Our church recently got a new pastor, and a few weeks ago, he gave a sermon on prayer that has become pretty much my favorite thing that anyone’s ever said on the subject.
He was talking about this passage from Matthew:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. […] These twelve Jesus sent out …
–Matthew 9:35-10:5, NRSV
I don’t remember the exact words our pastor used to explain, but it went something like this:
Jesus saw there was a lot of work to do, so he told his disciples to pray for helpers. So they go pray: “God, please send us helpers, etc.” Then Jesus says: “Hey! GREAT NEWS! We got some helpers! It’s you guys! Go out and get busy!”
This, he says, should be Christians’ approach to prayer in general.
It’s easy to see a problem and just ask God to fix it. But if you care enough to pray earnestly for something, shouldn’t you also care enough to try to solve the problem yourself? He gave Hurricane Florence as an example. Sure, by all means, pray for the people in the hurricane’s path — and then donate to relief efforts, or find some other way to help. Of course this approach doesn’t apply in every single case, but generally there’s at least something you can do about any given problem, even if it’s small or indirect.
As an agnostic, I have my own reasons for loving the DIY prayer fulfillment strategy, but I think it’s great from a Christian point of view too. “Thoughts and prayers” are fine, but both should push us to action.
And now, whenever I hear about anyone praying for a problem to be solved, I just imagine God’s voice coming down from above:
I found somebody to help!