Prayer vs Action

I was speaking this past weekend for a group of students at a camp in Iowa. We had a great time together. During our group meetings, I had the chance to talk with these students and leaders about the importance of making time to pray and time to serve.


Praying to cool off on a hot Hawaii day but not jumping in the water, is about the same as praying for God to work while doing nothing while you wait!

With a lot of people who are trying to live the Overboard Life (and all-too-often in my own life!), there seems to be a tension between prayer and action. On the one hand, I do believe that God is capable of accomplishing anything He chooses without any of my help. God is not in need of me, I’m in need of Him. Yet, on the other hand, in His ultimate wisdom and planning, God chooses to use me to do His work. And that’s where the tension lies (for us, not Him!): how much am I supposed to just sit back, praying and waiting for God vs how much am I supposed to get out and “get er’ done”?

As I thought through this tension for my messages in Iowa (and Oregon before that), I started realizing this critical truth: prayer and action aren’t in competition, they are both made complete in each other. In fact, the more I thought about this and looked at it through Scripture, the more I realized that when we pray and seek God’s will, help, favor and blessing, and then act on those prayers, the more likely we are to see God show up in BIG ways!

I’ve become convinced that too many of us think it’s all up to us — we work every day by serving others and chasing down our goals with the belief that it’s up to us and our wisdom and ability. We tend to pray little, work hard, and we achieve results that lie within who we are. But then there’s another segment of people who sit back and pray, while doing little. They have a belief that if they just pray hard enough, everything will work out (which has a partial theological truth to it, making it even more dangerous!).

However, even a casual search of the pages of the Bible will reveal that God is a multiplying God — He loves to show up and multiply the efforts of His children who are seeking Him and trying to live Overboard. In fact, the more I looked for it, the less I could find people in the Bible who only prayed and didn’t act on those prayers. It’s like the great men and women of the Bible believed that prayer was a call to action, not a call to waiting. When they asked God to show up (prayer), they went to work and waited for Him to multiply their efforts (action).

I can sit here and pray all I want for good health and for energy and better sleep. Obviously, God could miraculously intervene and zap me to restore my health. But God’s Word is full of proof and instruction that while God loves to show His power, He most often does so in multiplying our efforts, not in pulling miracles out of thin air. Here are just a few examples that you might already be familiar with:

  • When Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, He only performed His miracle after the disciples gathered up what they could find. Then Jesus sat down, prayed and started breaking the bread. Could He have just pulled the bread and fish out of thin air? Of course! But Jesus’ miracle was a multiplication of the disciples’ work. (Matthew 14)
  • Before Esther saved the Jews from total annihilation, she asked her uncle to pray, and then she sought the king’s favor. Could God have simply changed the king’s mind without Esther? Without a doubt! Instead, God changed the King’s heart when Esther prayed for God’s favor and then went to work. God multiplied! (Esther 4:15-16)
  • In Genesis 6-8, God saved Noah and his family from a world-wide flood. Did that ark that saved 8 people just appear from the forest? Nope. Noah and his family spent 100 years building the boat that would save them!
  • In Mark 2, Jesus was teaching in a packed-out house. Literally. Four friends had a buddy who was a paralytic and they desperately wanted Jesus to perform a miracle. Could Jesus have healed the man while he was begging on his mat on some street corner in Capernaum? Of course! But Jesus didn’t respond to the faith of these men until they did the work of bringing their friend to Him. And then Jesus multiplied their effort by healing the man physically and spiritually! (Mark 2:1-11).

Over and over again the pattern is the same — prayer and action are in partnership. James 2:15-16 speaks to this very issue by pointing out that if you just pray for a person who is in need of food, clothing or shelter but do nothing about meeting their needs, you are not demonstrating faith! Faith — the root of the Overboard Life — is displayed when we trust fully in God’s power, provision and presence (prayer) while using the gifts He has given us to serve others, faithfully being administrators of His grace (action). And that combination can lead us to the place where God becomes a multiplier of our effort, showing His power for His glory!

So what are you waiting for? Want God to show up in big ways? Are you eager for God to multiply your efforts for something even better than you imagined? While God is never obligated to answer our requests according to our will, He is in the multiplying business. And when you and I live in obedience to His Word and busy ourselves with His work (loving others!), we can find ourselves in the sweet spot of His goodness.

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

Project Nehemiah is my second book, written to help people who are trying to figure out what kind of work they can do for God. Check it out, and other resources, at our BRAND NEW online bookstore:

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7 Responses to Prayer vs Action

  1. kendra says:

    Exactly what I have been wresting with this past month is finding the balance between waiting on the Lord and taking action. I’m finding (as you said) that it is taking the action of LISTENING to His voice (thru prayer and Bible) and then being willing to do it even if its not what I would choose. This is a challenge for me:). Thx

  2. Naomi says:

    So glad God allows us to pour (just as the servants at the wedding in Cana were allowed to pour the water turned into wine). They also filled the water jars. He lets us have a part in meeting others’ needs. Prayer changes our hearts and helps us see others with Jesus’ love and compassion.

  3. Great post. I will be dealing with some of these issues as well..

  4. Pingback: When God gives you a stop sign | The Overboard life

  5. Pingback: Prayer Empowers Action - Alex Cuttiford

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