Prayer & Action
What is your go to strategy to deal with a challenge or an issue in your life? Do you spur into action? Or do you devote to prayer? Here’s the thing. This is not an either-or thing. Our prayers and our actions are supposed to be intertwined. We fully rely on God, yet we understand that He is calling us to usher in His Kingdom.
Have you ever heard yourself say something like this: “I’m happy to pray for you, but what can I actually do?”
Or have you ever used prayer as an escape from your personal responsibility to ‘do something about it’?
It’s moments like these that I think, we swinging to one of either side of the tension between prayer and action. But they are not competitors! They are two sides of the same coin. In the challenges, opportunities and threats that we are facing, we are called to both pray and act.
The other day I was discussing a certain problem that I had no idea what to do about, and then a friend asked me: “How much have you prayed for this?” My answer was: “Yes, you’re right. I hardly prayed for this.”
It’s moments like this that I realise I’m far more hypocritical than I would like to admit.
In this blog post, we’re going to explore why and how we can fully embrace both prayer and action, discovering how the two interact and are intertwined. We only walk in step with the Spirit when we fully embrace the power of prayer, and simultaneously, act when we know we should act.
Prayer & Action Interact
When we fully embrace both the call to pray and the call to act, we will discover that they actually feed each other.
1) Prayer prepares you for action
There is an interesting moment in the Gospel of Luke. When Jesus talks to the disciples about the harvest – which is the winning of souls and the expansion of the Kingdom of God – He says this:
Matthew 9:37-38 (NLT) “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”
Guess what happens the next day!?
Matthew 10:1 (NLT) Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness.
Jesus is sending His disciples out on an internship to expand the Kingdom of God, the day after He asked them to pray for more workers! Their prayer ignited their readiness for action!
Jesus was already planning to send his students out, but needed them to first be stirred by the Holy Spirit in prayer. He asked them to pray first, before signing up.
This has everything to do with having the right motivation. Jesus wanted to make sure that their motivation would not come from wanting to impress their teacher or see some cool stuff, but from a heart of compassion and a place of prayer.
Only when your action is inspired by prayer will it carry God’s power.
2) Prayer puts your action under God’s blessing
When Nehemiah faced serious threats and opposition as project manager of the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem, this is what he did:
Nehemiah 4:9 says: We prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.
In this one verse, you see the full embrace of both prayer and action. They knew that without God’s interference, they wouldn’t stand a chance. Yet, they also spur into action!
This is what that combination of prayer and action would look like for them later.
Nehemiah 4:15-18 (NLT)
When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.
Because of their call on the Most High, the plans of their enemies had been frustrated. Yet, they still put those swords on their hips and prepared for a possible attack. They knew and believed that, theoretically, God would be able to defeat this enemy with one big blow and they’d only have to stand by and watch. But they prepared for war anyway. I think this is very powerful.
So often we treat situations like this as if there are only two options. We’re either going to rely on God through prayer, or we are going to do something about it ourselves.
Just think about a big problem or challenge that you are facing right now. What is your go-to strategy? Prayer? Action?
Why would you treat this is an either-or situation!
The Jews put half of their people on the security team. In addition, they carried swords around while building – which sounds very unhandy. Yet, this is not an act of unbelief. They are not trying to tackle this problem in their own strength. Their action is combined with prayer and reliance on God. So, their prayers are also not passive and over-spiritual – they are ready to fight when God calls them to fight.
Fully relying on God does not mean you dropping everything, but submitting everything fully to Him.
Prayer and action are not alternative approaches, but two sides of the same coin. Through prayer, you put your action under God’s blessing and direction.
When prayer and action coincide
3) Sometimes the prayer is the action
When something is out of your reach to even be doing anything about it, praying for that situation is probably the best thing you can do.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey in says that we all have a circle of concern and a circle of influence.
With a re-active focus, the circle of concern expands. We focus so much on things that we cannot influence, that it starts to influence much of what we can do. This is why fear is so crippling.
With a pro-active focus, the circle of influence expands, because we focus on what we can do instead of what we cannot do.
What does this have to do with the prayer & action tension?
There are things in your circle of concern that you cannot do anything about. A friend is diagnosed with cancer. The industry you are looking to find a job seems not to be hiring anyone. Children die of hunger and a lack of basic medical care every day. The list of problems we cannot change is endless.
Prayer lies within that circle of influence, reaching far beyond where your actions can take you. Through prayer, we focus God’s attention on that friend, on that job-situation and on that worldwide problem. Even though there may physically be very little you can change about it, prayer reaches where actions can’t come.
Interceding prayer is an act of love and an act of influence. Intercession is hard work, you know. It takes time. It takes attention. It takes emotional energy. It really is a sacrifice.
1 Peter 5:6-9 (NLT)
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
Sometimes, the very best thing we can do, is to pray. Through that prayer, we acknowledge that there is nothing we, in our own strength, can change about that situation, but God can. And so, we call on Him.
4) Sometimes the action is the prayer
James, in his letter to the church of his day, talks about how faith should translate into deeds.
Below, you find this passage, but then with the word ‘faith’ replaced by the word ‘prayer’. I know that this is a major homiletical error – please forgive me. I only want to stir your thinking a little bit. Because I think, there is a big point here.
James 2:14-18 (NLT)
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you praybut don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of prayer save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “God bless you. I pray someone will give you clothes soon”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, prayer by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces action, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people pray; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your prayer if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my prayer by my good deeds.”
Sticking with prayer only, when you have an opportunity to act, is empty. It’s safe, but when it becomes an excuse not to act, then it’s empty and flat.
Any form of giving away of your time/talent/treasure is essentially prayer: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.
Serving a cup of soup to a homeless person, giving a listening ear to someone in a hard situation, donating to an emergency relief fund or any other form of giving away of your time/talent/treasure is essentially prayer. None of these actions may solve the entire problem, but all those actions are, in fact, prayers saying: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The similarities between prayer & action
5) In both prayer & action we need to find a balance
In both prayer and action, we can get lost in the battle and completely caught up in the fight. Let’s take this one topic at the time, for clarity sake.
First action. We know how important it is to find a good balance between work and rest. No matter how big the problem is that you are facing, or how high the stakes, responsibilities and opportunities, you need to stop and rest.
It’s even a biblical commandment to stop and rest at least one day a week. But even beyond the sabbath, doing more doesn’t necessarily make you more effective. As we need to work well, we also need to rest well.
Rest is a spiritual discipline. It’s a way of acknowledging that God is in control, and He cares for you. Working harder is not always the solution. Caring for your body, soul and spirit is necessary, because they are indispensable and irreplaceable.
I’d like to translate these same principles to our prayer lives. If your prayer life is solely focused on intercession, but never on abiding in God’s presence, you are setting yourself up for a spiritual burn-out. There needs to be a balance.
There is a time for standing up, or kneeling down, if you will, and pouring your heart and soul out to God for situations in your life and that of others, proclaiming God’s promises, and standing in the gap for them. There is a time to pray relentlessly until you see that breakthrough. There is a time to fast from food and perhaps of sleep and pray until something happens. Yet… there is also a time, and I’m convinced that this is daily, to relax in God’s presence and just be.
Give God an opportunity every day to tell you how much He loves you. He speaks in the silence. Make sure to tune in.
6) Through both prayer & action, we partner with the Holy Spirit
God has decided to let His Kingdom come in this world through human beings. He has done so from the beginning, in the time of Eden. Adam and Eve were supposed to spread the beauty of Eden all over this world: go and multiply.
Later, Jesus would send out His disciples out to extend the reach of the Kingdom of God with similar words: go and make all people my disciples.
Through both our praying and our actions, we partner with the Holy Spirit to usher in the Kingdom of God.
How? Well, we do that through all kinds of things!
Sometimes we do it through praying a simple prayer every time we step through the front entrance of the office or doing our best at our job and speak highly of the people around you. We do it through encouraging someone with words of hope and life, or with sacrificing a year to help out a mission organisation.
We do this through kneeling down in persistent prayer for our children who have wondered from the faith, and with taking 5 minutes every day to abide in the presence of God.
We usher in God’s Kingdom through giving sacrificially to the church, or any other Kingdom work and through sending that one simple text message to encourage somebody.
We partner with the Holy Spirit through praying a blessing over your spouse and children every day and through taking your spouse on a date.
Any big or small, prayerful or action-packed activity that is honouring to God is a way to usher in the Kingdom of God. So let your whole life be devoted to the glory of God. Partner with the Holy Spirit to see His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – through your actions and through your prayers.