“You’ve got to do more than pray!” she snapped.
Out of nowhere came this exchange, which upon reflection, typifies the cold war between pray-ers and do-ers in terms of ”Faith in Action.” There had been a discussion about a situation at church. The obvious (human) answers were all flawed in some way. My suggestion was to pray about it. Hence the sharp response, “You’ve got to do more than pray!”
Actually, I agree that we all have to do more than pray, but that is not to say that we shouldn’t start with prayer, stay in prayer and end in prayer throughout all the doing that we might do. I’ve found that when I go it alone – without Him – it simply doesn’t work. Often what He wants, isn’t what I had in mind. I watch others go it alone, and watch them fail too.
What made this conversation linger in my cranium for weeks is my dismay that a fellow Christian perceives that by suggesting prayer:
I’m suggesting doing nothing;
As if prayer is nothing;
As if Christ’s promises regarding prayer are nothing.
Is it because the church has become untrustworthy with prayer? Promising to pray, but not?
Is it because church attenders aren’t really believers? Could it be that church members have so little opportunity or experience gathering to call upon God, that they have no real life experience of faith-building answered prayer?
Maybe their blind interpretation of events sees coincidence rather than immanence…
Could it be that the churchy folk don’t really want to hear what God would say on the matter, because they’ve got it all figured out, and really like their plan better?
Perhaps they don’t really grasp the unadulterated power of prayer. A favorite Annie Dillard quote addresses this churchy problem:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
The cynicism about prayer in, of all places, Christ’s church is startling.
The power of prayer is well documented – the Bible being a great place to start – but we have to read it. It seems many churches of late are a comfortable, nice place where people of faith (and that can mean almost anything these days) gather to socialize, do some business networking, serve on a committee (looks good on your resume), do something for the poor that makes them feel important or valued (in some cases), protest a less favored group which makes them feel important or valued (particularly liberal mainstream protestants), occasionally make an appearance on Sunday morning to sing a few hymns, and check their watch.
When it comes to trying to “fix a problem” in church, we all get pretty stuck on how “we” think things should be.
Sometimes because it worked well somewhere else, or maybe it’s the “hip” new thing in ministry.
Often it’s because things aren’t going too well and – we have to do something. NOW!
Sometimes just doing something really does make us feel better. Sadly, if the Holy Spirit isn’t involved it’s unlikely to be effective. A friend once noted with regret that churchy meetings often start awkwardly with “a quick word of prayer.” Her point was that it’s not really prayer; it’s mere lip service: The humans in the room demanding a blessing of the LORD for what they have already decided to do.
If we aren’t praying
we are fooled into thinking that if we just work hard enough,
spend enough time, spend enough money,
brainstorm enough “cool” ideas,
get just the right people involved (and keep the wrong people out of the loop),
use the right marketing technique, work on the website,
friend enough people on Facebook, Twitter, what have you,
get enough people to do what they are supposed to do… everything will be just great!
If we haven’t prayed, before, during and after, it won’t.
But when we trust in the power of the Holy Spirit,
when we surrender our plans to Him,
when we confess we tried to go it alone, go our own way,
out of pride, or rebellion, or faithlessness,
when we tell Him we can’t do anything without Him,
and we no longer want to walk one step without Him,
and when we give Him ALL the glory, as is right –
there is no barrier unbreachable, there is no mountain too high,
no river too deep,
no churchy problem that can’t be solved,
no trusting, praying, ministry that can’t be revived…
In John 14, Jesus told us we could do,
what he could do,
if we would ask, and trust.
How I love this prayer excerpt by John Piper:
thank You for being a prayer-hearing God…
It is an overwhelming thought that YOU
the Creator and Sustainer of all things
gives heed to our prayers and meets our needs…
Increase our faith in the truth that by prayer
we have an influence in the world
out of all proportion
with how small we are.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen
“Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.” John 14:12-14 The Message
So [the angel] said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.“ Zechariah 4:6
We can do, what he could do,
out of all proportion to how small we are,
if we trust and pray.
Reposted from Riverside Reflections, December 29, 2011.