Pray Before You Act
What am I going to do? How am I going to afford this? What if I don’t say something soon? Will there be anything left? Why does he always do this to me? I wish she would feel the way I feel.
Questions and thoughts like these often plague us, and they function as symptoms of the emotions of anxiety or anger that we feel from time to time. In the heat of the moment, we often end up feeding into these emotions and acting in ways God does not intend for us to act. Driven by the emotion of fear, we act too quickly or in a way that may feel good for the moment but in the end will make the situation worse. Driven by the emotion of anger, we lash out at another person with condemning words rather than constructive words. These are the real life consequences of acting out of the flesh and not the Spirit of God.
While sometimes God might use His Holy Spirit to move us to give an immediate response in a situation — which is different than our flesh-driven responses mentioned above — more often than not, God instructs us to first bring our flesh under submission to Him before we take any action. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we read this instruction: “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” What does this mean? It means that whenever we are thinking something, before we hang our hat on it, we ask God, “Is this true?” Perhaps a friend or a spouse hurts our feelings, and in our mind we start to think, “He never hears me” or “She always does this.” Before we write off on this conclusion, God wants us to invite Him into our mind and ask— “Is that true? Does he really never, or are there instances when he has been thoughtful or considerate or kind?” Often, what our feelings want us to think is not true. The person acting inconsiderately may be doing so for the moment, but this behavior is not indicative of his or her character as a whole.
Or maybe it’s a decision as to whether or not to act in a given situation. Abraham and Sarah faced this dilemma. God had promised them a child, but as time wore on and the child didn’t come, they began to wonder if they should do something. With no success in bearing the child on her own, Sarah is at the end of her rope, and so she suggests to Abraham to have a child with her slave, Hagar. “Perhaps I can build a family through her,” Sarah says (Genesis 16:2). Abraham does as his wife suggests. Hagar does have a child by Abraham, but this child leads to jealousy between Sarah and her slave and a whole host of problems and pain that follow. God had a plan for Abraham and Sarah, and He eventually fulfilled it, but the couple struggled to wait and pray for God to unfold the plan in His ideal way.
When we’re pressured, when we’re afraid, when we’re angry, often we want to act, but God means to draw us into conversation with Him in prayer. This can feel incredibly inefficient.
Incredibly counter-intuitive. Incredibly distressing to us, we who are without patience. But did we ever think that through prayer, God might give us patience? That through prayer God might give us strength or wisdom or peace? We can be assured that the result of prayer is in fact peace, as we’re told: “Donotbeanxiousaboutanything,butineverysituation,byprayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).
We can also be assured that through prayer God can in fact give us strength. Jesus prayed in deep anguish in Gethsemane, distressed to the point of sweating blood, but God, His helper, came to meet Him: “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him” (Luke 22:43).
It is through prayer that we are given direction, that we are given hope, strength, patience, goodness, gentleness, self control. Prayer is how we are able to have fellowship with God and receive the gifts His Spirit imparts to us. Let us not forsake it! Let us wait upon the Lord in prayer and renew our strength.