It’s easy when we hear about needs and problems in each other’s lives to promise we’ll pray for one another. Prayer is of course a very powerful and important resource in our lives. But sometimes prayer can be misused as an easy way out of taking action in the lives of those who are hurting. We misuse prayer when:
1) We fail to see how we can help each other by taking action: We mean well when we promise to pray but it’s easy to overlook the practical ways we can help on a physical level too. In addition to our prayers we could:
- Take a meal to a new mother, someone who is sick or injured, someone who is grieving, or to a family struggling financially.
- Listen to someone who just needs to talk through feelings and be heard.
- Volunteer time to help around the house or yard or to run errands.
- Babysit for a busy mom or someone who is sick or grieving.
- Write a letter to encourage and let someone know they’re being thought of and aren’t alone.
- Say yes as much as possible when asked for help or a listening ear.
“I learned that faith isn’t about knowing all of the right stuff or obeying a list of rules. It’s something more, something more costly because it involves being present and making a sacrifice. Perhaps that’s why Jesus is sometimes called Immanuel—‘God with us.’ I think that’s what God had in mind, for Jesus to be present, to just be with us. It’s also what He has in mind for us when it comes to other people.” Bob Goff (p. 8 Love Does)
2) We use prayer to turn a blind eye: Sometimes we don’t want to get involved in other people’s lives or in problems that seem too big for us. We hear about kids being run through the foster care system needing loving homes and families but we’re afraid or overwhelmed by the idea of bringing a child into our own home—so we say we’ll pray instead and never really stop and consider if there’s more we should be doing. We notice the mom who always snaps at her children in public and never stop to consider if she needs rest, help, or encouragement. We don’t want to get our hands dirty. We’re too busy and too tired to get involved in the messy lives of others so we say we’ll pray (and perhaps we even do) all the while turning a blind eye to the physical needs all around us.
“Jesus told the people he was with that it’s not enough to just look like you love God. He said we’d know the extent of our love for God by how well we loved people.” Bob Goff (p. 15 Love Does)
3) We use prayer to guard ourselves from heartache: Getting involved in people’s lives can get messy. When you open your heart up to love and action, you open yourself up to the possibility of getting hurt. It’s so much easier to say, “I’ll be praying for you” than it is to get in the trenches and ask, “What can I do to help?” But the love of God is a love deep enough to take action—to take risks and offer love in spite of the potential for heartache. God did not guard his heart from us; we should not guard ourselves from others. God’s heart was broken for us—will we let our heart be broken for him?
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves
4) We use prayer to cover wrongs rather than dealing with them: Sometimes when we say we’ll pray, all we really need to say is, “I’m sorry.” I know of a situation where someone has been wronged and hurt by someone else. The wrongdoer tells the wronged that they’re praying for them but those prayers (however sincere) are falling on deaf ears. Until the wrong has been made right, prayers will only add insult to injury. The person hurt does not want to be prayed for; he wants only to be apologized to. And until an apology is made, prayer comes off as arrogant and insincere. If you have wronged someone, make it right with them—not just in your prayers to God but in your actions toward the one you have hurt.
“We don’t like to put hands and feet on love. When love is a theory, it’s safe, it’s free of risk. But love in the brain changes nothing.” Donald Miller
God’s love is played out in verbs as should be the love we have for each other. So, the next time you tell someone you’ll pray for them—do so—and then ask what else you can do to demonstrate your love in action.