Recently, the New York Daily Times had on its cover the words “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The cover was quite deceptive as the article was more of a political rant than a religious polemic. Rich Schapiro, the writer of the article associated with the cover, argues that “Democrats—even those not running for office—slammed the GOP presidential candidates for offering prayers instead of action” (Schapiro 2015). While I will leave the political innuendos to the exchange of pundits in the field; as a theologian and pastor, I feel that I need to address the issue of prayer as it relates to service. Walter A. Elwell notes that “both Testaments insist that while prayer and service are not to be equated with each other, they are also not to be separated from each other. With this insistence goes the belief that only the prayer of the righteous is efficacious (Prov. 15:29)” (Elwell 1996, Logos). I believe that prayer propels the person of faith to do great things for the Lord. The Scriptures provide at least 5 ways that prayer impacts the service of the believer.
Prayer provides trust to serve.
In 1 Chronicles, it is shown that prayer provides the trust necessary to do incredible things for God. The chronicler writes that “when they prevailed over them, the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hands, for they cried out to God in the battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him” (1 Chronicles 5:20). Their victory came by the trust that they held in God, but it was a trust that moved the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 5:18) to serve. James also notes that the “prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:15-16). Note two important elements in the preceding passage. First, prayer was based on one’s trust in God. Second, the faith of the praying persons lead the people to action. Thus, a faithful prayer life provides one with the trust in God to serve.
Prayer provides encouragement to serve.
Luke notes that the Lord “said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10). Because Paul was a man of prayer, God spoke to Paul and provided him with encouragement to go and serve. This encouragement may also address the change of mind that takes place in the person of faith. When a person commits him or herself to prayer, God begins to change the mindset of the person (Romans 12:2). The person of faith begins to see people the way God sees them. This will move the person of faith to action in order to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).
Prayer provides direction to serve.
People often want to see action. They want to see results. “Do something! Anything!” Such is the mindset of many. However, it is easy for a person to move in the wrong direction if they are not careful. When speaking of cutting wood for a construction project, my grandpa always advised, “Measure twice, cut once.” This means that a person needs to make sure that what they are doing is correct before taking action. Prayer provides direction. Luke notes that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot’” (Acts 8:29). Why? An Ethiopian eunuch was contemplating the meaning of Isaiah 53:7, 8. Philip was able to lead the eunuch to a saving faith in Christ. Why? It was because Philip was led by the Holy Spirit in the right direction. The Scriptures warn that “where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB). Thus, prayer provides us insight and direction as the Holy Spirit leads us. In stark contrast, a lack of prayer may lead one to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
Prayer provides empowerment to serve.
Prayer is essential, in fact critical, if one is to see anything great accomplished. Why? It is because God provides empowerment to the believer to serve in extraordinary ways. Paul notes that “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-16).
As a pastor, I have seen many people perform extraordinary accomplishments due to the empowerment of God. I remember a woman named Gaynelle. Gaynelle suffered from many afflictions. As fate would have it, her husband suffered dementia. Gaynelle’s husband fell and broke his hip. Her husband had to be placed in a nursing home where he could receive appropriate care. Gaynelle, despite suffering numerous physical maladies, drove countless miles each day to spend time with her husband. After her husband died, everyone asked her, “How were you able to do so much for your husband while being so sick?” She replied, “I prayed and God gave me strength to serve.” Gaynelle is but one example of prayer’s empowering capability.
Prayer provides opportunities to serve.
Luke notes that when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch in Syria, they gathered the church together and “declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Jesus says to the Church of Philadelphia, “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close” (Revelation 3:8, HCSB). By prayer, God provides doors of opportunity. A person who is seeking to switch jobs does not want to proverbially “jump from the frying pan into the fire.” Rather, a person of faith will desire to follow the will and plan of God. Prayer provides the means of opportunity as God opens the eyes of the believer to the given opportunities at hand. Opportunities lead one to a chance to serve.
So, let us ask the question again; does prayer counteract action? Obviously not! Rich Schapiro obviously does not understand the biblical concept of prayer. Prayer and service are not antagonistic rivals. Rather, prayer and service—while not the same—are complementary. Prayer leads to great means of service. So, when we say, “You are in our thoughts and prayers,” one should not presuppose that service is negated. Rather, the believer is literally saying, “I pray that God gives you comfort in your time of need.” I make no political commentary for either side of the American political paradigm that Schapiro referenced. That being said, perhaps Schapiro is correct in noting that we cannot allow prayer to supplant action. Even James notes that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). However, we cannot allow action to override the importance of prayer either. Instead of demanding that one choose between prayer and service, or demeaning the practice of prayer; why not accept the biblical model realizing that prayer and service coincide? Could it not be that God will fix the issues of society by people of faith? Could it not be that God will use the prayers of the faithful to propel them to service?
© December 6, 2015. Brian Chilton
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996. Logos Bible Software.
Schapiro, Rich. “GOP Presidential Candidates Offer Prayers—Not Solutions on Gun Control—after San Bernardino Massacre.” New York Daily News.com (December 3, 2015). Accessed December 6, 2015. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/gop-candidates-call-prayers-calf-massacre-article-1.2453261.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
 Scriptures marked NASB come from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).
 Scriptures marked HCSB comes from the Holman Christian Standard Version (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).