After our responses to the Ask A Mixed Faith Couple were posted, someone commented on Facebook that they prayed for Jason and me to become a one-faith couple again. They said that God answers prayers and would answer this one as well.
This isn’t the only time I’ve seen that expressed. I get emails along these lines pretty regularly. People who tell me with their words that they are praying for my husband to come back to God.
I appreciate your concern, but I want to be honest with you. At three and half years in, I don’t see your prayers doing any good.
I know it’s not great to admit that. I’m supposed to exercise faith. I’m supposed to remember that “the prayer of a righteous man avails much.” I’m supposed to believe that whatever we ask in God’s name will be given to us.
Certainly something like the recommitment of my husband to the Christian faith would fall into the category of prayers that God would be happy to answer in the affirmative, right?
Here’s the thing.
You’re not doing anything.
These words often come from those who would agree that God is not a genie who we can summon at will to do what we want. They would never suggest that God is beholden to our whims. And yet when it comes to the issue of salvation, they abandon their ideas about what God must do with regard to prayer.
When you tell someone else that you are praying for their unsaved loved one, while making no effort to spend time with the unsaved person, that communicates a lack of care for the person for whom you claim to be praying. My husband is a person, not a project. The Sunday night atheist group that I visit isn’t just a collection of souls to be saved, it’s composed of people who have lives way beyond their lack of belief.
Far be it from me to suggest that we are to be a part of any kind of works-based faith. But when I read passage after passage that talks about God answering prayers, there is action required along with prayer. And that action is almost always rooted in community.
We don’t simply pray for healing, we visit with the person who is sick. We don’t simply ask God to give us things, we go and bear good fruit with our actions. Our prayers are accompanied by some kind of act of caring for the people for whom we are praying.
Even when Jesus suggests that we go into our closets to pray, that serves the community by taking the attention away from us. The prayers that we utter in private bring about actions that occur publicly.
This action is what makes our prayers effective.
When I go to the person who is sick to pray with them, I’ll probably bring food with me to share with them. When I pray with a friend who is sad, I give them my arms to comfort them. When I pray with the person who is waiting for news, I let them know that I’m rooting for them and I will support them no matter the outcome.
These actions allow the person to know that my prayers are more than words. They invite the person into my life in a more profound and intimate way. They show how we are a part of the Kingdom of God together.
If you want to effectively pray for those without faith, involve yourself with the people. Get to know them: their likes, their dislikes, their hopes, their desires. Laugh with them, cry with them. Celebrate with victories, commiserate with defeats.
Your actions will be the prayers. And regardless of the state of belief, your actions will include them in the Kingdom.
And those are the prayers that work.