After days of #prayforjapan in my twitter stream, today I see many tweets calling for action instead of prayer. @ozten provides a ready example:
Hey everybody, if I'm in trouble and you have a choice between prayer and action. Please act! #writing_spirit_checks_you_cant_cash
Implicit in this is the idea that prayer is fundamentally a turning away from action, impotence where ability is required. I understand this, and also where it comes from: prayer is bowing, eyes closed, back to the world. It is speaking to someone who doesn't speak back. It is, quite obviously a waste of time.
This is not what prayer is, or not what it should be. Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, sets up a more difficult and appropriate picture of prayer. He tells them to "pray without ceasing." This is not a call to inaction, nor a call to withdraw. Rather, it is a call to prayer as lived posture, a call to prayer as action. I cannot hope to become inactive and to pray without ceasing at the same time.
To pray as God has instructed is to live with the statement, "Here I am Lord," forever on our lips. It is to listen, to be ready to act, to be available. Prayer demands action, for it is through us that God has chosen to both reveal and act within the world.
I continue to pray for Japan.