“Stop praying and DO something!”
“I’m sick of thoughts and prayers…it’s time for action.”
“Prayer doesn’t work!”
What happens when your prayers don’t seem to make any difference? People around you complain that you are passive, even apathetic about critical needs. “People are dying!” “People are suffering, and you want to stop and pray?!”
YES! Buy why do I continue to advocate for prayer in the face of overwhelming injustice and evil? Shouldn’t I be talking about action? Shouldn’t I be posting plans to end injustice or poverty or war? Shouldn’t I be willing to say that sometimes, prayer just isn’t enough?
Well, firstly, I believe that Prayer is far more powerful than most people know. Prayer IS enough, because GOD IS ENOUGH! I can’t stop gun violence, or human trafficking, or an epidemic. I can’t– not with all the resources in the world; not with all the action I can muster; not with any effort or plan or army of willing human helpers. And neither can anyone else. I can march in protest, I can write and call and badger legislators to change laws or enforce the laws we already have. Such actions might make me feel better– they might even have some immediate effect. But they won’t “fix” the continuing and underlying problem of Sin. Only God can do that, and He WILL do it. He may choose to work through human agency to right some wrongs or change the immediate future, but our world is broken, and God’s ultimate plan is bigger than just a convenient patch for Sin’s consequences.
However, I will concede that sometimes prayer, by itself, is not nearly “enough.” Prayer must be paired with Faith. I know many people who say that prayer “doesn’t work,” not because they didn’t pray, or weren’t sincere in their desire or their wish for God to act on their behalf, but because they believe in their desire– their wish or their plan– more than they believe in God’s goodness or His ability to bring good out of whatever struggle we are facing.
This is not a simple concept– that God is eternally good even in the midst of evil and horror– it can be painful beyond words. God may choose to allow the sin of drunk driving to take the life of an innocent person in our family, or leave us permanently paralyzed. Or He may allow war to strip us of all that we own– our home and our freedom. How can we possibly view such circumstances as “good?” Why does God allow for violence and injustice? Why does He allow it to continue– seemingly unabated and unchecked? How can God call Himself “Good” while letting evil touch our lives and the lives of millions innocent people? Praying — and continuing to pray– in such circumstances seems like a mockery of our pain and grief. It seems like God is deaf to our cries– indifferent, or even watching smugly from a distance. Why pray to such a God?
But IS this what God is really like? And why do we believe the worst about Him, rather than trust that His wisdom and Love are actually greater than what we can comprehend or experience in the present? Why do we blame God for the evil we see in others? Why do we ignore our own actions or inaction that often contribute to our situation? Why do we believe that God “owes” us a life without sorrow and pain– even as we see others suffering the consequences of sin– sometimes because of our failures? Why do we insist that God always act in accordance with OUR desires, when we often will not act in accordance with His? Why do we “test” God with prayers in our times of trouble, when we will not trouble Him with our prayers in times of peace and plenty? If anyone should have led a life without sorrow or pain, it should have been Jesus. Jesus prayed all the time– He even taught others how to pray (Matthew 6:9-15). He was completely obedient to His Father. Yet God’s own Son faced heartbreak, betrayal, and a painful, unjust death on the Cross. He wept over the death of a close friend– a death He Himself could have prevented (and later reversed)! (John 11) He was in such deep distress in the Garden of Gethsemane that He sweat blood! (Luke 22:44) God’s plan is not for us to live a life free of trouble, but a life of victory OVER despair and doubt!
Seeking “more” than prayer is often seeking “more” than God–as if we can do better on our own. As though we can out-love, out-give, out-do, and over-power the God of creation;the God of the Cross, and the God of the Resurrection and the Life. Deriding prayer is deriding the God to whom we pray– we minimize His power and His compassion while inflating our own. If God doesn’t exist, one might argue that it doesn’t matter– but then, why waste time deriding what doesn’t exist?! Prayer matters because God DOES exist, and because God matters Trusting God means being willing to wait and accept His will; even if we don’t get the answer we want. God’s ways are not our ways, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior or ineffective. God will not “undo” our circumstances, but He will help us through our circumstances. He won’t take away our grief. But He will shape it into something with purpose– if we let Him.
Finally, there are times when prayer must be paired with action. It IS enough to pray for God to act. But when God prompts US to act, and we do not, our prayers are empty words. Faith may lead us to wait, but it won’t lead us to sit idly by when we have the opportunity to help. Faith may lead me to keep taking the next step– even when I can’t see the way forward. Faith may lead me to let go of a dream I thought would be “enough.” It may lead me into the valley of the shadow of death– in my own life, or on behalf of someone else. I can’t take away someone’s grief at the loss of a child– but I can share in it. I can listen and offer friendship, rather than a quick platitude and a few empty words. I can continue to be there when others fade away. I can’t undo the horrors of war– but I can help care for refugees, and I can work to build peace in my neighborhood, even as I pray. I can take the next step in making someone else’s burden just a little lighter, and making the world a little brighter wherever God gives me the chance. And prayer is one way I can focus on the source of strength, wisdom, and compassion to allow me to do my part better.
The next time you hear someone saying that prayer is “not enough,” remember that no human effort will ever be “enough” to do what only God can do! But prayer taps into the power and grace that is “sufficient” for all our greatest needs.