“But we prayed to our God and posted a guard . . . “Nehemiah 4:9
“I’m praying for you.”
We hear it from Christian friends. We see it on Facebook when a fellow believer shares about a health problem or about some difficulty they’re going through. “I’m praying for you,” we respond.
I’m not dismissing the value of those words. I’m just wondering how many times the words are followed by the action: actually praying. Or do we feel saying the words is the same as praying? Let me give you a heads-up: it’s not.
In the first instance, when we tell someone we’re praying for them or that we will pray for them, we’re talking to them. But when we pray, we’re talking to God. We’re seeking his will and asking him to bring his love, his wisdom, and his power to bear upon the situation.
Why not step it up from now on? Instead of just saying “I’m praying for you,” why not actually stop and pray for that person? Right there. Right then. In the grocery store. On the phone. In the reply to a Facebook post.
And after we take that first step, let’s take one more. Let’s talk about stepping in. And let’s begin by looking at Nehemiah and his prayer life.
Nehemiah was a godly man. But he was a practical man too. If you’ve never read, or better yet studied, the book of Nehemiah, I encourage you to do so. It’s not very long. (You’ll be tempted to skim through details of the work on the wall. Don’t. There’s more there than you might think.)
As a godly man, Nehemiah prayed. Frequently. We see his prayers sprinkled throughout the book. And I suspect there were many more that weren’t recorded there. Nehemiah, first and foremost, was a man of prayer, a man of faith.
But he was also a practical man. He knew what he’d need to get started rebuilding Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:7-8). He checked out for himself the exact condition of the city walls (Nehemiah 2:11-15). Because the work they were doing on the wall was “extensive and spread out” (Nehemiah 4:19, NIV), he made a plan for rallying the people to the site of any trouble with the enemy.
Nehemiah relied on God, turning first to him in prayer. Then he stepped in, using the wisdom and resources God gave him to do the job God had given him.
Prayer is not a subsitute for action. It’s a companion to action. It’s what grounds our actions in the will of our God and Father. It’s what guides us as to what actions we should be taking. It’s what reminds us that to be successful any actions we take must be done in God’s will and by his power.
We see prayer and action tied together in the New Testament as well. In Acts 4, after Peter and John’s brief stint in jail, they returned to the believers. They shared with them the warning they’d been given by authorities: don’t speak or teach in the name of Jesus. The believers’ first response? Prayer. They asked that God would give them boldness to share God’s word (Acts 4:29).
But their response to the problem didn’t stop with prayer. Again and again, they followed that prayer up with action. They went out and shared the word of God. They taught the people about Jesus (Acts 5:21). “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42, NIV). Even after persecution began and believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, they “preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4, NIV).
Prayer, followed by action. In their prayers they showed their faith and reliance on God. In their actions they demonstrated that faith even more clearly.
Do we need to consider what actions should follow our own prayers? Where should we be stepping in?
James teaches us about the importance of action. And I have to say, this is one place where I, for one, feel that sharp double-edged sword of Scripture penetrating my soul and judging my thoughts (Hebrews 4:12).
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”James 2:16, NIV
How many times do we–do I–toss out an apparent word of concern without following that up with action?
Is James’ example of “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” any different from our easily said “I’m praying for you”? “I’m sorry you’re having such a difficult time. I’ll be praying God will meet your needs.” Don’t both need to be followed up with actions?
Prayer is one way we show our faith in God. But as James so clearly says, faith must also be manifested in our actions. Nehemiah showed us what that looked like. So did the early Christians.
What should that look like in our own lives today? How should we be stepping forward in faith?
Soul Refreshers for your week:
- In one way, this week’s Soul Refresher will be easy. In another way, not. Take a look at the chart below. I’ve partially filled it in with prayers and actions mentioned above.
- Then, consider some of the things you’ve been praying about. Write them down on the prayer side of the chart.
- Pray about whether God wants you to accompany some of those prayers with actions. (Don’t force yourself to come up with actions; just be open to God’s guidance one way or another.)
- Let me give you some examples of what this might look like:
- Have you been praying for a need at your church? Perhaps your church really needs some Sunday School teachers. Is God calling you to move beyond asking him to fill that need, to asking him if you’re the one to fill that need?
- Have you been praying about someone’s salvation? Do you need to act on that prayer? Do you need to be more intentional in your witness to him or her?
- Have you been praying about those affected by the hurricanes and floods? Is God calling you to accompany those prayers with actions? Sending money or goods for relief? Becoming part of a work team to help with clean up and repairs?
- Have you been praying God would change hearts so that babies would not be aborted? Have you considered what actions you can take to help those who feel they are caught in an impossible situation?
- Do you pray for an elderly family member, friend, or neighbor? Should the prayers be accompanied by visits? By mowing their lawn? Or, if they live far away, by paying for someone to mow their lawn?
- I don’t know what you’ve been praying for. And I can’t say what actions you should be taking. But God knows. Why not ask him what prayers he wants you to accompany with actions.
- After you’ve had some time to pray about these things and to listen to God’s answers, will you refresh our souls by sharing in the comments what God is teaching you about praying and then stepping up, stepping in, and stepping forward?
|“Give your servant success today by granting|
him favor in the presence of this man”
(Nehemiah 1:11, NIV)
|“I was very much afraid, but I said to the |
king . . .”
(Nehemiah 2:2, NIV)
|Nehemiah prays to God before answering the|
king’s question. (Nehemiah 2:4)
|Then he answers the king, asking for quite|
a bit: permission to leave his post, letters to
the governors for safe passage and for timber.
|“But we prayed . . . “||” . . . and posted a guard day and night to meet|
this threat. (Nehemiah 4:9
|Now add the things God has put on your heart to |
|What actions is he leading you to take?|