Before I get started, some disclaimers:
- I don’t believe in formulas. In Chemistry? Yes. In life? No. God isn’t a predictable science experiment. If we do A and B, God is not obligated to do C.
- Life is messy. We live in a fallen, broken, sinful world. Bad things can happen even when we do the right things.
- Mixing a fervent prayer with the right measure of faith doesn’t always yield the results we want. See #1 and #2.
- I don’t believe people get cancer and die because they didn’t have enough faith.
- Sin does not always prevent God from blessing us. If it did, none of us would be blessed. Ever.
Those things being said, I’ve been thinking about prayer and obedience the past few days. Now I don’t mean to pit them against each other, but go with me for a moment. Which is better–prayer or obedience?
I guess the next question would be: better for what?
How about–better for getting what we desire?
We desire better health. We desire a new car or house. We want to get married or see our current marriage improve. We want to pay our bills on time, get out of debt and have a little left over for a vacation once in awhile.
Is it better to pray or obey?
I can already hear you saying the answer: Both!
And I would agree with you. It’s obviously better to do both, but my sense is that many of us only do one. We pray. We pray for God to intervene. We pray for Him to rescue us. We pray for Him to change someone’s heart. We pray for a breakthrough.
But often, we don’t obey Him.
A couple weeks ago while driving home from a weekend out of town, I stopped for gas at a little country gas station. As I came out of the store, I noticed a very obese woman sitting in her car smoking a cigarette.
Now imagine this woman begins to experience a chronic cough and shortness of breath. Not hard to imagine, right?
She has a choice now: she could begin praying God will heal her or she could stop smoking, eat healthier and exercise. We would think she was foolish for only praying, but not changing her habits, right?
I wonder how many of us get into difficulties with our finances, our relationships or our own medical issues and beg God for a miracle or some kind of breakthrough, but what may be better is for us to simply obey Him. And then add our prayers.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is giving instructions to the Israelites before they cross the Jordan River to take possession of the land of Canaan. In chapter 28, Moses goes into great detail about what will happen to them if they fully obey God and carefully follow His commands. And he goes into even greater detail about what will happen if they do not obey.
There’s no mention of prayer. God’s blessings are contingent upon their obedience, not the fervency of their prayers. God graciously instructed them on how to live and was very clear about the blessings or curses that would follow their choices.
It’s not just Moses though. In John 15:1-11, Jesus is teaching His disciples that He is the vine and they are the branches. Apart from Him, they can do nothing. In verses 7-8, He says:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you…” Isn’t that another way to say, “if you obey me?” Obedience plus prayer results in much fruit bearing.
Jesus goes on in verses 9-11 to say:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
We remain in Jesus’ love by obeying him. And what is the result of doing that?
Joy. Complete joy.
Isn’t that ultimately what we all want? Complete joy?
So what are we to do about the difficulties we find ourselves in?
Let’s take our finances for example. If we’re in a mess–are we continuing to spend beyond our income? And just as importantly, if not more so, are we giving? 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 says:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Are we crying out to God to give us relief from our financial difficulties, while choosing to sow sparingly? God promises we will reap generously if we sow generously.
Are we asking God to heal our high blood pressure, but eating a diet full of unhealthy food? God has given us healthy foods to eat for our enjoyment and good health.
Are we desperately pleading with God to heal our marriage, but not practicing the principles in Ephesians 5:22-33 or reading a good book on marriage or attending a Weekend to Remember marriage conference or seeking counseling? Sure it takes two to heal a marriage, but are we at least doing our part?
God not only gave us His commands for our own good, He also gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to obey them. He has instructed us on how to live this life. But are we listening? Are we following through on what He’s already told us?
I’m not at all suggesting that obeying God is somehow better than praying to God. But I am saying that if we’re praying without obeying, then I can’t help thinking God is saying, “I’ve already answered your prayer. You’ll discover it as soon as you obey me.”
Last thing: it would be worth re-reading the five disclaimers I started with.