Actionless Prayer?

wesblackburn —  December 12, 2012 — 1 Comment

I have a lot of pet peeves.

If pressed, I probably couldn’t identify a ton off the top of my head. But they are there. There are just a ton of things that I feel like people do that really irritate me. Jesus and I are working on it together, but for whatever reason there are just a lot of silly little things that happen in my life that bother me for some reason.

But today, I want to share on the Cultivate blog about one of my biggest pet peeves (and one that I’m guilty of as well). It’s the pet peeve of actionless prayer.

Let me explain what I mean. Have you ever been in a Bible study or community group where someone shares about a situation in their life that they wanted to be fixed? Maybe they have a relationship that’s broken, maybe they are in debt and are praying for help, maybe it’s a marriage thing, or maybe something else entirely, but they ask you to pray for it. Now, that’s a wonderful thing to do. I’m certainly not knocking us praying for people’s problems. I mean, c’mon… we’re followers of Jesus. It’s what we do.

But here’s where the pet peeve comes in. Next time you talk about that prayer request or ask them what they’re doing, nothing’s happened. Maybe they ask you to keep praying. And while I get that certain situations don’t resolve themselves overnight, I don’t get why we sometimes ask people to pray about something and then totally shirk our responsibility in the matter. If there’s a broken relationship and you need to take the first step and offer an apology, I’ll definitely pray about it, but as I do so you’d better be making that apology. If you’ve got a financial thing, I’d love to pray about it but you need to be making a budget and cutting up some credit cards. In essence, I love praying for people’s stuff, but I hate actionless prayer. I’ll pray for you, but I also expect you to take responsibility for your role in the situation.

James 5:16b contains this beautiful statement about prayer: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” It’s a really cool promise. But under that promise, I think there are two things operating here:

1. Our prayer effectiveness is somehow tied to our lifestyle. I don’t want to read too much into this, but I do think you can make a Biblical case that when we turn our backs on God and aren’t really interested in having a relationship with him, he’s respects that, but also responds in kind. He still listens. He still hears. He still loves us absolutely and is only one step of repentance away from us. But I also think James used the qualifier of “righteous” very intentionally here. Righteous people aren’t sinless people; they are just ones in right standing with God. They are ones who are in a growing and active relationship with him. And it seems that God’s ear is especially attentive to their prayers.

2. Righteous pray-ers are followed by righteous actions. This is my main point today. One of the marks of a righteous person is that they are enacting God’s redemption amd restoration in their world. They get what 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 means and are acting as God’s ambassadors on the earth, bringing his healing to every corner of their world. Prayer should always move us toward action. We aren’t just giving our hearts to God, but also receiving God’s heart for us. As we pray, we discover what needs to grow in us. What needs to die in us. What we need to do with the day we have been given. As Jesus taught us to pray, we ask for God’s kingdom to come and be done on earth (aka our “world”) just as it is in heaven. When we pray, we are communicating with God and catching his vision for our lives. And then we go out and make it happen through the power of his Holy Spirit living and working in us.

I’m working really hard on beating the battle I have with actionless prayer. I hope you’ll join me. Together, we can be a force of men and women that are being used by God to change lives.

So what about you? Where is it that God might be asking you to move out of prayer and into action today?




Suncrest//Highland Campus Pastor. But more importantly, 26th place finisher in the 2013 Highland Jack o' Lantern Jog 5k.

One response to Actionless Prayer?



    I love that you keep this blog fresh. Great stuff. This one is great to, but I wanted to chime in on a very small point here that I interpret a different way. Maybe it’s just a helpful conversation for us or maybe it is worth another post as a follow up.

    Here is my thought as it relates to the verse and explanation. I think you nail the definition of Righteousness (with “Righteous people aren’t sinless people; they are just ones in right standing with God.” But then I would go (or at least emphasize) a different direction with application instead of emphasizing lifestyle. So, it has almost nothing to do with my good works, doing right things, or my lifestyle. On that basis I am never righteous. It has everything to do with my humility, being poor in spirit, and actually understand that my actions will never get me to righteousness. (Insert here an eloquent reflection of Keller’s Prodigal God scenarios). The conclusion for me, is that my prayers are not more powerful because I’m doing right things and you are doing wrong things. But instead, the reason a prayer is more powerful is because of my posture toward myself (less dependent) and God (more dependent). I think that is reinforced with Jesus contrast of the Pharisee’s prayer and the man pleading “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”

    Anyway, it just struck me as I was reflecting on what you wrote. Hope this is helpful.


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