Prayer and Action

“‘Now go! When you speak, I will be with you and give you the words to say.” Moses begged, “LORD, please send someone else to do it.”’
Ex. 4:12-13

I love the historical narratives in the Old Testament of men like Moses and David. These are guys that kids today should be looking to as their heroes. Yeah, we still need Gandalf, Wolverine, and Spiderman—but Moses and David and their contemporaries are cool because they shared the same weaknesses and faults that you and I do. Their power to influence our lives lies a step beyond supra-natural abilities and feats of strength and courage. It is their weaknesses that we learn about ourselves.

For example, the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush is just crazy. Picture it: you’ve been a Bedouin shepherd for a really long time in an isolated part of the world, and you have a clearly supernatural experience with God involving fire and a shrubbery[1].

In this encounter, God converses directly with you—no intermediary or middle-man. It’s real, God speaks to you in a way and in a location that means something to you personally (for Moses, the desert where he spent most of his life), and there’s no ambiguity about whether or not you ‘heard’ God.

I just love what Moses says in response to God telling him He wants him to go back to Egypt. It gives me such great hope. When we read it, it’s tempting for our first response to be something along the lines of, ‘What?! What a coward! You heard the man, go!’ But if we prayerfully examine ourselves in quiet solitude, something might pierce through the smokescreen that may exist in our own lives between action and prayer.

You may begin to recognize in yourself the same hesitation that Moses had. Like Moses, you want to see the Lord do what He says He’s going to do and back up His act with power. But when you are faced with a decision that might result in action on your part, you secretly (or not-so-secretly, like Moses) want God to ‘use’ someone else to do it.

Permit me to apply this insight to our prayer lives. Somewhere along the journey of our lives, we can begin to divorce action from our prayers. We’re reasonable people; as followers of Jesus, we recognize the importance of prayer, and so we pray—but that’s where we have learned (or been taught by example) that our involvement ends. We simply expect divine results from God when we pray, and so we remove ourselves from the chain of influence that exists in God’s kingdom. Our actions lay bare our underlying belief: we see engagement in God’s ‘kingdom among us’ (Lk 17:21) like a divine slot machine where our participation ends once the quarter is put in and the lever is pulled.

Do you see?

Learning to listen to the Lord while we pray for others is an important part of our development as disciples of Jesus. That’s how we begin to take part in what the Lord is already doing around us. As we learn to listen, we will find that often we’ll get insights into something that should be done. This is where we learn that prayer and action are usually inseparably linked.

“You may pray for the release of some area of life in a friend and find that you are called upon to set right something in your own life that has acted as a stumbling block to him. You may pray that your friend be given courage to endure certain hardships and find that you are drawn to pack your bag and go and join him or that you are to give up your pocket money for the next month, or a fortnight’s pay. In intercessory prayer one seldom ends where one begins.”[2]

Obedience to these insights that the Lord impresses on us forms a vital link in the chain of influence set in motion by intercessory prayer. When we pray, we engage ourselves in what God is doing in the world around us. His prompting for action on our part is a link in that chain. If we fail to act on what he leads us to do, we break the chain of influence and that person must wait for another to come along.

Another consequence of not acting on the promptings of the Holy Spirit when we pray is the impact it has on our prayer life. When we fail to act when the Lord prompts us, it kills our prayer life dead. You will find it hard to pray, and wonder why you don’t feel more ‘enthusiastic’ about prayer and engaging with what God is doing in the lives of those around you. That is a natural consequence of limiting our participation in prayer to our petition. When we take ourselves out of the equation of God’s redemptive plan for the world, prayer feels hollow and forced. 19th century author Katherine Mansfield wrote, ‘I went upstairs and tried to pray, but I could not, for I had done no work.’

Take the opportunity this week to continue to practice to listen as you pray and sit in meditative silence. Keep a notebook and pen handy as you pray. If you receive an inclination of an action that you might carry out, write it down and prayerfully examine it in the light of God’s love and concern for that person. Resolve to carry it out immediately.

For Further Study/Meditation: Deut 9:12-21

Resource of the Week: An excellent online resource with many articles and lessons on seeing the world and the Bible through Hebrew eyes. Some great geographical and contextual info on Biblical stories and places.

[1] If at this point you are tempted to run a grammar check on your computer, please go to your nearest video store and rent Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail. While you are there, rent also The Three Amigos for more background on talking shrubs. You will never be the same.

[2] From Prayer and Worship, by Douglas Steere.

Author: steeres

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