We can’t substitute praying for obeying

I am putting together some teaching notes on revival for a conference I am speaking at towards the end of April and stumbled across this gut-punch from A.W. Tozer:

“Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late — and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work.”

As someone who spent several years regularly praying for revival each week, that statement carries a lot of “Ouch!” However, it is absolutely true and one of the draw backs I see with an overly spiritualized understanding of revival. We can’t substitute praying for obeying – no matter how fervently we pray, if we don’t actually do the stuff we’re praying about, nothing will ever change. 

Wether it is getting into better shape, making more money or starting a revival – prayer only takes us so far before tangible actions must take palce in order to realize those desires. Human beings are made to work, work is spiritual. More precise: work is the means whereby spiritual desires become physical realities. Human beings unite the spiritual and the physical – our very nature is to pull the unseen/intangible spirit world into the world perceived by our senses. That may sound rather esoteric, but take your house as an example. That house first began as a dream inside a builder’s mind. The architect put it onto paper, but it was still intangible as of yet – no one could live in it. Then a series of people took that blueprint and made it a reality – something of substance that has measurable impact on the world. No matter what we are called to do, this is the essence of who we are.

Prayer tills the soil and work plants the seed, but it is still God who makes it grow. Sowing seed into untilled soil might produce a small crop, but much will go to waste. However, having perfectly tilled soil with nothing planted is foolish and unproductive because nothing will grow. Because God sovereignly refuses to violate our free will, we have to give him something to work with – in this case, our willing and obedient hearts. Prayer, the type of intercession that births revival, is certainly strenuous, but it is not the kind of work I’m talking about here. The kind of work I am talking about is taking the risks of the Kingdom: praying for the sick, proclaiming the Good News, feeding the hungry with food and Truth. 

I know that I have been guilty all too often of wanting to substitute praying for obeying – for actually doing the stuff that Jesus commands me to do. Praying is safe, it is fun, it feels productive. And it is productive, but it will never produce a harvest on its own. Jesus said, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.” Prayer mobilizes workers, it does not replace them. Conversely, obeying is work – hard work. It is inconvenient, it requires me to risk, to fail. Obedience requires me to be on point, to be in constant communion with God for the sake of others and not consumed with my own little life. Obedience is sacrifice. 

I am so thankful that Holy Spirit led me to Tozer’s quote – I needed a Reality check. I’m not in this thing called “following Jesus” to lead a safe, comfortable life. I’m in this because God revealed himself to me and called me to serve him and this is what service looks like. If God calls me, us, to do hard things, then so be it – we are more than conquerors through Christ. 

Blessing to you my friends!

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