Don’t Just Pray – Part 2

“Just pray about it.”

We’ve all probably been on the giving or receiving end of this bit of advice. Usually we hear it after we pour out a steaming hot mess of things like doubt, fear, confusion or anger. We take the risk of being vulnerable with a trusted friend or mentor, we expose the mess of our lives to someone we hope will listen, who may have some new, wise guidance, and then their response is, “just pray about it.”

On the one hand, this is fantastic advice. The evidence of the power of prayer in the Bible is as bright as thousands of bulbs that light the Rockefeller Square Christmas tree each year. Open, honest and bold communication of the faithful to their heavenly Father often leads to divine intervention. Do you recall the story of a woman named Hannah in the Old Testament? Her anguished prayers caused God to act.

Samuel 1:13 says, “Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard.” Her prayers were so fervent that when the priest Eli saw her, he assumed she was drunk and rebuked her. Hannah faces Eli and corrects him saying,

“I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” (vv. 15-16, NIV)

So corrected, Eli speaks this blessing over her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” Hannah prayed and God “remembered” her (v. 19) by opening the womb he had previously closed (v. 5).

Because of prayer a barren woman conceived and birthed a son.

God Answers Hannah's Prayer for a Son

This is not an isolated incident. In the Bible, prayer regularly prompts change; it brings resolve, stops plagues and leads to miraculous acts of remembrance. Prayer, literally and metaphorically, leads to life.

Prayer is a direct line of communication with the Creator and Sustainer who out of compassion and love, continuously pours out blessing on his people. As such, prayer is something we should do regularly, eagerly, expectantly and most of all, reverently. But too often we approach prayer the same way we do an ATM.

When I need cash, I go to the ATM, insert my card, make a few simple demands at the push of a button and, voilà – out pops my money! We all know better than to liken God to an ATM, so why do so many of us use prayer like a debit card? Don’t we often speak words of prayer hoping we ‘push the right buttons’ and then wait to receive the ‘cash’ to which we are entitled?

Don’t misunderstand me – there’s nothing wrong with expecting great things from prayer! But spiritual things are seldom as simple as taking money from an ATM.

What I didn’t mention earlier about Hannah is that she prayed for a child for years. Hannah was overcome with grief. Like many grieving people, she lost her appetite and probably that healthy glow people call a luster. Hannah wept and she prayed. She prayed and she wept. The Bible says this went on “year after year” (v. 5). While Hannah grieved, her husband’s other wife  (who had many healthy children) taunted Hannah cruelly for her barrenness.

Prayer is powerful. It prompts God to compassionate and merciful action on behalf of his people, but in Hannah’s story we learn that the effects of prayer are not always prompt. That is why it can be so disheartening and insensitive to tell an aching soul, “Just pray about it.” If this is all we say before we walk away from a friend, he or she may feel that we’ve minimized their grief or been deaf and blind to their desperation.

For those who haven’t been utterly ravaged by time and circumstance, for those who still have enough hope to cling to the promises of prayer, the expectation of prompt results carried by the phrase “just pray about it” may be the nick that severs their connection to hope or even to God.

If you have a desperate need or desire and have been waiting and praying for days or months for fulfillment, how strong is your hope? Can it bear the weight of silence or the terrible agitation that grows as time beats through your veins and nothing happens?

What if your season of need stretches into months like Hannah’s? What will your faith be like then? What will you need from your friends? Just prayer, or prayer and…something?

Prayer is an awesome thing but when we are caring for aching people, there are things that complement prayer and bring consolation. Don’t just pray and walk away; your friend does not have that luxury – they are in a sense held captive (think slavery) by their need. They cannot conceptualize life or their future without that thing for which you may casually pray. Instead of just praying, consider these:

  1. Pray and pour out your soul – Too often prayer is an exercise of suppression rather than passion. There’s no need to hide or hold back our feelings from God because he sees everything in our souls. The good news is that it’s safe to confess it all to him. Let yourself be emotional as you pray. Hannah let even the nasty stuff like bitterness and anguish pour out of her soul. It’s only when we pour out the nasty stuff that we make room for God to fill our souls with consolation.
  2. Pray and listen – Don’t think prayer ends when you stop speaking. Make time and space to listen into the silence and stillness for the voice of God. Don’t rush off; stay rooted in your seats, be still and know that God is in this with you.
  3. Pray and wait and pray again – Hannah prayed the same prayer for years. Years! She’s one to emulate. If someone shares with you their requests, keep praying. Go back to them next week, next month or next year and get an update. Pray again. Listen with them. Wait with them. Pray again. In this way you bear one another’s burdens.
  4. Pray and lament – Lament is not just emotional prayer. To lament is to cry out to God against the things that should not be – against injustice, cruelty and abandonment, hunger and despair – against anything that falls short of God’s character and provision. The Israelites lamented throughout their history and God remembered them, which means he acted for them.

Out of respect to people like Hannah, I must acknowledge a very difficult truth before I close: prayer will not always lead to the things we so desperately seek or expect. God may not give us what we want, even if we are faithful and in a sense ‘deserving.’ And there will be times when it seems that God gives no response to our prayers. (This is one of the mysterious things about God that makes everything in me go quiet.)

But these things do not mean that our prayers are empty or pointless, nor are they signs that God does not love or bless us.

I have many friends who are haunted by infertility. Unlike Hannah, some of these faithful women will never conceive or welcome a healthy child into the world. I hate that this is their reality. I don’t know what their desire or loss feels like but I certainly do pray with and for them. But I don’t just pray.

I pour out my soul with them. I listen into the silence with them. I lament their empty wombs and their grief. I wait for God to move. I expect God to move. I call upon God to do something that matches his wonderful character. I pray and wait and pray hoping that somehow, and in some way, God will make all things new.

Don’t Just Pray – Part 1

I often cringe at the strange things we Christians say and do in the name of Jesus. You’ve probably seen a bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you love Jesus.” That’s the kind of thing that makes me roll my eyes. Last week on my commute I passed a car with this message stuck to the bumper, “Any fool can honk. If you love Jesus, do justice.” This second sticker made me so happy I almost honked!

There’s something new that has been bothering me lately. Everywhere I go these days I hear believers praying the word just. With this word I’d expect insignificant requests. The word just makes me think of a young child whining to his parents, “It’s just an ice cream cone” or, “I just want my toy back.”

But it seems that everywhere I go I hear Christians praying like this —

“God, would you just fill us with your Spirit so we can…”

“God, will you just heal my mother’s cancer…”

“God, I just ask that you would fix this marriage…”

“God, I just need you lead me toward the right job…”

Only worshippers of a powerful, attentive and personal God pray for big things like God’s presence, miraculous healing, and rescue from untenable circumstances. So why do so many of us litter our prayers with a word that, in this context, means only, merely or simply? Why are we praying for mighty acts using limp language?

Now, if we were to say – “Lord, be just and topple the drug lords” or “God, pour out just acts for those who cannot protect themselves,” – I’d not protest. Unfortunately, our just prayers minimize and contradict the content of our requests.

Imagine being granted a private audience with the President to request funds that would alleviate a major problem in our city. Knowing this is a significant opportunity, you prepare your pitch carefully. Would you go before the President and say, “Sir, we don’t need much to fix our city, just one hundred million dollars”? I imagine not.

So why do we go before the God who has promised to provide for us in our need, the Almighty God, and ask him to just do this or that?

Why do we go before God with our hands stretched out to receive but our language tentative?

Ephesians 3:10-12 says, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (NIV, emphasis mine)

What we’ve translated as freedom is a Greek word that is a freedom of speech. It means to speak openly and frankly, without ambiguity. It can also be well translated as “boldness” or “assurance.”

Jesus said to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, emphasis mine) When he ascended to heaven Jesus left his friends in charge of spreading the good news he had shown them. He gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide, convict and inspire them along the way. These friends had no need for a Moses to speak for them or a high priest to be their intermediary. These friends were the beloved children of God with direct access to their Father.

We are they who are charged to take the gospel to the world.

We are they who have direct access to the God who can heal every disease with a word.

We are the heirs of the God of creation and redemption, the God of miracles.

Our prayer should flow out of our identity. There is no need for us to just ask for anything. Friends of Jesus should pray boldly, not weakly. Beloved children of God should pray intimately, with assurance, not with lazy language.

If you are a friend of Jesus, a child of God, then don’t just pray.

Prayers for the Table

Feasting is an endangered cultural act.  In ancient times, feasts lasted for days, accompanied by delicacies, dancing, singing, storytelling, toasting and prayer.  Even if the harvest was small or times were bleak, communities, tribes, clans and families would scrounge up whatever edible treasures they had, travel from great distances and gather together to feast.  They would spread a lavish table filled with their best wine, choicest meats, freshest herbs and fill their lamps with oil.  All of it was a deliberate celebration of life, symbolic thanks to a God who richly provides.  Some holidays continue this celebratory tradition — Thanksgiving and Christmas are a few of the feast days we Americans preserve.  We still excel at the food — the lines at the grocery stores testify to that!  Exuberant music still fills the air and in some regions dancing remains the nightcap of a good feast.  And while prayer is not completely absent from our modern-day feasts, I wonder if our prayers have become cliché, bland, trite, etc.  Do we really carve out a few moments to reflect on what we have before us?

As a Christmas gift, I offer these prayers for your table.  Whether you borrow one that I wrote or pen your own, may your table be even richer this year, as you take the time to give word to the feast in your heart.


Abundant God, thank you for filling our table with food to nourish our bodies, people who bless our lives, and most of all, your presence. May we look at this table, this food, and see that you have given us more than we need.  May we learn to take only a fair portion and share with those beside us. Help us remember those who go without — without food, family, health, shelter, or hope. Show us how our riches can fill the hands of those in need.  This coming year, make room in our hearts and at our tables for people with whom we can share your abundant love.  Amen.


The candles lit before us are symbols that the darkness is overcome. God of light, by the flame of your love, you made paths through shadowed wastelands. You led your people through bleakness, fear, doubt, and pain. You shepherded them through fields of twinkling stars, into dawn where the soft rays of day warmed their skin. In the same way, lead us out of the darkness of this past year. Give us the warm hope of new life, new opportunities, new vision. Help us see the Son each day, so that when dusk and midnight come, we can walk confidently toward morning. Amen.


Comforter, we remember the loved ones we lost this year. In our hearts we lift before you the names of our beloved friends and family.  (silence)  We pray for those far way from us and from you. Bring them near. Give us patience as we wait for their return. (silence) We pray for strangers, for the aliens and foreigners in our country and in all countries; may they receive kindness and friendship. (silence) God, thank you that we are together, sharing our time, our stories, this food. May all we do and say show love, joy, peace and patience. May we give gifts of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. As we eat, may we have self-control. Fill us with your love. Amen.


God, I’m desperately lonely. I have food but no friends. I have a house but no hope. I have disposable wealth but I’m spiritually poor. Where are you God? Who are you? If I ask, will you join my table? Do you even love people like me? Anyway, I’m here. There’s an empty chair and it’s yours if you want it.


Hosts:  We are thankful for each person here tonight.

Guests:  We are glad to be here.

Hosts: We are thankful for this food.

Guests: May it bless our bodies.

Hosts:  God, help us recognize the gifts you have given each of us.

Guests:  Lord, teach us how to pass blessing to others.

Hosts:  Guide our conversation.

Guests:  May we encourage one another.

All:  Thank you for this table, this feast, this love.  Amen.


Person 1: May this food fuel our bodies;

Person 2: May this laughter fill our spirits.

Person 3: May these friendships give us joy;

Person 4: May your love birth contentment.

Person 5: And however we are wanting,

Person 6: Grant us peace, faith and patience.

All:  Amen!


Jesus, today we have come together to celebrate your birth. If you had not been born as a human child, grown and ministered as the wise Son of God, died like a thief and rose from the dead, we would not know forgiveness, freedom from sin, the delight of new life, or hope for an eternal future with you. We are profoundly grateful for your ultimate gift of sacrifice — to die in our place. Thank you Lord. Thank you Lord. Thank you Lord.  Amen.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

In love and faith, Corrie