(Check out other articles in the Silly Things Christians Say series.)
Time for another classic Christian cliché: “I’ll pray about it.”
First, it’s common (unspoken) knowledge that, generally speaking, most of the time we hear this, we’re not listening to someone who is genuinely considering our request/offer and wants to go into their “prayer closet” to seek the Lord for an answer. Nah. Not at all. I think lots of times it’s like the Christian version of, “uhh, well, I’ll have to talk to my accountant about that.” In other words, it’s often just an “easy out” to avoid the awkward situation of actually having to say “no” to someone who asked us to do something that we really have no interest in doing.
Now I’m not trying to throw dirt on everyone who says this. I do know plenty of people who are actually serious when they say they’re going to pray about something, and I find that admirable. I’ve been a little controversial in the past, but I’m not about to say that praying about decisions we have to make is bad. But I think there’s something we all need to hear - even the serious “I’ll pray about it” people.
There’s some kind of strange underlying assumption in certain church cultures that unless God tells us specifically to do something, then we don’t necessarily need to do it. But we already know lots of things that are God’s will - and we don’t need to pray if he wants us to do them. It’s true, we have to manage our limited time and resources well, so there is an element of prayer and discernment to find out the best way to use them, but we don’t really need to “pray” and wait for an answer about every choice we make. He gave us a brain, and sometimes we just need to use it. Also, if we really believe in the Holy Spirit living with us and helping us guide our decision-making, then we don’t always need to make such a fine line between “God told me to” and “I chose to.” Don’t get me wrong - I believe God can ask us to do very specific, unexpected things; but I also think we have to make our own choices sometimes. Let me illustrate this with a concrete example:
We already know lots of things that are God’s will - and we don’t need to pray if he wants us to do them. He gave us a brain, and sometimes we just need to use it. (Click to share on Twitter)
I visited the country of Lebanon for a week in June 2018, and had a very strong “stirring” in my heart on our first day here, when we visited the orphanage/school that I would end up working at long-term. At the time, though, I had no idea about any of that. I didn’t even want to be on the trip in the first place. But for one of the few times in my life, I feel like the Holy Spirit spoke directly to my heart. Uninvited, unexpected, and totally unwanted, I not so much heard as “felt” in the very core of my being, down to the depths of my soul, “This is where you are supposed to be.” It was so strong that I was literally considering if I needed to cancel my plane ticket home and just stay.
Fast forward six months to January, and I came back to spend a month in Beirut, taking a class on Islam and also staying at the orphanage to see if it was a good fit for me. Even though I had heard the message clearly, I wasn’t sure what “this is where you are supposed to be” actually meant. Like, am I supposed to be visiting yearly and developing partnerships? Am I supposed to come as an intern for a few months? Am I supposed to move here?
I came for that month-long trip hoping for a clear, definitive answer to that question - hoping that God would speak more specifically than he had the first time. But I didn’t get that. I got no “word from the Lord” about my future here. And I remember agonizing about it a little bit to my friend, Brent, who moved here from Minnesota over 12 years ago.
“Corey,” he said to me, “you don’t need God to tell you everything.” He told me that God has already given us a very clear idea about how he feels about the poor, the orphaned, and the refugees. In a sense, he kind of told me that I have the freedom to make up my own mind if God isn’t telling me something specific. “If you like it here, feel like it’s a good fit, and choose to be here,” he said, “you can’t really make a wrong choice. God’s not going to be mad at you for coming to work with poor children in his name. And if he really wants you doing something else, then trust that he can tell you no about coming to Lebanon.” Basically, unless God said “no,” then I could make up my own mind.
Although it seems so painfully obvious to me now, I remember how surprising and unexpectedly freeing it was to hear those words. I didn’t need to “pray about it” until I heard an answer. Of course, praying about it was very important, but I was given freedom to trust my own brain, my own heart, and my own will (knowing that those are each guided in one way or another by the Spirit of Christ) instead of standing still until God said go.
If you’re considering doing something from a place of justice, mercy, and humility in the name of Christ, then you don’t really need to wait for God to say yes. Just move forward and trust he can say no. (Click to share on Twitter)
If God is analogous to a parent, then think about it this way: you don’t need to ask your mom if you should do the dishes or be nice to the kid who’s getting bullied at school. She’s already taught you that’s what she expects. And you don’t need to call your dad to approve your course schedule when you’re planning which classes to take your first semester in college. You can just use the wisdom and skills your dad taught you (assuming he actually did - if not, then use a different example) to move forward and make your plans.
Okay, those are far from perfect analogies, and there’s plenty of holes in them, so don’t take them too seriously, but maybe they help drive the point home a little bit.
Bottom line: I’m not saying “praying about it” is a bad thing. But we seriously need to consider why we’re saying it, what we’re praying about, and what we’re expecting that prayer to accomplish.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8
If you’re considering doing something from a place of justice, mercy, and humility in the name of Christ, then you don’t really need to wait for God to say yes. Just move forward and trust he can say no. In other words, you might not need to “pray about it” before you make up your mind.