Don't Just Do Something, Pray

“After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone.” Matthew 14:23

What do you do when life becomes difficult? When the rpms of the day rev up and life gets a little bit crazy what do you do? Jesus prayed. I’ve always found that infinitely significant. The Son of God relied in prayer on the Father and the Spirit. What possible hope do we have without an enduring reliance on prayer?

And yet… When pressed by life most of us tend to become practical. We want to act, to solve, to understand, to explain. We want to handle the situation. Frankly, being a mature and capable person in life requires some of this. We cannot pawn off every problem, blame others, and generally avoid taking responsibility. We do have to act.

What we omit, however, is the less evident resources of the Spirit. Busyness and hurry edge out prayer because we think we don't have time for it. Some people say I'm too busy to pray, but others say I'm too busy not to pray.

A few years ago I realized that I was in the former category. I never doubted the necessity of prayer nor was I agnostic about it. I trusted that prayer worked, but, when pressed by life, prayer seemed to be the first item I lopped off my to-do list. It was not practical.

I plead for understanding here. I was not angrily rejecting prayer or doubting God's care. My pride, the enfolding of myself upon myself, was more subtle. I knew that God gives me gifts and tools to make it through life. My problem is that I began trusting in the tools more than I trusted in the God who gave them to me. My attitude, not necessarily spoken, was "I've got this."

Little by little and then suddenly I was living more and more a self-directed life. I had become self-sufficient in the very worst sense of the word. Prayer, rather than a vital link to a sustaining God, had become nearly impractical. I knew what needed to be done, how to handle my problems. I just needed time, and heart, and courage to do it. I also yearned for the universal cooperation of everyone around me. My unconscious creed was “Don’t just stand there, do something” (or worry incessantly about what I believed should be done).

Now my creed is “don’t just stand there, pray.” Prayer is the most practical action I can engage in, for it invites God’s presence and power more deeply into my life at the precise point of need. Whenever I feel pressed, if I can remember to pause, breathe deeply of God’s Spirit through a simple prayer, then I have acted in the most practical way possible.

There is not a single problem that cannot be solved or at least made manageable through prayer. It used to be that when someone asked me if I had prayed about a problem I was slightly irritated. Of course, I had said some general prayers at some point in the recent past! Then I learned again the practical importance of naming a problem to God and asking for His help. Now I irritate all the “practical” people around me by reminding them to pray about a problem.

I’ve learned again to pray simply because I’ve needed it. God was always there doing His God-thing: waiting patiently, listening intently, and smiling lovingly. He was just waiting for me to become practical.


Dr. Terry Ellis
August 2, 2015