he needed to fulfill his purpose in life and to serve humanity effectively in the face of great opposition and personal sacrifice.

Thus, if you pray to ask God to do what you cannot do on your own, to work through you in extraordinary (even miraculous) ways, and to equip you to take whatever action you are capable of taking, then you are praying as Jesus did. However, if your prayer is making you passive, you’ve misunderstood the point of relying on God.

Indeed there are times for letting go—in times of irretrievable loss, in death, or when we simply are not capable or called to address some need or crisis. And, it’s OK to admit your frailties and fears to God, and even throw up your hands in frustration and despair, if need be. But don’t assume the matter is finished at this point with your Amen.

If you are “letting go, and letting God” simply because you are scared, you are tired, you can’t be bothered, you are overwhelmed, or for any other self-excusing reason, then pay attention. You may be copping out. Your responsibility is not necessarily fulfilled just because you prayed or expressed your feelings.

I’m not saying that knowing how to integrate dependence on God and taking action is always easy. I’m saying it needs to be done, and requires discernment. You will need wisdom and the Spirit’s guidance to know when to press forward and when to back off. You need to discern when to act, when to wait, and when to let go.

God loves and accepts you in your inadequacies, and cares about your needs, but never stop looking for God to work through your weakness to help you move beyond yourself for the sake of others. Stay engaged, and keep looking for God to work in and through you according to his good purposes for you and for all those your life may touch. And keep working yourself.

Gthink is identifying a really important issue here, something every Christian needs to seriously think about. Are you relying on God as an excuse to be passive or avoid taking responsibility? Or, are you doing as St. Augustine advised: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you?”

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

A Prayer

“Lord Jesus Christ, thank for teaching me to love God and to be a conduit of your love to others as my highest priorities. Create within me a burning desire and the requisite power to do all I can to respond to the needs all around me. Work through me in extraordinary ways that fit with your good purposes—not for my glory, but for yours, and for the sake of those you want to love through me. May your good purposes be fulfilled in my life.”

*To read the original Huffington Post article that prompted this and other responses from bloggers, click here, When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering.”

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