When Prayer Is Not Enough


This post by Joel Engman originally appeared at joelengmen.com.

Yesterday I watched a few news organizations cover the story of president Obama coming out in favor of Gay Marriage. One story I was watching shared a quote from President Obama’s book:

He says in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope that “It is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided…and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history.”

In m own career as a pastor I have seen the denomination I serve (the CCDOC) and the church I serve decide to ‘prayerfully discern’ their stance on this and other issues that have the potential to divide. While I support prayerful discernment wholeheartedly I wonder at what point ‘prayerful discernment’ becomes a cop-out for doing the right thing in a difficult situation.

When is prayer no longer enough?

A colleague and friend of mine has recently been interviewing for church positions and was asked what I think may be the best church interview question I have ever heard: ‘Using the image of Jesus in the temple, what would you be willing to turn over the table in the temple for?’

Jesus certainly was a model for ‘prayerful discernment’ but He was also a model of action in difficult circumstances. Jesus certainly took time to pray as a first reaction to difficult circumstances, but prayer was not his only tool. He taught, spoke up, had compassion, lived alongside, and expanded the kingdom in His every action and word.

I hope that more often than not I speak up even when its hard. I hope that while I prayerfully discern I also remember that Jesus was ‘action.’ From that prayerful center comes a burning desire to follow the heart of Christ into battle for the least of these among us, for the right/ethical thing, for the compassionate thing and for what brings healing to our broken world.

My answer to that question:

Treating people with respect, not using power to manipulate and control, having high ethical standards in working with people’s money, time, secrets, and passions, standing with those who have no voice, caring for the ones among us who need a voice, and making sure that message is passed onto the next generation are the things I would be willing to turn over the tables for. I hope in doing so I will be on the right side of history when I look back.

Love Always Wins.

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2 thoughts on “When Prayer Is Not Enough

  1. Thanks for this insightful and compassionate post.

    I think that when it comes to ethics, we are obligated to act according to our conscience.
    Our ethical behavior flows from a moral wellspring inside of us. The question becomes not so much “what specifically to do?” (since there is no manual or handbook for life) but rather “how do I keep the moral well pure with living water? How do I draw upon the infinite waters of life and not the stagnant pools of our unjust culture?”

    What you offer is a terrific indication of how we may keep the water fresh and flowing from the Divine source.

    I must remember that between people who defiantly disobey their conscience and those who are blind to the moral imperative of compassion, dignity and justice, the bigger problem is blindness. I am an optimist. I believe that human beings are created good in the image of God. We are trapped by systemic sin and the blindness with which sin afflicts us.

    As committed Christians, we have a three-fold charge: to open the eyes of the people; to provide a real faith to meet them as they newly behold the broken world; to take the lead in radical social change in order to bring the kin-dom of God, because that IS the kin-dom of God.

    For LGBTiQ folks, we are obligated not to make a place for them at our crooked table, but rather overturn the table to create a new inclusive society balanced by God’s call for universal dignity. Because they are God’s kids, they are worth overthrowing the table for. We all are.

  2. joseph – I love the image/comparison of changing the dialogue from welcoming LGBTiQ folks to ‘our table’ to overturning the table all together so that we are all equally welcome! Seems like justice to me.

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