I realize the title appears to be an oxymoron. After all, the Bible teaches that Christians should “pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). But still, during a recent conversation, I was reminded of a situation when it is not necessary for a Christian to pray.
When Christians Should Pray
First, because it’s likely that I might be misunderstood if someone just reads the title and not the post itself, let me first say that Christians should pray constantly. If you do so, you’ll follow the example of Jesus.
We read in Luke 5:16 that while the news about Jesus continued to spread, and as large crowds gathered around Him, He would often slip away to the wilderness to pray. Over and over again, we read how Jesus prayed constantly. The time of day didn’t matter; Jesus’ disciples often found Him praying. He prayed early in the morning (Mark 1:35), in the middle of the day (Matthew 14:22-23), and sometimes all night long (Luke 6:12). While He often prayed alone, there were times when He prayed with others (Luke 9:28). Not only did He pray with others, but He prayed for others (Luke 22:31-32). Truly, Jesus made prayer a priority.
After He ascended to heaven, the early church carried on His legacy of prayer. In the book of Acts, we learn that they were continually united in prayer (Acts 1:14), they devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 2:42), and they once prayed for such boldness that the place where they were praying was shaken (Acts 4:31). They prayed over the seven men who were selected as deacons (Acts 6:6), one of which was Stephen, who later prayed for his executioners at the moment of his martyrdom (Acts 7:60).
Peter once went up to the roof to pray around noon when he received a vision from the Lord (Acts 10:9). Later, while he was in prison, the church fervently prayed for his release, and the Lord answered in miraculous fashion (Acts 12:1-19). When the church sent out their first missionaries, they fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them as part of their commissioning service (Acts 13:3).
I could go on with other examples, but you probably get the picture. The early church carried on Jesus’ legacy to pray. And Christians today are called to remain in an attitude of prayer as well.
When it’s OK Not to Pray
Still, there’s at least one scenario that comes to mind when it’s not necessary for followers of Christ to pray. Whenever a Christian asks me about a decision they’re facing between obeying God’s Word and not obeying God’s Word, my response is always the same: “You don’t need to pray about that. You already have your answer.”
Again, please don’t misunderstand. We should always pray for wisdom, as James makes clear: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God – who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly – and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). But if the choice is clearly spelled out in Scripture, there’s no need to pray to find out what God wants you to do. God wants you to obey Him. Always. (1 John 2:3-6)
I realize this seems obvious, but I have had too many conversations in which a professing Christian has told me that after praying about a particular situation, they feel God has given them the greenlight to sin in some way. (Of course, they don’t say it that way, but that’s the general idea.)
Too many professing Christians have claimed God’s approval as they have abandoned their spouse and children for an adulterous relationship. Too many have cheated on their taxes, while justifying their behavior with the claim that they will have more to reinvest in kingdom endeavors. Too many have spread gossip in the veiled form of a prayer request. Too many have claimed that God led them to withhold their tithes and offerings from the church because they disagreed with the pastor’s leadership style.
Unfortunately, I have heard professing Christians say on too many occasions that they have prayed about situations just like these, and they have peace about their decision (to sin). Somehow, they sense that God has provided a theological loophole, and they feel comfortable moving forward. If you find yourself in a similar situation, let me assure you that there’s no need to pray to find out what God would have you do. You already know the answer. He wants you to obey Him.
Something to Pray About
The reality is that although authentic followers of Christ are forgiven, we are not perfect. We still stumble in many ways. We struggle with temptation on a daily basis, and God knows that. That’s why Jesus taught in his model prayer that Christians should pray, “And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
This prayer is different because it is a preemptive prayer. It’s not a prayer for “wisdom” about a decision that God has already spoken about in His Word. It’s an acknowledgment that Christians will face temptations to sin against the Lord. The evil one will tempt us to think that God won’t mind if we sin just this time. Our enemy will try to convince us that our sinful actions are somehow justified in the eyes of God.
Again, we don’t need to pray about a situation that God has already addressed in His Word. We just need to obey Him. However, we do need to pray for the Holy Spirit to help us to obey Him. In other words, Christians should always pray for God’s help to resist the temptation of making a sinful choice, but there’s no need to pray to determine if a sinful choice is somehow permissible.
Dear Christians, may we follow the example of Jesus and the early church as we pray constantly. But let us waste no time in praying about a matter that God has clearly addressed in His Word. In those situations, we already have our answer: “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15).