When Prayer is Scary

Philip Yancey, the noted American author, writes in his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference that he considers prayer a “risky enterprise.”

It’s a jarring statement but one we should thoughtfully consider. As Christians, we have the luxury of “having God’s ear.” We have reassurances from Jesus Himself that, not only does God hear us, but He answers (see 1 John 5: 14-15). We’re told to pray steadfastly (Colossians 4:2), whether we are anxious (Philippians 4:6), too weak for words (Romans 8:26), or filled with thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18). We are called to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4), our fellow believers (James 5:13-18), and even our enemies (Luke 6: 27-28). As we come to know God more and more through the act of prayer, we become more firmly rooted and assured of His goodness and mercy, His grace and love.

So what’s so risky about that?

Yancey wrote that as he prayed for others, he would often be convicted to do something about their needs. Sometimes, he said, we ask God for things we should be doing ourselves. Sometimes, we have to move from saying to doing.

And therein lies the risk.

I don’t take praying for others lightly. I firmly believe in the power of prayer and its importance in our faith life. However, let’s be honest–isn’t it a bit easy? We hear of someone’s struggle or see a heart-breaking story on the news, and it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to stop for a few minutes and lift the person and the situation up to God. Whether it be healing or restoration or peace, I murmur a few words to God–usually five to ten minutes max–and move on with my day. Don’t get me wrong; my prayers are authentic. My care is genuine. But my sacrifice?

Not so great.

Often times in prayer, we experience the tension between our words and our action. We know our physical, financial, social, emotional, and mental limitations; we understand we cannot meet every need, while our God certainly can. That’s why prayer is so wonderful. However, there are times when I’m praying for a particular person or situation, the Holy Spirit makes it abundantly clear to me that there is something I can do.

It’s a blessing to pray for that family who just welcomed a fourth new baby to their family. But I could also make them a meal or offer to baby-sit the other youngsters so mom and dad could have a much-needed rest.

It’s a honor to be able to pray for that woman whose marriage is crumbling. But I could also invite her over for coffee, join her on a hike, or take a class with her to lift her spirits and help her realize she’s not alone.

It’s a privilege to pray for a friend who just lost their job. But I could also use my connections to find out about available job openings in his field of expertise and maybe even set him up with an interview.

Sometimes, when we pray, the Holy Spirit reveals that we are the answer to that prayer.

And that’s scary. It’s scary to get involved. It’s risky to willingly wade into someone else’s mess. I don’t know about you, but I was always taught to “stay in my lane.” Don’t meddle, step on toes, or in any other way assert yourself into someone else’s business. It isn’t polite.

But it is, at times, necessary. Especially when God Himself is the one nudging you to act.

It might be uncomfortable, and it will most certainly take more than 5 or 10 minutes out of your day. It will mean stepping out of your strength and into the Holy Spirit’s. It will involve sacrifice. Time, money, resources, even simply emotional energy–there will always be a cost involved. But, for our prayers to be most effective, we must be open, not only to our petitions, but to God’s answers.

And sometimes that answer is you.

Or me.

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