When Prayer is Inappropriate

If you have spent any time under good Bible teaching or have spent your own time studying the Bible deeply, you may have come to the belief that Prayer is always appropriate. Contrary to the title of this article, I would agree with that sentiment, however, that sentiment is broader than you think, and I am going much more narrow and specific with this article than you probably first assumed.

While Prayer is always appropriate, this doesn’t mean it is always sufficiently appropriate. Something can be appropriate, like calling 911 when your house is on fire and you wish to have a chance at putting it out; yet calling 911 isn’t sufficient to save your house. Meaning, that if you simply called 911, your house doesn’t magically stop burning, but instead it takes other actions to put out the fire. In the same kind of way Prayer can be appropriate, but not sufficient. Please note that I am not saying that God isn’t sufficient, however, He has orchestrated life in a way that we are to pray to Him, but He doesn’t always directly act in response and most often uses other humans to answer our prayers. My point is, Prayer doesn’t move all the responsibility off of us onto God so that we may simply sit back and consider our duty fulfilled. Consider the following examples to help illustrate what I mean:

  1. Your friend has been stabbed. While you should definitely be praying, that isn’t the only thing you should be doing. The other thing, along with praying, is attempting to get him appropriate medical care.
  2. Coming home late one night you run into a homeless child starving to death and cold. Saying a simple prayer over him as you walk off isn’t all you should be doing.
  3. A family member is starting up their own business selling toilet paper. Would you simply pray that they succeed in their business while never actually purchasing product from them and consider yourself a good supporter of theirs?
  4. Desperately a friend confides in you that they need $100 to keep the heat on in their house, you have just received an extra $1000 in tax refunds that you didn’t expect, should you simply pray for them that God would provide them $100 and consider your duty complete, and your friendship true?

These examples all demonstrate that, besides prayer, there are other things which may be considered a part of your responsibility as well. I have seen too many Christians simply offer to pray for someone, as if that is as far as their responsibility extends, and feel like they did the truly spiritual thing. Contrary to this sentiment, what does James say in his Book about true Religion (or as our culture would call it: Spirituality)? James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Interestingly James here doesn’t mention prayer, while we do comprehend that we should also be praying for orphans and widows we know, he is much more practical and insists that we should do what is in our power to actually help those in need. Adding to this statement he continues this concept in the second chapter verse 15 through 16, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

Next time you hear about a need, or see a way in which you should pray for someone, also ask yourself, “Is there also something I could do to help them in a tangible way too?” If it is in your power to do so, then do it and there-by show that your Religion is pure and undefiled; don’t give insufficient answers to problems you can sufficiently correct. Do not simply pray and do nothing when you could be the very answer that God is providing for that prayer!

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