Are Thoughts and Prayers Enough for a Troubled World?

It is an understatement to say that we live in difficult times today. This past Monday morning I plopped down at my desk and flipped open my laptop to these news headlines:

Being Deported From Home for the Holidays
House and Senate Are ‘Among the Worst’ for Harassment, Representative Says
FBI Says Background Checks For Black Friday Gun Purchases Hit Record High
ISIS Raises Stakes with Egypt Mosque Attack

An activist by nature, my first reaction is to do something. Do something about all the sorrow. Get to work being part of the solution.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, my similarly wired youngest son David posted on social media, “I have a truck and two kayaks. Who’s with me?” It’s in his DNA. For years, I have smugly shouted to the world of pious pray-ers the old African proverb, “When you pray, move your feet.” My Twitter feed is mostly a call to get up off your knees and get moving.

However, as I look around the world and see things worsening, I wonder if my missional co-conspirators and I have swung too far when we choose action over prayer. What if both are needed to respond faithfully as the Church to the troubles of this world? Have my missional co-conspirators & I have swung too far when we choose action over prayer? Click To Tweet

Lessons from a One Year Old

My one-year-old granddaughter Jane has two ways of doing life. As I watch Jane’s little girl decision-making process, it has helped me reexamine the “pray versus move your feet” discussion, and more importantly, it has caused me to look into the Bible to see if perhaps both are needed.

Like most toddlers, Jane does the same thing over and over again, so I have the privilege of observing her thought process—repeatedly. For example, over the weekend, when Jane walked out the backdoor of our house and started to step off the porch, she did one of two things:

  • Option 1: Jane, without looking around, held one arm straight up and proceeded to step off the stair, confident that the adult up-there-somewhere would grab hold and ease her down to safety.
  • Option 2: Jane laid down, turned around, and crawled on her belly backwards down the step.

As I sat at my desk later that week looking at the headlines, I prayed—or maybe just sighed, “What should we as your Church do, God?”

Is it more akin to Jane’s hand up Option 1? Trust solely in God and simply declare like King David, “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Or do we resolve to work harder ourselves—Jane’s Option two: get down, dig deeper into action, tweet more, and soldier on. James, the brother of Jesus, would applaud Jane’s activism. He writes, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Do we rely on God or do we get to work and do it ourselves?

The Temptation of Missional Activism

In the Missio Alliance community, I wonder: do we lean more towards action? I have to admit, after the first Missio Alliance gathering I attended, the activist in me kept saying, “I have found my people! I have found my people!”

It is challenging not to fall into the “either-or” trap: either passionate activity for God or seemingly passive prayer. In my work in the Church, I have noticed people tend toward one group or the other, and they seem to stick together. The contemplatives are holding a prayer meeting on Sunday morning while my fellow activists and I are stocking the food pantry shelves.

What is interesting to me is that as I reflected on the faces in these two groups, I could think of only a few people who attended both efforts.

Yet we need both to live faithfully as God’s people.

Prayer is surrender to a loving and powerful God. From prayer, we are sent out into action and good deeds, reminded that He is leading the way and going before us.

And as we encounter the heartache and suffering of the world we serve, we are driven back once again to prayer.

As I begin to reexamine my seemingly ineffective actions and my measly efforts to pray, I realize that all these years I have bypassed the first three words of my favorite proverb and gone straight to the last three. “When you pray, move your feet.” I had never considered that the first words, “When you pray,” assume that we pray. In fact, one could argue the proverb implies prayer is first, then action follows. Jesus words “when you pray” assume that we pray. Click To Tweet

Prayer Is Our First Action

Oswald Chambers wrote, “Prayer is an effort of will.” Prayer is action.

A look at Jesus’ teachings shows that he used the phrase “when you pray” repeatedly. It was as if Jesus thought of prayer as an assumed action, like saying, ‘When you eat breakfast,” or “when you go to sleep.” Prayer is a given.

Today’s scary headlines call for both action and prayer from every one of us.

You and I are given daily, if not hourly, opportunities to help in our troublesome world. It is going to require prayer and action. After all, the old hymn is not titled: Trust or Obey. In fact, the composer boldly claimed, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way.”

The author of Isaiah used a similar duo for action and prayer; he deemed it “walking and waiting.” The prophet writes:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you.

Isaiah 26:8

Waiting and Walking in the Season of Advent

As we enter into this season of Advent, I am struck with how this season shapes us into a people of prayer and action. We wait. But we wait for the One who entered (and will enter) our world to make all things new. Let us surrender to this rhythm of waiting and walking, of praying and acting, as we strive to be faithful to our coming Savior.

For Further Study

(Try meditating on the verses that you are not naturally drawn to)

When you pray: Job 12: 9-10; Psalm 63:8, 89:13-15, and 136:12-13.

Move your feet: John 13:17; James 1:22- 25, 2:18, and 4:17

Scriptures that bring together prayer and action: Psalm 4:5 and 37:3; the prophet Nehemiah is the classic Biblical example. Read all of Nehemiah 4 but especially meditate on verses 9,14, 20 and 21.