I have seen comments on social media poking fun at the Nathaniel Bassey led #HallelujahChallenge. The coolness of deriding prayer, or any hint of spiritual fervour is growing. Like a vortex, it is sucking in folks who have come to believe that being snarky (even about sacred things) is the surest way to grow your personal brand on social media.
Yes, far too many Nigerians treat prayer merely as a means to press God into service as a wish granting genie, money doubler, or even a cold-blooded flame-throwing assassin. Still, the discerning believer must realize that prayer is indeed a powerful means of birthing change.
When we join in laughing at the notion of people praying about the results of poor governance, the joke is on us. We betray our ignorance of the nature of evil, and the power of prayer to overcome it. For sure, prayer is not a substitute for action, but it is an indispensable enabler of the right, and effective action.
Scripture gives us ample and unambiguous directives to pray about governance. It also chronicles for us the experiences of doers who powered their success with deep, discerning prayer.
Wherever I look I see oppression and bribery and men who love to argue and to fight. The law is not enforced, and there is no justice given in the courts, for the wicked far outnumber the righteous, and bribes and trickery prevail. Hab 1:3-4 TLB
This early portion of the book of Habakkuk actually sounds like a Twitter rant. But if you back up a little, you will see that he was talking to God. It was in some sense, prayer. The consequence of this lament was that God then gave Habakkuk a vision…
[Oh, I know, I have been rash to talk out plainly this way to God!] I will [in my thinking] stand upon my post of observation and station myself on the tower or fortress, and will watch to see what He will say within me and what answer I will make [as His mouthpiece] to the perplexities of my complaint against Him. And the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it easily and quickly] as he hastens by. Hab 2:1-2 AMPC
The problem is certainly not that we pray too much. We don’t even pray as much as we ought. The problem is that whatever praying we do is often ill-motivated. As it is said, “And even when you do ask you don’t get it because your whole aim is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure”. James 4:3 TLB
Nehemiah sets us a very sound example of the right approach to deploying the power of prayer to national development.
1 The autobiography of Nehemiah, the son of Hecaliah:
In December of the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia,[a] when I was at the palace at Shushan, 2 one of my fellow Jews named Hanani came to visit me with some men who had arrived from Judah. I took the opportunity to inquire about how things were going in Jerusalem.
“How are they getting along—,” I asked, “the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from their exile here?”
3 “Well,” they replied, “things are not good; the wall of Jerusalem is still torn down, and the gates are burned.”
4 When I heard this, I sat down and cried. In fact, I refused to eat for several days, for I spent the time in prayer to the God of heaven.
5 “O Lord God,” I cried out; “O great and awesome God who keeps his promises and is so loving and kind to those who love and obey him! Hear my prayer! 6-7 Listen carefully to what I say! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you; yes, I and my people have committed the horrible sin of not obeying the commandments you gave us through your servant Moses. 8 Oh, please remember what you told Moses! You said,
“‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations; 9 but if you return to me and obey my laws, even though you are exiled to the farthest corners of the universe, I will bring you back to Jerusalem. For Jerusalem is the place in which I have chosen to live.’
10 “We are your servants, the people you rescued by your great power. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Heed the prayers of those of us who delight to honor you. Please help me now as I go in and ask the king for a great favor—put it into his heart to be kind to me.” (I was the king’s cupbearer.) (Neh 1:1-10 TLB). Neh 1:1-11
For Nehemiah, prayer wasn’t an end in and of itself. It actually served to spur him to action: he immediately set about mobilizing resources, and marshaling the work. Of course he then went on to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem which had laid in ruins for years; completing the work in record time.
Whetting the Axe
It was Abraham Lincoln who is quoted to have said that, given six hours to cut down a tree, he would spend the first four in whetting the axe. For the believer, Prayer is actually whetting the axe. It is the necessary preparation for, and the compass to which we must constantly resort for direction all through execution.
Every trench digger knows that the time and effort spent soaking the ground with water, is actually saved, for he will find the dig a lot easier, and faster.
Importantly, it is critical to understand the nature of evil and how to overcome it. The reality is that the oft pooh-poohed notion that there is a spiritual dimension to the problems that nations encounter is actually a very sound idea. The truth is…
we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere. Eph 6:12
God’s desire is “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and so everywhere you see evil, you will find the devil, if you know how to look.
“But Oyinbo people don’t pray”, comes the counter. On the surface, it sounds like a good counter. In reality, it is only good for those who are ignorant of the devices of the devil. We are not!
Anyone who plays board games that require strategy must know of the idea of a gambit. Growing up, I played draughts a lot, and I know that a maestro is quite happy, ecstatic even to give you the impression that you are out-scheming him when all the time, the opposite is the reality. He might repeatedly offer you pieces for instance and while you are marveling at your luck and his naïveté, you suddenly realize that he gives you three pieces in order to set you up to loose seven.
The devil is the master of gambits. He is more than happy to withdraw his forces that fuel poor governance, if that lulls that society into forgetting its source. He knows full well that a river that forgets its source will dry up ultimately. And so, while on the surface, humans may reckon that all is well, and be rejoicing at their good fortune, God laments their wretchedness.
“You say, ‘I am rich, with everything I want; I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that spiritually you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Rev 3:17 TLB
The Horse then the Cart
Beloved, be not deceived. Prayer is key! To destroy the works of the devil, The Lord has this to say about sequence…
But no one can go into a strong man’s house and ransack his household goods right and left and seize them as plunder unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may [thoroughly] plunder his house. Mark 3:27
And so whether for your personal life or the society as a whole, change is birthed by steadfast discerning prayer. You will work, but you must pray. Don’t let the devil use people to deceive you.