When we see something that needs to change, what should we do? As followers of Jesus, do we simply pray, asking God to do it? Or should we work hard to bring the transformation we long for?
Down the centuries Christians have debated this on many occasions and sometimes got themselves into what seems like rather complex and unhelpful debates. I’ve recently found some help in this while reading 1 Thessalonians in my morning devotions. I was reading 1 Thessalonians 2 and a phrase stood out to me, where Paul described how he had ‘worked night and day’ (v.9). The next day, reading 1 Thessalonians 3, I noticed that Paul again uses this same ‘night and day’ phrase (in v.10), but this time he applies it to prayer, saying ‘night and day we pray’. It got me thinking. How can he work night and day, and pray night and day? The answer of course is by doing both! Because prayer and work are supposed to go together.
If you’ve read a few of my discipleship and/or leadership blogs, or read any of my books, you’ll know that I’m a great believer in prayer. I believe we need to recapture a vision for prayer, especially in Europe, the UK and the North of England. Because nothing of lasting significance happens without prayer. But we also need to work. When we know something needs to change, we need to devote ourselves to it and work with a passion. We don’t just sit around in prayer meetings all day – we get to work! We give ourselves to seeing God’s transforming kingdom come here on earth as in heaven.
So it’s both – prayer and work. Work and prayer.
Day and night. Night and day. (Oh – with good rest too. Don’t forget that bit!)
St Ignatius, it’s said, expressed it like this: Pray as if everything depended on God; work as if everything depended on you.’ That’s helpful. But of course, you could turn it round and say, Pray as if everything depended on you; work as if everything depended on God.’ That way it reminds me that I really do need to pray, with an urgency! It also helps me see that God wants to be present in my work, empowering me. Without that, my work is just my effort.
Whichever way round you prefer the St Ignatius quote, the point is that transformation comes through the combination of prayer and work. Work and prayer. They’re meant to go together.
Most of us are weaker in one than that other. If that’s you, why not focus on the weaker one in this season?
If it’s prayer, intentionally pray more often. Start to live more prayerfully. Go to prayer meetings and pray. Read a book on prayer and discover the breadth of prayer. Talk with someone who you know is a person of prayer. Learn to pray.
If it’s work, ask the Lord where you should be concentrating your energies and then do something in response. Join a group in your church or town that tells of the love of Jesus to those who don’t yet know Christ. Volunteer for a group or organisation that practically cares for the marginalised, or works for justice or helps sustain our planet. Most of all, do your day job, and live your home life knowing that God has placed you there to make a difference. And then make a difference.
This combination of prayer and work is what we’re called to do. Night and day. 24/7. It’s how we’re supposed to live as disciples of Jesus.