“I’ve prayed about it, so now it has little to do with me because it is in God’s hands.”
There is a place for a certain type of thinking like this—when things are totally outside our action or control. But we may fall into this post-prayer thought probably more often than we should. We can label this type of praying as passive praying. Obviously, it’s active in the sense that you and I pray. We each pray to God. But the passivity appears once the prayer is complete. In passive praying we sit back and merely wait for God to act.
Now to be clear, waiting for God to act is totally a biblical idea (eg. Isaiah 40:31). In our bustling age, we most certainly could learn to wait more. The issue is when this is all we do after we’ve prayed about something, when we merely wait. Again, there’s a place for this, but we might give it too frequent of one.
A Prayer and an Aim
The apostle Paul concluded his letter to the Corinthians church telling them one of his prayers: “Your restoration is what we pray for” (2 Corinthians 13:9). That was his prayer. Paul believed God was sovereign over their restoration—which in context seems to mean the reestablishment of their solid faith in Christ—so, he prayed for it. This was his petition. Being a prayer to God, it is implied that Paul and the Corinthians were trusting God for their restoration, hoping in God for their restoration, waiting on God because only he ultimately could bring about that restoration.
But then two verses later, Paul beseeches the Corinthians to do something themselves: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration” (2 Corinthians 13:11). The prayer, therefore, wasn’t the end of the issue on restoration. To paraphrase Paul’s point, “I’ve prayed to God for your restoration. Only God can do it. So trust, hope, wait, depend on God for your restoration. And yet, you, aim for it.”
See how Paul’s mind worked here (which remember, is God’s mind in this text)? He’s praying they be restored and he’s commanding they aim for what he’s praying for. It’s his prayer and their aim. And importantly, because he prayed for it, he doesn’t shrink from commanding it. His logic isn’t, “God’s got it. So, I don’t need to entreat them about it.” He does believe God’s in control of it, but there isn’t any passivity due to the petition. Rather, there’s something they are to do. He tells them he’s asking God that God may help them be restored, but then with that truth set, he urges them, you must aim for that restoration.
Aim, meaning, they are to point at the goal of restoration, day in and day out in their relationships with one another, knowing Paul has prayed for this very purpose. With prayer as their foundation, they actively and intentionally are to pull back the bow, aim, and shoot at this target.
Falling Off Either Side
We pray—God’s in control and we trust him; we do—we act what we’re praying for. Without this double truth, we fall into one of two potholes. First, as discussed, we can pray and then become passive. Since we know that God is in control, we think this means we must merely wait without any doing on our part. The big temptation here is to think that this is more spiritual route. We convince ourselves that we’re the ones who are truly trusting; that’s why we don’t need to act. But the Bible says differently. True trusting will lead to action. Pray and aim.
The pitfall on the other side is either not praying at all, or praying then acting but not trusting God while you act. “I’ve prayed, yes, but now it’s up to me.” The person here understands that prayer does not lead to passivity. But tragically they forget that God alone is in control, that we are to wait and watch for him to act, that God alone is to be trusted and relied on.
God’s Prescribed Way
There’s a beautiful, biblical middle ground God has prescribed for us. And what’s at stake in this is not just proper praying and doing. If we pray and merely wait, or if we pray then forget and do it all ourselves, we’re not just “getting it wrong.” We’re robbing ourselves of Christian joy and power. There’s a sweet joy in praying and then trusting God, waiting on him to act. There’s also a sweet joy in praying and then being fueled to act, seeing how God works through you.
Only by praying and aiming do we get to wait on God and also witness God working through us. Petition does not lead to passivity. It leads to aimed action. After we pray, we must wait and depend on him alone to powerfully works through us, but also, we must aim. Prayer fuels our trust in God, but also the prayer list fuels the to-do list.