Reflections and Blog

Work vs. Prayer

Have you ever said to yourself, “I have so much work to do that I do not have time to pray,”? We probably all have at one time or another. Yet, in thinking this way, we greatly overestimate our own ability to make things happen and greatly underestimate God’s ability to do the same.

Solomon’s Wisdom

Part of my Bible reading this morning was in Psalm 127, and the first two verses from King Solomon there read:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

The reality is that our sovereign God is not only in control of our ability to work at all but also of our effectiveness in work. He can make strenuous effort and extensive planning come to nothing, and he can also make bumbling effort and total lack of planning yield a wonderful outcome. These truths are not to move us to laziness or recklessness—after all, we are called to diligent and wise work (e.g. Prov 13:4; 20:18)—but instead to prayerful dependence on God in all our labor.

Israel’s Example

Consider how God called Israel to similar dependence in keeping sabbaths of weeks and years and in going up three times a year to celebrate feasts of worship in Jerusalem (Exodus 20:8-11; 23:10-11; 14-17). From one perspective, if Israel obeyed God in these ways, Israel would be giving up critical times of productivity that would only make the people more vulnerable for the future. Yet God assured Israel that he would so bless their labor on other days that he would more than make up for the lost work time (Lev 25:18-22; Ex 34:21-24). Sadly, Israel generally did not depend on God in these ways but trusted in their own efforts to provide for themselves. The result for Israel, ironically, was less productivity and, in the end, judgment from God (Lev 26:34-35; Jer 17:24-27; 2 Chr 36:20-21). We should learn from Israel’s negative example (1 Cor 10:6, 11).

Spurgeon’s Words

I recently came across the following words from the great 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon here seems to be paraphrasing both Martin Luther’s words and lifestyle when it comes to work and prayer:

I like that saying of Martin Luther, when he says, “I have so much business to do to-day, that I shall not be able to get through it with less than three hours’ prayer.” Now, most people would say, “I have so much business to do to-day, that I have only three minutes for prayer; I cannot afford the time.” But Luther thought that the more he had to do, the more he must pray, or else he could not get through it. That is a blessed kind of logic: may we understand it! “Praying and provender [animal feed] hinder no man’s journey.” If we have to stop and pray, it is no more hindrance than when the rider has to stop at the farrier’s to have his horse’s shoe fastened; for if he went on without attending to that it may be that ere long he would come to a stop of a far more serious kind.

May we think with a “blessed king of logic” and give both work and prayer their proper place!

Questions to Consider:
1. Have you ever seen much effort produce little or little effort produce much?
2. Does your approach to work and prayer show that you ultimately depend on God or depend on yourself?
3. How else might you obediently express dependence on God without acting unwisely?