(the above photo is from a stop in Saugatuck, Michigan earlier this week)

In the early 90s, Liz and I were on a missions trip in the Philippines. The van they rented to cart our team around had a wonky starter. Nearly every time we piled in, we’d hear that sound signalling for me and another guy to hop out of the van and push. After each success, we’d run after the van, jump in and act like we’d just saved the world.

One time we came out after eating a meal in town and the van was blocked in by one car in front and one behind. Pushing was not an option.

So we prayed. And the van started! Once again we felt like heroes. Until our team leader said, “Typical Americans. You only pray when you can’t do it yourself.”


Recently we were talking in our missional community about taking the opportunity to pray rather than just instinctively jumping into action. The idea being that anybody can help, but as followers of Jesus, we have the advantage of being able to invite the Holy Spirit into a situation, rather than relying simply on our own efforts. And while it is important that we help our friends and neighbours when they are in need, and we have the means to help, who knows what can happen when God gets involved in a situation.

We had a good conversation, with some asking why we wouldn’t just help in all situations. I’ve been thinking a lot about that the past few weeks in the States. Here’s where I’ve landed.
If your neighbours ask if you can help them move, you say “yes.” Offering to pray for their move rather than helping…if you are able, is lame.

But there are other times when someone shares a relational, financial, or other personal struggles. For some reason, many of us default to amateur psychiatrist.

  • Have you tried this?
  • Maybe you should consider doing that.
  • You know, my aunt once had a similar issue and here’s what she did.

And most of that is of little help. It’s generally us filling the quiet with words because we are uncomfortable being with people who are hurting.
Here is where I am definitely recommending, “Can I pray for you?” as the appropriate response.

Now in a lot of ways, these situations are two ends of the spectrum. And in between are some areas where we need to be willing to live in some tension. Maybe we pray when we should act…or act when praying would have been a better option. But that is how we learn and grow.

Actually, it’s more likely we act more than we should rather than pray more than we should. Even our, “sure I can help you move,” reply could easily be followed up with, “Is there anything around the move that I could be praying for you about?”

That’s what I’m thinking. What am I missing?