Prayer or Service? Abiding in Jesus Will Include Both
By Sam Kruvand, PrayComo Prayer Initiative
A good friend of mine recently told me of an encounter he had with an earnest seeker. He’d shared a new prayer initiative (PrayComo) encouraging friends to commit to regular times of prayer alone with God (See Matthew 6), suggesting that this unseen time will produce a deeper fruit that could dramatically shape our homes, churches, workplaces, and city.
John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Joining a prayer group is not a plea to stop volunteering, giving, reading, writing, preaching, serving, etc. Rather, it’s a plea that the best of our efforts in all of these things are temporary and limited if not done as we abide in Jesus. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament, and the histories of renewal and revival through the centuries tell us as much.
Yet his friend’s initial reaction was frustration.
Not either-or, but both-and.
The sentiment was something like this: “We don’t need to pray more. We need to just go out and love and serve people and that will really bring change.” He explained a bit more that he was not “against praying” per se. But there was clearly pushback to its centrality and importance.
What his friend didn’t know is that the same folks who are passionate about PrayComo are excited about ForColumbia. ForColumbia is about much more than a day of service, and PrayComo is about much more than prayer. Beyond their scope and mission, they are both an expression of abiding in Christ.
The word “abide” has a few definitions and they all apply:
- “to accept or act in accordance with”
- “continue without fading or being lost”
- “to live or dwell”
The word abide is one we don’t use commonly, but it’s something we all do.
Much like worship, it is not just a thing for religious types, but something hardwired into the human heart. When we dig deep enough, we are all praising, celebrating, finding our security in something or someone, even if it’s our own self-reliance. As a result, Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics apply here: “You gotta serve somebody.”
Abiding is no different. At the end of the day, where do you find rest? What is your purpose? What, or who, fuels your desires? Everyone abides somewhere.
It’s important to examine our life of prayer and service.
Of great importance to any apprentice of Jesus is seeking the answers to these questions:
- What does it mean to abide in Jesus, and where do prayer and service fit into the equation?
- How vital is prayer, and does it truly stand in opposition to getting things done and serving others?
- Do we choose between a deep prayer life and a life of loving service, or can we – should we – pursue and cultivate both?
- Is something like PrayComo (or an intentional prayer life) compatible with ForColumbia (or a life deeply committed to service)?
As someone passionate about both, and as one imperfect at – yet intent on – abiding in Jesus, I’d like to address these questions and shed some light on what John 15 means for us.
I think I know in part what the earnest seeker was pushing back on with his initial criticism of prayer movements. There is certainly a kind of “spiritual zeal” that rejects the importance of loving and serving those around us. At times it even denies the goodness of our physical world. It’s toxic, mystical, and religious in all of the ways Jesus challenged.
James 2:15-17 actually warns against this very thing, and we’ve all heard the phrase “too heavenly minded for any earthly good.” If you’ve known wonderful people who serve others and aren’t particularly spiritual, or vice versa, it’s an understandable conclusion.
But like many things in life and faith, we would be foolish to reject the good of something simply because we’ve seen it done poorly, out of balance, or counterfeited – especially when it’s something God’s Word calls us into repeatedly.
As always, Jesus provides the perfect example.
Jesus did more good works than all the books on the earth could even contain (John 21:25). Whether we read that literally or figuratively, He was love in action. To be heavenly-minded (as the Bible defines it) is to have the “mind of Christ.” Take a look at Philippians 2 and see what that looks like.
Jesus was also a man who spent regular times in silence, solitude, and prayer (Luke 5:16). He offered up loud cries of anguish, he knew tears in His prayers (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus prayed with others, and alone. He passionately pursued the Father through prayer in all its forms and calls us into the same pursuit.
The expectation is abundantly clear for anyone who would come after Him – that we should pursue His ways. “When you pray,” “When you fast,” “When you give,” not if. (See the Sermon on the Mount, beginning in Matthew 5.) Two significant passages in the book of James highlight these realities together: Living faith is evidenced by real works (Chapter 2), and we do not have because we do not ask (Chapter 4). While there are many other passages we could draw on, the picture is clear.
For Jesus, both prayer and service are interconnected to knowing God. It is a false dichotomy to pit them against one another. To reject either is to reject the way of Jesus.
If our zeal is godly, over time we’ll bear the fruit of the Spirit and care more deeply for the people around us and the communities we live in. Sacrificial service will become normative, as will a life of prayer. Likewise, we should be suspect in our own lives and discern the wisdom of others when the two seem divorced or dramatically imbalanced.
Acts of service are undergirded by prayer.
While ForColumbia is certainly about doing good for our neighbors in acts of love and service to our city, it is also an invitation to more. The “more” that Jesus taught, modeled, and made a way for us to step into. And while PrayComo encourages us to commit to regular times in our private prayer, it is an invitation that will bear the fruit of service and love in our lives.
For Jesus, these are integrated. It’s not a choice between volunteerism, sacrificial service, investing in the community or cultivating a deep life of prayer, practicing silence and solitude, engaging with spiritual disciplines. It is a call to abide in Him, and bear fruit.
When asked the greatest commandment, Jesus was quick to respond. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). Similarly, we need time with Jesus in prayer to bear fruit with Jesus in action.
Consider joining ForColumbia on April 30 for a day of service. If you’d like to receive monthly encouragement to pray for our city and participate in PrayComo, email [email protected].