Prayer and Poverty Alleviation—Part 2
Adapted from A Field Guide to Becoming Whole, 52-54.
In a previous post, we explored the ways that effective poverty alleviation requires faith in Christ and in God’s story of change for the world. Jesus Christ is the only one who can enable such flourishing to happen, for all of us.
Among the many implications of this truth is that we should be praying—a lot—through every aspect of ministry. How do we do this in concerted ways?
All Ministry Stakeholders Should Pray without Ceasing
Worshiping God and walking with Him throughout the week includes regularly communicating with Him. The primary way that God speaks to us is through His Word, and then we respond by speaking to Him in prayer. Somehow this praying is to be “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17, ESV), which can include pausing from our activities to offer up prayers as well as praying “under our breath” as we send emails, go to meetings, and sweep the floor.
Unfortunately, many of us have been (unintentionally) conditioned by the false story of Evangelical Gnosticism—essentially a separation of spiritual and physical life which sees God as only really concerned with spiritual things. We tend to believe that God is usually inactive in His world, so we need to rely on our own intelligence and material wealth to make our way in the world on a daily basis. Because of this background assumption, many of us struggle to see the point of such ongoing prayer. We may not even know how to do it!
It is also interesting to note that while many ministries have a full-time Director of Development (fundraising), very few have a full-time Director of Prayer (full disclosure—even we don’t, though we do have a staff member who coordinates regular weekly prayer meetings for us).
Such a position sounds strange, doesn’t it? What would happen if we asked our donors to fund such a position? And what would happen if our ministries spent even a fraction of the time we spend on planning, marketing, and fundraising on reading the Word and prayer?
To be sure, development staff are both necessary and good! Ministries need funds to operate, and helping God’s people to experience the joy of generosity is a very high calling. Indeed, the Triune God expresses His love via lavish generosity, and as His image bearers we are called to do the same.
But perhaps our staffing, time allocation, and budgets reveal something about the story of change that actually governs our ministries. If we are living Monday through Saturday in a world that we think operates without much input from God, then our current modus operandi is just fine. But given that this vision of the world isn’t real, perhaps we need to rethink the design of our organizations.
And ideally, there is not just one person praying, but the development officers, teachers, custodians, and all involved are encouraged to cultivate a spirit of prayer throughout all areas of their lives and work.
Many of our ministries fail to live out the following verses: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm” (Ps. 20:7–8). Can we really say we embrace the truths in these verses when so much of our work relies on our own strength?
Similarly, do our ministries communicate to people in material poverty that the key to their advancement ultimately rests on their ability to become more disciplined, to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, to get more education, and to work harder? Yes, people who are poor need to take actions to improve their situations. But as we walk with them through this process, we must constantly communicate that poverty alleviation is ultimately an act of King Jesus, urging them to cry out to Him and His Spirit for help in overcoming all the obstacles—both internal and external—that they face every day, even as we learn to do the same.
Putting It Into Practice
Here are a few questions for you as you consider how to apply this in your ministry context:
- What role does prayer play in your personal life?
Do you think about your personal decisions and personal problems as just as important to God as they are to you? Are you regularly seeking God’s wisdom and help as you navigate daily life?
- Think about where resources are allocated in your ministry. What does this imply about your organization’s story of change?
Do you prioritize regular times of prayer for your staff or volunteers? Do you offer regular reminders of the spiritual aspects of your work and provide training in theology and prayer to your team?
- What specific actions could you take to increase the role of prayer in your ministry?
Make some concrete plans that you can implement over the next month, with longer term goals for integrating prayer into your work. Commit to evaluating how well you have followed through with those plans, too!
We are a people who have been taught to pray by our Lord: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:9-13, NIV).
May we pray for all our poverty alleviation efforts in this way—for our work is a lived-out longing for Christ’s kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven!