For the National Day of Prayer, here's an op-ed piece by the authors of Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers:
Let Us Pray… And Act
By Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Millions of Americans will gather today in hotel ballrooms and on town squares, in church buildings and on campus lawns for National Day of Prayer. Millions of other Americans will, no doubt, look on this public religious act with some suspicion. Is National Day of Prayer a hang-over from the days of the Religious Right? Are those who gather protesting President Obama’s assertion that we are not a “Christian nation,” but a democracy that welcomes and protects the practice of diverse faith traditions?
As evangelical Christians, we admit that our fellow Americans have good reason to be suspicious. Though evangelicals have often argued fervently for the separation of church and state, we have also blurred the dividing line when access to political power served our agenda (and our pocketbooks). Even when our churches have tried to serve as the “conscience of the state” that Dr. Martin Luther King challenged us to be, our concern has been too narrowly focused on issues of private morality, overlooking the problems of systemic injustice that King himself so boldly challenged. If we are going to pray in public, evangelical Christians must begin with a prayer of confession. We have shouted the gospel with our mouths more than we have showed the world good news with our lives.
But our confession cannot be that we have over-stepped the boundary between private faith and the public square. The problem is not that Christians have been too public with our prayer. What we must confess is that we have done too little to become the answer to the prayers we pray. So often when faced with the problems of our world we have asked, “God why don’t you do something?” without realizing that God might be saying, “I did do something… I made you.”
When prayed by followers of Jesus, “God bless America” cannot be a divine endorsement of a political agenda or an excuse for inaction (as if we were asking God to bless others so we don’t have to). When we pray for God to bless anyone, we are challenged to see that we might be the hands of that blessing, for God has no hands but ours. When we pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we commit our whole lives to caring for the least among us—the unborn and the undocumented. If Christians are praying with Jesus, we cannot stop praying and acting until we see the restoration of all that is broken in our lives, and in our streets… broken political systems and broken families, polluted ecosystems and shattered lives.
So, rather than argue that National Day of Prayer is something that should go away with Jerry Falwell and the Christian Coalition, we say keep it. Let’s call Christians (and everyone else) to prayer. But let us also challenge ourselves to become the answer to our prayers. When we pray for the hungry, let’s remember to feed them. When we pray for the unborn, let’s welcome single mothers and adopt abandoned children. When we give thanks for creation, let’s plant a garden and buy local. When we remember the poor, let’s re-invest our money in micro-lending programs. When we pray for peace, let’s beat our swords into plowshares and turn military budgets into programs of social uplift. When we pray for an end to crime, let’s visit those in prison. When we pray for lost souls, let’s be gracious to the souls who’ve done us wrong.
None of us can do everything, but everyone can do something. To begin to act on our prayers with any seriousness is to remember why we pray in the first place—because anything worth doing is beyond our power to do alone. We cry out to God because we know we need help. But the God chooses to work in and through us. We have a God that does not want to change the world without us. So let us pray… and let us act.
Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove are the authors of Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals (InterVarsity Press).For a list of "50 Ways to Become the Answer to Our Prayers" visit: