If there’s one thing our age thinks is important, it’s efficiency.
If ask you, “How are you doing?” how long would it take before you speak in some way of how stretched thin you are because of the demands of your schedule? If we’re satisfied in the evening, it’s because we’ve had a “productive” day. One of our most common laments is “I feel like I got nothing done.” We have so much to do, and we put a high value on accomplishing our tasks.
It’s important for us to be efficient.
And this is one of the reasons prayer is so difficult. Because in prayer we have, as David Mathis put it this week, a “glorious inefficiency.” Prayer feels really unproductive.
Mathis invites us to consider the events of Acts 13. A young, thriving church in Antioch has a staff of remarkably gifted pastors. The church leaders feel they are at a point when they should do something big and daring as they seek to extend the love of Christ to the world around them. So what do they do? Do they form a strategic planning committee? Take some surveys of the area? Pay an expensive consultant? No. They fast. And they pray.
By not eating and not acting (in human terms), they are pursuing the very opposite of efficiency as we understand it. There is nothing about this that appears productive. They quite literally waited—on God. Because their conviction is that, as Mathis puts it, “God can do more in five seconds than we could do in five years.”
In response to the church in Antioch humbling themselves in prayer, God leads them to commission two of their leaders, Barnabas and Paul, to be missionaries. Could any decision be of greater historic significance than this one? They could have kept these two men to serve as pastors, and the church in Antioch would have prospered greatly. But because they prayed, because they waited, because they sought God, many churches were planted throughout the Roman Empire, and the world was never the same.
I constantly feel the desire to be productive and efficient, especially in busy seasons in the church such as this one. And I believe that hard work, done in love and faith, honors God. And yet I am beginning to see that the only true productivity and efficiency—fruitfulness, as Scripture speaks of it—is found when planning is combined with waiting, when active pursuit flows out of prayerful dependence.
As we together seek to grow in love, would you join with me in engaging in this glorious inefficiency? Would you join with me in praying the very prayer Paul prayed for one of his church plants? “May the Lord make us increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”