In response to a devastating heat wave in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin has asked citizens of the state to pray for rain.
“I encourage Oklahomans of all faiths to join me this Sunday in offering prayer for rain,” according to a Salon.com story.
“For the safety of our firefighters and our communities and the well-being of our crops and livestock, this state needs the current drought to come to an end. The power of prayer is a wonderful thing, and I would ask every Oklahoman to look to a greater power this weekend and ask for rain.”
The story, written by Justin Elliot, also cites Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s call for prayer in the face of a horrendous drought in Texas.
The piece also mentions Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s call for a statewide day of prayer last year in response to the disastrous oil spill that dominated the news for months.
As a person of faith, I certainly have no problem calling on people of faith to pray. Prayer is an integral part of many faiths. Prayer is a discipline that seeks to deepen our response to God in times of blessing and in times of sorrow.
One of my teachers was fond of talking about the role of faith both in times of “sunlight and shadow.” We pray when things go well, we pray when things don’t go well.
But I worry about politicians who call on prayer as a substitute for sound public policy.
I recall a story about two fishermen who get lost in a dense fog. As one of them rows the boat, the other one prays diligently for God’s guidance. Finally, the one who is doing the rowing says, “OK, you can stop praying now; I feel the bottom of the channel.”
Is that how prayer works? We pray only when we cannot feel our way out?
If Jesus has any say in this, then we must acknowledge that prayer is a two-edged activity. Not only do we call upon God to help us, but also to realize that we have a role to play in the answer to our prayers.
In the prayer that most Christians recognize as the model prayer, Jesus teaches us to say, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done – on earth as it is in heaven.”
The suggestion Jesus makes is that in heaven, where God is in charge, things work as they should. Down here, where we are in charge, things don’t work as well.
Our prayer is for us to find ways to bring symmetry to the order of heaven and the chaos of earth.
So, if weather patterns have been altered by human activity, or economies have promoted poverty, or if political priorities have granted privileges to some and misery to others, these are matters we should be taking steps to fix.
And not just praying about them, but enacting policies and processes that actually change the realities of injustices that exist because of our practices.
In the final scene of history as portrayed by Jesus, the human community will be called to account not on the basis of what we prayed about, but on the basis of what we did.
Jesus words, “I was hungry and you fed me,” are not words of prayer but are in reality the result of prayer.
As we pray for the needs of the world, we become motivated to be the answers to our prayers.
As Jesus intended.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).