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What is the proper relationship between praying and doing? That is, after praying is the petitioner required to do anything about what she is praying for? If a person prays for employment, does he have to look for work? When you pray to play the piano well, do you still have to practice? Praying that someone will be warmed and filled is not enough (James 2:16). We can apply the faith without works admonition to prayer and works. One without the other is dead.
The apostle Paul urges “that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1–2; cf. Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13–15). Praying for all men does not absolve us of the responsibility of acting on these prayers when an opportunity presents itself. If this is true concerning “all men,” then it’s certainly true when it comes rulers “and all who are in authority.” This mean, given the opportunity and the freedom, that praying for civil officials is not all that’s required of us. If there is something that we can do to stop policies that damage the life of widows and children and the poor (indiscriminate aid), oppress the population by taxation, and debase the currency which affects everyone’s purchasing power (theft by fiat money), then we have a duty to pray and act before God does in judgment. Consider the following:
How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
Your drink diluted with water.
Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow's plea come before them.
Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts,
The Mighty One of Israel, declares,
“Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries
And avenge Myself on My foes.
I will also turn My hand against you,
And will smelt away your dross as with lye
And will remove all your alloy.
Then I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the beginning;
After that you will be called the city of righteousness,
A faithful city” (Isa. 1:21–26).
These are important issues when we consider the state of our nation and the world. We’ve had another National Day of Prayer. I don’t want to minimize their effectiveness. God does hear and answer prayer. God can and does act without us. Sometimes prayer is all we can do. But can prayer become a substitute for action? Is prayer often looked at as a way to get God to do something that He has already instructed us to do? The Bible tells us that the person who does not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). Is this person in the right to pray for food and expect action on God’s part if he won’t lift a finger to work?
To stop abortion and homosexual marriage, is prayer all we’re called on to do when the State is protecting abortionists by making abortion legal and redefining marriage through the legislative and the judicial branches of government? It seems to me that education and some type of political actualization are needed in addition to asking God for power, influence, wisdom and direction.
These and other thoughts were brought home to me after reading an article about comments made by evangelist Luis Palau. Palau addressed a live Web audience during Evangelism Prayer Day. He told the audience that it is the responsibility of Christians to pray for, rather than complain about, their nation, especially during times of trouble. “It seems to me,” Palau said, “that the Lord is telling us here ‘if your nation is in trouble, how about looking inward, stop insulting the king, stop insulting the president. Stop saying, “I can’t stand him.”’”
There is some truth in what Palau says. Christians are complaining about what’s going on in our nation when some of their actions have contributed to the state of the nation (dependency on government programs) or their inaction (refusing to participate in the political process) has resulted in the growth and power of the State. But I don’t think that this is what Palau has in mind. His prescription, as far as I can tell, is to let elected officials do their job as governors with no input from Christians for change. Pray for them, and then let God act.
But what if those in power are violating their oath of office? Would it be wrong for Christians to point this out to the oath-violaters, oppose their misdeeds, and work to remove them from political office in the next election? Do such constitutional actions mean that we are insulting “the king”? The president is not a king. He is an elected official who took and oath before God and those who elected him to uphold the Constitution. It is not wrong to oppose him or any elected official who violates his or her oath of office. The First Amendment declares that the people have “the right . . . peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” That right can be expressed, as the First Amendment also states, in terms of religion, speech, and press. We can appeal to certain religious convictions about the limitations of civil government and write and speak about them.
Neither the advance of the gospel nor the advance of Christian civilization came about only by praying about it. Christians worked hard to change laws, to be involved, to call civil and church officials to account. We are losing these freedoms because the church has not been preaching a comprehensive worldview. Many pastors are content to pray about it.
Joshua expected a victory against Ai. Israel won its first encounter against Jericho without a casualty. Why should the battle with Ai be any different? The spies thought Ai was weak enough that only “two or three thousand men need go up” (Joshua 7:3). Thirty-six Israelites were killed, and the rest were pursued and assaulted by the men of Ai with the result that “the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (7:5). Bible-believing Christians are disheartened with the way things are going in Washington and what may be coming down the political and social pike.
You know what the Israelites were thinking. “Maybe we should not have ventured to participate in this social thing. We were at least safe when we were ghettoized beyond the Jordan.” There was even fear that things would get a lot worse once the “Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land” heard about the defeat (7:9). Joshua, voicing these concerns to God, did what today’s political remorseful are recommending: Pray about it. “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell on the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening, both he and the elders of Israel” (7:7). In a word, he prayed . . . hard. What did God tell him to do? “So the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them’” (7:11). In effect, God told Joshua to stop praying at that point in time and act on the evil that brought them the defeat!
Prayer is not a magical formula, an incantation that brings forth God like a Genie from a bottle. Prayer is an admission of weakness. It is in weakness that God can best use us (2 Cor. 12:10). But true faith and trust are not exercised if we do not act on the belief that God will work for us even in our weakness. Prayer is not the end but the beginning of the work God has called us to do. J. I. Packer says it this way:
The Spirit does what he does. His supernaturalizing of our lives enables Christians, as a matter of fact, to do much for the Lord that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. That’s the whole doctrine of gifts and ministry. It’s my part to see what God calls me to do, to ask the Lord to enable me to do it, then to get up off my knees and go confidently into action, watching to see what help I shall be given, and finally to give thanks for what the Spirit did in and through me.
There is sin in the Christian camp. Entire denominations support abortion and homosexuality. Those who claim to be Bible-believing Christians maintain that abortion (I have a letter to prove it) should be a protected right and homosexuals should have special rights protecting behavior that the Bible calls an “abomination.” The sins of Achan—“the mantle of Shinar” (humanism) and “silver and gold” (mammon)—are the sins of the church.
Prayer is a good and necessary practice. But after we fall on our face, let’s be careful not to cover our ears. We might just hear God’s voice say, “Get up and do something!” Become a son of Issachar: “Men who understood the times with knowledge of what Israel should do’” (1 Chron. 12:32). This means being informed and a doer—“what Israel should DO!”