More than thirty-five years of being a pastor has shown me many things about people and about God. I love people and I love God. I tell people I will pray for them and people tell me they pray for me. God’s people pray a lot and that is a good thing as we see in Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:17). You can talk with God when you walk, drive, sit, or even lie down, but there should also always be the times when we are on our knees before Him reflecting the respect, awe, and humility we should feel in His presence.
Prayer by itself can be lacking something
I have had a concern for years that I’d like to share with you. When I counsel people for marriage, they almost always tell me, “we have prayed about this union” (or words to that effect). Sick people would say, “I have left my healing in God’s hands.” I’ve had people who need a job say, “God will provide me with a job, because I have prayed about it.” There are those who pray for guidance in choosing a career or a home to buy. I have been asked to say a prayer to help students to remember lessons learned before an important exam. I am very happy to hear people say they are praying.
What then is my concern? Did you detect it in the examples? My concern is that far too often those faithful people stop doing anything on their own. It is as though once you’ve prayed – that’s it! Personal thought and personal effort stops. Marriage counseling is meaningless if the decision has already been reached. Encouragement to see a doctor seems like blasphemy to one who has “left it in God’s hands.” Making a determined effort to improve one’s training and really going after a job loses significance. Maybe we’ve all heard of the person who just sat by the phone and God caused an unknown employer to call and offer an incredible job to someone he’s never met and whose credentials do not matter.
My concern is that for some, praying about a problem that would take great effort to solve seems to remove the need for that effort. A man once said we ought to pray as though everything we do depends on God, and we ought to work as though everything we do depends on us. I have found that to be very good advice.
James 2:17, 20 and 26 carry God’s message to us that faith without works is dead. Why should we shy away from taking action? Why should we not plan, learn, and apply knowledge and wisdom in all we do? Some feel works of any kind signify a lack of faith. We are to walk hand-in-hand with God, but He expects us to learn to evaluate situations, seek wisdom, get information and make good choices.
Examples of prayer with action
One personal example is that some feel that carrying some types of protection into the forest shows a lack of faith. I often take young people and children into the mountains for days at a time. We carry our food and cook in the campgrounds. In Canada, there are plenty of animals in the wild. We have powerful grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, and wolves throughout the areas in which I travel. I take my shotgun along “just in case.” I have never had cause to use it and, with the noise we usually make, there has never even been so much as a dangerous animal sighted within a half mile of us. The shotgun is only a precaution.
God does not condemn a person who takes precautions. If that were the case, why did God bless David the shepherd boy so powerfully when he decided to take his best weapon (a sling) and chose five stones before he went into the danger zone when facing Goliath? Obviously, God was not displeased. He saw a capable and courageous David doing the best he could and all the while trusting God to be right there with him.
I have always believed that God is far too intelligent to bless stupidity. He does sometimes rescue us from our errors and ignorance, and He may even have mercy on the foolish of this world, but if He consistently blessed stupidity, we would be learning incorrectly.
God blesses good and right choices. Moses wrote about this in the covenant with Israel, and in Deuteronomy 27-30, he outlines some of the curses or blessings that come from the choices we make. God does not make the choice for us, but He encourages us to learn, think, seek information, gain wisdom, and thenmake the right choices. He tells Israel to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19) and through the Bible, He tells us to do the same (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Examples of poor choices
There are some truly tragic stories in the Bible of people who made wrong choices. The results were often disastrous. A beloved king who was a godly man was curious about the army of Egypt that was passing by. Though he was warned not to approach, he decided to dress as a common soldier and go to look for himself. It cost him his life (2 Chronicles 35:20-24). All of Israel suffered from his bad choice.
Abraham and Sarah chose to have a child by a surrogate mother (Hagar) and the result is still echoing in the world today with conflicts in the Middle East. Israel often chose to make its own unwise decisions about life and there, too, we can read and see the results.
On the other hand, there are also wonderful stories of people who made good choices and were blessed for that. Joshua stated that he and his family had chosen God over idolatry (Joshua 24:15). He also told the rest of the Israelites to choose whom they would serve. The very fact that Joshua told them to choose shows us that not all–if any–of the people of Israel really sincerely made the choices that God advised. In Joshua 24:22, we can read that Israel verbally stated that they would obey God. Words do not carry much weight; it is the deeds that follow those words that show God what is in the heart.
Powerful and effective prayer is possible
Our Almighty Creator loves to bless and give good things to those who worship Him. Worship is profound adoration, admiration, and affection that is reflected in deeds and words. God is worthy of the utmost worship we humans can manage, and that is why our acts and deeds do show our faith.
James wrote that all our prayers are not answered because sometimes we “ask amiss” (James 4:3). When our prayers carry the focus of me, me, me, then we have a problem in communication with God. We are at fault because we are asking for ourselves. People generally do just exactly what they want to do. God is expected to conform to the image they have in their minds about Him. But true conversion displays the opposite attitude.
A converted person does not ask for himself and then bargain with God to answer the prayer. A converted person recognizes God’s majesty and in all humility seeks God’s will. His prayers reflect faith and his actions show his faith by good choices.
And so I hope people continue to pray a lot, but also to pray correctly. Incessant prayer that is done improperly will produce nothing. One prayer given earnestly and humbly carries more weight than countless prayers that are in error. Have you “prayed about it?” If you have done so and then acted in a manner that pleases God, you will have your answer.
To learn more about true conversion, which leads to a powerful prayer life, please request our free booklets: Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.