Tuesday, June 02, 2009

When Prayer is Not Enough

I know, I know: the title of this post sound sacrilegious. But I'm not trying to be. I'm saying this respectfully when I say that I've recently become aware that I'm praying too much and not acting enough. ( I don't mean acting as in pretending or prancing around on the stage, either).

Here's just a little example of when praying could mean laziness or foolishness. We have our house listed for sale. There's a nice little sign out front telling the world that we're interested in selling our house. We are also Christians, so that means we are probably also praying that our house sells. Christians are supposed to "let our requests be made known to God"(Phil. 4:6). I think most Christians are pretty good about talking to God about all their problems and requests. I do that type of thing pretty well.

But what we also need to be doing, beyond praying about our house selling, is making it sell-able. I don't think God is going to do that part for us, no matter how much we request that He do. Though we did a lot of work on the interior, it's not the interior of the house that you first see when you drive by. Our driveway needs patching and a new top coating. We have more landscaping to do. One nice agent said that it has "a rather alpine feeling to it". That's a nice way of saying that we're covered in brush and trees.

We've got work to do if we want to get this house sold. That's just the plain hard truth. And that hard truth has recently been showing up in our life over and over again. Many of the things we want to progress in and change about our life have to do with the actions we will be taking, not the prayers we will be praying.

I do mean that literally. Most of the things that will physically change in our life ( our weight, our bank account, our jobs, our meals that we eat) all have to do with physical actions we take. Prayer might motivate these actions, or prayer can even sometimes spiritually hinder our actions. Well, not exactly Prayer itself- but what we think Prayer is and what Prayer does.

When I read Self-Help books, I'm always reading with an eye for what "the Christian" would say when reading statements about progress, change, behavior, action, goal setting. For many Christians, these words shock us or offend us. These words don't sound spiritual. They sound man-oriented, and we know we are supposed to be God-oriented, Faith filled, spiritually minded people. Do spiritually minded people make goals, plan ahead, make money, grow businesses? There's a debate about that. There's so much spiritualizing that goes on whenever talk turns to money, earning money, planning for business success, etc.

Want to make people squirm a bit? Try telling them that you are a committed Christian and you are a seeking to make more money. Or try telling them that you are reading the Bible and also reading 101 Ways to Grow a Multi Million Dollar Business- and that you're getting a lot out of both books. (And no,I'm not reading that book...yet- I just made it up. But something close to that title probably exists).

In this Chapter that T Hard Eker writes about playing the role of victim, he talks about Victim Clue #2: Justifying. He's a straight shooter. Listen to this:

"Rich people understand the importance of money and the place it has in society. On the other hand, poor people validate their financial ineptitude by using irrelevant comparisons. They'll argue, 'Well, money isn't as important as love.' Now is that comparison dumb or what? What's more important, your arm or your leg? Maybe they're both important."

I immediately thought of the many times I've prayed about something or heard about a friend praying about something- as though only prayer were needed. Have you ever heard a Christian say they're praying about a problem- and then months later you ask them how they're dealing with that problem, and they tell you they're still praying about it?! Maybe prayer and action are both needed here! But that's sometimes a tough thing for Christians to deal with.

She's so heavenly minded, she's no earthly good- ever hear that saying? It's a terrible indictment of any faith-professing Christian. Earth is where we need to be doing some good, 'cause Heaven doesn't need our help. Earth is where we need to be praying up a storm- and acting, in faith, because we have prayed.

Let me put another little blurb from Eker here: "Listen up, my friends: Money is extremely important in the areas in which it works, and extremely unimportant in the areas in which it doesn't work. And although love may make the world go round, it sure doesn't pay for the building of hospitals, churches, or homes. It doesn't feed anybody. Not convinced? Trying paying your bills with love."

Or in my case, try fixing my driveway with Prayer. Or try "bathing it in prayer", as we like to say. Hmmm. It still looks like a mess. The sink hole at the end of our driveway still is there. It's not as bad as the huge hole in the library's parking lot. That hole is so big they put orange cones around it and I don't even think that is warning enough, because if your car drove over that hole, you'd wind up in China- that's how bad it is!

So all this to say that Prayer is always good. Always. It's just that Prayer, by itself, is not always enough. At least, by that I mean, what we think Prayer is. We think it's talking to God about things and then God starts his heavenly fixing and arranging and orchestrating of events while we wait patiently- and maybe put a few orange cones around the problem so no one falls into it while we are waiting for our answer to prayer.

But that's a bit infantile of an understanding. Just like we can't deposit "love" into a bank account and expect to receive green bills in return, we can't just pray about things and then expect an answer to drop from the heavens.

We need to pray. And then we need to get to work. Whatever the work is, that's involved in the answer, you'll know. You'll know by the size of the problem and by the way it screams out for you to do something. Start with something simple, like seeing that the problem is there. Add some protective cones circling around it while you debate and pray and think about what to do. But don't wait too long. The hole will not fill itself.

The smelly problem does not get bathed in prayer and then miraculously stink no longer. No, the problem requires an answer. An answer usually involves action, of some kind. And maybe that's where we can start to see that not only though we prayed, but because we prayed, that we have work to do.


Joanna said...

I'd never considered this. I am now. Kind of feel appropriately kicked in the pant. The action mentality fits the "don't bury the talent of silver" but *work* for it to increase (money or skills, both meanings fit)...and Jesus sending the disciple (Peter?) to get the tax money from the fish's mouth rather than having it materialize without effort...but what about Moses striking the rock rather than speaking to it? And Abraham sleeping with Hagar for a son rather than waiting on God's timing for Sarai to conceive?...and Lot's daughters deciding to conceive from him rather than waiting for husbands? There must be a limit/boundary somewhere...a dividing line between circumstances that call for action and those that call for faith, and *patience*. Surely our human desire to rush things doesn't remain entirely in the realm of conception, despite those being the Biblical examples that came to mind?? Thoughts?? Where lies the line??

LAUREN at Faith Fuel said...

I think that's the problem- we go to extremes when it comes to prayer and/or taking action. What you're mentioning here are examples of people who went to the opposite extreme of prayerful waiting, and they took action alright!But these were obviously sinful, disobedient actions (sleeping with someone who is not your wife (adultery), Lot's daughters committing incest.

I'm just talking about failure to take action- appropriate, responsible action- because we're still in the "praying continually" stage or spiritualizing stage.I'm talking about the need we have to be more practical, wise, proactive, resourceful- instead of waiting for God to do it all for us...because we prayed.

Vlad said...

Indeed pray without deeds are like seeds in desert..

shanchere said...

Lauren, First thanks for following on my blog. You have brought up a very critical point about prayer. The Bible says, "Faith without works is dead". It also declares, we are to "pray without ceasing". So then, how do we pray without ceasing and still get the work done? I believe it all boils down to walking in the Spirit. We put feet to our prayers, as we walk in Him. We look around and whatsoever "our hands find to do, we do it with all of our might." Since God is with us always, we do not have to fear that we will make a wrong step; for if we do, He knows how to get us back on the right path.

Joanna brings up some interesting questions about where to draw the line between waiting upon the Lord and moving in faith. Abraham is a great example. When God told him to go to a country he knew not, Abraham by faith and obedience started walking his faith out. In other words, he was walking in the Spirit. But when God promised him a son, he started walking in the flesh, because he used his common sense. When God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac, he walked by faith again.

Waiting upon the Lord is not a passive thing. It is doing what we know to do and leaving what we don’t or can’t do for the Lord to work out. It actively believes that God is at work even when we can’t figure it all out. Sorry to be so lengthy.

sarah said...

right on. there is a definite balance between praying and doing. For me though, I have to lean more often on trusting as I do toooo much. Sarah

Van said...

I think you have made some really good points here. God wants us to use our faith to keep and dress the blessing he has given us. In you example of selling your house, God wants you to put your house in pristine order; that's just being a good steward of what He has given you. Then stand on his word and in faith that "God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory." I have done it myself, as I am sure we all have, gotten lazy and just want to sit on the sofa and pray and claim God's promises with out doing anything. That's not what God wants from us, He wants us to be shining examples to the world...not lazy sloths.

Thanks again for your post. It's a great encouragement!

Van Martin

LAUREN at Faith Fuel said...

Well said, Van! No Lazy Sloths in His kingdom! :)

TheEaglestar1 said...

Good article.I have to be honest I personally am fed up doing everything for other people and when I need help they,"pray for me".When I see they need help I go out of my way and sacrifice my time and money to help them.The frustrating thing is they often do not realise that their prayers are not enough.Well meaning but naive people.
I note that the Good Samaritan didn't just walk past the hurt man and pray for him.