A “funny” de-motivational type post I found on the internet: “Prayer: How to do nothing and feel like you’re helping.” Statements like that make me sad, because they expose a fundamental misunderstanding, and also because they contain a grain of truth.
I know that when faced with the problems of friends or family members we have all said, “I’ll pray for you,” and then promptly forgot. I know that praying for someone does not directly fill their empty stomach or physically relieve them of their burdens. But prayer is NOT “nothing.”
1. Prayer Changes ME: When I pray for others, it raises my awareness of the needs around me. It also changes my attitude. This is why we are to pray for our enemies. Prayer softens my heart and protects me from becoming bitter. But praying for our enemies is HARD! I know I’m supposed to, but we’re enemies for a reason, so I’m always tempted to pray little prayers. “God, I’m praying for my enemy because you told me to. So, um, don’t let them get hit by a bus. A car though, no, that’s still too much. A bicycle, maybe, they deserve that much…” I’m pretty sure that’s not what God had in mind. It’s like asking your child to go get your spouse and instead of getting up and doing what you asked, they just start yelling. I can yell, child, I wanted you to get up and go get him so this house can remain quiet and pleasant. We are called to pray for our enemies, to pray instead of worrying, to pray because it corrects our mindset to be more Godly. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Prayer replaces worry with peace. Prayer replaces bitterness with understanding.
2. Prayer is a Tool that God uses to Reveal Himself to us: Growing up in the church, I heard countless stories of people waking in the middle of the night or being struck in the middle of the day with a sudden urge to pray for a particular individual, only to find out later that the individual they were praying for had endured danger or trials at that exact time. Why does the all-powerful, all-knowing God need me to pray? If he woke me up, clearly he’s already aware of the situation, right? I don’t think that God NEEDS our prayers in order to act on behalf of our loved ones. But he longs to communicate with us. And if He prompts us to communicate with Him and we find out later that there was a real need or an answer to our prayers, our faith is bolstered and we are drawn closer to the God who loves us and wants to communicate with us.
3. Prayer is an investment of time: Not everyone has the financial means or physical ability to serve as a missionary or to feed the hungry. Are nursing home-bound seniors on a fixed income worthless to God? Of course not! Prayer creates solidarity and a feeling of being fully vested in ministry. It is an investment with great value! Prayer does not excuse the capable from physically and financially serving those in need, but it allows us to be mindful and supportive of the efforts of others. Matthew 9:38 commands us, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” If you’re aware of a need in this world that you can’t meet yourself, you are commanded to pray and ask God to provide workers who can.
Prayer does not replace helping others, it supplements it. Jesus went off into the wilderness to pray in preparation for his ministry, and he prayed throughout his time on Earth. But he also healed the sick and fed the five thousand. He had regular, intentional times of communicating with his Father and, fueled by that, he then got up and served, loved, and gave of himself. We are commanded to do the same.
James 2:14-18: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
I love stories of answered prayers. Share yours in the comments!
Bonus: Inspirational Printable on Prayer