Friday, July 20, 2012

"Prayer isn’t a substitute for action — prayer is the source of action." --- Ann Voskamp

P7010448 prayer resized

As fast-paced, goal-oriented, efficiency-matters, check-list Americans, we often forget this simple but very crucial truth.

I see it time and time again in Christian circles. We gotta hurry up and say the blessing because people are getting hungry. We have to say quick sentence prayers so we can get on with the full lesson and activities that have to be squeezed into our allotted Sunday School schedule. We need to do a quick "bless this day" prayer so we aren't late getting to work or school or church. And goodness, if we're on a mission trip and we've spent a lot of money getting to where we're going to be working, we need to make the most of our time and not spend too much of it praying or worshiping.

I know.

Written like that in black and white, it seems silly.

After all, isn't supposed to be about the Lord?

Aren't we saying thanks, teaching Sunday School, going to church, and taking part in that missions trip because we love God?

Instead, all too often --- and I'm preaching to myself here, as well --- we view spending time with Him as a waste of our time, energy, and resources and get totally focused on the doing for Him. In our American view, actions speak louder than words. And in many ways, that is true.

The Bible does say that it isn't just enough to talk about love, but that we should show love with practical actions. I get that. After all, we spend several times a month at We Will Go Ministries giving out clothes, working in the food pantry, and serving meals. And every day, I strive to show my family and friends that I truly love them as I cook meals, wash their clothes, read them a book, or take a walk with them.

So most of us totally get that love has to be demonstrated to be real love.

But we have let ourselves so get wrapped up in rat-race Christianity that we've forgotten, all too often, that prayer isn't just a nice little tradition to stick somewhere into an activity. Prayer is the source and prayer is action.

Without spending time with the Lord, we are serving Him out of our own strength, out of our own intellect, out of our own wisdom, out of our own giftings. Without spending time with my Father just loving Him and letting Him love me, without asking for His help and provision, without spending time letting Him speak to me and empower me, without just getting to know Him better, then I'm never going to do the kinds of loving actions that He really wants me to do. Sure, I might stay busy doing a lot of good things, but they won't be the best things.

And I can guarantee me and you, that when we try to do it on our own strength, it just doesn't have the impact that He wants it to have. We burn out or do useless things or ineffective tasks or get self-righteous or just totally mess it up completely and end up causing a lot more harm than good. We might accomplish a lot of nice religious looking things, maybe even impress the people around us, but if our actions are not fueled by His love and His spirit, then they are just like dirty, nasty rubbish not worth much at all in the light of eternity.

It is when we feed that beggar, teach that class, counsel that addict, and comfort that mourner not out of our provision but out of God's provision that God's spirit can birth the miraculous.

It is when we speak the words we've heard Him speak to us that our words can bring life to a dying situation. It is when we pour out love that we've first received from the Father that a hard heart can be made soft. It is when we show forgiveness to our enemy because we heard God say that we were forgiven that radical restoration can occur.

And it isn't just that prayer equips us to do service, to act, to move, it is that prayer is service, prayer is action, prayer is movement.

When teams visit We Will Go in downtown Jackson, we spend a good bit of the time upon their arrival singing songs of praise, reading the scripture, sharing testimony, and praying. We might do that 30 minutes, an hour, even two hours. And sometimes those groups may only have a couple of hours to serve with us. It is easy, even for us who are part of the We Will Go ministry, to get anxious. We can so easily start looking at our cell phone's clocks and thinking "we need to get on with this so they can get the stuff done that they came to do". But prayer is doing.

It is loving the Lord --- and if that's not an action, I don't know what is --- but it is also serving our neighborhood.

As we pray and sing songs of worship, the spiritual atmosphere of that community is changed. At the name of Jesus, demons have to flee. As we exalt Him as King above all of the princes and principalities of darkness, the darkness is pushed back in the spirit world. For the Bible tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but we too often forget that. Yes, we need to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit those in prison. Jesus told us to do those things. But we mustn't ever forget that the time we spend in prayer and worship is just as vital.

After all, to go back to Jesus, He knew that He needed time with His Father to be ready for the task set before Him. He often retreated to private places to spend time with His Father. And as He prepared for the cross, He went to the garden and spent time being strengthened for the torture that was to come.

And let me tell you, if Jesus, who was fully human yet fully God, needed to spend time with the Father, then you and I need to spend time with the Father.

Our American culture of efficiency and hard work has accomplished some great things. We are one of the strongest economies in the world and we are leaders in technological and scientific developments. We're known for our get-it-done attitude and this has its place.

But we mustn't ever lose sight of the fact that our relationship with the Lord and our relationship with those He sends our way don't need to have the same principles applied as a Fortune 500 company or successful restaurant. When I worked at Chick-fil-a as a teenager, our goal during the lunch and supper hours was to get a customer their food to them within one minute of taking their order. We were to be friendly, fast, and accurate. We needed to move them in and out as politely but as quickly as possible. After all, we were a fast food restaurant and customers want their food fast in that setting.

But at We Will Go, we're not a fast food restaurant. It isn't about getting their food to them as fast as possible and getting them off our porch and on their way. It is about relationship.

When a hungry neighbor or homeless person knocks on our door, we could grab a bag, shove it in their hands, and with a smile wish them a "blessed day", but that's not why we are there. We are there to share God with them. We are there to love them as people, not as customers.

So when someone knocks on our door and says they are hungry and ask for a snack pack, yes, we usually give them one. But unlike a profitable fast food restaurant, our goal isn't to get them the food in less than a minute. We sit down with them, we ask them about their life, we find out --- if possible --- where they stand with God, and we pray for them. Even on our day when we're focused on handing out lots of food bags, we have started scheduling them so we have at least fifteen minutes of time with each person. And if they arrive on a day when it isn't a scheduled food-handout day, we still take the time to sit down, talk to them, and pray with them.

Yes, sometimes that means we are interrupted from doing very important things. Yes, sometimes the missionaries even run late getting to appointments or maybe they don't finish a task they had started.

But I think we all could learn something from our African brothers and sisters. They know that people are more important than schedules. That can be terribly frustrating for us Americans who probably should change the pledge to "I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of On-timeness for which it stands".

I'm, not saying that schedules aren't important, that efficiency doesn't have its place, and that organization isn't a good thing, but those things should always, always, always take second place to what the Spirit of God wants to do in a situation or a person's life, and we can only really know what that is if we have spent plenty of time with our Lord.

Prayer time is not a waste of time. Prayer time means that we don't waste the time, the precious, limited time that the Lord has ordained for us here on this earth to accomplish His eternal purposes.

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