Sometimes well-meaning groups gather together to pray for a cause: some issue of great (and often national/regional) importance. The intent is to ask God to intervene into a devastating problem to bring about a much-needed solution. However, as well-meaning as these efforts are, there are some oft-made mistakes that limit the witness and power of genuine prayer. Here are three points to consider when assembling for prayer:
1. RESULTS depend on RIGHTEOUSNESS
As James 5:16 tells us, the essential requirement for effectual prayer is the righteousness of the one praying. Conversely, the prayer of an UNrighteous man is ineffectual and avails LITTLE. Therefore, simply gathering together a group of people to pray for a particular problem will ONLY be productive if the participants are themselves living righteously.
Consequently, the prayer meeting must be exclusively Christian. Because non-Christians, by definition, are unrighteous, having not been made righteous by accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
In addition, the participants must believe in the God of the (unabridged) Bible. It is impossible to be righteous if the god you serve is concocted only from Bible verses you like while ignoring the parts of the Bible that you find unpalatable.
Without real righteousness, we are simply playing a foolish game:
“Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth His will, him He heareth.” ~ John 9:31
2. FREE WILL is FUNDAMENTAL
Solutions to problems in a social group require that the members of that social group each have a change of heart and mind. Specifically, real change requires salvation first, and then sanctification. Otherwise, at best, solving a social problem is effectively just changing one social ill for another.
How can men improve their lives without first coming to God?
However, God does not force anyone to accept salvation: God allows each person to exercise his/her free will. Therefore, real change cannot occur if the individuals that are being prayed for use their free will to reject God.
Change for the good starts with an act of will from those involved. Prayer does not usurp free will. If the people in the problem WILL not humble themselves before God, if the people in the problem WILL not pray, if the people in the problem WILL not seek God and turn from wicked living, then no change will ever occur, no matter how much others pray for them.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” ~ Mark 8:36
3. PRAYER is not a PROXY for PERFORMANCE
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” ~ James 2:15-17
Prayer is popular because it is usually easier than doing the hard work of ministering to those in need. Most prefer the “work” of prayer than the work of visiting, or the work of giving, or the work of mentoring.
To be clear, prayer is a valid and critical aspect of the life of a Christian. But, like any tool, it can be overused and misused. And prayer is so easy to do that it becomes a proxy for actually meeting the needs of the ones in trouble.
- The hungry man needs food; if you have food, then give him food and prayers, not just prayer alone.
- The lonely senior citizen needs a friend to talk to, give her your time and your prayers, not just prayers alone.
- The ex-convict needs a chance, give him a job and your prayers, not just prayers alone.
If prayer is all we are WILLING to give then we are not WILLING to give much.
If prayer is all we are willing to give, then we don’t really want a solution, we just want absolution.
When prayer is all we can give, then it is a great gift indeed. But, if we can give more today, then we must do more than just pray.
“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” ~ James 2:18