Prayer is a necessary root

The following is my first column for The Optimist, Abilene Christian University's student-run newspaper. 

In a culture that values innovation and problem-solving, we’ve seen some exciting developments in the way we tackle social justice. Social entrepreneurship projects like TOMS shoes and the Red Thread Movement have permanently changed the way we think about missions.

But sometimes I wonder if we are placing too much faith in our ability to make things happen. I love the optimism, but are we leaving God out of the equation?

In our pursuit of effective programs, we seem to have forgotten a key tool: prayer. We will gladly order a third pair of TOMS, but we can hardly sit still for 15 minutes of prayer in the morning. James 5:16 asserts that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” But do we believe it? Apparently not.

Growing up as a missionary kid in Thailand, I used to resent churches for not partnering with us in prayer. But now I understand how easy it is to minimize the vague requests of the abstract space known as the mission field.

Sometimes we can be jolted out of ourselves long enough to mourn the horrors of sex trafficking or natural disasters. But in the face of visible chaos, we forget to pray for the slow-motion tragedy of spiritual brokenness.

Consider the fact that my parents have worked in Thailand for 18 years and have yet to see more than a handful of people come to faith in Jesus. Thailand is a prosperous nation with the blessing of religious freedom, but its true poverty lies in its deep-seated resistance to the Gospel.

Our world desperately needs organizations that are willing to fight for the poor and oppressed. James 1:27 says true religion is “caring for orphans and widows in their distress.” But no program we devise can uproot a spiritual stronghold. That’s where prayer comes in. Without God’s transforming power at work in people’s hearts, we might as well be watering a dead tree.

This year, let’s commit to being a community that prays. Start with small steps, like going to Forerunners prayer Chapel on Tuesdays. Or try adopting a country or missionary family to pray for regularly. Pray over the flags on the Lunsford Trail. Pray with an accountability partner. I’ll be right there with you, learning how to pray again. Let’s change the world one prayer at a time.