- - Sunday, November 29, 2015

“I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs,” said slave turned abolitionist statesman Frederick Douglass.

His words give a sweet reminder of the dangers of believing in the spirituality of prayer without the tangibility of action. At Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest women’s public policy organization, we believe both prayer and action are indispensable and inseparable parts of fruitful cultural engagement.

Scripture tells us “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26) and encourages us to “always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). Thus God endowed His creatures with not only the ability to pray and act, but the obligation to do so.

By emphasizing prayer or action disproportionately, we miss the deeply beautiful union of both. Prayer leads us in how to act. Prayer itself is a type of action. Actions can be empty without prayer. Action, as it did for Douglass, can become a prayer when offered for the sake of God’s Kingdom. The two are truly inseparable, yet we often detach them.

If we emphasize only prayer, we risk becoming lazy or complacent, believing our trust in God can somehow make up for our disobedient inaction. In Exodus 14:13, Moses tells the Israelites, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” This verse is often misleadingly cut off there, when in the very next verse Moses was corrected by God: “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff to divide the water.” God told Moses that it wasn’t right to just pray; real action was required.

Action is also de-emphasized when we begin to slip into a way of thinking that says God can be found only in a church through our prayers, that He belongs in a sacred zone cut off from the rest of our life. By contrast, Paul urges us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to “pray without ceasing,” which is possible only when prayers accompany us as we act throughout all of daily life: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God” (Colossians 3:17).

On the other extreme, if we emphasize only action at the expense of prayer, we easily burn out. We seek the goal without the means, the roof without the foundation, the words without the breath, the bread without the wheat. To quote the title of Fil Anderson’s book, we run the danger of Running on Empty. The book’s description captures the struggle of those drawn to act and tempted to forgo prayer: “Learn to live with God instead of for God.”

There is great irony in acting without prayer, because prayer is such a powerful tool for making things happen. “Prayer causes things to happen that would not happen if you did not pray,” pastor John Piper teaches. “If you do not avail yourself of the privilege of bringing to pass events in the universe that would not take place if you didn’t pray, you are acting like a colossal fool.”

The proper union of prayer and action is found in Acts 13, when prayer empowered the selection of active leaders: “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and proclaimed the word of God John was with them as their helper.”

This is a beautiful illustration that each person in this story — the fasters, the missionaries, and John — and their own roles in prayer and action. There are times when God asks us to sit back and let Him act — our action then being to blindly move forward, putting all our trust in God’s hand. Not everyone is called to pray and act in the same way, but all are called to both act and pray in some capacity. And that is what we empower women to do.

Concerned Women for America, along with the American Prayer Initiative that I was so honored to help found, are vehicles to help enable rhythms of prayer and action to become part of our everyday practices of cultural engagement.

This isn’t just a nice idea; it is a lived reality. It’s a reality when we do a devotional and prayer time before each staff meeting and a busy day of action. It’s a reality when we are praying for the victims of Islamic terrorism and speaking out to release captive Americans held by an Islamic regime. It’s a reality when my email inbox is full of prayer requests from our active state leaders. And it’s a tangible practice when, at the end of each article, we encourage our women with clear prayer intentions and action steps.

May we “pray with our legs,” letting prayer propel us into stepping forward with confidence in our God and with strength for the prayerful, active path He will lead us on. We do not believe our efforts will be successful otherwise.

Penny Young Nance is CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, with a membership of a half-million in 450 chapters, and is a recognized authority on cultural, children’s and women’s issues.

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