Prayer is such a comforting thing to offer, but I wonder if offering it to those struggling might be sometimes counterproductive. I heard a Rabbi who was starting a Jewish ministry recall his first encounter with the host of a Christian ministry and TV show.
He said something like ‘Pat, when I told you I was struggling, that things were off to a shaky start, and you told me you’d pray for me, I thought, ‘Oh great, another Christian praying for my ministry’. The Rabbi went on to say that he was surprised and touched by Pat’s follow up phone calls, offers of help and a donation check that arrived in the mail.
I had a similar experience when I was at our local farmers’ market and two of the farmers were relaying to a few of us what a bad couple of years it had been for the crops. Being rather new in my faith, with lots of enthusiasm, but not a lot of wisdom, I told them I would pray for them, their crops and their livelihood. The skepticism was evident in the small smile and shrug of the blueberry lady in response to my offer of prayer. I could see in her eyes that it meant almost nothing to her. In light of these incidents I realized that prayer
alone doesn’t always do for the person everything God intended for us to do.
After all, we are His hands and feet! God put that person in our path for a reason. Prayer’s great, but back it up with some help, some agape love, expressed through service or action. DO Something!
I would almost go so far as to say don’t tell someone, outside the faith, you’re going to be praying for them if you don’t plan on doing something to support that prayer and to show that person what Christian love is all about.
Sure, go ahead and pray, but maybe do it quietly. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others… Mt. 6:5 We come across as insincere or fake, or all talk and no action when we constantly run around telling non-Christians that “I will pray for you.” And then we disappear from their life, patting ourselves on the back, thinking we’ve done such a good deed.
This actually does a disservice to the perception of Christianity in the secular world, I believe. We are viewed as pitiable creatures who woefully plead with an invisible God whenever something goes wrong, and that we are helpless to do anything, and vulnerable in the face of catastrophe.
Putting Prayer Into Action
But we can mobilize. Your prayers for someone battling sickness or disease may be comforting, but it doesn’t have to stop there. You can add to the prayers an offer of driving their kids to soccer practice for the next month. Or you could make them a meal, take up a collection and pay for a house cleaning service, or get a gift card to a restaurant or even just send them an uplifting card, or check in with them regularly.
Even these small gestures mean so much when added to offers of prayer. They are practical, tangible offers of God’s love and in so doing them, we show those outside Christianity what it means to be a Christian. It’s not just all talk and prayer. It’s backing up the words with action, it’s letting God’s love be expressed through us in practical and helpful ways that really do make a difference. You may have heard the phrase ‘faith without works is dead’. In the bible, James writes: 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? Jas 2:15-16
What good, indeed?
So, back to my initial question : Should we stop praying so much?
Of course not. Prayer is the backbone of our relationship with God. Perhaps, though, we should stop talking about praying so much and just do it. And throw in a helpful, practical act of kindness for good measure.
For some great suggestions go to http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/hottopics/faithvalues/20-great-ways-to-put-your-faith-in-action.html