When Prayer Is An Excuse For Inaction

A few years after my husband and I moved to the state where we currently live, his job situation became untenable.  He couldn’t leave the position in good conscience until he found a new job, but jobs in our area – especially in his field and at his skill level – were scarce.

Enter a man I’ll call Charles.  Charles was a member of a congregation that my husband and I actually didn’t attend; we’d simply visited for a number of Sundays when we were initially church-hunting in the area.  But we came to know Charles and to make small talk with him each Sunday about our lives, our testimonies, our hopes and dreams.  And even after we stopped attending the church, Charles – who shared a two-block walk to work with my husband, where they then parted ways for their differing offices – would always ask how we were doing.

When Charles got wind of the chaos at my husband’s company, he asked about it.  My husband admitted the rumors were true, and that he was looking for a new job.  And then Charles – a Christian with whom we had literally shared maybe fourteen small-talk conversations – said, “There’s a position at my company I think you’d be great at.  It’s a little above your experience level and a little different from what you do now, but I’ll put in a good word for you and I’ll make sure the right eyes get on your resume if you apply.”

My husband applied.  He got an interview, and then the job – one he has to this day, and one which has blessed our family immeasurably.  We wrote an overwhelmed thank-you to Charles.

I think about that a lot to this day.  I think about what an amazing act it was for Charles, a man who knew us only as “other Christians” – not even as close friends – to stick his neck out and to help facilitate an opportunity.  I think about how easy it would have been for him to say, “Man, that’s awful, I’ll pray about it,” without ever actually doing anything at all.

And then I think about how often I view prayer as “good enough” at times when I have the resources to help others, and I cringe.

Don’t get me wrong.  Prayer is always good.  It is always the first best option.  In fact, I get discouraged when people – and I have a bad habit of this – offer to pray and say “it’s the least I can do,” when in actuality prayer matters more than anything else.

But I also think it’s easy to use “I’ll pray” as a cover.  As an excuse.  As a rationale that we are doing something without actually doing anything.  If we’re not careful, we can cloak our inaction with holiness, and throw a spiritual veil over our unwillingness to actually reach out in love.

We say we’ll pray for the success of the book…but we don’t buy it, even though we can afford it.

We say we’ll pray for a person to find a job…but we don’t pass on information about a new job opening.

We say we’ll pray for someone to find the right doctor…but we don’t make the call to get them an appointment with the physician we trust, even when we know we could.

We say we’ll pray for their growth in Christ…but we don’t invite them to our Bible study.

We say we’ll pray for their salvation…but we don’t stop on the way to work to help them jumpstart their car on a rainy day.

God was clear that Christians are meant not just to pray but to take action.  In Matthew 5:24 Jesus instructs believers to interrupt themselves mid-offering if they need to be reconciled to someone; they are to leave the offering, reconcile themselves, and then offer the gift.  And it is in James that the Bible offers the clearest condemnation of spiritual laziness masquerading as faith:

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. (2:15-17).

Pray, yes.  Pray first.  Pray always.  Prayer matters.  But be aware that you may very well be the answer to the prayer that you’re praying.  While you’re asking God to send assistance, the Lord of the Universe might very well be looking at you, waiting for you to respond.

What strikes me so much about Charles is that he had no obligation to reach out to my husband.  He could have gotten away with a “man, that’s a shame,” and an offer to pray, and we’d have thought none the less of him for it.  Instead, he saw that he had an opportunity to help fellow believers, and the actions he took changed our lives in an amazing and blessed way.

Pray always.  Without ceasing, even.  But as you pray, ask yourself also: is there anything I can do to answer this prayer?  If there is, then I assure you God wants to answer through you.  Do what you can.  Do what you must.

Don’t let prayer become the rationale for your lack of effort.

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