FAQ: What is the balance that prayer plays in our life? It seems to me that Christians feel as if prayer is a magical answer to all their problems and they never need to do anything to help themselves.
First, let me state that I believe prayer is one of the most underused and underestimated tools that we, as Christians, have to wage war in the heavenlies. Prayer is unlike speaking in tongues or prophecy because most of the time we do not see God’s power manifest itself immediately and in our “I want it yesterday” society it is very difficult for us to wait on anything. Many of us, including myself, struggle with this because not seeing immediate effects often discourages us.
That being said, I want to address what the Bible says about prayer. Ephesians 6:12 says that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This tells us that in order to combat a spiritual darkness, we will need to use a spiritual weapon. We cannot always rely on doing what appears to be practical or logical because there may be a spiritual force working behind the scenes that we cannot see. Because of this, if we choose to respond in a way that seems reasonable, without first seeking the Lord’s will in prayer, then we may have unforeseen results and consequences in our lives.
The Bible gives us very specific directions on when to pray and why. Ephesians 6:18a says to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” We can see that prayer should almost always precede action because we should always be in prayer on every matter. You can quickly see that if we were to follow this intense pattern of prayer in our own lives our prayer would be a constant source of guidance for the actions we take.
This theme of praying before acting is apparent in Acts as we look at the first century church. In Acts 1:20-26 the church must decide who will replace Judas. This is done by prayer and casting of lots. They sought the Lord in prayer for the appropriate action to take. Again in Acts 13:3 before sending Paul & Barnabas off they prayed over them. And Paul, in Acts 28:7-8, prays before attempting to heal a sick man. Acts 1:14a says the church “joined together constantly in prayer.” It is clear that the early church knew the importance of not only praying before making major decisions, but also in praying constantly.
We also see examples in Scripture where there is no action proceeding prayer because prayer is all that is required. Many times events will be out of our control and all we can do is pray in order to open up doors for God to work.
When Paul and Silas are in prison (Acts 16:25-26) there is nothing they can physically do to change their situation. They are locked in a prison cell, bloodied and beaten, and although it was not God’s will for them to be in prison, there was certainly no way they could leave on their own. However, when Paul and Silas prayed, God was able to move, bringing a mighty earthquake that shook the very foundation of the prison, loosing both the chains and the doors.
Daniel shows us a very powerful example of prayer and the importance of praying so that God can move. In Daniel chapter 10, Daniel says that he went into mourning for three weeks so that he could receive a vision from God. For three weeks he neither ate nor drank but spent his time praying for God to give him direction.
When an angel finally appeared to him, one of the first things he said was, “Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” This should greatly encourage us. Even though from Daniel’s perspective it had taken three weeks to receive a word from God, the reality was that God heard immediately and responded. The reason for the angel’s delay was a spiritual one, and hence one Daniel could not see. It is for this very reason that we should not be discouraged when we do not immediately see or hear a response to our prayers because God hears them and will respond if we are persistent just as Daniel was.
Jesus also talks about the importance of persistence when we talk to God. In Luke 18:1-5, he tells a parable about a widow who seeks justice from a judge. When he does not grant it, she continues to come back to him until finally he gives in to her. Now, this is not to say that we must somehow “break” God’s will in order to receive what we want. But Jesus was showing the importance of continually laying our needs at God’s feet. It is very easy to pray for something once and then just hope that God will do something. It is another thing altogether to have the perseverance to pray about it daily until you receive an answer.
So if it is clear that we are not to act rashly but give all things up to God in prayer, then I assert that prayer is the foundation for a consistent spiritual walk with God. Prayer is simply talking to God, and consistent communication is at the core of every healthy relationship. If we do not talk to our loved ones and our friends, then over time, our relationship with them will begin to suffer. We will become more distant with them and they will slowly become less and less a part of our life.
By the same token, the less we pray to God the more our relationship with Him will suffer. We will become more distant from Him and our intimacy with Him will suffer as well. However, there is hope in all of this.
The hope is in making a point to talk to God daily and to begin to develop patterns and habits in our daily life in which talking to God becomes second nature for us. The more we develop our communication with God the more we will see Him work in our lives because He will be active and present at all times. We will begin to see more prayers being answered because we will be more in touch with what God is doing. So if we are not seeing this in our own lives we might ask ourselves, “How often am I going to God and asking?”
The last idea I want to look at is that prayer stands on its own. It does not need us to do anything and God can move quite well when you simply pray and give Him an open door. James 5:16b says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” We cannot overlook the simplicity of this verse. Neither can we add to it. If Scripture tells us that prayer is powerful and effective then we must believe it. We must stop relying on our own strengths to accomplish things for God and start trusting that God truly can do all things. But, Scripture balances this idea and we must too.
The biggest need for balance is in doing what we know is right rather than simply devoting it to prayer. Some Christians believe that they have no obligation to do anything other than pray. In fact, you can often hear them give an almost robotic response when people approach them with a problem or when they have a problem in their own life. “I’ll be sure to pray about it.” They say this as if it is somehow the only answer, and their only obligation. Matthew 7:9 says, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” If someone is in need and all you do is offer to pray, when you can in fact give, then you are in effect offering them a stone. The first century church knew this and put it into practice very effectively.
Acts 4:32 says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” They were so good at doing this that verse 34 says, “there were no needy persons among them.”
So, we must balance prayer before action with what we know to be right. It is right to help the poor so we should do so when we can and without hesitation. It is right to love our neighbor so we do not need to pray before making a decision to love them because God already tells us we should. So, the next time we face a decision we should ask ourselves, “Has God already given me the answer in His Word?” If not, we should seek out His will in prayer and He will be faithful to respond. We do not always need to think that some action is required on our part in order for our prayers to be effective.