Many social action activists think prayer is a waste of time. Why sit in a quiet room praying when they can be out transforming the world? Some prayer warriors see activists as impulsive, ready-shoot-aim people who are putting activity before spiritual formation. But is there a middle position? Is it either/or? What is the Biblical view?
Moses heard the call of God in the midst of solitude. Then he followed God back to Egypt to liberate God’s people. Jesus announced his ministry plans after coming out of the solitude of the desert. He then followed a rhythm of action and retreat, moving from the world to prayer, back and forth again. The apostles, after the prayerful waiting for the Spirit, exploded into action.
For most of us, balance is a problem. We tend to think in black and white terms; what’s good and what’s bad. But the spiritual life is complex, full of color and multiple choices. There is healthy tension between things like prayer and action.
Henri Nouwen writes: “Christian life is not a life divided between times for action and times for contemplation. No. Real social action is a way of contemplation, and real contemplation is the core of social action. . . The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.”
Spiritual disciplines create space for God to work in our lives. We spend time in silence, God speaks; we fast, God fills us; we pause, putting away activity, and God moves in, through, and around us. This is when true transformation happens. But first we have to make space for God.
Once transformed, we then work in strength to transform the world.
Charles Spurgeon said this: “When we have prayed over a matter to a certain degree, it then becomes sinful to tarry any longer; our plain duty is to carry our desires into action, and having asked God’s guidance, and having received divine power from on high, to go at once to our duty without any longer deliberation or delay.”
We pray for the problems in the world, but then we must engage in the solutions. We ask to have God’s heart, but it’s plain and clear in scripture that God cares for orphans and widows. Shouldn’t we, therefore, pray as we serve them? In a world filled with more slaves than at any other time in history, is it really enough to just pray against the forces of evil? Spurgeon, Nouwen, and scripture both say “NO!”
Prayer is communication, but it’s much, much more. Prayer connects us with the creator of the universe, the first born from the dead, the eternal King. Prayer aligns our thoughts and actions with the Holy Spirit and with each other. It’s like electricity – powerful and dangerous. The power of prayer, uniting God’s people with the purposes of God, can change the world. Prayer fills our hands, our speech, and our lives with power and meaning. Every move we make is a worshipful, prayer-filled, hope-infused alliance with the desires of God. Every word we pray is combined with the power of the Holy Spirit into holy action.
On Freedom Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, Christians in 100+ countries will pray against modern-day slavery. They will sing, preach, proclaim, and give. All of this spiritual energy will then fill the attitudes, lives, words, and actions of God’s people as they join with the Holy Spirit to bring real change to the world. Holistic freedom will be pursued. God will act. Powers will be shaken. Women, children, and men will be set free.
You are invited to join this celebration. Pray, learn, worship, and then integrate these into action. Combine worship, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines with smart activism and challenge evil with the power of God. But don’t just pray about it. Also don’t just try and fix it on your own. Live, work, and pray in the balance.
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.