Is Prayer Enough?

Have you all ever read Isaiah 58? The other day, I was moving things around in my dining room, and a Bible that had been on a side table was set on the dining room table. I went to eat breakfast and there was the Bible, lying open right where I usually sit and eat. How nice. I sat down and looked to see where it was open. Isaiah 58. I started reading. And it kind of felt like I was suddenly sitting in the Principal’s office being read the riot act. 

I will summarize. Basically, God says, I’m not interested in your fasting and praying if it’s not accompanied by acts of mercy and justice towards the people around you. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot concerning our country. Before the upcoming election, and even throughout this momentous year, I have heard a lot of Christians, from all denominations and political stances, calling for prayer for our nation. I have often heard people quote, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, I will heal their land..” and then we are all called to pray for our country. Except that the verse they are quoting actually says, 

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

We seem to forget about that “turn from their wicked ways” part. Isaiah 58 gets pretty detailed about what God thinks of as “wicked ways”. 

Isaiah 58:6 -7

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke? 

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

I don’t believe it’s an either/or kind of thing. We’re not supposed to choose between fasting and prayer or social justice. One without the other is empty. I am not trying to put a yoke of condemnation on our shoulders. In this world where we are overwhelmed by all our responsibilities, being told that you should be out feeding the poor and lobbying for social justice, well that just feels heavy and impossible. But, saying, it’s too much, I can’t do it, is also a cop-out. 

Each of us has talents, gifts, and resources. We can use those to help those around us. We can send that extra spending money to a homeless shelter. If we have time to volunteer, there are endless possibilities. We can write letters. We can call our local government offices. We can serve people in our community through one-on-one relationships or through supporting others who have time for that one-on-one. For those moms with young children who are in the trenches and barely hanging on, you can befriend someone at your church who is new. Maybe reach out to another young mom who desperately needs fellowship and encouragement. For those who are housebound, you could write letters to people in prison, start researching the issues in your community, email people with influence. There is SO MUCH we can do! 

We all desire the grace of God on our country. But I am going to say that prayer is not enough. If we want to see changes in our country then we need to follow Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. God’s heart is for the homeless to be fed and sheltered, for the worker to earn a living wage, for people to be treated with love and respect. 

We are saved by grace through faith. Not by works, but when we have faith and grace, it should compel us to do works. 

James 2:14-17

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

I would like to suggest that while we are praying for our country, we also add to that prayer: God show me what I can do to help the homeless, the oppressed, those who are under a yoke. Show me specifically something I can do to help. 

In Jesus Name Amen. 

Here is Isaiah 58 if you are interested in reading the whole thing:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.

    Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion

    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;

    they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right

    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.

They ask me for just decisions

    and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

    ‘and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,

    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

    and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,

    and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today

    and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

    only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

    and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness[a] will go before you,

    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

    and your night will become like the noonday.

11 

The Lord will guide you always;

    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

    and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

    like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

    and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath

    and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight

    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way

    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 

then you will find your joy in the Lord,

    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land

    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

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