Have you considered the relationship between prayer and obedience? How do the two relate, biblically speaking? You may say, “prayer is obedience.” That is true, but biblical obedience includes much more than prayer. There are two extremes to beware of regarding prayer and obedience. One extreme is prayer without obedience, and the other extreme is obedience without prayer.

Prayer Without Obedience

In some church environments, though it is not explicitly stated, it seems as if the only thing that really matters in life and in ministry is prayer. In these environments, lofty, eloquent, passionate, frequent, and lengthy prayer is primary and everything else becomes secondary. Things such as obedience to God’s commands and Christ-like character seem to fall by the wayside. In these environments, prayer practically becomes an idol and a “fix-all” solution to general unfaithfulness. Praying without obeying is perilous because Scripture teaches that disobedience actually nullifies or hinders prayer. Consider these examples:

  • Psalm 66:18: If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
  • 15:8: The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
  • 15:29: The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. 
  • 28:9: If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
  • 1 Peter 3:12: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
  • 1 Peter 3:7: You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way…and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Obviously, disobedience and unfaithfulness hinder prayer. Proverbs 28:9 actually takes it a step further, stating that the prayer of the disobedient is an abomination! Prayer, however lofty, eloquent, or lengthy is futile apart from a life of obedience and faithfulness.

Obedience Without Prayer

Although prayer without obedience is detrimental, it is possible to over-correct and fall off the other side of the horse, so to speak. The other extreme that individuals and churches drift toward is obedience without prayer. It is entirely possible, perhaps common, to be busy and active doing good things that God commands while neglecting prayer. The neglect of prayer is no small matter because it indicates self-sufficiency and independence from God. When people become over-confident in their own skills, gifts, and abilities, they tend to operate as if they do not really need God. Naturally, prayer becomes an inconvenience.

Obeying without praying is a dangerous place to be because Scripture teaches that we can do nothing meaningful, or of eternal value, in our own strength. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Busy-bodies may appear to be godly and productive, but a lack of prayer reveals that their hearts are actually far from God.

The Proper Relationship

Clearly, the Christian life is not a matter of prayer or obedience, but prayer and obedience. Jesus clarified the proper relationship between prayer and obedience in John 15:7 when he said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Contrary to common belief, abiding is not abstract or mystical. John defined abiding like this: “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us (1 John 3:24).” Abiding in Jesus is a matter of practical obedience to God by His Spirit. As we obey, our prayers become effective to the point Jesus says, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you!” Of course this promise assumes we are praying according to God’s will. (1 John 5:14-15)

Consider how John connects prayer and obedience. He said, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him (1 John 3:21-22).” If we want our prayers to be powerful and effective, we must walk obediently with the Lord. Prayer and holy living are a powerful combination!

It is helpful to think of prayer and obedience as two wings of an airplane. Both wings are necessary for the plane to operate properly, and if one wing is removed, the plane heads toward disaster.

10 Times When Prayer Is Not Enough

Considering how prayer and obedience work in concert together, reflect on the list below and prayerfully consider if any of these examples apply to you. This list is from an article by Dr. Chuck Lawless entitled, “10 Times When Prayer Is Not Enough.”

  • Prayer is not enough when we’re praying for someone to get saved, but we’ve made no attempt to share the gospel with that person.God is surely sovereign over salvation, but He uses us to tell the story.
  • Prayer is not enough when we’re praying for God to bring a wayward believer to return to God, but we’re not willing to confront that believer. Again, God calls us to help restore fallen brothers and sisters (Gal 6:1).
  • Prayer is not enough when we pray for God to provide financially for our church, but we’ve offered no stewardship training for our members.Why should God provide when we haven’t discipled?
  • Prayer is not enough when we’re asking God to free us from a controlling sin, but we keep putting ourselves in the same wrong place…with the same wrong people…at the same wrong time. Praying for freedom without also choosing wisely is lacking something.
  • Prayer is not enough when we’re pleading with God to give us clarity about an issue, but we haven’t opened His Word on a regular basis in a long time.We shouldn’t expect God to answer this request when we ignore His primary means of speaking to us.
  • Prayer is not enough when we’re asking God to show us His will, but we already know what we’re going to do regardless.This prayer is a bit superfluous when we’ve already decided what “will” we will follow.       
  • Prayer is not enough when we’re pleading with God to give us mature believers to help lead the congregation, but we have no equipping strategy in place to raise them up.Churches with no intentional discipleship strategy seldom develop a good leadership pipeline.
  • Prayer is not enough when we’re praying about any need, but not repenting from our own wrong. Unconfessed sin in unrepentant lives gets in the way of our prayer channel (Isa 59:1-2).
  • Prayer is not enough when we’re praying about something, but not forgiving someone who has wounded us. Here’s the way Jesus spoke to this issue: “Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for—believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing” (Mark 11:24-25).
  • Prayer is not enough when we’re praying for God to use us as we preach or teach, but we’ve been lazy in our preparation during the week.Thank God His word is powerful beyond our feeble efforts, but we cannot assume God will bless our poor work ethic.

Conclusion

There are no shortcuts to experiencing God’s power through prayer. We have do the work of prayer and obedience. It is no wonder James said, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 5:16).” The Christian life is a matter of walking obediently, praying faithfully, and watching God work!

Jesus, our Lord, is the perfect model of praying and obeying. His prayers were most powerful and his obedience was perfect. If we are honest, we can probably look back on our lives and realize times when we drifted toward the extremes of prayer or obedience. Thankfully, when we fail to obey we can repent, rest in the perfect obedience of Christ, and move on in faithfulness. Likewise, when we fail to pray as we should, we can be thankful that Jesus intercedes on our behalf.