Is There a Misuse of Prayer? Martin Luther King Jr. Thought So & Perhaps We Should, Too by Lauren Carrier Horton
Several months ago in preparing for a devotional I was presenting during a virtual discussion group I lead on racism and the church, I came a cross a very interesting sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The teaching by Dr. King was found in the archives of the King Institute of Stanford University and was dated somewhere between the years of 1948 and 1954.
What captivated me as a Jesus-follower was the idea that there could even be an actual "misuse" of prayer. Growing up and still living in "the church," I was taught and still believe that there is power and connection in prayer, and that the fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman or child) accomplishes much (James 5:16). The idea itself seemed contrary to all I had been taught in my denominational and evangelical church background.
And yet, could there be a misuse or something wrong in some prayers? Dr. King thought so – and as I read more from his text and studied on my own I believe there is as well.
Dr. King said that prayer "is first of all a native tendency. Prayer is indigenous to the human spirit." We who pray, he went on, "know that God works in a paradox of unpredictable newness and trustworthy faithfulness." God hears our prayers. He listens and responds. "Call to me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen." (Jeremiah 29:11)
But as Dr. King continues, he shares the actual danger and misuse of prayer. This is where I have been convicted when reading this sermon through the lens of racial injustice especially right now in 2020. For Dr. King states that "prayer should never be a substitute for work and intelligence." He specifically lists several areas where prayer instead of active effort or actual intellect is the wrong response to some situations or issues, and one he lists clearly is the issue of civil rights.
As Christians we cannot let our response to injustice and oppression be "prayer" alone. We must pray, we must lament and we must cry out. There is certainly a time to be quiet, to grieve and reflect in prayer to our Maker. But it is not the sole response – we also must work.
Prayer cannot be a substitute for action, for when it is, it is misused. Scripture makes it clear for us that the calling and response we have as Christians when it comes to those being oppressed. In 2020 especially, prayer cannot be used as an excuse to not voice opposition, not protest peacefully (if one is able), not speak up or hold accountable those in leadership violating the lives of the oppressed in our country. We must be willing to lead lives of prayer and justice, but to link them together in worship as Christ-followers in response to all in love.
What do you think?
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