In the wake of a huge earthquake and resultant tsunami, the hashtag #prayforjapan is trending, even in UK. For those not familiar with the lingo, that means people on twitter are talking lots about praying for Japan. Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor and author, was good enough to tweet against the flow.
Is this how Christians are meant to pray? Is prayer our plan A, with practical aid as plan B? Are the two mutually exclusive?
My guess is that this view comes from thinking that answers to prayer must be miraculous, breaking laws of nature. In this case, an answer to prayer would presumably be considered to consist of the miraculous appearance of food and shelter, without any aid agency involvement. Answers to prayer may be miraculous, of course, but the simple fact remains they often aren’t.
The Bible never speaks about God being constrained by external forces. The laws of nature are not laws external to God which He may choose to keep or break. They are a normative description of the way in which God usually maintains the universe. A miracle isn’t so much God breaking the laws of nature as God choosing to uphold the world differently on a single occasion. By definition, therefore, we should expect miracles to be rare.
So what should we expect to see resulting from prayer for Japan? God may answer prayers for Japan miraculously, but by definition it is more likely He will provide for them through non-miraculous means. These means may well include aid from other governments or from individuals. If we pray for God to provide physical aid to the Japanese, we should not be trying to twist an unwilling God’s arm. We should be willing to use the resources God has given us to bless others. That prayer should be prayed not so much in a spirit of trying to change God, but a willingness to see Him change us.
Of course, this all assumes that Christians are praying for God to provide shelter, food and other material blessings for Japan. We are assuming our prayers are answerable by an aid agency. Not all prayers fit this category though. No amount of financial giving will provide wisdom to Japan’s politicians, energy to their emergency services or spiritual comfort to suffering families. John Piper’s prayer for Japan is not one material aid agencies have the ability to answer.
Please do pray for Japan. Please do contribute money to those less fortunate than yourself. But please don’t view those actions as diametrically opposed to each other.