Nearly everyone prays. But I’m learning that most of us miss the point. There is a profound difference between planting a few trees in your back yard and changing the landscape. The difference is asking for great things (not bad) versus creating a culture conducive to great things happening (much better).
The apostle Paul understood this. He encouraged his churches to change their landscape:
Philippians: “I pray that your knowledge may abound more and more in love and in depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best” (Philippians 1:9).
Thessalonians: “we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling” (2 Thessalonians 1:11) .
Colossians: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives” (Colossians 1:9).
Paul isn’t targeting isolated needs. Why? Not because they didn’t have any. But because real change – at least the kind that’s valuable and consistent – comes when the landscape is changed. Because limiting prayers to a task list is like asking God for dating advice – not how to be a better husband. We’re essentially saying: “I don’t really want to be someone better, I just want to do something better.” And that’s just not good enough. Not for the kind of change we need.
There’s a lyric from an Over the Rhine song that gets this: ” You can’t put no band-aid on this cancer / like a twenty-dollar bill for a topless dancer / you need questions forget about the answers.”
Consistent acts of love will flow out of a culture characterized as loving.
Churches will predictably act with bravery and intent when the church culture is characterized as courageous.
Instead of praying for the specific acts – we ought to aim higher. While there’s always a place for specifics (“If any of you is sick…”), I think we often miss the point: large-scale spiritual renewal. Don’t pray for courage. Ask God to make you more courageous. Don’t ask God to help you love a difficult person. Ask Him to make you more loving. Transforming culture – either personally or corporately – will take longer, but will create a sustainable culture.