Thursday, November 20, 2008

When Prayer Is A Cop-Out

Prayer is an integral part of the life of any Christian believer, or at least it ought to be. I would be the last person to suggest that prayer is unimportant. But even prayer can be abused.

Let's say, for example, that a person comes to you and tells you that his house is burning down and he needs someone to come and help him to put out the fire. Here are some possible ways that you might respond to him:

"Brother, I've prayed about it, and God has told me that I haven't been called to perform that particular task. But don't worry. I'll pray that you'll soon find someone who will help you to put out the fire, before your house burns down to the ground and kills the children still trapped inside. Trust in God, brother --- trust in God."

"Show me what you want me to do, and I'll do it right now, before you lose your home and your children."

Now, it ought to be clear to anyone with a brain or an ounce of compassion that the second option is the correct response. To respond in a manner comparable to the first option is despicable, no matter how religious one's language might be. Yet, I have found that there are many people who claim to believe in Christ who typically respond to crises in a manner analogous to Option One, not to Option Two. My own cries for help have met with such responses on multiple occasions. Thankfully, I've also known a few people who responded in a more appropriate manner, but such people have been far too rare in my experience.

Christians ought to spend more time reading the biblical book of James (particularly James 2:14-17) and meditating on its significance. While it is true that we are saved by our faith in Christ, and not by our good works, it is equally true that faith is useless if it is not accompanied by good works. It is an incredibly poor witness to neglect to use the resources which are available to us when presented with needs which could easily be met if only we were less self-centered and inflexible.

None of this is to say that people do not have legitimate limits. God doesn't expect the impossible from us. But God does expect us to do everything we can do to help those in need, instead of making lame excuses and then "spiritualizing" those excuses by using language which suggests that God endorses our apathy.

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