Prayer Without Works is Dead
“When we pray, we must pray together, ready to act on our prayer.”
But the harsh truth is that, at times, we use prayer as a way of ignoring the need for action.
How often have you heard someone preach or pray about systemic racism and the church’s role in related matters? On May 17, 1954, just 63 years ago, the Supreme Court handed down their decision on Brown v. Board of Education, declaring segregated schools to be inherently unequal. However, any student of American history knows that this didn’t bring immediate change. Schools remained segregated for several years after that, and the transition wasn’t easy. What did bring change? Christians like Martin Luther King who prayed with their hands and feet, not only with their mouths and hearts.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)
If we are truly following Jesus’ example, we must be concerned for the welfare of the “least of these.” (Matthew 25:31-46) What happened after Brown v. The Board of Education? Some Christians left the public schools to start new segregated private schools. This occurred mainly between the ’50s and ’70s. This isn’t ancient history–this is a contemporary matter which holds lasting implications for our world today.
When segregation de jure ended, de facto segregation took its place, and shortly after, white flight (Caucasians leaving their communities to segregate again) occurred. Often, we don’t hear this from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. As a church, we sometimes put on blinders to the realities of the world while claiming to follow the One who never wore blinders in His life. He was the one who saw everyone for who they were and still loved fiercely, who took action to care for the least of these. How can we love if we refuse to see or to act?
“Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
Thus, my point: Jesus calls us to remove our blinders as we follow Jesus, and once we do that we will begin to see that we are not only called to pray, but that we are called by God to act. God calls us to bring his Kingdom to Earth, as fellow laborers beside Him, bearing his image and spirit.
God doesn’t call us to simply pray and go along with our day. Prayers are marching orders. They help us align ourselves with the actions God wants us to take. As a community, we are, oftentimes, the answer to our own prayers because we have the capabilities to start making changes.
This becomes an even more pertinent matter considering the natural disasters occurring around the world: wildfires, droughts, historic levels of flooding, earthquakes, and destructive hurricanes. Irma recently battered Florida with relentless force, after wreaking havoc in the Caribbean. This follows Hurricane Harvey in Texas and an earthquake in Mexico. We must not simply commit to prayer without searching for concrete actions for remedying the hurting world around us. We should prayerfully look to serve however we can. In sum: “Do the good that is in your power to do.”
I mention these things not to shame, but to encourage us to do better. We, as Christians in the United States, must own up to our history of inaction and intolerance in the past, apologize, and work to undo the lasting consequences. In the same way, we should take action today, seeking out ways to more faithfully bear witness to the love of God. We do this by being the church–being a faithful community witnessing to what God has done. When we pray, we must pray together, ready to act on our prayers.
May we at Greenville University commit to a prayer life that inspires action.