26.11.2022 Feature Article

To Work is to Pray, and to Pray is to Work: A New Paradigm Shift in our Understanding of Prayer and Work

To Work is to Pray, and to Pray is to Work: A New Paradigm Shift in our Understanding of Prayer and Work
26.11.2022 LISTEN

To pray is to commune with God through petition, adoration, praise, confession, and thanksgiving. The ultimate goal of prayer in both the Old and New Testaments is not just for the benefit of the petitioner, but the honor of God's name. Even in the Lord's Prayer, personal needs did not come until God's sovereignty and glory were acknowledged. Nevertheless, when it comes to petitioning prayers, C.S. Lewis alerts us, "For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can delegate to His creatures." In other words, God expects us to do what is within the limits of human possibilities. The Old Testament attests to this statement by Lewis. Pious individuals like Abraham prayed for his wife Sarah to have a child and for Abimelech's infertile wives to bear children. Isaac also prayed for his wife to have a child. They also prayed for guidance, protection, and wisdom: things they believed were beyond their control. We never heard of these men or women asking God to prevent the destruction of their land or water bodies by their own activities, or God to manage their economy or do things they could do as humans created in the image of God.

Thomas Kuhn, one of the most influential philosophers of science of the twentieth century, in his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," talked about Paradigm Shift. His account of the development of science held that science enjoys periods of stable growth punctuated by revisionary revolutions. In other words, science has a paradigm that remains constant before going through a paradigm shift when current theories cannot explain some phenomenon, and someone proposes a new theory." I want to posit that the current Ghanaian Christian thinking that we can substitute labor or work with prayers has miserably failed the country and its citizens, and has to be replaced with a new theological paradigm about work and prayers.

Let me start by saying I am a Pentecostal Christian who believes in the power of prayer and practices it daily. However, I think there is something we have missed when it comes to prayer and work. As people, we are too superstitious about ascribing everything to satanic forces. One wonders whether some of us think Satan is sovereign over the affairs of this world. The Bible describes Satan as a powerful force, but not omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient like God. We live in a society where people absolve themselves from personal responsibilities by ascribing their actions to spiritual forces.

Have you heard the song, "My family members have undermined me or destroyed my life by placing a palm wine pot in my stomach?" That is the excuse of the drunkard. What about the spendthrift, profligate, prodigal, extravagant persons? They will tell you the family members have punched holes in their pockets. We have used the work of Satan and demonic forces to shirk our individual and collective responsibilities for a long time. It is not surprising that charlatan prophets have mushroomed to take advantage of our superstitious beliefs. It is high time we reflected, changed our thinking, and took personal and collective responsibility for our actions or inactions.

All we need to do is think a little. Why are countries that do not pray or do not pray as much as we do ahead of us? Aren't we supposed to do more and be better than those who do not pray if prayers are responsible for the success, development, and growth of nations and their citizens? God has endowed us with natural resources, but humans need to translate these into metals, wood, glasses, and automobiles to serve our needs. God has given us brains, physical strengths, and natural resources to conduct our human affairs.

I was not old enough to see the Nkrumah government or the Afrifa and Kotoka governments, but I have seen governments from Busia to Akuffo Addo where Ghanaian Christians have prayed for the economic growth of the country over and over again to no avail. We have been doing the same thing with the same results. We should have paused by now to reflect on what we are doing and the results we are getting to see what we are missing. Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly with the same results." We constantly ask God to do what He has assigned us to do by endowing us with the human brain. We pray for God to give us food when he has already given us land, strength, and the brain. We pray for God to balance our national budgets or fix our exchange rates for us when he has given us the brain.

Most Ghanaian Christians have been deceived by their ministers to do things that are either not in the Bible or contrary. Jesus Christ, in his humanity, worked with his hands, Peter was a fisherman, and Paul was a tentmaker. Paul declared that he worked with his own hands. The apostle would not have it with the overzealous end-time expectants who had stopped working and waiting for Christ's second coming in the Thessalonian church. He admonished them that they should not eat if they did not work with their hands. So where did Ghanaian Christians and their ministers get the idea that we should pray for God to do what he had assigned humans to do? God will not make chairs for us or make doors or beds for us. God does not do Galamsey or has to stop Galamsey for us, but we have to do it. The Christian ministers who gathered to pray about the Galamsey should have marched straight to the Jubilee House to hold the president and his executives responsible for the illegal activities. They have promised to defend our resources from both internal and external attacks.

The new paradigm I am proposing is not new Biblically, but new to some Ghanaian Christians' understanding of the relationship between work and prayers. Often we get the purpose of prayers wrong when we go before the almighty God. Prayers do not change the immutable God, but prayers change us to conform to the will of God. Prayers like work or labor allow us to participate in the purposes of God infinitesimally in God's grand scheme of things. Labor or work is sacred and also a form of prayer. It is also a time to seek more and more of God's infinite knowledge and wisdom. Our knowledge and wisdom are limited: we often lack wisdom and knowledge. That is why the apostle James asks us to seek wisdom from God if we lack it.

When God wanted to bring the most sacred object or architectural structure into the midst of his people, he did not create it in heaven and give it to them, but rather endowed mere humans with the wisdom and the skills to design and construct it. I am talking about the Ark of the Covenant. Given the existing tools and equipment, it was one of the most complicated and detailed architectural structures. Why did God not ask Moses and his people to fast and pray for it? God asked Moses and his men to construct the ark according to the pattern he had shown him. God has more faith in man to do great things than we do, especially African Christians who want to petition God to balance their budgets. What is so tricky for your leaders to match National Revenues with Expenditures? What is spiritual about one knowing he cannot spend money he does not have? The creation of the spiritual and corporeal world is completed in Man: nature and spirit are united in man. We are the crown of creation, and God wants us to behave like one.

In Exodus 31:2–6, God assured Moses that He had provided many men with the necessary skills to execute his plans. Two of them were Bezalel from the tribe of Judah and Oholiab from the tribe of Dan. God anointed these men, with talent and intelligence, giving them the knowledge and wisdom to work in every crafting, including woodwork, stonework, metalwork, engraving, embroidery, and weaving. God's spirit gives Bezalel and Oholiab the skill to work with raw materials and to design them artistically. When we pray, we should ask God to give us the divine empowerment to do the unthinkable and do what we know with greater efficiency.

The Monastics have relevant insights about the essence of work and its place in the worship or relationship with God. The motto of St. Benedict, the sixth-century abbot whose Rule has influenced monastic life immensely, was Orare est laborare, laborare est orare—to pray is to work, to work is to pray. That holy man believed that a holistic life demands a balance of intellectual contemplation, prayer, and work. Unfortunately, many Ghanaian Christians do not see work as sacred or an invitation from God for them to bring his will to fulfillment. The lack of understanding of work as a divine vocation has resulted in many anti-social activities by many Christians. There is a great divorce between work and prayers: ministers and church members do not see anything wrong with skipping work to attend prayer meetings. Christians are, therefore, not bothered when they steal from work to give some as offerings at church.

Commenting on Christians' misunderstanding of work as a divine covenant, C.S. Lewis suggested that God can choose to "repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert unbelievers without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and men's muscles, minds, and wills to cooperate in the execution of His will." Pascal, the great mathematician, and scientist, put it this way, "God instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality." God commands us to do things he can do perfectly and instantly, though we do it slowly and imperfectly. Why? Because we are created in his image: God works and has created us to work. Work is not a curse because God instituted work before the curse (Genesis 1:26-28).

Let us worship God with our labor because work is a divine call. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get the job done instead of hiding our laziness and anti-social activities under the guise of prayers. Look at Japan, a country with meager natural resources and with 1.5% of Christians, and tell me if prayers are responsible for their economic success and growth. Or, the Netherlands, which reclaimed land from the sea, with 55% declaring non-religious in 2020. How did these non-religious nations do it? They did it through hard work, work ethics, transparent government, efficient public sector service, creativity, human ingenuity, science, and collective efficacy. Those who commune with God are to do better than those who do not. We cannot have a daily encounter with God and keep begging from the unbelievers. Let us stop over-spiritualizing matters and hold our elected leaders and ourselves responsible for what we are experiencing.